Good morning, Bereans. We are returning to our study in 2 Thessalonians this morning. We will be considering verses 6 through 15 of chapter 3. This is a very interesting section that deals with the subject of work. Paul writes to address the problem of people who won't work. This is the third time he's had to deal with this issue, so it is little wonder that he comes across pretty strong.
In this short epistle of only three chapters, Paul deals with some deep theological subjects. He addresses the return of the Lord in fiery judgment, the Day of the Lord, the coming rebellion, and the man of lawlessness. He writes concerning the restrainer and the power of Satan, and he teaches about election and the power of prayer. So many grandiose theological truths. And then in the last section, before his closing, he says: GET A JOB! Wow! Where did that come from? The majority of this closing chapter deals with work. This must be an important subject if Paul spends ten verses in this short epistle on it.
We live in a culture that has a very skewed view of work. We act like work really cramps our style. We seem to see work as mercenary—simply a way to pay off debts or to fund one's lifestyle.
U.S. News and World Report said that 70% of employed people in the U.S. don't like their jobs. Ninety percent of that 70% don't feel like getting up in the morning to go to their jobs. Unhappy people are unproductive people. TIME Magazine said: "The average worker wastes many hours per week. It causes one hundred billion dollars of drain on the American economy to pay people for what they don't do." How much of your paycheck is unearned? I was shocked when I began to work a civil service job in the early eighties. People get paid by the government to do absolutely nothing all day long.
We are consumed with leisure and personal pleasure and little else in America. "How will it benefit me?" seems to be the only question many people ask. Is this problem isolated to unbelievers? No! You know better than that.
It has been said that the average American teenager thinks that "Manuel Labor" is the President of Mexico. We have become an overindulgent, self-seeking, lazy people looking for a free ride. We desperately need to understand what the Bible says about work. First, we must understand that work is not part of the curse!
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Genesis 2:15 ESV
In Genesis we learn that the first man, Adam, was created by God and brought into Eden, the cosmic mountain, the Temple, the dwelling place of Yahweh, the place where Yahweh holds council.
The verbs in this passage are "work and keep" (in the Hebrew, abad and shamar, respectively). Both are active verbs. Abad means "to work (in any sense); by impaction to serve, till; to enslave." Shamar means "to safeguard, preserve, care for, and protect." Even in the perfect world as God made it, work was necessary for man's good. The ideal world is not one of idleness and frolic but rather one of serious activity and service. God had created a world which included the need for work. And He created man with a mission to do that work. As a matter of fact, God has commanded us to work.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, Exodus 20:9 ESV
That is a command. Six days you are to labor. God's design is for man to work.
In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23 ESV
Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys. Proverbs 18:9 ESV
Commenting on our text in 2 Thessalonians 3, G.K. Beale writes, "Christians in various sectors of the workplace too often undervalue the work they do, failing to see it as vitally related to their relationship to Christ and the advancement of his kingdom. Paul elaborates in these verses that the performance of work to the best of one's ability is a vital part of living out one's faith."
Look at what Paul teaches elsewhere about our jobs.
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, Ephesians 6:5 ESV
As we look at this text in Ephesians, it is important that we understand that although this text was written to slaves and masters, it applies directly to employees and employers. It shows practically how those filled with the Spirit, who subject themselves to one another in the fear of Christ, should relate to one another in the workplace. Your relationship to Christ should transform your relationships at work.
Have you ever thought about how a slogan like, "good help is hard to find," ever got started? It must have started because good help was hard to find! Why is that? Good help is hard to find because people are basically self-centered and self-serving and are not going to work any harder than they have to. But these things are not to be true for believers, and so Paul gives instructions as to the Christian's work ethic.
"With fear and trembling"—were they to be living in fear of their masters, and are we supposed to be living in terror of our boss? Many see it that way. But if we look at the parallel text in Colossians, we see it is the Lord we are to fear.
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Colossians 3:22 ESV
Who are we to fear? Are you more afraid of what your boss thinks of you than of what Yahweh thinks of you? Paul commands us to live our lives in fear of Christ.
The word "fear" refers to an attitude of reverence toward the Lord. We desperately need to recover a sense of awe and reverence for Yahweh in our day. We must begin to view Him in the infinite majesty that belongs to Him as the Creator and Supreme Sovereign of the universe. There is an infinite gap in worth and dignity between Yahweh, the Creator, and man, the creature. The fear of Yahweh is a heartfelt recognition of this gap.
Can you imagine how important this statement was to the slaves Paul addressed? A slave might very well fear his master, for the master had power of life and death, as well as power to sell him into other types of servitude. But Paul tells the believing slave not to fear the master or to live with an attitude that an earthly master was sovereign over his life. Instead, the Christian is to be "fearing the Lord."
How can we do this in our own setting? It demands that we consciously see that we are serving the Lord, not man, in whatever our vocation might be. We must also have an intense desire to not displease the Lord who has called us to serve Him.
"With a sincere heart"—this prepositional phrase modifies the verb "to obey." The term rendered "sincere" has the nuance of singleness of focus, conscientiousness, along with liberality. It means that you give it your all, with undivided attention and effort. You don't waste time on the job.
"As you would Christ"—this adverbial phrase indicates who was the slaves' ultimate master. The Ephesians were not instructed to obey their masters and Christ, but, rather, to obey their masters in obedience to Christ. The fundamental obedience is therefore not to masters but to the Master.
Paul drives home through repetition the centrality of our relationship to Yeshua as Lord. Note: (6:5) "as you would Christ"; (6:6) "as bondservants of Christ" "doing the will of God from the heart"; (6:7) "as to the Lord"; (6:8) "receive back from the Lord"; (6:9) "their Master and yours is in heaven."
You can't miss the fact that as a believer, your relationship with Yeshua as Lord is the primary, governing fact of life. Christ must be at the center of all that we think and do. Your relationship with Christ should make you the best employee or employer on the job. The key concept is that you do not work primarily for your employer. You work primarily for Yeshua who sees your every motive and action.
This is the emphasis of the entire Bible. The first and greatest commandment is:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." Matthew 22:37-38 ESV
The second greatest commandment is that we love one another. But the Lord does not put that command first. It is deliberately second because the primary thing in life, the foundation for everything else, is that you love Yahweh, your God.
Is it primary for you? Did your schedule last week reflect that fact? Did you meet with God in His Word to learn more about Him and how He wants you to live? You can't begin to have the right perspective towards your job or your boss or your employees until you first get right with Yeshua. As Paul makes clear, you work primarily for Him. As he puts it in the parallel text (Col. 3:24), "It is the Lord Christ whom you serve."
Man was created to work, and all of our work is a sacred duty.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
This should tell us that there is no distinction between the secular and the sacred. You can't rightly say: This is my business world, or this is my employment world, and this is my Christian world, because Paul just blows it out of the water with what he's just said. Your employment has to be unto Christ, and he is saying this: "Even in your work, your menial task— whatever it may be; if it is a good work, it can be done for Christ." Now there's a term that is bandied about within Christian circles: "full-time Christian service." Now I know it's an expression of convenience for those who are missionaries or pastors, and so on. But it's not accurate nor Scriptural because Paul reveals here that we are ALL in full-time service for the Lord. We are all to be working as unto Christ!
You are in full-time ministry all the time, ministering to the glory of Christ in whatever you do. It's no different for you to do your job to the maximum ability for the glory of Christ than it is for me to prepare this message to preach for the glory of Yeshua. Paul put it this way to the Colossians:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, Colossians 3:23 ESV
The bottom line is this: A housewife is to cook a dinner as if the Lord were going to dine with them! A teacher is to educate children, doctors and nurses are to treat patients, solicitors are to help clients, accountants are to audit books, secretaries are to type letters, shop assistants are to serve the public, and builders are to build buildings to the glory and to the service of the Lord! It all has to do with attitude—that's the key. You're doing it as unto the Lord. Whatever you do, if you do it for God's glory, it is sacred service. Remove the line you've drawn between the secular and sacred.
Your attitude when you get up in the morning should be, "I have to go serve Christ today. I'm going to serve Him with my hammer and nails. I'm going to serve Him in my classroom where I teach the children. I'm going to serve Him while I fix some cars. I'm going to serve Him while I'm making hamburgers. I'm going to serve Him while I'm pushing papers across my desk. I'm going to serve Him while I'm traveling around selling people whatever I'm selling them. I'm not working for men. I'm serving Yeshua the Christ in the midst of a watching world. I am His slave."
Martin Luther said, "The role of the shopkeeper and the role of the housewife are as sacred as the role of clergy and priest in terms of its relationship and reference to God."
William Tyndale said, "There is difference betwixt washing dishes and preaching the Word of God, but as touching pleasing God there is no difference at all."
Every job and every task is of spiritual value because when it is integrated into the life of a Christian, it becomes the arena in which that Christian lives out his spiritual existence.
What is happening on the job for you is the single greatest articulation of Christianity that you will ever have in your lifetime. The most hindering force to the conversion of the lost happens in the work place. Where do most people come in contact with Christians? It can also be the most effective place for evangelism. I was led to Christ by a co-worker:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 ESV
Where are you most before men? At work! William Purkins said of work, "The true end of our lives is to do service to God by serving men."
Now some of you might be thinking: That's easy for you to say. You really don't have an earthy boss. But my boss isn't fair, he's unjust and I hate obeying him. Look at what Peter says.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 1 Peter 2:18 ESV
Even to those who are abusive, even to those who are unreasonable, you are to submit yourselves.
Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. Titus 2:9-10 ESV
What is the motive for our obedience and submission to our employer? "So that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." This is astonishing if you really think about it.
We look at the doctrine, the message of redemption, the Gospel. We see its beauty, its splendor, and its perfection. We see sinful man, born in sin, separated from God, and headed for eternal damnation. We see God's love providing what His holiness demanded, a sinless substitute. Yeshua the God-Man dies for our sin. By placing our faith in Christ, we can be eternally forgiven and delivered. Through the Gospel, sinful man can become a child of God. We see its beauty. How amazing it is to realize that by our daily conduct on the job we can decorate and add to its beauty, its splendor, its perfection! That's how important your conduct is on the job.
St. Francis said, "The most powerful effective evangelism takes place on the job as you live out your Christianity in the face of unbelievers."
We learn from historical books that Christian slaves were given a higher price than heathen slaves! Why? Because they were better slaves! They took to heart Paul's instruction and fleshed it out.
Imagine how the Book of Ephesians could transform the worldview of a Christian slave. From Ephesians chapters 1-3 the slave would marvel that God chose him in eternity past and that He sent Yeshua to die for his sins on the cross of Calvary. From these chapters, he now comes to grasp the fact that he has been joined together with believing Jews and is a part of God's glorious church. And for all the blessings which he has already received in Christ, there is yet to come the glorious return of Yeshua and the establishment of His kingdom.
not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, Ephesians 6:6 ESV
In other words, you don't just work hard when your boss is looking in order to get his approval and then slack off when he's not around. This is what happens in the office, in factories, in retail businesses, Employees will slack off if the boss is not around but then be "Mr. Efficiency" when he is nearby. One researcher said that only one-fourth of employees give their best on the job and that around 20-percent of the average worker's time is wasted.
William McDonald says this: "The Christian's standards of performance should not vary according to the geographical location of the foreman."
"As people-pleasers"—we all struggle at times with the sin of pleasing men rather than pleasing the Lord. In a crude way, this kind of sin gives the position of sovereignty to someone else, at least in the person's eyes. Instead of realizing that "promotion comes from the Lord," it is resorting to whatever techniques or smooth words or deceitful actions might be necessary to persuade an earthly boss to grant favor.
rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, Ephesians 6:7 ESV
In the 26 times "Lord" is mentioned in Ephesians, it consistently has reference to Christ rather than to the Father. There are two exceptions when it refers to human masters. Believers are to render service to their new Lord who is Yahweh the Christ.
The Christian slave submits inwardly as well as outwardly to his earthly master. The Christian slave obeys his earthly master as an expression of his submission to the Lord.
knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Ephesians 6:8 ESV
The phrase "from the Lord" is emphatic in the Greek. The ultimate reward comes from God, not from our employer because we are ultimately serving Christ and not our employer. This is crucial knowledge if we are going to live a qualitative Christian life.
This whole attitude called for is important in our own day. If our dependence is unduly upon a company rather than the Lord, we can be gravely disappointed. Companies collapse; the Lord is eternal. I am not suggesting that it is unimportant to have company benefits or retirement plans. Those things demonstrate prudence on our part in taking care of temporal needs. But we need to learn to live with a view that the Lord is ultimately our provider. We need to beware of sinking our energies on the temporal to the neglect of the eternal inheritance that belongs to the child of God.
No doubt some disobedient slaves had brought shame to the name and the testimony of the Lord Yeshua because of their disrespect towards their master. That's why Paul wrote to Timothy and instructed him to tell all the slaves in his congregation:
Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things. 1 Timothy 6:1-2 ESV
We are to count our boss worthy of "all honor." Honor means respect and service. You are at work to serve the needs of your employer and not yourself. Don't let your work habits cause people to speak against God. The way you work relates to how people will perceive God and biblical teaching.
It could have been that the slave in the assembly was a teacher or an elder, and perhaps the master in the assembly is just a member. And when they come into this work relationship, there is a resentment because of their capacity and their responsibility in the assembly, and vice versa.
It also provided a sort of strange situation because the Christian was being told in his meeting with the other believers that they were all equal. And then he would go to work and some other Christian would be telling him what to do. In the early church, they were trying to sort that all out.
Ephesians chapter 6 tells us that every job, every occupation, every work falls within a believer's sacred duty. There's no such thing as a secular job for a Christian. There's no such thing as a secular anything because everything is to be done to the glory of God
Look at what the preacher says in Ecclesiastes.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, Ecclesiastes 2:24 ESV
Here's the key: you have to see work as a gift from God. Now, you might wonder how work is gift from God. Work is a gift from God because it is a means of providing value or meaning or fulfillment to life. As we all know, work provides a sense of accomplishing something. Work is a gift from God in that it keeps us from idleness, which is spiritually very dangerous. The more people demand recreation and idle time, the more corrupt they will become. The two go hand-in-hand. An escalating pornographic, sinful, wicked culture is sped on by a shrinking commitment to work.
Almost every culture has its saying about idleness. The Romans said, "By doing nothing, men learn to do evil." The Jewish rabbis taught, "He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to be a thief."
Work is a gift from God because it is a means of providing for the needs of life. God has given work to us as a way in which we can gain wealth, which is a way in which we can purchase our food. So work is a noble thing by which we sustain the necessities of life. Work is a gift from God because it is a means of serving mankind. It is a means of serving humanity. Work is one of the most honorable and noble things a Christian can do.
On the other hand, Scripture has a lot to say about lazy people. Proverbs says,
A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. Proverbs 10:4 ESV
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Proverbs 13:4 ESV
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. Proverbs 20:4 ESV
Because of what the Bible teaches, most of the Jews honored honest labor and required all their rabbis to have a trade. But some Jews looked at work as a secular thing. They didn't understand the sacred duty of work; they saw it merely as a common, menial sort of human second-class effort whereas religious duties were first-class, sacred, divine, noble things. The Talmud, for example, has a very interesting prayer in it. The Talmud is the codification of Jewish tradition and law, and it has a very interesting prayer that was prayed by the scribes. A scribe was a person who devoted his entire life to studying Scripture. That's all he did in his life and he was supported by the Jewish community to do nothing but study the law.
This is a scribal prayer: "I thank Thee, O Lord my God, that Thou hast given me my lot with those who sit in the house of learning and not with those who sit at the street corners. For I am early to work and they are early to work. I am early to work on the words of the law, and they are early to work on things of no importance. I weary myself and they weary themselves. I weary myself and profit thereby, and they weary themselves to no profit. I run and they run. I run toward the life of the age to come and they run toward the pit."
So, they saw a division between the secular and the sacred. Eusebius, an early church father, introduced a lot of this thinking in the fourth century. Listen to what he wrote: "There are two ways of life given by the law of Christ to His church. One is above nature and beyond common human living, holy and permanently separate from the common customary life of man. It devotes itself to the service of God alone. Such is the perfect form of the Christian life."
Then in a second paragraph he said this: "And the other, the second, more humble, more human, permits man to have minds for farming, for trade, and the other secular interests, and a kind of secondary grade of piety is attributed to them."
What Eusebius said is first-class Christians are those who serve God alone; the second-class Christians are those who have secular employment.
This attitude in the Church began to change in the Reformation. Martin Luther said, "There is absolutely no difference before God, though there may be before men, between one who preaches the Word of God and one who washes dishes. There's no such thing as the sacred and the secular in terms of employment."
For some reason, which Paul never tells us, some of the Thessalonians were refusing to work. It may have been due to the influence of their culture. Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. The Greeks despised manual labor and left it to their slaves.
Historians tell us that during this period there were some 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire, making up about half of the population. The philosopher, Seneca, told of how the Roman senate defeated a law proposing that slaves wear distinctive clothing, because they feared the slaves would realize how numerous they were. Because the Romans were "free," they considered work beneath their dignity. Slaves performed most of the work, including medical, teaching, domestic work, and farming. While some warmth existed in the relationship of slaves and their masters, quite often, it was a dehumanizing existence. They were considered to be animate tools, alongside inanimate tools. Their masters had absolute authority over their lives, even to the point of death if so desired. For slaves who were strong, plenty of demanding work was set before them. For those of a more delicate nature, they would be plied to illegal trades on behalf of their masters. When their usefulness was over, many would be given over to prostitution. Slaves had no rights to property or inheritance.
So, the Thessalonians' wrong view of work could have been because they lived in a Greek world and the Greeks believed that work was demeaning. In fact, they said it was beneath the dignity of a free man. They said it was sordid and degrading.
Homer, the famous Greek writer, had said that the gods hated man. And the way they demonstrated their hatred was to invent work and punish men by making them work. This kind of philosophy being existent in that time, it found its way into the lives of those people and thus, when they became converted, it found its way into the church.
Maybe the Thessalonian attitude about work happened because somebody had come to the Thessalonian church, according to chapter 2 verse 2, and told them they were in the day of the Lord which is the very end time and Yeshua was coming very soon, and it may have been that some of them were saying, "Look, if Yeshua is coming, if we're in the day of the Lord and God's fury is about to fall and the Lord is about to return, we don't want to get involved in work, we need to evangelize. We need to do spiritual ministry.
Paul doesn't tell us the reason why people weren't working, so all we can do is speculate. Some think that there may have been Jewish influence behind the policy that the elevated religious people were to study the Scriptures and be supported as they did so. Others think it may have been the Gentile mentality that says freemen don't work. But most scholars draw a connection between these non-working brothers and Paul's teaching about the coming of the Lord. They think that they became so caught up with the idea that Yeshua would return soon that they quit working. They didn't want to "waste time" working since the end was near. They had the eschatological end times mentality that says, "Yeshua is coming, we can't be doing work; we've got to be doing evangelism."
Listen to what J. Hampton Keathley lll, Th.M., writes about our text, "This is a sad illustration of either wrong interpretation or wrong application of biblical truth. The New Testament does teach the imminent, any-moment possibility of the return of the Savior for His church; it is imminent, but no one knows when He will return. It could be today, but it might not be, as has been the case for hundreds of years."
Like most dispensationalists, he views the second coming as imminent. What does imminent mean? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines imminent as "ready to take place: happening soon." The New Testament saints fully expected the Lord to return in their lifetime. Yet the majority of believers today, some two thousand years later, are still saying that the Lord will return soon. Can the same event be imminent at two different periods of time separated by two thousand years?
It cannot be imminent if there are things that must happen before it can happen. Have we totally given up on logic? The disciples connected the fall of the Temple, the end of the age, and the Parousia. How could the destruction of the temple be imminent today when there is no temple today to destroy?
Whatever the reason, there were people in the Thessalonian church who weren't working. As I said, Paul doesn't tell us the reason. Maybe he doesn't tell us because it doesn't matter what the reason is. No reason is valid for not working if you're able.
Vincent Cheung writes, "The passage forms the foundation for the matchless work ethic that Christians were famous for in the past."
St. Francis said, "The most powerful effective evangelism takes place on the job as you live out your Christianity in the face of unbelievers."
Hopefully you have seen the importance of work and of having a correct work ethic. Next week we'll look at the text itself.