“Pray for us,” writes Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3, “that the Lord’s message will spread rapidly and be honoured wherever it goes, and that we will be rescued from wicked and evil people.” Sometimes I forget that for most of his life as a Christian, Paul faced persecution for trusting in Jesus.In virtually ever city, there were – and are – wicked and evil people. Why? Because not everyone is a believer! Wicked and evil people don’t, perhaps, look like the stereotype. No. They could look like ordinary citizens. They often do. They are simple those who stand opposed to the truth of the gospel. Yes – some raise their opposition to higher notice than others (think of people burning churches full of Christians, for example), but even those who provide “background” antagonism stand as a threat to Christians who share the gospel. But not a threat to be run away from. Rather, a threat to be run towards. For it is from the “wicked” and the “evil” that God redeems his people as his message rapidly spreads in their midst and is honoured by those who believe.
But, having barely asked for prayer for the missionaries, Paul returns to encourage and exhort the Thessalonians. They too lived in a world full of unbelievers. But they could be confident – as Paul could be – of our Lord’s faithfulness. God has placed us in this world, and he will give us the strength we need to live for him. And he will also guard us from the evil one. Though wicked people might attack, we are ultimately safe from our ultimate enemy – Satan.
As Paul concludes his letter, he writes confident that the Thessalonians were doing what they had been commanded to do. And he is confident that they will continue to do so. Yes, there were those who had tried to pull them away from the truth. But let them not follow. Yes, there were those whose lives didn’t reflect the gospel – let them change. Indeed, let God lead their hearts into a full understanding and expression of God’s love – and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.
One of the BIG issues in the Thessalonian church was – wait for it…. LAZINESS. Laziness is antithetical to the Christian life! Now, I’m not talking about those who were unable to work. I’m talking about those who could work but chose not to. Who would rather spend their days pegged out in front of the ancient world’s equivalent of the TV set. But that’s not how Christians should live. We should be hard workers. We should not expect others to have to expend their energy to look after us. Rather, we should be expending ourselves for the sake of others, like Paul and the other missionaries did. In fact, Paul says that this is a command “in the name of our Lord Jesus”.
Why is laziness – refusing to work – such a big deal? A few reasons come to mind. Firstly, because it gives space for the lazy to “meddle in other people’s business”, rather than being occupied with their own affairs. Secondly, because it isn’t fair to expect others to have to work harder just because I don’t want to. Thirdly, because it gives a terrible impression to the world of what a Christian is: someone who can’t be bothered – surely that’s not what we want people to think of Christ (since we are his ambassadors)? Fourthly, God made us to be workers – from the start he gave Adam and Eve jobs to do. Fifthly, God himself works – God made all of creation and worked to redeem us.
Idleness is not something the church should overlook. Yes, we should help those who are in need – we should not tire of doing good. But we should also not be suckers. If a fellow Christian refuses to work and expects the church to take care of them…. we should help them get a job, not pay for their board and upkeep.
Paul has raised some big points in this short letter. About the return of Christ, about living the Christian life. What he says at the end applies, I think to all of Scripture. As CHristians, we should note those who stubbornly refuse to obey what God says. We should not support them in their rejection of GOd’s truth – but stay away from them to shame them into repentance. Even so, we should not think of them as enemies but as brothers and sisters who are dire need of warning.
Oh Lord of peace: give us your peace. All the time. Whatever occurs. Please be with us. Please be with me.