Sermon – September 27, 2020
2 Thessalonians 3:6-18 – Labor and the Kingdom (mp3)
If you watch many medical mysteries, you find something of a well-worn pattern in them. Something goes wrong medically which is hard to explain. Yet, the symptoms, seemingly random, point to something more sinister lying just below the surface. The rest of the show is, of course, getting at that underlying cause. In our passage this morning, the symptom of idleness, of the avoidance of work, is a clear problem that Paul needs to address. But under this symptom is a much more dangerous and cancer-like problem that might well metastasize to all the Thessalonian believers if it is not removed. Let us see what our Physician, Paul, says about this situation today:
1. The symptom
The obvious symptom was that certain people were mooching off of others, unwilling to work for their food. It was clear that the issue was chronic, and didn’t just appear before Paul. Paul left them with a command when he was there in person; he wrote to them about the same issue in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, and now had to devote a major section of a letter to it. Not only was it chronic, it was serious. The placement in the letter, the lead-up to the admonition, and the somber and weighty use of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ indicate that the symptom was serious, and needed attention.
2. The source
However, the symptom was not the underlying problem. Paul knew that this symptom would have been readily avoided if one simple thing was fixed: just simply listening to the word of God given through Paul himself. He gave them traditions they didn’t receive; he gave them commands they didn’t heed; he gave them examples they didn’t follow. This is the problem: not just the sin, but the rebellion that lies at its roots. Like Adam and Eve, we reject the good and pleasant commands of our God for the desires of our heart. Let us listen well to God’s word, and move in our lives to conform to it – both for his glory and for our good!
3. The solution
Paul lists five different solutions that he wants the Thessalonian believers to take. First, they should avoid those who act in an unruly manner. The infection must be isolated and dealt with, lest it begin to infect the otherwise healthy tissue in the body. Secondly, they should follow his example. Paul showed, during his short time with them, what it means to labor in love. They (and we!) would do well to put that example into practice. Thirdly, they should simply work. Labor is good, and especially when done in love, so as to not burden others with your own needs. Fourth, the believers must keep doing good, in all ways. Lastly, they must warn the others. This warning comes with some gentleness, and is not condemnation. In this way, right actions are highlighted within the body, wrong ones are isolated and dealt with, and Christ is glorified through our work.