Busy Bodies or Busybodies?

Sermon Series: This Is the Time

Busy Bodies or Busybodies?

October 12, 2006 - October 15, 2006

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

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Rich Patterson


Did you ever wish you didn’t have to work; that you could turn off your alarm clock and turn over and just go back to sleep? That you didn’t have to get up and make that long commute, work somewhere for 8 hrs or more and then come home exhausted? For most of us, this is a day off from our work; probably a welcome one. As rewarding as it may be, our work does take a major portion of our mental and physical energies for 40 or more years.  It’s the focus of much of our day and most of our lives. So if for no other reason, our work is very important. And for a young person just starting out, it can be a real challenge, even a struggle, to find the right kind of work in which to invest so much of one’s life. That was my experience anyway.

 

My first job was working in an orange juice factory—but I got canned. I couldn’t concentrate.

For a while I worked as an exterminator but I got tired of the rat race.

My last job before seminary was working at Starbucks, but I quit because it was always the same old grind!

 

I guess it’s good I didn’t try working as a stand up comedian! But work can be a challenge; it certainly can be frustrating! So why put yourself through all the trouble to work? Of course the short answer is we need to; we need to support ourselves and our families. But there’s more to it than that.

 

Even worse than difficult or demanding work is boredom-not having anything really worthwhile to do. Two doctors at the
University of
Arkansas
did a study of male heart attack survivors. Many suffered from depression during recovery because they were restricted to very little activity. The researchers found that going back to work significantly reduced their chances of being seriously depressed. We need work. It’s important to us.

 

The recent edition of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Ameicans had Bill Gates still at the top of the list-- worth over $50 Billion. Now he clearly doesn’t HAVE to work to support himself but he works nonetheless. He works hard managing his foundation and trying to contribute something to the common good. No matter who we are or how much we have, we need to be busy and productive, doing something meaningful.  That’s the way God made us.

 

Working to support ourselves, our families and to be able to help those in need around us, to contribute something to the common good—that’s the biblical pattern. After God created Adam and Eve, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Gen. 1:28) “Be fruitful”, “Fill the earth ands subdue it” “Rule”. Even Adam and Eve had work to do. They had a big job! And later, after their sin, God told them that “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” ().  Now they had to work in order to eat.

 

Work— productive work to support ourselves and serve others- is the biblical pattern for us. It’s not natural or healthy to be idle.

 

And the Apostle Paul makes that point, too. Listen again to what Paul says.  “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat’. (2 Thess. 3:7-10). Productive work to support himself so he could also serve others—that was Paul’s model.

 

You may remember that last month Harry explained why Paul mentioned this model—he was defending himself against charges that he was greedy—only preaching for the money. Paul says “No. I didn’t take any money from anyone for my preaching. You saw how I supported myself by my own work when I was among you.” As their pastor, Paul was entitled to their support, but he didn’t take it. He worked and supported himself. Greed wasn’t an issue here.

 

But in this 2nd letter to the Thessalonian church, probably written just a year after the first one, Paul’s dealing with a very different situation. The issue this time was that some of the Thessalonian Christians were confused about how to live while waiting for the  Lord’s return. And their confusion was causing big problems!

 

On Oct. 22, 1844, tens of thousands of people in
Massachusetts
donned white robes and climbed mountains or trees to accelerate their ascension to heaven with Jesus. They were expecting his return literally any minute. They were known as Millerites, followers of William Miller, a Baptist preacher. In 1818, Miller studied the Bible, the books of Revelation, Daniel and other prophecies, and calculated that the end of the world would come October 1844. So he set out preaching around the northeast and even published a book about it in 1831.

 

By 1844, He had gathered somewhere between 50 and 100,000 followers. They were excited and restless as October approached. Soon, they began to give away their belongings, abandon their crops and sell their land. Some gave away everything they owned. After all, soon, they wouldn’t need them. The Lord was coming back. And they wanted to be ready. And they were eager to convince others to follow their example and get ready too! Of course when the Lord didn’t return the result was not only a “great disappointment” and a lot of ridicule but thousands of people were thrown instantly into poverty, destitution and ridicule.

 

That was somewhat similar to the situation in the Thessalonian church. A number of people there were convinced that the Lord’s return was imminent—he was coming back any day, any minute and they wanted to be ready! Now that’s not bad—the Bible commends that attitude. Although the Bible says we can’t know exactly when the Lord will return, we’re supposed to be ready for it at any time. But these folks got carried away—they were so excited, so restless, they couldn’t even do their daily work! They quit their jobs; after all when the Lord returned—any minute—they wouldn’t need to work—and work was just a distraction from the really important business of getting ready.

 

We can understand their eagerness to quit their work—after all most of these folks had tough jobs, real demanding manual labor; and there were no paid holidays or vacations. They were certain that soon the Lord’s return would free them from their toil. So they quit. But, of course they couldn‘t do nothing all day—it’s just not natural to be idle--so they made it a point to go around to all their friends and try to convince them to quit their jobs, too! And while they were there they probably and plenty of time to spread gossip and generally become a bunch of real nuisances. Instead of having busy bodies, they were busybodies, Paul says; neglecting their own business and getting into everyone else’s!

 

You can see what a problem this presented to the Thessalonian church. Some felt that the demands of brotherly love required that if anyone in the fellowship was in need, it was their responsibility to provide for them. You couldn’t just let them go hungry! So these “busybodies’ were sponging off the rest of the folks in the church—the hard working, industrious ones.—taking advantage of them And Paul will have none of that. Stay away from those who are idle and disruptive, he says. Remember how I worked to support myself when I was with you—follow my example. And I command those busybodies to settle down and earn their own living (2 Thess. -12).

 

And this wasn’t the first time Paul had to write them about this. In his first letter, perhaps a year earlier he told them “You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you may not be dependent on anyone” (1 Thess. 4: 11b-12). You can imagine how it looked to outsiders to see some people in the church being idle and sponging off others for their living. It brought the whole church-and the new faith-into disrepute and ridicule.

 

The behavior of even one of us affects the welfare and reputation of all of us here—and the honor of the Lord whose name we claim. If some are irresponsible, our entire fellowship suffers—and our reputation in the wider community. That’s the bad news.

 

The good news is that our work, our diligent, productive work, done with excellence (that’s one of our core values here: “Excellence honors the Lord”) reflects credit on our fellowship with those still outside the faith and it honors our Lord. So whatever your work is, whether you work with your hands doing hard manual labor like many of the Thessalonians or you’re part of the “knowledge industry” working more with your mind, your work, done with diligence and excellence, can be a powerful way to honor the Lord and serve your sisters and brothers here. I believe that all work, any work, that is done to support one’s family and contribute to the common good is equally pleasing to God—and a way for us to serve and honor him.

 

I come from a family of what I call just “regular folks”. My dad was a dairy farmer all his life. He never went past high school. He worked hard and worked with his hands all his life. My uncles worked on auto assembly lines, paper mills and highway construction crews. Some of my cousins still do work on road crews. They work hard to support themselves and their families—much harder than I do. So I have great respect for people who work with their hands for a living. After all, Jesus was a carpenter, the Apostle Peter was a fisherman and the Apostle Paul, a learned rabbi, earned his living making tents.

 

But whether it’s working on road construction crews, tending children in day care, working at home raising a family, designing software or teaching college students; any work done to earn your bread and contribute to the common good is honorable and ought to be honored among us. Our work may be hard, but it’s also good. It’s a good gift from God that we can use for his glory.

 

I read recently of a writer who visited a Christian fellowship in Alberta, Canada. It was a strict fellowship with strict rules of behavior (somewhat like the Amish, I believe) and the writer asked the leaders how they dealt with folks who misbehaved and wouldn’t comply with the strict rules. Those people were first asked to shape up and if they didn’t, they were given a stern “talking to”. But, the writer asked, what if they still won’t comply. “Well if it comes to that”, came the reply, “we don’t give them anything to do.” That was the ultimate sanction—no work—nothing useful to do. If that doesn’t sound too bad, just ask someone here who’s been unemployed for awhile. Idleness gets old real fast. Work becomes a real gift.

 

What about retirement? If productive work is the biblical pattern, if we need it and it’s a gift from God, can we really retire? We all have to deal with the waning energies and health issues that come with age and we have to adjust our work to accommodate them. We may “slow down”, “re-deploy” or whatever we call it. But if retirement means idleness --giving up all productive work to play golf or sit around the pool every day—I don’t think Christians CAN retire. Even if we have a good pension and no longer need to work to support ourselves, we can’t “retire” from using whatever remaining gifts of health, energy and skills God has given us—because he’s given them to us to use to be productive for God’s people and the common good.

 

Did you ever wish you didn’t have to work? A little piece that came to my email inbox recently said “The Lord didn’t burden us with work, rather he blessed us with it”. We need work. We need to be busy and productive. Our work a major way we are blessed and both bless others and honor God. So whatever your work is—whatever it is—be grateful for it. When you come home feeling exhausted at the end of a long day, remember that that exhaustion come from having something useful, productive and honorable to do. Your work is a gift. You’ve been blessed. Thanks be to God. AMEN.

To contact Rich Patterson about this sermon, please email or write to: Brunswick Presbyterian Church, 42 White Church Lane, Troy, NY 12180