For the Love of God, Volume 1/October 22
From Gospel Translations
2 Kings 3; 2 Thessalonians 3; Daniel 7; Psalms 114—115
THE PASSAGE IN 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is unique in the New Testament. Nowhere else do we find so many lines devoted to the sin of idleness.
Certainly it is possible to transform work itself, or the rewards that stem from work, into an idol. That is often what people have in mind when they speak disparagingly of the “Protestant work ethic.” Still, one must insist that the proper response to the sin of making work an idol is not leisure: that may simply make leisure and hedonism an idol. The proper response is repentance, and faith in and obedience toward God. Then work must find its proper place in a world framed by God and his Word.
Readers of the Bible cannot help but notice that God says a great deal more about work than about leisure. The much-maligned “Protestant work ethic” began rather simply: devout Christians thought they should offer all their work to God. That guaranteed that, on the whole, they worked somewhat harder and a great deal more honestly than many others. The inevitable happened: many of them prospered. Of course, two or three generations on, many began focusing on the work itself, either as the essential mark of piety, or as a means to win prosperity, or both—and sometimes God was squeezed to the periphery. But while we rightly seek to condemn work as idolatry, we should be very careful about swinging the pendulum the other way, and seeing work as something that merely has to be done, so that we can get on with the really important thing: having fun and serving self. Biblically speaking, it is difficult to see how this stance is an improvement in any sense.
We do not know exactly what prompted a number of the Thessalonian believers to be lazy. Perhaps some were simply sponging off the generosity of Christians. Certainly some were less interested in being busy than in being “busybodies” (3:11). But Paul will not have it. This is not a case of Christians needing to show compassion to those genuinely in need. Rather, this is a case of Christians needing to crack the whip against those who claim they are Christians but who disobey the apostle’s explicit injunctions (3:12) and ignore his remarkable personal conduct (3:7-9). He worked (i.e., at his trade), precisely to teach the point: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (3:10). Now Paul goes a step farther: responsible Christians are to shun these shysters, to keep away from them entirely (3:6). That way they cannot corrupt the church. More importantly, outsiders will not confuse the conduct of such people with the conduct of Christians who happily take on apostolic instruction.