The Works of Our Hands Are An Offering to God
[2nd Thessalonians chapter 3]
Last week when we finished the second chapter of 2nd Thessalonians, we left off with the apostle Paul’s warnings and exhortations about the antichrist and the End Times before His return. Of course, there were evidently a good-sized number of the early Christians who then asked something similar to, “That’s all well and good, brother Paul, but what should we do in the meantime, especially considering the fact that we don’t know when Jesus will come back for us? Besides that which you have already taught us, what else can and should we do?” These are very good questions, and Paul used the remainder of this letter to clarify exactly that. With this in mind, let’s finish up 2nd Thessalonians today, and we’ll dissect the entire third chapter to complete our task that God has given us, which is to study and learn the Word to “show ourselves approved” to God through his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. So here we go, starting at verse one.
“Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2nd Thessalonians chapter 3, verses 1-10, NIV)
“… pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored…”. Spreading the message about the good news of the salvation of Christ was something Paul had come to regard as being his new mission in life, and it shows right here. As practicing Christians, then, we should similarly regard the spreading of the Gospel to be our main reason for living. Granted, not everyone is called to preach or to be an evangelist on TV. But I strongly believe that we can honor Christ just as well by our deeds rather than our words. In fact, it is what we do for others that counts the most in God’s kingdom. As one well known TV preacher says, “Being in church on Sunday morning does not make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a motor vehicle”. That is ever so true. We can honor and even worship God through Jesus Christ our Lord by spontaneous acts of kindness and charity, especially to people we don’t know. Jesus said it best, “Whatsoever you do for the least of my brethren, that you do for me”.
“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” Translated into 21st century English, this is a prayer for deliverance from godless and immoral people who cannot distinguish good from evil, or who simply refuse to do so because it would spoil all the “fun” they are having. People without a conscience, or who suppress their conscience, are capable of anything, which makes them very dangerous individuals. But if we place our faith in God and follow his precepts, God will protect us and empower us to stand up to the hostile intentions of these kinds of people. “… we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” This is an easy one – steer clear of idle troublemakers and others of ill repute. Because if we don’t, some of that is bound to rub off onto us, which in turn will most definitely compromise our faith, not to mention our personal integrity. Paul then elaborates some more on this topic as he wrote, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we are with you… On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so we would not be a burden to any of you.” Paul did so “to set an example for you to follow”. You will recall from our study of the book of Romans that Paul was a tent maker by trade. He worked full time during the day and preached and taught in the evening. Paul earned his keep and pulled his own weight, apparently because he did not rely exclusively on donations for the existence of his ministry. “If a man will not work, then neither shall he eat.” Contrast that with ministers, preachers and evangelists of today, who not only rely on the charity of others, they also work hard to make sure that their congregations or TV audiences feel guilty about not giving when some can’t afford to. This is obviously mass manipulation and nothing less. Why should they work when they don’t have to? (Or so they think, sometimes to themselves, and other times in the pulpit or on global TV.) This is blatantly materialistic at best and heretical at worst, and has no place in a house of worship, and particularly within our own hearts. So let us all purify ourselves and give our hearts a good housecleaning, so that when Jesus returns, we will be ready to meet him. Reject materialism and the empty pursuit of financial gain! Having said all that, let’s finish up this week’s study beginning at verse 11.
“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busy-bodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. Now may the God of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. (2 Thessalonians chapter 3, verses 11-18, NIV)
“We hear that some among you are idle… Such people we command… to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” Now it becomes more clear as to Paul’s meaning when he wrote above, “If a man will not work, then he shall not eat”. Keep in mind that there was no welfare or food stamps, no disability or social security, and there was no such thing as workman’s compensation or unemployment back then either. But, as Paul wrote back in his first letter to the Corinthian church, and as the apostle Luke wrote in the Book of Acts, there was what the Bible calls “the breaking of bread”, which is equivalent to Holy Communion in the modern church. The main difference was that instead of little white wafers like we see today, they baked loaves of bread that may well have been far better than an ordinary loaf of bread purchased at a modern grocery store. Undoubtedly there was more than just plain bread due to the fact that every worship service was an event that lasted for the better part of the day. Today it is only the charismatic and messianic churches, plus Jewish people and their synagogues that still practice this. Based on what Paul wrote here, it looks like they were having a problem with certain members of the church who were there primarily for a free meal, with praise and worship as their second priority when it should have been the other way around. So the apostle Paul was telling these freeloaders to stop hanging around for all the wrong reasons, and to get a life, to get somewhere and get themselves some business to take care of.
“And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” No matter how much evil we find ourselves surrounded by, it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ to make sure we are putting our faith into action. We can talk about God all we want or brag about our good deeds all day long, but if we only do so when we feel like it, or when we think we have the time, then what good is that? As the apostle James wrote, “If you see someone in need and say to them ‘be well and I will pray for you’, but do nothing to assist them, then that is the same as not helping them at all”.
“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter… do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” If someone is doing wrong to others, or if he or she refuses to work and shows up at church just long enough to filch a free meal, do not be the least bit shy about warning that brother/sister in the Lord. If they reject you and your warning, stop associating with them. Sooner or later they will notice and begin wondering why they’re being left out. But this is the first step in the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and it is intended to be sufficient motivation for repenting from sin. Hopefully things will work out for the best in these kinds of situations, but it is ultimately up to that church member to repent and seek forgiveness. The good news here is that, as the apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1st John chapter 1, verse 9, NIV), and again in the first 2 verses of chapter 2 of that same book, “My dear children, I write this to you so you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but for the sins of the whole world.”
“Now may the God of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” That right there, brothers and sisters in the Lord, is exactly my prayer for each and every one who reads this. Let “the peace of Christ which surpasses all human understanding” – as Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians – surround you today, tomorrow and for all the rest of your lives. In the name of the Lamb of God I pray for you all. Amen.