Our reading in 2 Thessalonians is a striking and powerful indictment of idleness in the early Christian Church.
If anyone is not willing to work let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not just at work but busybodies. Take note of that person and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.2 Thessalonians 3:10-11, 14
It appears that those who don’t contribute are rebuked and ostracized. This appears to be harsh on the surface. OR IS IT?
Paul is working to create a new kind of family in the creation of a new Christian culture.
This was a new orientation, a new King requiring allegiance and worship. It was not like what was demanded by Caesar. This King gives unending love.
Thessalonica was one of the first Christian family communities, and loyalty overrode many considerations.
Resources were pooled. St. Stephen, one of the first deacons, is a great example of this occurring in the early church in the care of widows and food distribution. He created the first food bank.
Labor is needed for the community to grow.
The creative energy of all is required for the Church to survive.
These ideas were revolutionary. The foundation of society was shaken. The new Christian family grew. It grew and grew. A Jewish reference describes it as a new root transplanted to new soil and watered from a different spring.
If you belonged to it, you did not belong to the outside world anymore. Everything changed. You changed. The new family was not at ease with the pagan or traditional Jewish culture and establishment anymore.
Once you discover a better way, it is hard to go back. This created problems for the neighbors you interacted with.
In the first decades of existence, this led to persecution by pagans, by the government, and by the Jewish community who did not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The new community was viewed as subversive. They were labeled as different, with secret vices as the drinking of blood.
Christ would not give homage to the emperor, and Christians resisted doing so.
Imagine how a traditional Jewish family felt when a family member became a Christian. They felt betrayed and often shunned or ostracized the person.
You may lose your job due to your new beliefs. Your boss may think that it is bad for business. This still exists today. Dennis and I were in Japan and attended a Methodist Church while there. They were a self-contained community. Often working for each other as it was hard to maintain employment with the non-Christian world around them.
In the early existence of the church, it was commonly believed that Christians subverted the normal social and cultural life of the empire.
A young Pharisee named Saul was so enraged with hatred that he gained the authority to attack and harm Christians. He traveled widely, seeking them out. Often citizens informed authorities about Christians and where they lived. St. Stephen was murdered for his unwavering beliefs and testimonial to his accusers. He was our first documented martyr for the faith.
So back to Paul and our Thessalonian verses. Paul (the reformed Saul) demands that there is no idleness in the new family. All talent, energy, and resources are needed to succeed. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are working to inspire and hold the new family together. The new community is given new life and new tasks.
Let’s ask ourselves why Paul is doing this. Why? Why? Is he trying to strengthen the new family by demanding adherence to the way? Is he trying to protect the new Church from relapsing into its former lifestyle?
The new Christian structure and community give strength to face trouble and persecution. It provides family solidarity. It provides a model that peers into an uncertain future. We trust in God, even when trouble surrounds us. When one of us suffers, we all suffer.
Paul later gives the idle Christian a road back. We are to treat them not as enemies but as brothers to admonish, correct, and accept back into the fold.
Do not regard him as an enemy but warn him as a brother.2 Thessalonians 3:16
Paul himself was given a way back to Jesus Christ. He intervenes out of love.
In Luke 21, our Gospel reading for the day, it tells us that trouble and persecution don’t end. It forewarns the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. It holds throughout history to today. Jesus’s words guide many believers down throughout time.
And they asked him, teacher when will these things be and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?Luke 21:7
In verse 9, Jesus tells us, and when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once. Then he said to them, nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and, in various places, famines and pestilences. (We know all about pestilence after experiencing COVID-19, but I digress.) Let’s continue: And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up in the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake.
Jesus in Luke tells us that we continue to be persecuted as the end will not be at once.
Today we see persecution around the world. In China, as in our recent adult bible study taught us in the book, “Faith in the Wilderness.”
Christians in Myanmar
The Coptics in Egypt
The United States of America: Our secular world minimizes our beliefs. In some circles, the Bible is labeled as hate speech. Two weeks ago, three attacks on church buildings occurred, including a Cardinal residence in New York City, and all were vandalized. On election day, a church was burned to the ground in Jackson, Mississippi. The list goes on. All you have to do is watch the news.
So, what do we do now? Right now.
- Fidelity to Jesus
- Adhere to our Christian way of life
- Display firmness and faithfulness in our beliefs
- An ongoing investment in one another
The greatest of these is love.
We are a part of a network of Christians throughout the world. We support missions locally and around the globe. We show charity to those who are unable to care for themselves. We provide an example of love to the outside world. When we do this, we can earn the respect of others. It can bear witness and show others that fear of Christians is unfounded. The world is watching. The world is watching our actions carefully.
Our St. Dunstan’s family is a community that supports each other in good times and bad. We often pool our resources and come to the aid of our own.
- Meals delivered in times of personal crisis
- Help in moving a refrigerator
- Help a member find a new place to live
- Financial assistance for an unexpected expense due to tragedy
It gives converts an example to follow and a way to find wholeness and oneness with the group. Family. We are family. We are fortunate today. If you become a new Christian, you have generations of experience from grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, saints in the church, and experienced clergy to rely on for help. You have over 2000 years of tradition and learning to guide you. The Bible is available throughout the world in many languages. In the early Christian community, it was so new that often there was confusion and a lack of human leadership. Without the Holy Spirit, it would not have survived.
I challenge you to find your place in this St. Dunstan’s Community. Find a service or mission and pour your heart into it. Pray, assess your gifts, and figure out what you are drawn to. Try something new. Bring a new project to the table, and don’t be afraid to think big. Serve out of love and as a result of your love for Jesus Christ.
Paul in Thessalonians encourages us to endure to the end, until Christ returns.
In the meantime, we work.
We work to spread the Gospel.
Lord Bless our Church family.
Lord Bless our worldwide Christian family.
Give us the strength to endure.
May God find us worthy.