So in 2 Thessalonians, why do you think that Paul is going on and on about work; and the importance of work?
Well, because the Thessalonian church has the wrong ideas about the second coming.
And so in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tried to resolve the question. He said in Chapter 5 verse 2 the last day will come quickly, as a thief in the night. Jesus says essentially the same thing in Matthew 24:36 “no one knows the day or the hour.”
But the Thessalonians became convinced that the end was imminent and so then why do anything? Why work? They thought that the last day was right around the next corner..
And a lot of people get mesmerized by end time predictions. Some Christians even dangerously seek information outside the Bible. Others read things in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Daniel, and Revelation that, quite frankly, aren’t even there. End times preaching and study seems to fascinate people who often are amazingly somewhat illiterate when it comes to the rest of the Bible; and so what happens is – that many people end up focusing unhealthily on the second coming instead of the gospel.
And so the Thessalonians had salvation, but they didn’t know what to do next. They thought it was all over, and I can understand why they’d think that. As Christ-followers we place a lot of focus and attention on winning the lost, we celebrate and cheer when someone makes a decision to follow Christ… but then what? Where is the next marker, what is the next step? Are we finished? And some Christians are reserved to put their feet up and wait… after all, “one fine morning when this life is done, I’ll fly away.”
But you see, there is still transformation for the Christian, there is still discipleship. Before his rant about work, Paul tells them that he has hope for them. He says,
2 Thessalonians 3:3-5
the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.
You see for the believer, there is more to salvation than just saying the sinner’s prayer. Paul says God establishes us – He directs our hearts. The church calls it discipleship, John called it the path, and Jesus called it following him.
Discipleship is about growing in Christ, being imitators of Jesus – yes, we still sin, yes we still fall short, but we’re learning – and we’re growing.
In Philippians 1, Paul says the church in Philippi has a “partnership in the gospel.” That’s a great picture. God’s in the liberation business, he is in the freedom and salvation business and we – we get to be his partners.
And how do you get made partner in business?
By working hard.
The idea of partnership depicts people, working together towards mutually desirable goals. Employees of a firm are involved in the business, customers of the business are involved as well but partners, partners are committed.
And see that’s really the bottom line isn’t it?
Paul sees the Thessalonian church and he doesn’t see their commitment. He worked to build their church, he broke his back to be a good example for them, but when he left – they just rode on his coat tales and relied on the grace of others.
But the Christian life, and the life of a disciple, is not one of lethargy and stagnation. Jesus tells the Church in Laodicea
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
Jesus says, “I’ve seen your work, it’s not exciting or busy, it’s just kind of eh…” Its nothing to write home about. In fact, it’s so bland and flavorless it makes me want to puke.
Jesus doesn’t want hitchhikers he wants heroes. He doesn’t want pushovers he wants partners; and a true partnership means commitment. Partners stick together and stay committed – Your investors might jump ship when the going gets tough or when there is a more lucrative deal someplace else. Your employees might quit if things get rocky. But Partners stick it out – Partners share the vision.
Paul writes in Colossians 3:17, 23-24
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
This is what it means to be a partner, this is what it means to be a disciple. Disciples work heartily, disciples serve Jesus, because disciples share God’s vision.
Paul says God gave the church partners and they’re called….
… apostles….prophets …. evangelists, … shepherds and teachers, (to do what?) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
Disciples in the church realize that we all have gifts given for works of service so that the church is built. Disciples realize that it’s extremely important to train and equip others for ministry. Partners know that they must mature in the faith and encourage others in faith by teaching and/or mentoring. Disciples minister to the needs of other disciples.
At my home Church we say, “every member is a minister.” And that’s not an outsourcing of my job, it’s how God designed His church. The truth is, God never intended his church to be run or led by superstars or celebrities.
That’s exciting! Think about it, every person, no matter where they are in their walk has the potential to be a partner. Let me tell you, you won’t see that same opportunity anywhere else.
Paul knows this better than anyone. What did he do before he planted Churches and wrote scripture? He killed Christians. He was an enemy of the Church – and listen, if a man like Paul can move from the Crowd to the Core – anyone can.
1 Corinthians 9:24-26
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. … So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control
Discipleship requires sacrifice, discipleship requires study, discipleship requires work. But don’t hear the message that we work for salvation, or that we work so God will love us – don’t hear that. Paul never said the Thessalonian church wasn’t saved, he just said they were lazy.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works
Disciples don’t work to be saved, rather they work because they were saved.
We don’t work to impress God, we work because God has already impressed on us – his character.
Neither do we work so that God will love us more – we work because He already loves us so much – and we’re just so excited to be his partner.