Walking in idleness
23rd Sunday after Pentecost – C LSB #’s 906, 789, 664
Text – 2 Thessalonians 3:11
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.
WALKING IN IDLENESS
In the calendar of the church, next Sunday marks the end of the year. Its official name is The Sunday of the Fulfillment. Our Sunday this morning serves as the Eve of the end of that year in order to heighten our sense of expectation for how this present world will end.
News of the war in Ukraine has mostly fallen off the headlines, but with Russia being a nuclear power, there is some nervousness concerning whether or not they’ll use them. Would that bring our world to an end? On a more personal level, it’s not beyond each of us to wonder how your story, or mine, will come to its end.
St. Paul wrote this 2nd letter to the church at Thessalonica because of their ideas about the end of the world. The church there was suffering under persecution, & though they were standing firm, fake news about the end of time is what they were putting their hopes in.
An excited, almost hysterical expectation had led some to abandon their regular occupation. They were leading idle & disorderly lives in dependence upon the charity of the church. To counter this, Paul offers sobering words pointing to the events which must precede the coming of Christ in glory.
The Apostle seeks to turn the church back to sober & responsible activity which is the hallmark of the genuinely Christian hope. You & I live in a horribly twisted world, where even the church, the very body of Christ, is infected by the horrors of sin.
For example, the Russian Orthodox church is backing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The church of its time called for Pontius Pilate to have Jesus crucified. Yet, that crucifixion of Jesus overcame all the plans Satan has to cause eternal harm to us. Since we are free of his rule, genuine Christian hope can turn away from preoccupation with our suffering. St. Paul said that our coming eternal hope & glory will far outweigh all our struggles & suffering here on earth. And while that is factual & true, getting our emotions in line with those facts is much easier said than done. Suffering still hurts, & depression is rampant across our nation.
King Solomon wrote that in all of our world’s broken history, there is nothing new under the sun. Therefore, it’s certain that life in Thessalonica was pretty much the same as life in our time. We too have people walking in idleness, more than ever since the pandemic. Despair & depression increased greatly during those Covid years.
Since God is in control of everything in His creation, followers of Jesus know that His almighty plan is unfolding. Yet, because so many things appear hopeless, we struggle to live by faith instead of by sight. There is so much pain & confusion today among the people of our country. Our government has proven itself incapable of solving our nation’s problems.
There has never been a better time to turn our focus away from government & back to Jesus. In that light, St. Paul wrote:
“…pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead & be honored, as happened among you, & that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you & guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing & will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God & to the steadfastness of Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ESV)
The love of God & the steadfastness of Christ is where all of our hopes lie. This past election proved ever more that our nation is continuing on the path of abandoning God. In Montana, there was a proposal that would have required doctors to provide care to babies who survive abortion. It was voted down, & Montana is not California.
Killing children in the womb was never enough to satisfy the Devil, but human beings are now proving themselves too foolish to realize that. And that can cause God’s children to despair, to give up & to surrender in fits of hopelessness. If there’s no point in voting, is there any point in working for a living? The government wants to be our nanny. Why not let them? And if I don’t work, I don’t have to pay taxes. It’s a logical argument, & a lifestyle that many people already follow. Why not you? Why not me? And come quickly, Lord Jesus.
St. Paul doesn’t fall for that sinful logic & forcefully counters: “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 & not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.”
With the phrase, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul makes clear that those strong words are not merely his opinion. Yet those strong words are also addressed to brothers. Paul has not written them off as unbelievers. They have grown lax in their love for their heavenly Father & for the price He paid to rescue them.
The Apostle seeks to rouse them out of their slumber. Are you sleeping? Maybe you have been working to earn your living. Maybe you’re retired & your occupation is now grandparent. Have you been walking in idleness regarding the mission of God? Jesus came, not just to seek & to save the lost, but to offer hope & comfort to those who are suffering.
All of us know that this world is full of people who are suffering & hopeless. While it’s true that many of them will no longer listen to anything that Christians have to say, some of them will listen when they see what God’s children do.
A lazy, uninvolved Christian is simply disobedient, neglecting the nature of the Church. They are denying how the Son & the Spirit work in & through the people of God to accomplish spreading the good news of forgiveness, but also loving & caring for one another. Paul goes so far as to say, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b ESV)
Paul instructs us to actually keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness. Stop
associating with them in their idleness. In the 1st letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had mentioned some who would not work, but were disorderly. It is evident that his brief exhortations had not produced the desired effect. Paul is most anxious that these friends should come to their senses, & it’s noteworthy that he continues to treat them as friends. His stern command is given in love.
Now, you need to hear this, Paul is not speaking about people who are unable to work. He is not uncaring or insensitive to the needs of those who, for whatever reason, cannot be employed. He is talking specifically about people who refuse to work & expect to live off the backs of others.
And Paul is not commanding those who do work to treat these brothers as unbelievers. He recognizes that idleness is part of the curse of sin that makes so difficult, so many of the important things in life. Anytime we are called to work against the debilitating effects of sin it truly is impossible to do so without the power of the Holy Spirit.
By refusing to use the abilities that God gives us for work, we are refusing the help & the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a dangerous path to travel in this world. Earning a living was an extremely difficult task in Paul’s day, quite unlike it is here in America now. It’s more like America was when factory workers slaved away 12 hours a day & 6 days a week.
To refuse to work when able, & expecting to live off the charity of others, was not just an insult but a life threatening circumstance. It was threatening to those who did work & to their families. To top it off, the idle ones were not just refusing to work, they were also meddling in the affairs of those who did, stirring up even further trouble.
Therefore, the urgency of Christ’s gospel mission is what Paul sets before us in the opening verses of the reading from Thessalonians: “…pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead & be honored, as happened among you, & that we may be delivered from wicked & evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you & guard you against the evil one.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 ESV) Genuine Christian hope can turn away from preoccupation with our suffering only by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Our sinful nature makes us too weak to do this on our own.
For that reason Martin Luther suggested that daily we remember our baptism & the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. It’s best if we consciously turn to God in our suffering & in our struggles.
It often seems tedious for us, to pray without ceasing, but it is that kind of sober & responsible activity that is the hallmark of the genuinely Christian hope. It is a living by faith, not by sight. While we too look forward to the end of time & Christ’s return, we don’t do so with a lazy & idle attitude. By sight, that may appear wise, yet by faith we realize it is foolish.
God’s children do not just put their hopes in the end of time, nor even simply in heaven. We put our hopes in Jesus Christ, in what He has accomplished, & in what He has promised. Because of what Jesus has done to save us, we live godly lives here in time. As Martin Luther wrote:
“The Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayers, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s Kingdom come? God’s Kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word & lead godly lives here in time & there in eternity.” (Small Catechism)
That is how the Word of the Lord runs & is glorified. The people of God participate, at a basic level, in mission & evangelism through prayer which turns the heart of believers to those outside of Christ. Prayer purposed for the growth of God’s Kingdom of grace & mercy, of love & obedience, somehow unleashes the potential of proclamation so it can run; run over racism, hatred, gender dysphoria, neglect & alienation. The Gospel outpaces all would-be & eventually fleeting identity-makers. The Good News of forgiveness in Christ brings with it the truth of a renewed-in-Christ humanity. Baptism begins that renewal within us. The end of time, with the resurrection, will be the final fulfillment of the promises given to us in our baptism.
On this Eve of the Sunday of the Fulfillment, we pray that our heavenly Father would remind all of us of that Good News. Amen.
Bless, Lord, the labor we bring to serve You that with our neighbor we may be fed. Sowing or tilling, we would work with You, harvesting, milling for daily bread. Father, providing food for Your children, by Your wise guiding teach us to share one with another, so that, rejoicing with us, all others may know Your care. Amen. LSB 789:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet