- Ecclesiastes 3:17-26;
- 2Thessalonians 3:1-15
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Beautiful homes, once deserted, often become cracked ruins. One theory is that the body heat of residents, as well as the typical humidity of baths, showers, and cooking associated with families living in it, is enough to prevent the walls from drying out and cracks to appear. Idle palaces can quickly become irreparable ruins.
Unamuno, the Spanish philosopher, tells about the Roman aqueduct at Segovia, in his native Spain. It was built in 109 A.D. For eighteen hundred years, it carried fresh water from the mountains to the hot and thirsty city. Nearly sixty generations of men drank from its flow.
Then came another generation who argued to preserve it for future generations as a museum piece. They installed modern pipes and gave the ancient bricks and mortar a respectful rest. But then the aqueduct began to fall apart. The sun beating on the dry mortar caused it to crumble. The bricks and stone sagged and threatened to fall.
What ages of service could not destroy idleness disintegrated.
We can only learn from the experience of King David what idleness can cause, who stayed home while his army was out on the battlefield.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was meant to correct the false teachings of some troublemakers that the Lord Jesus Christ had already returned. This heresy did not only destroy the faith of some; it also led to some members of the congregation to pull the plug on work altogether. They became busybodies.
Paul closes his letter with the directive to keep on working and to be found busy in the Lord when He returns.
The work of the church for all times until the return of Christ consist of two things: Prayer and work. It is never one or the other.
In the previous chapter, Paul ends with these words:
May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:16–17, NIV)
Paul is undoubtedly not using hollow or meaningless words here—like some of the words we put in get-well cards. To be encouraged, to have good hope, to be spurred on in every good deed, does not imply a passive attitude of “hope for the best.”
Every patient who has been through some heart procedure gets the tap of the shoulder from the doctor with all the best wishes for the future. In his other hand, though, he has an envelope which contains all the things that patient has to do to stay healthy. It means a good diet, an active exercise program, as well as interaction with others who have had the same problems. It also includes the next appointment date. Communication with the doctor is needed.
In the same way, sinners who were once lost but have found forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ can not afford to be idle. Spiritual exercise is needed, contact with other Christians is essential, as well as regular appoints with the Saviour.
It is true that Paul, in the previous verses of chapter 2, set out the graces of God who loved them and chose them from before time began; the Holy Spirit sanctified them to become children of God; Jesus Christ made them righteous through his death and resurrection; and God will keep them for time and eternity in the hollow of his hand. This is all grace which for we do contribute anything.
And yes, Christ will return for sure on a time and day we don’t know. But before that time, the Gospel needs to be preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14).
This was what Paul and his co-workers were doing. They stopped in Thessalonica, but they had plans to move further afield to other places where God would lead them to go.
Pray for gospel preachers
Someone once said prayer is the work of the Church. Paul urged the folk to do this work until Jesus comes again.
… brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. (2 Thessalonians 3:1, NIV)
There is a link between praying for Gospel workers and praying for them: “As it was with you.” Some church folk may be slow to pray for the spreading of the Gospel purely because they themselves have not experienced salvation themselves. This “as is was with you” has been the driving force behind the great mission explosion in the 1800s and 1900s. Once folks tasted that the Lord is good, they wanted to have others have the same experience.
So, it has to beg the question of us today: do we have the “as is was with you” experience?
There are millions out there who have not heard the Good News about Christ yet. We are not talking about those in the dark corners of the world only; there are hundreds of thousands of children attending our schools who have not held a Bible in their hands. I met farmers in the outback who have never had a Bible of their own. There are how many people in hospitals, prisons, detention centers, aged facilities, armed forces, universities—name it—who need to hear the Gospel message. God called his workers to work there, they are few and far between, but we need to pray for them. What about Bible translators, radio stations broadcasting the message of salvation into areas we have not even heard about? They need our prayers.
Pray against the evil
And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. (2 Thessalonians 3:2, NIV)
Missionaries and other messengers of the Word face opposition, and in many cases, the resistance is fierce. Every day some are locked up in dark prisons, others are separated from the families, others lose homes and income, while others die brutally at the hands of those who hate Christ. And yet, the Gospel has to be preached until Christ comes again.
We need to pray against evil. We need to understand this warfare. In Ephesians 6 Paul spells out of battle: it is not against flesh and blood, but against the schemes of the devil, against the rulers of this world and powers of this dark age, it’s against spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.
My friend, as soon as the church starts getting serious about mission and evangelism, the devil rears his head in anger. He declares war and mobilizes his armies. We, therefore, need to put on the armor of God: truth to combat the lie; the righteousness of Christ as breastplate deadly against attacks aimed at our hearts; the Gospel message that gave us peace with God must activate our feet to march forward against the oncoming battalions of hell; our salvation in Christ must be the helmets which protect us against the arrows of the evil one; in our hands we need the Word of God—the only weapon of attack. And then:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18, NIV)
So, what Paul wrote to the Ephesians is, in essence, the same as his message to the Thessalonians. But he adds this beautiful and marvelous statement:
The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. (2 Thessalonians 3:3, NIV)
Like a commander in this spiritual battle, Paul gives them another:
We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. (2 Thessalonians 3:4, NIV)
Like any other preacher of the Gospel, Paul knew, in the end, it is not his positive command or attitude that will keep the Christians going. He entrusts God’s people to God’s care:
May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thessalonians 3:5, NIV)
Many years ago, when we were doing national service in the South African Army—keep in mind, our squad wholly comprised of fellows who had spent at least seven years studying at uni, with most of them married with children—we found it hard to blindly following a 19-year-old lance corporal. He was out of his depth in any case. One of our men had specialised in psychology and suggested that we do as we were commanded, but only very slowly. Instead of running, we would slow-march. This attitude was wrong but is was aimed at sending a message to our Officer in Command that we might do better under a more experienced officer. Well, we got more that we asked for. Sergeant Denton got us going, quick smart, and soon we realized that following his command would save our lives.
Paul had folk in the congregation of Thessalonica who were on slow-march. They did not follow commands, and their attitude soon rubbed off on others who went idle. Why work if the Lord is coming soon? It’s like me who tried to argue with Mom that I don’t need to polish my shoes because they were going to get dust on them in any case. I wished I never took that line! I’m still polishing my boots.
A proper officer is someone who set a good example. So did Paul:
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, (2 Thessalonians 3:7, NIV)
As an apostle, like the priests and prophets of the old Testament, he had the right to fall back on the support of other Christians. But he and Silas and Timothy wanted to be models of hard work. Besides, it is a Biblical principle: “He who does not work he shall not eat.” (2Thessalonians 3:10)
Idle and lazy Christians are like a bad apple in the basket. They hamper the work, and before long they all become like our squad on the slow march of our own destruction.
There are some Christians who are more busybodies than they are bodies who are busy in the Lord. They are usually present at the working bee, but more so for the cake and morning tea. They always have a contribution to make about others, but they are absent in prayer meetings. They are the first to criticize others, but they can’t stand criticism. They also give advice as to what can be done but are absent when the rubber hit the road. They criticize the elders and the minister for not visiting others, but they never find the time to care for others.
Quite honestly, the church of Jesus Christ can do without such members. We don’t want to make tracks as soon as such a person arrives on the scene just because he or she can overbearing, but we can certainly do with the help of those who understand that it is only people who actually do something that make mistakes. We need the encouragement of someone who would instead find time to pray with us when even when we are disappointed with our own shortcomings.
But things can get even worse when some Christians always push their barrows when it comes to their personal revelation on some Scripture passages. Paul’s advice?
Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. (2 Thessalonians 3:14, NIV)
Does this imply that we have the right to disregard and treat as enemy these folk? No. What he means as that we should not have a part in spreading their misleading message. We should not give oxygen to the detrimental teaching of some. This will help them to, in the end, feel ashamed for his or her attitude.
My dear friends, do we really live in a living expectation for the return of Christ? Is it an event we hardly think about, or is it an event which shapes the way we do church?
The mother who is expecting a child does not sit idle; she makes preparation and counts off the weeks and days. We can’t do that, because we don’t know the date. One thing we do know is: Christ is undoubtedly coming. For that day we cannot wait idly. The lost have to be gathered in; we need to earnestly pray for the harvest to be gathered in. We cannot be busybodies; we cannot be bad apples in the basket.
May our Lord find us busy when He returns. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 September 2019