Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sermon on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

A sister and brother were talking to each other when the little boy got up and walked to his grandpa and said “grandpa, please make a noise like a frog.”  The grandpa sad “No” The little boy said again “Please, please make a frog noise.” The grandpa said “No, now go and play.”

Then the little boy turned to his sister and said “Go and tell Grandpa to make a frog noise.”  So the little girl went to her grandpa and said “please make a frog noise.”  Again the grandpa said “No.”  “Please…. Please grandpa make a frog noise.” 

The grandpa said, “Why do you want me to make a frog noise?”  The little girl replied, “Because Mummy said when you croak we can go to Disney world!” 

All of us know that one day we will die, but it’s not something most of us spend much time thinking about.  Did you know though, that someone has invented an alarm clock which not only tells the time, but also tells you how many days you have left to live?  It does this based on information it gathers from your social network connections, your family history, health and lifestyle, and other factors.  The strap line for this product which they hope to develop is “Alarmclock cares enough to tell you the truth.” 
What would happen if tomorrow your doctor called you and said "I'm very sorry, I have some bad news for you. You have terminal illness, and there is nothing we can do for you.  You only have a matter of weeks left to live."  What would you do then?  What if anything would you change about the way you live? 

Chances are, I suspect most of us would want to make changes in our lives if we knew are time was limited.  We’d want to make the most of the precious time we have left, and everything would be imbued with greater meaning and urgency, knowing that these moments are to be our last. 

Bronnie Ware spent several years working as a palliative care nurse, looking after terminally ill people.  Based on these experiences she wrote a book called ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’.  Which she listed as:
·        I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
·        I wish I hadn't worked so hard
·        I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
·        I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
·        I wish that I had let myself be happier

Steve Jobs who died in October 2011 was fond of saying, “Live everyday as though it is your last … and one day, you will be right.”  How many of us can honestly admit we live each day as if it could be our last? 

Another similar question, what would we do if we knew Jesus was going to return to earth on a certain date? Would our response be the same as if we knew we didn’t have long to live?

Harold Camping, who ran Family Radio in the USA, famously predicted that the world would come to an end on the 21st May 2011.  Donations from loyal listeners flooded in, and Harold Camping spent $3 million on a massive billboard and radio advertising campaign around the world.  Many of his followers believing the end was nigh, dropped out of med school, quite their jobs, even left their wives and children, and spent all their savings to spread the word about the Rapture.  

Of course none of us can know when Jesus will return.  Jesus himself said Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)  So as Christians we are called to live in that constant state of readiness for the return of Jesus – I don’t know about you, but I find that a challenge! 

In Paul’s first letter to the Christian’s in Thessalonica, he wrote to help them grow in the faith and to comfort and encouraging them by affirming the reality of Christ's return.  But not long after this, word came to Paul that some of the people in the church had misunderstood his teaching about the Second Coming, and to further complicate the situation, a letter had been sent to the church written by someone claiming to be from Paul, saying that the day of the Lord had already come.

It is for this reason that Paul writes this second letter to the Thessalonians, to address the problems that had arisen within the church, and to encourage the church as it faced a period of persecution.  Paul writes “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.” (2 Thess 2:1-2)

One of the consequences of the belief that the day of the Lord had already arrived, was that there were some in the church who had decided to quit their jobs, and put aside all their responsibilities.  But their lack of activity was putting a burden on the church, because there was no welfare state to look after them, so the responsibility was falling on the shoulders of others within the church to care for them.   

This is why Paul, in very strong uncompromising language writes ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.’ (2 Thess 3:6) 

These people who had quit their jobs, and set aside their responsibilities, may have thought there were being more spiritual by not working, but their actions were having a damaging the church.  In verse 11 Paul writes that in their idleness, they are being disruptive, and using a play on words says “They are not busy; they are busybodies.” (2 Thess 3:11)  As the expression goes, the devil makes work for idle hand.  Rather than working, and helping to play their part within the life of the church and wider community, they were putting their nose into other people’s business, spreading panic, and harming the body of Christ. 

Paul instructs the church to keep away from these people, in case others might be tempted to follow their example.  Instead Paul reminds the church of the example that he and Silas set when he lived amongst them.  “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, labouring and toiling so that 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 offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” (2 Thess 3:7-9)

Paul was a tent maker by trade, and he worked to support himself.  He did this for several reasons:
·        So as not to be a burden on the church
·        To set an example for others to follow
·        So that he was free to preach the Gospel
o    If you read a newspaper, the political slant of that newspaper will very often reflect the political views of the owners of that paper.  Paul didn’t want to feel bound to any wealthy benefactor, so he could preach the Gospel without accusation of political influence.

Paul says that ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ (v10)  This passage has to be read in context, because in Paul’s other letters he stresses the importance of caring for the poor, and care for the poor and disadvantaged is one of the marks of the Christian faith.  The Apostle James writes, ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.’ (James 1:27) In other words to care and support those who do not have the means to helping themselves. And in Acts 4 Luke tells us that the believers shared all their possessions, and that there was no needy person among them, but that they gave to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)  In this passage from Thessalonians, Paul is addressing those who can work, but refuse to do so.  It’s a wakeup call to them.

So what practical application and lessons can we draw from this passage?

Work Matters

Firstly we see that work matters to God.

We can sometimes have a negative attitude towards work.  Homer the famous Greek writer said that the gods hated humans so much that they invented work as a way to punish people. But actually the opposite is true, work, and the ability to work is a God given gift.  In the book of Genesis God put Adam into the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).  

Work is a worthy pursuit, designed by God, who is Himself a worker. Work is woven into the very fabric of creation.   

One thing we need to recapture as Christians, is the understanding that work is a gift from God – ask anyone who has been made redundant, and is unemployed, to tell you what a blessing work can be. 

When people talk about Christian service and ministry, they often tend to think about it in terms of the jobs people do in church.  But we need to recognize we can serve God wherever we are, we need to identify our Frontline.  That is the place where we spend the majority of our time, because it is on our frontlines that we can make the most impact for God. For those in paid employment, your frontline will be your place of work.  For others it may be caring for children, grandchildren or elderly relatives.  If you’re retired your frontline might be the club that you belong to.  It’s on our frontline that God calls us to be his witnesses.  For example, a man was standing on the station waiting to go to work, when someone asked him, what do you do, and he said “I’m a Christian thinly disguised as an accountant.”  He understood that his primary calling was serve God in that place or work. 

Paul in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  Think what a difference we could make if we starting seeing our frontlines, our work – whether paid or unpaid, as the place where we serve God. 

One day in 1671, Christopher Wren, who designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London, saw three bricklayers hard at work.  He asked the first one “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m cutting this stone.” The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m building a wall.” But the third brick layer when asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied, “I’m building a cathedral to the glory of God.” 

John Stott said this about work.  “Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God

That is why work matters, because through our work we bring honour and glory to God, and also help serve one another and the wider community.

Lifestyle Matters

The Second thing we learn from this story is that how we live matters. Paul writes “never tire of doing what is good.” (2 Thess 3:13)

In Ephesians Paul says “Be very careful, then, how you live” (Ephesians 5:15). The things we do in public, and also in private, matter.  You’ve probably heard it said before, but your life may be the only Bible some people will ever read.  As believers we are called to ignite the fire of God in those we meet, not extinguish the fire by our words, attitude or behavior. 

People will judge the Christian faith on what they see in us. 

It is said that Gandhi read the Bible, and wanted to believe.  But when he went to church, he was not allowed to enter because he was not white.  So he never believed, saying I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” It’s even said that he went on to say “I would be a Christian, were it not for the Christians.” Many people put off Christianity by what they see of Christians.  This was the danger that was developing in Thessalonica, with those idle Christians who were going around stirring up trouble for others. 

What do people see when they look at you?  Do they see someone who is compassionate, understanding, trustworthy, honest, someone who goes out of their way to help others out. Or do they see someone who is self-absorbed, judgmental and not to be trusted, a gossip, prone to fits of anger, who uses inappropriate language.  How we live our lives matters greatly.  Paul was able to say to the Christian’s in Thessalonica, “look at how I have lived, follow my example, just as I follow the example of Jesus.”  

Paul encourages us to not grow weary in doing good.  We need to make the most of every opportunity that God gives us.  Because every single day is a gift, which we’ll never be given again, so we need to make the most of every moment God gives us. There is a quote attritubuted to Stephen Grellet a Quaker who said “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

We’re in this together

The third and final point I’d like to make is that we’re in this together. We are mutually dependent upon one another.

Did you know that the design of many wooden church roofs, was similar to that of the hull of a ship. And that the nave, the central part of the church, derives its name from the Latin word for boat.  Using this imagery of the church as a boat, we can have two pictures of what the church looks like.

The first is a cruise ship.  On a cruise ship, the majority of people on board are passengers, who have paid good money to sit back and enjoy the cruise while they are served on hand and foot by the hard working crew. The passengers can relax and watch the scenery slip slowly by, and enjoy all the facilities the cruise ship offers, the entertainment and food, and relax and unwind while others do the work.

The other image of the church is of a life boat.  The purpose of the life boat is not to serve the people already on board the boat, but to save lives.  Every person on board the lifeboat has a job to do. There is no room for idleness on the lifeboat, because it’s on a mission to navigate lives stormy waters, and rescue people.

Of these two images, the one of the life boat better represents what the mission and purpose of the church is about.  But the reality is tend to treat the church more like a cruise ship. Expecting to sit back and enjoy being served.  The 20/80 rule operates in most churches.  20% of the people do 80% of the work.

But Paul makes it clear, there is no room for idleness in God’s church.  We all have our part to play, serving God and serving one another.

It doesn’t matter who we are, every single one of us, young and old, at school, college, working, unemployed, or retired – we can all serve.

John Wesley said One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us.

And Rick Warren said Faithful servants never retire. You can retire from your career, but you will never retire from serving God.”

None of us know how long we have on this earth, or when Jesus will return, so it’s important we learn to live as if each day could be our last, and make the most of every opportunity God gives us, and as Paul instructs “Never tire of doing what is good.”