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Second Thessalonians

Lifestyle: Christian

2 Thessalonians 3

Lifestyle: Christian

 

Lesson AudioOne hears a great deal today about “lifestyle evangelism.” The concept is sometimes misused to mean, “I’ll be a nice person and everything will be OK.” This is simply not true; and when it is shown to be false we are often very disappointed. Paul here lays out the true principles of lifestyle evangelism. It’s harder than it appears; perhaps that’s why it is so seldom tried.

Objectives

First, let’s see what we are aiming for.

Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.

(2Th 3:1-5 NASB)

 

Let’s begin by examining the objectives the Apostle lays out:

  • First, that the Gospel will spread rapidly. This is supreme for the Apostle Paul. He is therefore willing to do anything needed to further this goal. That is his mission (and ours).
  • Along with this he wants the Gospel to be glorified. If you cannot convert, you can at least break up the soil to make it fertile ground. If all think well of the Gospel, growth is much easier.
  • Finally, that he and his companions will be rescued from others. Note that he does not ask to have no trouble. He knows he will have trouble. He asks to be delivered in it.

We can also see how he expects this to be accomplished.

The Lord is faithful

At a point where a modern Christian would begin to lay out plans, fundraising drives, missionary campaigns and such Paul tells us his method: the Lord is faithful. It is the secret of his success; he knows his source. He is not shy about saying so, either. He proclaims the Lord faithful at a point where we would talk about our budget. It brings up the question: do we know the Lord is faithful? Do we count on it? And if we do, then surely we will praise Him for it.

There is a curious thought here. Just how does the Lord show his faithfulness to us? What’s his method?

  • He strengthens us – largely by trial.
  • He delivers us – from trial.

It appears inconsistent; it also has that certain “nick of time” air about it. It is not inconsistent. It would be so if we were the ones being glorified. We aren’t; he is. He is foiling the work of Satan through us. Seen through the world’s eyes, it is inconsistent. Knowing the purpose of God, it is perfectly consistent.

Through the church

Such thoughts might dismay his readers; so Paul is gentle with them. He tells them he has confidence in them because of their relationship to the Lord. And what is that relationship? It is one of obedience. The result of that obedient life is two fold:

  • First, it produces good work which is all done in love.
  • Second, that good work is consistent, for experienced Christians are steadfast.

We see an example here of the ordinary Christian in obedience to God – producing the fruit of the Spirit.

Example

If you’re going to preach this doctrine, you will quickly be asked to show that you have lived it yourself:

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 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; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.

(2Th 3:6-9 NASB)

 

Tradition

It is traditional in American evangelical churches to announce that we follow no tradition, only the Scripture. Indeed, we are very proud of our rejection of tradition. The word used here is the same word Christ uses when he condemned the Pharisees for following the traditions of men rather than God. But did you catch that word, “Proud?” That’s the difficulty. By and large, we don’t reject tradition because it’s bad; we reject it because we are proud. It is just possible your mother was right, you know.

We are so sure that freedom in Christ means “no rules” that we tell ourselves that there are no rules. But see here what the Apostle teaches: no rules means an unruly, undisciplined life. We hate the word “discipline” too. But there it is. Consider it in the context of the phrase, “disciplined athlete.”

The truth is simple: rebellion, in most circumstances, is a sin. It is not the virtue we paint it to be. Teenage rebellion is not good; mid-life crisis rebellion isn’t either.

Indeed, Paul is careful to point out not that he is rebellious and rejects all the rules – but that he exceeds the rules. It is clear from the Scripture that those who devote their full time efforts to the church are, in general, to be supported by the church. This is something acknowledged not only in the church, but outside. Any atheist would acknowledge that our pastor is our employee, and therefore entitled to his wages. Consider, then, the effect of exceeding the rules. Paul’s entitled; but he supports himself so that he would not be a burden (and all that this would imply). He does so deliberately, so as to be a model for them. The method is still used by missionaries today.

A model of…

What kind of model?

  • First, he is the model of a disciplined life. You can look at him and see the virtue in his life. We don’t hear much about virtue anymore.
  • He is also a model of endurance. He endures labor and hardship; these speak convincingly to his hearers.

His purpose is to spread the Gospel. His method is to be the example of what he wants us to become.

Instruction

To this end, then, Paul gives his instruction:

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all! I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

(2Th 3:10-18 NASB)

 

The Busybody

“She lives for others – you can always tell the ‘others’ by their hunted look.” The people in Paul’s day had no thought of retirement; even if you were rich, you had to look after the money. Idle days were, for most, rare. But it was always possible that if you were old enough (especially for widows) that the church might be persuaded to feed you. So how do you tell the difference between the idle busybody and the senior saint? Elsewhere Paul goes into more detail, but the principles he lays out here are sufficient:

  • First, the busybody leads the undisciplined life. If you are too busy to pray, too busy to study the Scriptures and too busy to spend time in sweet communion with your Lord, something is definitely wrong. The charitable life is also the disciplined life.
  • This is most commonly seen by the symptom of doing no work. With rare exceptions, there is always something we can do to help. Even if it means knitting slippers while you rest in your wheelchair. (The point is not how productive your labors are; it is the elimination of idle hands, the devil’s workshop.)
  • How to recognize a busybody? If you’ve never seen one in action, then God has blessed you. If you have, I need explain no further.

What to do about it

First things first: don’t grow weary of doing good. Dealing with the idle takes tact and patience. Here’s Paul’s simplified method:

  • Take note of the person – and don’t associate with him. Let the shame of idleness be pronounced; if the conscience is not dead, things will change. But do not do this in an angry, mean spirit; rather, do it in love. Our society exalts leisure; sometimes we see leisure as life. Bring the idler around gently.
  • Do not hesitate to admonish; it must be done. One of the perils of the idle busybody is that he thinks he’s exhibiting Christian charity – he’s going around identifying everyone’s faults, for example. There are some things in which the mirror lies.

Farewell

Paul’s farewell is somewhat unusual, until you remember that this letter is a response to a fraudulent one from an imposter. Look for the signature, he tells them. But there is one point here for our learning, too. He ends this letter as he began it: with grace and peace from Christ. It is the goal of the ordinary Christian: live a productive life, full of grace and peace, at the end of which your Lord will welcome you home from your pilgrimage.

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