II Thessalonians 3:6-13
“Do Not Grow Weary”
The believers at Thessalonica were struggling. They had thought that the return of Christ was imminent, that the end of the world as they knew it would come. But that did not happen, and now they were living in uncertain days, not knowing what to expect; they were discouraged, disillusioned, and doubting. So this letter was written to them to send instruction as well as encouragement. But there is also strong admonition in this letter. Some of the believers had stopped working and were waiting in idleness. Listen to the message sent by Paul: II Thessalonians 3: 6-13
It is hard to believe, but this is my seventh stewardship season here at First Presbyterian. I remember for the first one here, back in 2010, I shared an old story about a little boy who swallowed a dime.
His mother became frantic. “Quick!” she yelled to her husband, “Let’s get him to a doctor.” “No,” replied the father calmly, “I think we ought to take him to the pastor.” “The pastor?” the mother exclaimed. “Do you think he is going to die?” “Oh, no,” the father said, “but our pastor can get money out of anyone.”
For seven years now I have stood up here during stewardship season trying to get money out of anybody/everybody, and a lot more than dimes. Yet I hope you know by now that stewardship is not just about committing our money. It is about committing our lives. It is about where we are spiritually.
Right now where we are is weary. Weary from the drama and division of politics. Weary from playing catch up and trying to get our lives into a daily rhythm after the storm and flooding. And weary from seemingly endless needs for well doing.
“Do not grow weary in doing what is right,” Paul says. But how do you do not grow weary?
Paul does a good job here addressing how to help others without being taken advantage of, without growing weary and experiencing burn out. His advice of no work, no food gives us permission to put in place safeguards and set some boundaries in how we assist others. We are not called upon to have folks take advantage of us. But we are called to take the risk of giving and doing. And if sometimes we get taken for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, so be it.
Then Neta Pringle says there is another kind of freeloading that most of us are tempted to do, and that is freeloading spiritually. We come to worship, but we do not do any of the work ourselves. We let the pastor or someone else tell us what the bible says. We let the congregation do the praying for us.
At that point Paul’s admonition, “If you will not work, you cannot eat,” becomes descriptive rather than prescriptive. If you do not read the bible for yourself, if you do not have your own prayer time, you will not be fed, you will not grow, you will not mature as a Christian.(1) No work, no food, no growth.
But let us get back to Paul’s specific instructions here. Paul is not trying to establish a social services policy for the city of Thessalonica. He is trying to establish a “do good for others even when you do not have to” ethic among those who follow Christ.”
If there is something good that you can do, do it. If there is something good you can give, give it. Even if you do not have to.(2)
That is not always easy. We want a voice telling us that we should do something. Our son Will has mental disabilities and autism. When Will wants something that belongs to someone else in his group home, like a hat or a piece of candy, he will grab it, hold it close, trembling because he wants it so badly, and he will say to himself. “It’s not yours, Will. You can’t have it. It’s not yours Will. You can’t have it.”
I admit each year when Consecration Sunday comes and it is time to fill out that pledge card and give back to God a tithe of all God has given to me, I find myself looking at that number I put on the line and needing to say to myself, “It’s not yours Wanda. You can’t have it. It’s not yours Wanda. You can’t have it.”
I remember how Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth, “Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
There is a close correlation between faith and giving. Sure, we need to plan for our future and protect reserves for uncertain days. But to withhold all our goods and money as an act of self-preservation implies that our care is solely in our hands.
And the truth is we can never put back enough to take care of ourselves on our own. We have to rely on our Maker, the One from whom all blessings flow.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we are doing what Jesus taught us to do, asking God to take care of our needs one day at a time. Not more than we need, just what we need one day at a time.
Not long after I came here, I visited our congregation’s oldest member at the time, Lois Flowers. She was 98; she would end up living to be 101. An elder and I shared communion with Mrs. Flowers. And when I handed her the elements and said, “This is the body of Christ and the blood of Christ given for you,” she responded, “And that is enough.”
Then we took communion to a couple in their 90s, Mac and Gwen Orr. Mac talked about the days compared to the Great Depression, how then his family had nothing to eat but grits for weeks on end. And then he said, “But I have always given back to God my tithe, in the lean times and the full times. And I have always had enough, most times more than enough.”
This letter sends a strong message to the Thessalonians, “Stop worrying about uncertain days and not knowing what to expect. Get back to work. Get back to your calling to do the work of the kingdom.”
This letter has admonition, but it is also loaded with hope and encouragement. No matter how we are shaken from the times, no matter what life brings, there is a peace that comes from God through Christ that can never be taken away.
And that is enough. More than enough.
So as we prepare to commit our lives and our tithes next week, remember this:
Consecration Sunday is not just about money, although that is an important part. It bridges the gap between what we have and what we are called to do.
Consecration is about our spiritual commitment and what we do in response to what God has done for us.
It has nothing to do with politics or the economy, or when or how we think the end of time is coming.
It has everything to do with our relationship with God, and how we live in the meantime, doing what we know is right.
May we not be weary in doing what is right. Amen.
- Neta Pringle, “2 Thessalonians 3:6-13: Pastoral Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, pp. 304 and 306.
- Frank L. Crouch, “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13,” Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=308