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Posts Tagged ‘i thessalonians’

I and II Thessalonians cannot seem to stop talking about work. In these short letters we find references to work at I Thessalonians 2.9, 5.12-13; II Thessalonians 3.6 -13. Here are four implications we might be able to make from reading I & II Thessalonians.

1)      If you have been gifted with hands and strength and brains, do not take advantage of your generous Christian brothers and sisters.

2)      It is not a good witness to become dependent on or indebted to another.

3)      Stopping work in order to act all religisophical gives the appearance of idleness and hinders the witness of the church.

4)      A follower of Jesus who is idle in public suggests the wrong thing about the church and puts all believers at risk.

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Sometimes we experience some unplanned things. That describes how I met Gwendolyn. I suspect our relationship is over, in all, it lasted about twenty minutes. It was about 9:30am on Thursday morning. I had just walked out of FedEx on Paxton Street and was busy plugging my phone into the cigarette lighter when there was a knock on the window. I rolled the window down and could hear her already talking. Unable to catch everything she was saying, I heard her apologizing for upsetting me and messing up my day. At the same time she was saying something about being pregnant and getting out of the hospital and hitching a ride to get here.

I stopped her to ask what she wanted. She said she wanted to go home. I asked if she needed a ride to the train or to the bus station. She said she lived in town and I told her to jump in.

She did and I introduced myself. She told me her name was Gwendolyn and repeated she was pregnant, had been in the hospital, and had hitchhiked this morning. She then told me she hadn’t eaten and asked for a couple of dollars. I told her I don’t usually carry cash but we both noticed that I used the cigarette lighter as a change holder. I told her she might find a couple of dollars there.

She did not waste time and by the time we turned onto her street she had a hand full of change, claiming there was almost fifteen dollars there. She asked if we could turn around and go to the bank. At this point I am not believing Gwendolyn’s story and thought strongly about saying, “No, we agreed I would take you home” and “I thought we agreed on a couple of dollars.”

But there she was, in the car, hands full of change, and I’ve been reading I Thessalonians. This is a letter that strongly encourages love. This letter encourages living with a holy heart. I remember thinking that might have something to do with Gwendolyn.

Twenty minutes from the time I met her, it was over. We met on Paxton, stopped at a bank on Thirteenth Street, and I dropped her off at a place that I suspect was not really her house. As she climbed out, Gwendolyn turned to say “Thank you Randy, you are an angel.” And I begin to think this short friendship was not for Gwendolyn’s benefit at all – but for mine. Probably because God wants me to have a holy heart.

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Is work something God is interested in? That was the question explored at a recent forum held at Evangelical Seminary. There is a popular theology of work that goes something like this; 1) Christians should go to work, 2) they should work hard, 3) they should be nice to co-workers (after all, they want to convert them), and 4) they should earn money (in order to give to the church, after all this is where the real work is).

This misses the mark in many ways. Notably, such a view causes a separation between work and church. Instead, Chris Armstrong suggests the following definition for work. 1) a summons 2) to meaningful work 3) in service to others. There are some things missing from this definition. Nothing is said about personal passion and nothing is said about personal strengths. This is intentional. The reality is we can be called to work we do not want. We can be called to things we are good at and things we are not. Our work is not about ladder climbing or personal success. As the parable of the Good Samaritan makes clear, just because it is not our gift does not make it ok to walk by on the other side.

We need to be honest about work. Work can be incredibly frustrating. Work can be dehumanizing and even violent. Not all work is for the good of others. Work can become an idol, it can separate us from God, separate us from creation, separate us from neighbors. We often tend to dismiss work that is not grand or heroic. But work is not about self-fulfillment, it is about being of value to others. We are made in the image of a working God. There is dignity in work. It is a blessing and gift.

I Thessalonians is helpful at this point. Abraham Malherbe reports that manual labor was held in low esteem by stoic philosophers. Converts to pagan philosophies abandoned their trades and quit their jobs. They spent their time waxing philosophical on the streets. Public perception was that these people were irresponsible and “busybodies who meddled in the affairs of others.”

In contrast, Paul tells the church to “lead a quiet life… attend to your own business… work with your hands… behave properly toward outsiders.” Paul even suggests himself as an example, “recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you… You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers.” And again later, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you…”

Douglas A. Campbell offers, “Paul is especially concerned that some Thessalonians are mooching. They are participating in the communal meal but are not contributing to it, being too lazy to work.” Paul says it like this, “some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies…” Holy living requires those in the church not become burdens to others. To work toward some level of self-sufficiency is to demonstrate love for others. This love for one another is to spill over into larger society. Work becomes important for relationships in the body and for witness in the world.

Holiness is not only a work in the heart; it works to benefit the lives of others. We do not work in isolation, work is a social reality. John Wesley might say that personal holiness means little without an accompanying social holiness. Holiness must be externalized, including in one’s business practices. Our calling is relational and dynamic. The well-being of others depends on our work. The parable of the sheep and the goats make clear the importance of work as value to others. And it has eternal implications.

Christianity does not call for us to stop working. It does put our work to new use. It might be more accurate to say that work becomes a context for mission. Our work carries out our love for God and love for others. The rhythm and dance of everyday life is tied to everyday work. The sacred drama is grounded to the daily working world. Grand heavenly things are connected with practical earthly things like daily work. There is something sacred about the everyday and ordinary. Yes, work is definitely something God is interested in

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