2 Thessalonians 3.1-15 is quite a firm passage to end a letter with, but serious situations need firm words. If the church family was broken (or starting to break) and not functioning properly, it was only right that Paul wrote to them and corrected what was broken before it became broken beyond repair.
Again, as we’ve said as we’ve moved through this letter, we are not the Thessalonians, are we, but the principle that Paul is teaching them is so, so applicable to us.
He is writing to correct Christians who are not willing to contribute, those who are claiming Christ as Lord and Saviour but who are choosing not to live the life He died to provide. It cannot be like this. It should not be like this.
We said last week that God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification and faith in the truth and that we can’t tell if people are truly chosen but we can see if they are being sanctified. Paul here is saying look, you’re claiming Christ but then just kinda busying around and not really doing anything that shows that He has a claim on you. The principle for the Thessalonians, well, the explicit teaching was to live an active, God-centred life, whilst awaiting hopefully the return of Jesus. Be busy with His work, be active.
From them to us then, the principle is the same: we need people to be part of the family who are actively contributing to the health and building up of one another. For the Thessalonians it was not having a job and just sponging off one another practically, financially.
For us, when we resume meeting in person, which Lord willing will be soon – maybe you saw the news this week that as the church in Bahrain we are knocking on all the possible doors we can to get that green light – it’s a fresh start. We’ve had a break from mass-gatherings that’s been long enough that means we can totally reevaluate how we do things, and we will be doing that. Old rhythms and routines and ‘this is just how we do it’ have all gone, it’s a fresh start. People have moved on, people have been moved on, and we’re gonna be smaller in number but closer in connection having been through this together. We won’t be able to rely on the same old people doing the same old things. Honestly, it will take everybody contributing their time, their talents, and their treasures, simply, everybody to give all of themselves for us to be all that we can be, and to be a church as the Bible defines a church. For us to share a church life as God intended us to do so, in the same way that Paul is commanding the Thessalonians to share a life together, we will need everybody contributing. We need contributors and not consumers.
Honestly, people don’t like hearing this, do they? As Paul has written, you know, if people don’t wanna work they don’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3.10), and, if they don’t contribute remove the community from them to show them what they’re missing out on (vv.14-15).
People don’t want hear that, people want to consume, not contribute, because naturally we are takers, not givers, but what happens if we turn into a group like that?
N.T. Wright wrote this,
In our own hyper-individualistic culture, the temptation is to try to opt out of the church family, especially if it means chores, responsibility, and the prospect of discipline. But the Thessalonians didn’t have that option. There were only a few of them, and there were no other ‘churches’ to belong to. They had to deal with the problem head on, just as in a family or a small village. Unless the whole family remained loyal to the gospel, pretty soon they would cease to exist altogether. It would not be an overstatement to say that when the church sees itself as a family, and acts like a family towards its members, it will not only succeed in caring for its own but also flourish in its mission in the world. ¹
So to be all that God wants us to be,
to be all that we can be in our wider community,
to experience the deep and meaningful relationships we are made to have in our lives,
we need to see ourselves as a family,
with Jesus at the head,
with the love of God and the endurance of Christ at the centre (v.5),
one where everyone contributes and nobody just consumes.
Then, as we just read, we will succeed in caring for our own, but also flourish in our mission to the world. This sounds like a lot to take on, doesn’t it? This sounds like a heavy burden to carry. Again though, let’s not forget that Paul began this section of command by writing pray for us, as we do for you, and we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…(vv.1-6).
This is His church of which He is the head, and nothing will prevail against it when it works how He wants it to work. So when Paul is commanding and teaching and exhorting people on how to contribute to local Christian life, the power and the ability to do so comes from the head and it all works together for the glory of the head. It doesn’t rest on you, or me, or even on us collectively. This is Jesus’ church, He is the head, He has the authority to tell us how to do it, and we’re part of the the bigger picture global, capital C church when we do.
This is the ultimate uncommon sense for us, isn’t it: it’s so easy and somewhat more natural in our flesh just to be concerned with ourselves and what we want to do and what is good for us, simply, to be a consumer. This is true because we’re a group of sinners. But, we’re a group of sinner who know that we need a Saviour, who want to live like that Saviour says we should live, so, instead of seeing ourselves as just ourselves getting on with our own individual lives, we need to see ourselves as a small part of a bigger thing: locally that is our church family here at Saar Fellowship. Bigger than that, we want our church family here at Saar Fellowship to fit into the wider, global, capital C church, and that happens when we do church life like Jesus commands us to. It’s His church, why would we do it any other way?
In one of the songs we sang together this morning, we worshiped with this, a great thought for the Thessalonians, and for us to take into this next chapter of our church life:
Now we know who we are, precious children called by God
Let us serve and exalt our King
With our hearts and our minds freely offer up our lives
Run the race fix our gaze on Him
¹ – The New Testament In Its World