Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Made to Work

Part 16 of A New Hope

Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good (v. 13).

Out of Order 

A machine is made to work. When a vending machine doesn’t work, what do we do? We put an “out of order” sign on it. The phrase “out of order” means “not working properly or at all.”

Some people in the Thessalonian church were “walking in idleness.” The Greek word translated “idleness” (ataktos) literally means “out of order.” [1] They were “out of order” because they were refusing to work. It wasn’t that they couldn’t work; they wouldn’t work.

The Sin of Hardly Working

During my younger years, I was often asked, “Are you working hard or hardly working?” Some of the Thessalonians were hardly working. To make matters worse, they weren’t exactly idle. They weren’t “busy at work,” but they were “busybodies” (v. 11).

This wasn’t something that Paul took lightly. He writes, “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12). If they don’t obey this command, Paul tells the Thessalonians to exercise tough love: “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness” (v. 6). What’s the desired outcome of this tough love? Paul writes, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (v. 14). Is shame the desired outcome? No, Paul writes, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (v. 15). The “brother” is warned so that he will acknowledge his sin and turn from it.

Why Do We Work?

What’s the first thing that the Bible says about God? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God is a worker! “But,” you say, “God doesn’t get tired from his work like we do.” That’s true. Isaiah 40:28 says, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.”

But let’s not forget that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus shows us what God is like. When Jesus lived on this earth, he worked. The Gospels tell us about his days as a rabbi (i.e., a teacher), but what did he do before he was a rabbi? In Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth (Jesus’ hometown) referred to him as “the carpenter.” The Greek word translated “carpenter” is tekton. The word was used for “someone who could work with wood, metal, or stone.” [2] Jesus didn’t refuse to do hard work. (This was before the invention of power tools!) And don’t think that Jesus didn’t get tired. [3]

God is a worker, and he made us to be workers. God “created man in his own image” (Gen. 1:27). When we work, we act like God. Work was part of God’s original plan for humanity. God commanded Adam to “work [the garden of Eden] and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). But work became difficult after sin entered the world. God said to Adam, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Gen. 3:19)—which sounds similar to the command Paul mentions in verse 10: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

Reasons for Working Hard

Paul mentions that he worked hard with his hands—his trade was tent making—while he was with the Thessalonians (vv. 7-9). He was worthy of receiving money from the Thessalonians for his preaching and teaching, but he decided that the gospel would be better received if he supported himself.

There are many reasons why Christians should work and do their best at their work: (1) so that we won’t be an unnecessary burden to others (vv. 8, 12), (2) so that we will have money to share with those in need (1 Thess. 4:28), and (3) so that we may win the respect of those outside the church. How we work can affect how people view the gospel. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul urged them to “to work with your hands…, so that you may walk properly before outsiders” (4:12). 

Notice that all four reasons are other-oriented rather than self-centered. The motive is love. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

Don't Grow Weary in Doing Good

Paul writes, “Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). This is similar to what Paul says in Galatians 6:9-10: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The NIV says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” We might get tired from doing good, but we’re never to get tired of doing good. Remember the good that God has done for us, especially giving his Son to die for us.


[1] The King James Version translates ataktos as “disorderly.”
[2] David E. Garland, Mark, 231.
[3] John 4:6 tells us that Jesus sat down because he was tired (“wearied as he was from his journey”).

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