My oldest son has this t-shirt that I really enjoy. It says, "I'm not lazy, I just really enjoy doing nothing." It's a funny shirt and it's a little true. I really DO enjoy doing nothing. If I could lay in bed watching movies all day while eating a large chocolate cake, that would be a perfect day. Seriously. There's just one problem (aside from the stomach ache I'd get from all that cake, not to mention the sugar rush AND crash). And it's this:
" And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us." (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
Drat. Paul is telling me here that he doesn't approve of this plan of mine. Sitting around eating cake all day while watching movies is not a good use of time. It's the epitome of living an idle life.
And if we rewind a couple hundred years (okay, several hundred), we'd see that the Thessalonians were dealing with some of the same issues we face today. I am not the only person who enjoys doing nothing. And there were apparently plenty of people who felt the same way and then acted on that desire in the days of the Thessalonians.
Let's keep reading:
"For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: 'Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.'" (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10)
I so enjoy doing nothing that I sometimes wonder if this is the example that I am actually setting for my children. Are they learning to work hard even when they don't feel like it? And trust me, I don't feel like it a lot but I still do what needs doing. Or are they learning to sit around too much, to play too often rather than working, and to rush through the jobs they have so they can get back to their precious nothingness? That's not what I want them to learn and I pray that it's not what I'm teaching. Because the fact of the matter is that, like the Thessalonians, most children learn by example. If I am being the example of the person that I want them to be, then I am doing the best that I can.
And then there is this in the scriptures:
"Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.
Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister." (2 Thessalonians 3:11-15)
So before we start blaming ourselves for any lazy children that we have, it's important to remember that they are not fully grown into who they will be yet. I may have kids who enjoy doing nothing a lot right now and that is okay. They aren't fully themselves yet. They are still learning. And even if they do grow to be lazy (which I doubt), Paul says in verse 11 that despite the example that they set for them, some of the Thessalonians still made poor choices.
We are not responsible for our children's choices. Please read that again. No matter what we do, how we raise them, how we teach them, how we guide, how good or bad an example we are, our children have their own brains and their own free wills. They get to decide who they are going to be as adults. We can't decide that for them no matter how much we might want to. Some of our children will get pregnant too young, do drugs, drink when they're still underage, steal from others, lie to others, and make any number of other bad choices.
Furthermore, we will-sadly-all know people who wander away from God despite their upbringing. We'll know people who settled into a bad job and struggle through their entire lives. We'll know people who marry someone we don't approve of. We'll have friends who choose abortion, who choose an abusive spouse over their children again and again, and more. It's the world that we live in. We live in a sin-filled world.
But read verse 13 again.
"As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good." (2 Thessalonians 3:13)
In the middle of the mess, Paul offers these words of hope. Never get tired of doing good. Never get tired of doing what God is calling you to do. Because when we do good, when we do the right thing, we are being lights in the darkness. We are representing God well right where we are. And that is what God is asking us to do. Over and over again throughout the New Testament we are called to strive to be like Jesus. That means doing what we know is right even when no one else does. In this example, it's about overcoming laziness even when others don't. But it's so much more than that too.
That means parking far away at the Sneak a Peak at school even though there is a lovely spot open amidst the other illegally parked cars. It means sharing chicken treats with the neighbor's free ranging chickens and ducks who are always visiting because they like chicken treats too. It means making dinner for your family each night even when your husband is going to be late from work again. It means sitting down with your kids and working through that homework anyway even though you don't want to and you remember hating that particular lesson the first time you went through it (do we really have to learn Algebra four additional times in this house?? I had that in school, I don't want it again).
Paul offers this advice in his letter to deal with the lazy Thessalonians:
"If anyone refuses to obey our clear command written in this letter, don’t let him get by with it. Point out such a person and refuse to subsidize his freeloading. Maybe then he’ll think twice. But don’t treat him as an enemy. Sit him down and talk about the problem as someone who cares." (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15MSG)
Basically this says to me that we shouldn't just watch people doing the wrong thing. We shouldn't sit around and talk about how they are always doing the wrong thing. We should get actively involved and actually tell them. And there is a right way to go about it.
But I have to add to this that I don't think you should be telling people that you don't know that they are stupid. The Thessalonians knew each other. They were a church together. Words of warning and concern mean a lot more coming from someone you know and trust. Having a stranger point out your flaws helps no one. That means that if your kids or your spouse are struggling, it's time to come alongside them and ask them how you can help them through. Maybe it means it's time to take them to God in prayer and hand them over to Him because he loves them so much more than you ever could.
Before you approach someone about something that is going wrong in their life, pray. Always pray about what God would have you do. Always pray about the things that you will allow to escape your lips. Because this isn't about judgment and shaming and "how could you." It's about loving the other person too much to let them continue down this path. If that isn't your purpose in approaching them, then don't do it until it is. Paul said to "talk about the problem as someone who cares." And that's also what I think Paul is saying here:
"May the Master of Peace himself give you the gift of getting along with each other at all times, in all ways. May the Master be truly among you!" (2 Thessalonians 3:16MSG)
Paul is wrapping up his letter at this point and so I will take his cue and wrap up this blog. I pray that something I've written here helps someone, anyone. I pray that we all take a look at our lives and identify the lazy places. And believe me, there is a difference between lazy and taking some much needed rest here and there. Jesus came to give us life to the full, not a full life. Please don't confuse the two. Please don't think I am challenging us all to go, go, go until we drop. That's not healthy either. Talk to God, he'll show you what needs improving and what is just fine the way it is.
Let me end this with Paul's final words in this letter:
" May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." (2 Thessalonians 3:18)