Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3 But 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.
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
– 2 Thessalonians 3:1-12 [ESV]
A recent Bible class conversation about Jesus’ second coming revealed some interesting perspectives. Some people said they would have a heightened urgency if they knew Jesus was returning in 30 days. I pointed out that Martin Luther is quoted as once having said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” I liked the comment left by Lifelong Lutheran on the website where I found the quote:
What Luther meant is that the future is uncertain and everything is in God’s Hands. Therefore, we should live out our vocations (father, mother, son, daughter, businessman, educator, farmer, etc) each day without worry for what will happen tomorrow (or anytime in the future). Ultimately, as believers in Christ and because of his work within each and every believer, Christians are secure in their faith and salvation, and they have nothing to fear in the future—not even death. For in Christ’s death and resurrection He has promised believers that He has overcome the world, death, and the devil and has given all believers eternal life.
Since there were significant questions, conclusions, and controversies in Thessalonica regarding Jesus’ return (some even saying that Jesus had already returned!), it seems likely to me that at least some of the people there were going the opposite direction from an attitude of urgency. Some had actually given up on work and expected to be taken care of. They were apparently not worried about such mundane things as food and shelter. Paul says that if they’re not willing to work they should not eat. Our son and his wife actually have that on the wall in their home: a warning to their children. I’ve even heard them warn their kids this way. In other words, “Do your chores or else…!”
Some say that dedicated Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. A group there had fallen prey to an attitude of complacency and idleness in response to Jesus’ imminent return. They became busybodies rather than being productive citizens. They had a don’t worry, be happy attitude on steroids.
Sometimes you just have to pay the rent. There are dishes to wash. Clothes to iron. Meals to cook. Lawns to mow. Floors to sweep. Work to be done. All these things are part of God’s way of providing for our needs. In his book, God at Work, Gene Veith says that “every kind of [godly] work [is] a sacred calling … an occasion … for exercising a holy service to God and to one’s neighbor.”
Add to this passage, Paul’s words to Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially those of his own household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:28). It is clear that the nitty gritty tasks of everyday life are important aspects of our faithful lives. God uses the nuts and bolts of daily living to make a thing of beauty when we take seriously not only our heavenly calling but our earthly responsibilities.
One of those responsibilities – which Paul mentions just a few verses prior to these – is to bring the Gospel message to the world. That’s by no means a mere nuts and bolts proposition, but however we are able to bring that about is also a part of our service to God and our neighbor.