Romans 13:11–14 (NRSV)
An Urgent Appeal
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Besides this, you know what time it is. What time is it? It’s the most wonderful time of the year, well not quite. It is the time of anticipation. The time of year where we anticipate the coming Christmas. There is much to anticipate because with Christmas the light of the world comes to the world to dispel the darkness. Over the years of ministry I have had many conversations over the various holidays. The most interesting are those around Halloween and Christmas. The interesting thing about these conversations is that those that want to discredit faith point out that these were pagan holidays, and those that support faith tend to not know how to answer.
As the church moved further from the Jewish population centers they began to use different methods to convey the truth, when I say different method I do not mean that they changed the message but that they approached the people differently than they would have approached those who were in contact with Jewish traditions. The changing seasons are one of the most readily available tools to utilize by those preachers. All saints day was celebrated the first day of this month. In our tradition of faith we do not celebrate the saints. But when we look at the seasons it tells a story. Halloween or All Hallowed eve, is approximately the date where the period of night begins to overtake the period of light in length. So the early missionaries would use the periods of light and dark, which are already recognized by the population, to teach about the themes of the Gospel. So the night is long, the day is short and in ancient cultures people fear the dark because danger lurks in the darkness, the perfect love of Christ casts out all fear. The saints which are celebrated during this time are those that carry the message of love that overcomes the darkness.
But the darkness remains. There is a lingering anticipation of something more to come, a time where all humankind will live free from fear. These early missionaries would use this period of time to teach and preach about the anticipated coming of Jesus both his coming birth that was foretold in the journals of the Jewish prophets of ancient days as well and the glorious day of Christ’s return on that holy future day. There is hope today and hope for the future because the light of the world has come and will return.
This is the emotional landscape of the population that first received this letter that Paul wrote nearly 2000 years ago, the greatest difference is that unlike the early Christians of Ireland or Scandinavia, the Romans did have some knowledge of the Jewish people although they probably understood them and their traditions about as much as we understand the traditions of the people of Nepal.
There is darkness in the community of the disciples at this time. The writings of this letter is commonly placed during the reign of Nero, who was probably the most infamous persecutor of the Church. The deeds of this emperor would give most of us nightmares, and our spiritual ancestors lived through his days of terror. Which should give us pause when we consider the words that Paul wrote to the disciples of the church during this time. If we were to just look at the beginning of this chapter we would find that Paul speaks about being subject to the governing authorities. Nero was their emperor even though he was slaughtering them for his sick pleasure. I am sure you have heard this chapter quoted often over the course of the past few weeks, and I am also sure that most of those quotes have been taken out of context.
After Paul speaks about being subject to the government and accepting the harsh treatment without resistance, he goes on to speak of how we should live under the rule of others. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
This is what proceeds our verses today. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Besides this, you know what time it is. The term translated “know” in English is in a reflective form. Paul is telling us to remember and to honor the time. This moment you are living in, this age, this era, this is the time to honor and remember why you are here. Now is the time to wake up from our slumber and remember we are not children of darkness but heirs of light.
I want us to let that soak into our souls for a moment. Because the current emotion of our current moment is one that seems to be getting dark. Our culture and media constantly reminds us that the world in which we live is dangerous, twisted, and frankly a scary place. If you believe the reports on the internet you would find that somewhere in our nation someone was shoot over a black Friday purchase. If people are willing to kill over a cheaply made Television it is clear that we live in a dark place. Of course that was not the experience that I witnessed over the holiday, to be honest it was the calmest and most boring black Friday (or gray Thursday) I have worked in the past six years. But Paul is telling us, honor and remember this moment because now is the time to wake up and live clothed in the armor of light.
The night is drawing to a close, soon and very soon the light of the world will come. We greatly anticipate that glorious day, that day our salvation will be complete and perfected. The day of our lord’s return. But till that day we can only remember and anticipate. Until that day we must honor Christ today.
I want us to again remember what the people who first heard these word were living through. They had much to fear. Every day that they met together they ran the risk of being found and bound. Each day they celebrated life together with Christ, they lived with the constant memory that it might be the last time they see the person standing next to them on this side of the vail of life. Their very faith placed them at odds with governing authorities God placed over them. When they saw an officer of the law they would hold their breath praying that the soldier would continue to walk by. They were breaking the law, because they claimed a king other than Caesar. In this place Paul proclaims to them that they should not live in fear but live with the hope only God can provide. Not only does he say live, he says live honorably.
Do we live honorably? Do we live every day of our lives filled with the hope that Christ provides? Do we live every moment of our day knowing that the very power that raised Jesus from the grave abides in us? Do we believe that that same power can work through us and in us? Do we entrust our lives fully in that hope? That is the true question. Do we believe to such a degree that we would entrust every aspect of our life to a personality we cannot see directly, because our faith is entrusting everything about our life to something that is described as wind. That is what Jesus described the Spirit as, a wind, you do not know where it comes from or where it is going but you can see it tussling hair and singing through the leaves.
Let us live honorably. More accurately Paul is saying, “Let us walk in the manner of Christ.” Because to live is means to walk or behave. And honorably is with manners or proper conduct. So when Paul tells us to put on the armor of Light and to live honorably his is telling us to take onto and into our lives the holy lifestyle that Jesus exemplified while he lived among mankind. The lifestyle of praising God as we gather together in the meeting places as Jesus made it his custom to do. Withdrawing often to isolated places to meet with God personally in devotion and prayer as Jesus commonly did. And to go out into the community ministering to the needs of those around us, teaching them in word and deed; bringing with us hope, healing, and love. Let us live honorably doing no wrong to our neighbors, but not only doing no wrong but allowing the blessings of God’s grace to flow out of our lives into their lives.
Paul then shows us what this honorable life is not. Reveling and drunkenness. Maybe we should just jump over this because we might have just reveled a bit on Thursday. When the ancients speak of reveling they are speaking of binge parties, where people would gluttonously consume massive quantities of food and drink. We tend to focus more on the drunkenness portion of this statement because our culture seems to have a problem with overeating. We like large portions of everything, and we like to wash it down with even larger drinks. Then we throw half of it away. We waste the bread of life. This is why often in the ancient church they encouraged the sharing of food, or to join together to eat a common meal, so all were fed. Of course in some places these church meals became gluttonous affairs, where Paul would have to tell them to stop eating so much.
Let us live honorably not in debauchery. The lifestyle that Paul is speaking of is a lifestyle of unrestrained indulgent sensual pleasures. It is a lifestyle of selfishness where there is little or no concern for others. It is a lifestyle of greed and exploitation. It is a lifestyle where people only have value for what a person can receive from them. We live in a culture saturated debauchery, exploitation is nearly our currency. Are we showing an alternative to this lifestyle or are we participating?
Let us live honorably not in quarreling and jealousy. This portion of life is one that I struggle with the most. The term translated as “jealousy” is most often connected with zeal. The reason it is translated as jealousy is because the translators connect it to the strong feelings of envy, or the desire for things you do not poses. Zeal and zealous desires can consume our lives to the point that we cannot see around our ideologies and desires of power. Even though some of these desires are actually good ideas they can cause us to seek to obtain the fulfillment in ways that are contrary to the witness of our faith. One of my favorite quotes from William Penn is, “A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” This is a powerful quote that speaks to this quarrelsome jealousy of which Paul speaks. We must always take into account the people affected by our desires so that we do not cause injury. Often the right path is long and requires great amounts of work. We must be diligent in this work though if the desire is of God He will direct us in a way that will bring glory to Him and to those involved.
If we look at those three phrases we can see just why it seems as if the church has been diminishing in our culture. We have fallen asleep instead of rising up to the challenge set before us. We have often lived lives of excess instead of sacrificing ourselves to be blessings for others. People of the church have used their position for selfish gain while exploiting those around them. And we often have a jealous unrighteous zeal where we force people to conform instead of walk with them in the light of Christ. I am not saying that all of us have been sinful but often we are not neighborly in what we say and how we act.
“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Now is the time to live honorably in the world that opposes us. Now is the time to take on the life of Christ and live his holy lifestyle in our church, community, state, nation, and to the ends of the earth. Now is the time to rise up and walk clothed in the light of Christ, and to reflect that life and light to the world that is bound in darkness. Now is the time to live in that state of holy anticipation remembering and honoring the hope that we have in Christ who has come and will come again. We are living in that state of anticipation because he waits. He waits for us to rise up and live honorably in all things, to entrust all we have to him and to his glory. He waits because there are still people in our very neighborhoods who have not heard, or have not heard correctly. Today is the day that we need to wake up and realize that the Christian life is not having the right words or theology but is loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. The night is coming to a close and the day is near wake up!
Colossians 1:11–20 (NRSV)
11 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Leading into the thanksgiving holiday it is important to remember certain things. The discipline of remembering is very important, because when we fail to remember we forget. We forget the blessings we have received. We forget the struggles we faced, and we forget the successes we have experienced. We forget the love that we share and the love we have given. We forget when we fail to remember. We need to be intentional when it comes to the recall of these things, because it is extremely easy to forget as the distractions bombard us. Remember.
God commanded the children of Israel to remember. To encourage the intentional recall of the journey of life these people experienced over the generations, God set up feasts, festivals, and holy days. For some of those days He encouraged the people to celebrate with their close friends and family at their home or in their community. But occasionally He commanded them to travel to the central meeting place so that the collective memory of the entire people group could be remembered, and so they would be reminded that they are not just alone but part of something much bigger than themselves. These pilgrimages were the Feast of Passover (Pesah), the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), and the Feast of Booths (Sukkot).
We are familiar with Passover, but we sometimes forget that it has many layers. This is the feast where the tribes of Israel are encouraged to remember the Exodus out of Egypt, where God delivered the people out of bondage. This festival corresponds with the Christian holiday of Easter, where we remember the deliverance of humanity from the bondage of sin and death through Christ. Passover also reminds us of hope, hope in the future, hope that God will continue to bless those that call on his name. This holiday is celebrated after the long winter were the ground was gripped by death and dormancy, but as spring comes new life emerges. Passover in Israel is usually celebrated around the beginning of the first grain harvest, barley, so it is also a time to celebrate the first fruits of the year. Passover remains very important to the people of Jewish heritage to this day, where some of the other festivals have diminished in importance, which is one of the reasons we are less aware of them.
The feast of Weeks is one of those holiday seasons we as Christians are less familiar with. This festival reminds the nation of Israel of two things. The first is the giving of the Torah or the law. They are encouraged to remember the days that Moses was up on the mountain named Sinai, and to remember the rebellion the people participated in while they lived without the law. They are encouraged to remember the covenant that God made with them, and to celebrate this some traditions began the festival by reading the entire Torah in a day, the day of Pentecost. This is not the only tradition that has emerged from this festival though. The feast of weeks is exactly seven weeks after Passover, it is a week of weeks. So if Passover is in the spring, Shavuot is in the summer around the month of June. For many the giving of the Torah and the covenant made between Israel and God was a marriage, so many honored and remembered this covenant by starting their marriages around this time. Even today June is the month that most weddings occur. But there is more, seven weeks after spring is when the harvest of wheat happens so this holy festival reminds the people of Israel that God sustains them, with the law and with the harvest. Oddly this festival has diminished in importance overall, largely due to the fact that most people do not live by the harvest, and cannot take a week off in June. But it does remain in part.
The final holy pilgrimages is the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This festival was to remind the people of Israel of the forty years they spent wondering in the wilderness, where God provided their every need. This celebration also has seasonal and agricultural attachments; it honors the closing of the harvest. Passover starts the harvest with the lessor grains, Weeks corresponds with the wheat harvest the main staple of life, Booths is the close of the fruit harvest. To celebrate this the entire nation would come together, building temporary shelters and would share the harvest with everyone around them. And as they shared they remembered that God provided for their ancestors in the wilderness and He provides for us.
This final feast of the holy year it the one that our American ancestors tried to establish with the holiday of Thanksgiving. The majority of the harvest was in, and now we should share and celebrate the blessings that God has given us. There is something powerful in these holidays, they cause us to remember. Even the seasons remind us of God’s presence throughout our year and life. This Thanksgiving I hope we take the time to remember. Remember the provision that God has given you, remember the blessings of our families and friends as we gather together, remember the covenants that we have made to one another and to reestablish those commitments. It is a time to remember that everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God.
Unfortunately, the attitude of gratitude is so easily forgotten because life gets in the way. This week as I was studying I listened to the entire letter to the Colossians several times. Paul begins this letter with thanksgiving, and continues to remind the people of the church to remember who God is, who they are, and to be grateful. Paul reminds them of the grace of God, and encourages them to live that out.
If the feast of Booths is to remind us of anything, it is to remind us of the relationship we have with God. God was the one that delivered Israel from bondage, it was God that made a covenant with them, and it was God that sustained them through the Exodus. As they settled into the land of promise it is still God that gave them the land, it is God that provides the rains for the harvest, and God who is the bread and wine that provides life. God is life and our life is God’s.
“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power.” What a prayer of blessing that Paul extends to this church. Even within this prayer of blessing Paul reminds the followers of Christ that our life, our hope, our provision, and our love is found in God. I often need to be reminded of this, because often I fail to remember that God is the source of my strength. Often I work long and hard trying to provide all I can for my family and this church. I study, worry, and plan for the future and at times I must force myself to remember that it is not my strength that is needed but God’s. While I’m struggling in my own strength I neglect prayer, I neglect my relationship with God and I struggle to even pray. Why? I know who has all things in his hands yet I fail to intentionally remember.
“and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience,” This phrase of this passage strikes me as odd. May you be prepared to endure. As I read and listen to those words it is as if the Spirit is telling me to rest in Him, and also to focus on my relationship with Him. It is this relationship, the disciplined life where we are prepared and build the endurance to handle the stresses of life. When we fail to remember this aspect of our life with God, it leaves us without the patient endurance that is found in Christ and we are left in our own strength.
“While joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” Joyfully giving thanks. This is where the attitude of gratitude comes in. Intentionally recalling the history, we have in God and expressing our praises for all he has done.
I want us to slow down right there and look at the phrases together. Paul is calling us to remember the source of our strength, the preparation to endure, and the joyful thanksgiving. Do you see a theme there? This is a statement about the holy rhythm of life that Jesus taught us and called us to follow. Making it his custom to worship in the synagogue, He withdrew often to the isolated places to pray, and he ministered to the needs of those in the community. Strength to serve, prepared to endure through a life of personal devotion and prayer, and joyfully giving thanks in worship. This is the holy rhythm of Christ and it is the example that Paul showed to the churches as he ministered in the provinces of Rome.
Paul then reminds us why it is important to engage in this holy lifestyle. “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God rescues us from the power of darkness, he delivers us from various forms of bondage which is the result from a lifestyle of sin. That rescue comes from Jesus the very son of God who showed us the holy lifestyle, the lifestyle of repentance or returning to God. Christ is the center, because it is through Christ that we are united with God.
Christ must be in the center of our faith because it is only through Christ that we can begin to comprehend the things of God. When Paul uses the early Christian hymn which is recorded in Verses 15-20, we begin to see the beginnings of the Christian understanding of God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” The term firstborn is a declaration of Jesus’ position in relation to all other humans, he the one through whom the inheritance is received through. He the heir, the ruler of creation and the only way that humanity can connect to God. It is in Christ that the spiritual and physical are united and perfected. It is through Jesus, Paul continues, “all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.” That is what the first born means, it is all Jesus’ for us to have any lasting place we must go through Jesus. He is the head or the center of the church, He is where the fullness of God dwells, and through the blood of his cross all of creation is reconciled to God.
Can we grasp how important this truly is? Everything we see is Christ’s. Everything we don’t see is Christ’s. Every nation, every government, every kingdom, every association, and institution is Christ’s. Not only are they his, they were created for him. Russia was created for Christ, the United State was created for Christ, China, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa were all created for Christ. Walmart, Target, General Motors, the United States Postal Service were all created for and through Christ. Your job, is Christ’s, your hobby is Christ’s. Everything we do and everything we have is not our own because it was created through and for Christ. Nothing is truly ours, it is all blessings provided to us by the grace of God. Our intellect was given to us and disciplined through our educational systems for us to use for the glory of God. Our businesses were created by us for Christ. Let that sink in for a moment. God is life and Life is God’s.
Remember, Paul often reminds us. Remember who we are and where we are. Everything and everyone is God’s, are we giving it proper reverence? Your spouse is a gift from God, you children and grandchildren all gifts. Your pets, your car, your business all a gift. They are not yours alone but they are God’s through Christ. The person that annoys you is a gift from God. The suffering we must endure is a gift from God. The president is a gift from God, that we either must endure or are thankful for. But we need to see it in the proper light and treat them all properly. The fruits of our labor, the profits of our investments all created through and for Christ. This Meeting and Meeting house is not ours but it is Christ’s and is a gift from the one through whom reconciled us and delivered us from the powers of darkness and gave us an inheritance with the saints in light. While we join together in our American interpretation of the Feast of Booths, let us look at the world around us in humility and reverence, all we have is given to us for God’s glory. Let us then in all things have an attitude of gratitude and give thanks to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit through whom we have life, and hope, and love.
2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 (NRSV)
Warning against Idleness
6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
At times scripture is confusing. We initially read a passage and we think that we fully understand it. Then we look a bit deeper and it is as if there is a different universe just under the surface. I have been asked by friends why it is so important to keep reading one book over and over, this is why. As soon as I think I get it another door opens, a window is cracked, a light gets turned on, or the aroma of something in the oven begins to draw me into another room where the feast is about to be served. This is one of those passages that is layered, it can become a bit confusing when you begin peel off the layers. So let’s just take it easy as we dig in.
As I was first beginning to pay attention to what was being said as a young man, I heard this passage often encouraging everyone to work hard and earn their bread. I grew up in rural Kansas on a farm, we worked hard. The ideas of work were engrained into our minds. Someone without an ethic of work was not heard of. So when I initially read, “anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” It means something to me. It is the core of who I am. This is so much of who I am personally I actually do not know what to do when I am not at work. I begin to fidget, I get irritable. And the few times when I was unemployed for a period of time I felt worthless.
I would venture to say that most of us here have a similar understanding of life. I am not saying that this is wrong. I am not even saying that it is improper to interpret scripture this way because that is what it says. When Paul says that we should keep away from people who live in idleness, we should do it. Idleness is a lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that honors waste, corruption, greed, and gluttony. Those that are idle fill their time with various lusts of the flesh because they have nothing better to do. Do not associate with the idle. But be careful in how we read this. Idleness is a lifestyle that takes many forms. Just because someone is without work does not mean they are idle, and individuals that make substantial incomes are not necessarily exempt from idleness.
I want to make this distinction because the term idleness does not necessarily mean lazy. Idleness is a lifestyle without order and without discipline. With that in mind Paul is saying, “Keep away from believers who are undisciplined.” This takes on a much deeper meaning than just laziness. Laziness is just one minor aspect of what Paul is speaking about. Keep away from the undisciplined believers, who do not live according to the traditions they received from us.
We have discipline and traditions. Traditions are the practices of an order. Traditions are not necessarily a bad thing even though those of us from protestant expressions of faith. A tradition is basically the framework a group uses to develop and encourage participants in their group. Every group that you have ever been associated with has traditions that they utilize. Every corporation, athletic team, school, and church has traditions. Paul is concerned because there are people involved in the assembly of believers that are expressing a tradition of idleness instead of the tradition that was shown while Paul was with them.
So what are the traditions that Paul is speaking about? My first thought would be a proper understanding of the gospel. This is fundamental to faith. The Gospel that was taught by Jesus was that the kingdom of God was at hand. I have mentioned this quite often because it is very important. The kingdom of God is something very different than our understanding of nationhood. The concept of kingdom is the influence, or the area over which a ruler has influence. When Jesus preached the gospel message he was saying that the influence of God is all around us. It is here, if we are willing to see it. The difference between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world is that there is no land or borders, only people. The influence of God is one that changes the way that we think and when we are truly influenced by this kingdom our actions are changed as well. But these things happen within the kingdom of men as well. When people emigrate from one country to another the influence of their former home diminishes as they become integrated into the culture of the new country. This does take time to fully occur. The first generation usually live in a community with people that emigrated from the same country, they live together there speaking their primarily their native tongue. In many ways only their location changed but much of their old life remains. Then they have children, these children do not know the old land, they are only aware of the nation of their birth. They still hold similar traditions because their parents taught them and they still live within that community. The difference is that they general speak both languages, that of their birth nation and that of their parents. They speak one at school, and one in the home. They grow and because they have influences outside of the community they tend to have a blending of cultures. As they mature get jobs and marry their children or the third generation become even more integrated to the new culture to such a degree that they barely know the original language if at all, and now they think like a citizen of the new nation and only have a hint of the land of their ancestors. I saw this with the German community back home and I see it occurring with the various people groups I work with. So if the Kingdoms of men can change the way people think what is the difference of the Gospel? That comes with what the change of though actually is. The kingdoms of men seek different things than the kingdom of God. Mankind seeks wealth and power, where Christ taught to love your enemy, to turn the other cheek, and to lay up treasures in heaven not one earth. And as Paul taught it, “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility regard others more highly than yourself.” The difference between the kingdoms is who we consider important, me or them.
Jesus taught the Gospel but he also gave us something else. He lived the gospel. This is most likely the tradition that Paul speaks about. When Jesus first called the disciples he asked them to follow him. What he is asking them is to leave the life and lifestyle they were currently living and taking on the life that he will show them. He lived a life where he made it his custom to worship in the synagogues, he withdrew often to pray, and he ministered to the needs of those around him. Jesus taught a great deal while he lived out his life, these teachings are very important to faith, but to put these teachings into action requires something discipline. This is what the lifestyle of Jesus provides. How do I love my enemy? We look at Jesus’ life and we can see how that is supposed to work. As Jesus walked and talked and while he ate and socialized; he established within his disciples a tradition of life. This tradition focused on Worshiping God, individual devotion and prayer, and service to others.
Paul taught this same tradition to his disciples, and to the disciples among the Thessalonians. He says to them “imitate us.” This concept of imitate means that they are an example, a model of what this sort of life should look like. So when Paul speaks about the idle believers, his is saying that they are distracting people from this sort of lifestyle, and if they are distracting them from a life devoted to worship, prayer and service, how are they living their lives?
But what is this about eating? Many believe that the traditions spoken about by Paul are primarily the traditions within the worship meetings. In the early church they would often break bread together and share a meal in reembrace of Jesus. This goes back to the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples shortly before his arrest and trial. During this meal Jesus took the bread broke it and saying that it was his body broken for them. He shared this bread with all at the table. He then spoke about the wine in a similar way and also shared it. The bread and the wine are the two most common staples in ancient meals. And when the early church gathered to worship sharing a complete meal was just part of it. Jesus is the sustenance that provides life, He is also the example and perfect life lived out for us. So is Paul speaking about the traditions of worship? Yes and no.
Later on Paul speaks about work. He toiled day and night and did not take anything from the community but paid for the bread that he ate. Since bread was a staple of the meal, Paul could be speaking of wages, saying that he earned the bread that he ate. But again he could also be saying that he worked outside of the church to supplement and finance his livelihood. But if we were to combine the ideas of labor and worship we find something beautiful.
If you are unwilling to work you should not eat. When we combine the tradition of sharing a meal as part of worship, this exposes a different layer. Paul is encouraging those around to participate fully in the ministry of the church. If someone is sharing in the tangible elements of worship they should also participate in the ministry there in. The church is filled with various gifts of the spirit that should be used for mutual benefit within the body. Paul is concerned that within the traditions of idleness there are people that have sat back and allowed others to do all the work, yet still want to share the meal around the table. Paul is telling us that it is not just the pastor’s job, or the worship leader’s job to expand the kingdom. Each and every person that calls on Christ has a part in the kingdom work. Every aspect of your life should be reflecting the influence that God has made. When we are helping customers we should be expanding the kingdom in some way. When we are enjoying life together with friends, there should be some testimony of Christ being spoken or shown to those around us. Our life with God should be something that just is.
Which leads us back to discipline. As most of you are aware I enjoy a good hockey game, I actually enjoy a mediocre hockey game to be honest. An athlete participating in that sport must be disciplined. They are skating around on ice at great speeds, carrying sticks made from wood, carbon fibers, or even metal. As they travel around the ice with blades on their feet, wielding a club, they are hitting a solid rubber frozen puck traveling faster than the speed limit on the highway. There are several ways that a player could be injured. So they practice. Most of the people that play a sport professionally have great discipline because they practice daily. They know how to skate and how control their stick so they can keep serious injury to a minimum. They practice so that people like me can watch a good game. But do we put that amount of discipline in our faith? Scripture tells us that we should be able to bear witness to the hope that we have at any moment. We cannot do this if we have not disciplined or trained in the traditions of faith. But if we are actively working with the church for the mutual benefit of all involved, so that when we are called to speak or act we can do so with little effort.
Keep away from idleness. Keep away from lack of discipline. Instead take on the lifestyle Christ offers to us. Do not allow the ways of the world to distract us from the work that God is calling us to. Work hard and make a living so that we can become a blessing to others, and while we share. Do not be distracted. How well are we doing this? Have we become people that are worthy of the name of Christ, or have we become an undisciplined believer focusing on the end and not living the present.