Work for a Living
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, June 8, 1997
Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
Have you ever prayed, "Give us this day our daily bread"? Jesus instructed his disciples to pray for daily bread. How does God answer? When God's people make that request, their heavenly Father answers by giving them wisdom, physical health and opportunities to work. Why? Daily bread comes only through labor.
The Bible tells us we must work 86 percent of our time on this earth. In Exodus 20:9 we read, "Six days you must labor." God also told us "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" (Gen. 3:19). Work is very spiritual.
What is the necessary ingredient for bread? Sweat. We all must work hard. Even students must work hard six days a week in order to qualify themselves for productive labor in a successful vocation. If you are a student but you are not studying very hard and are ignorant as to what you are planning to do in life as a vocation, you are being disobedient to God. You must repent and qualify yourself through rigorous education to productive labor. I assure you, when you pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," God will give you wisdom and strength to study hard. Why? It is his will that your bread will come through labor, and labor comes through skills obtained through education. God himself will give you work opportunities so that you can be self-sufficient and able to give generously to the truly needy as well as to support his kingdom. Context
In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 the apostle Paul addressed this issue of working hard for a living. In verse 6 Paul begins, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us." What was the context of this strong command of Paul?
During his second missionary journey, Paul, together with Silas, arrived in Philippi to preach the gospel there. There they were stripped, beaten, and thrust into the Philippian jail. God performed a miracle, and through Paul and Silas' imprisonment, the jailer and his family came to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
After that, the Philippian magistrates demanded that Paul and Silas leave Philippi. They traveled to Thessalonica where they preached the gospel and many put their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation during the apostles' brief stay.
While Paul was in Thessalonica, he taught the new believers many doctrines of the Christian faith, including the doctrine of the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. Based on this teaching, some people stopped working. No doubt they reasoned that if Jesus was about to come, what would be the use of continuing to work? So these people stopped planting, harvesting, and working for a living. There was one problem--they soon became hungry. When that happened, the idle people began to depend on other believers who were still working for their food. Not only did they not labor, they interfered with the labor of others. They became idle, disorderly gossips. They were not busy but busybodies, Paul says.
So Paul warned the Thessalonians several times about the danger of being idle. He warned them when he was with them and in both of the epistles that he wrote after he left Thessalonica.
Warning Against Idleness
In verse 6 of 2 Thessalonians 3 we read, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle," and in verse 10 we read, "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule." Paul was referring to the oral teaching that he gave when he was in Thessalonica the first time. When he was there, he saw these drones, these pious frauds, who covered their sin of idleness in the shroud of piety. What rule did he give them? "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
But the Thessalonians did not pay any attention to this apostolic warning, and so a few months later, when Paul wrote his First Epistle to the Thessalonians, he again exhorted these lazy Christians who were living as social parasites in violation of the fourth commandment.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 Paul began, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. . ." You see, these people were given to emotionalism. They were excitable. Even today we find emotional people who are into shaking, laughing, falling down, "getting drunk," and being crazy in the name of the Holy Spirit. In the same way, these Thessalonians were excitable people who had lost their heads and were acting irrationally. But let me warn you: Don't ever equate emotionalism with spirituality and intelligent apprehension of the gospel.
Paul told the excitable Thessalonians, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. . ." In other words, "Settle down! Calm down! Have an inner calmness and a steady mind." He continued, ". . . to mind your own business, to work with your hands, just as we told you. . ." referring to the oral teaching he gave when he was there. Why should they do that? ". . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
What was the gist of Paul's message? Work! Work hard! Work with your hands! Paul wrote elsewhere, "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need" (Eph. 4:28).
The Dignity of Work
In the ancient world there were differing opinions about labor. The Greeks viewed labor as a degrading activity. Work was not for the sophisticated, the aristocrats, or the elite. Over one-third of the population of the Roman empire--sixty million people--were slaves who were considered the living tools of their owners. Only slaves performed manual labor. To the Greeks, then, manual labor was degrading.
The Hebraic view of labor was different. God's word taught that all honest work has dignity and is spiritual. Even the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe and King of kings, worked with his own hands to support himself and his family. Paul was born a Roman citizen and lived as a member of the social elite. He was highly educated, and yet he learned the trade of tentmaking to support himself. So the Jews respected labor. In the Jewish culture there was a saying: Teach your son a trade or you will be teaching him how to steal.
As we consider this, we must ask ourselves: Parents, are you teaching your children a trade? I see many people coming out of universities with degrees in hand, but when I ask them, "What are you going to do?" many of these people answer, "I don't know. I simply don't know." What does that tell me? Someone was supporting those people. They became social parasites--those who are unproductive and do not know what to do. Therefore, parents and students must pay close attention as we examine what the Bible says on this subject.
In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul told the Thessalonians to settle down and work with their hands. That is the gospel, the tradition, the apostolic teaching. And what was the purpose of doing so? Verse 12 tells us, "so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders."
You see, the gospel and the kingdom of God is at stake here. When you are a parasite--a drone, an unproductive person who depends on parents, government, and the church, a person who is looking for welfare handouts--you are bringing shame to the gospel. But when we earn the respect of outsiders and pagans, then we can speak to them about Jesus Christ and the gospel. Paul tells the Thessalonians to work so that outsiders--pagans, unbelievers--may respect them.
What is the other reason he gives? "So that you will not be dependent on anybody." This is self-sufficiency and independence in the true sense of the terms. How old are you, son? How old are you, daughter? How old are you now? Who is taking care of you? Who is supporting you? Are you independent? So Paul's counsel to the Thessalonians was, "Settle down, work with your hands, win the respect of outsiders, and above all, be self-sufficient and independent."
But the Thessalonians refused again to pay heed to the apostolic direction. So a few months later Paul wrote his second letter in which he warned the idle to obey his teaching. That is where we find our text, in chapter 3, beginning with verse 6.
Why did Paul warn them again? You see, it is not easy to change a lazy parasite into a productive human being. Just study the history of the welfare policy of the United States for the last thirty or forty years. Has it succeeded? No. Not only is the current policy pathetic, but it is also destructive. Able-bodied persons are freely given money, apartments, televisions, furniture, and everything else and therefore there is no incentive to work. Why is this happening? Because politicians have no interest in the Holy Scriptures which tell us that to do all these things is bad policy. Should we support those who are truly needy? Of course! It is the responsibility of the church, the state, and the whole society to care for those in need. But I am speaking about the policies under which able-bodied people can live as parasites dependent on my tax money for their income. I do not like that, and neither should you.
Commanded to Work!
In verse 6 of chapter 3 of 2 Thessalonians Paul writes, "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. . ." meaning by the authority of the only Sovereign Lord of the universe and the Head of the church. And then what did Paul say? "We command you, brothers. . ."
This is an interesting verse. The word Paul uses for command, parangello, means the command of a superior to those who are down below, the inferiors. It means the authoritative command from a general, not a little suggestion or counsel. It is not saying, "You know, have you ever tried working? Maybe that would be a nice idea." No! "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we command you." This is the command of the Supreme Head of the church, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, through his apostle who represents him.
What was Paul saying? "Pay attention, all lazy people! We command you in the name of the King of kings and Lord of lords. You idle, lazy drones--you are stubborn! You refuse to live by the gospel you received--the oral and written gospel. You are church parasites! You refuse to be productive even while you depending on the church for your daily living. You are disorderly, and the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church, will not tolerate disorder in his church."
So there was oral teaching, there was the teaching in the first letter to the Thessalonians, and there was teaching in the second letter to the Thessalonians. Through all this teaching, Paul was saying the same thing: Christians must work and be productive.
The Example of Paul
Then Paul offered his own life as a personal example of working hard. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9 he wrote, "Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you." And in 2 Thessalonians 3:8 this highly educated apostle, this Roman citizen, this great rabbi, this systematic theologian of the New Testament and apostle to the Gentiles, wrote, "We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you."
We must understand something here. There is work, there is labor and there is toil. Work is easy; labor is hard work; and toil is very hard work which produces sweat. By his own testimony Paul worked hard, sweating and toiling constantly and regularly for long hours.
What about us? Do we toil like the apostle Paul? We recently heard that the citizens of one country voted in a socialist government which promised to cut their working hours to thirty-five while continuing to give them all the goodies, meaning entitlements. What is this government saying? "Oh, you don't have to work forty hours. We'll cut it down to thirty-five and give you all the vacation and medical care you need. Whatever you want, we will give you freely as you suck from the few productive ones."
Read 2 Corinthians 11:27 and see whether or not you sweat as the apostle Paul did. Paul wrote, "I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." This speaks of hard work, of toil. That is what Paul, the most productive apostle, did in Thessalonica.
Was Paul A Parasite?
In Acts 17:5-7 we read that Paul lived in the house of a man named Jason while he was in Thessalonica. But we read in both 1 and 2 Thessalonians that Paul gave Jason money for his food and lodging. Paul was not a parasite. He was a responsible man who was interested in the promotion of the gospel. Paul did not want anyone to say, "This man is sucking up all our money in the name of the gospel."
This was Paul's pattern. He did the same thing in Corinth as we read in Acts 18:3. He did the same thing in Ephesus. In Acts 20:33 we read what he said in his farewell speech to the elders of the church of Ephesus: "I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak," and so on.
Did Paul have the right to be paid for his gospel preaching? Certainly. Jesus Christ himself said the worker is worthy of his hire. But Paul explains in 2 Thessalonians 3:9, "We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you follow"--a pattern or type for the Thessalonians to imitate, in other words.
Dealing with the Lazy Person
Therefore, if you are a Christian who believes in the gospel, you must be a most productive and self-sufficient person. Rather than being a borrower you must be the one who gives. (PGM) But the truth is, the Thessalonians had not listened to Paul's earlier warnings. So in this section of Scripture he writes to discipline and instruct them. What can we learn from this?
We need to warn an idle brother. In verse 15 we read, "But warn him. . ." The word is noutheteo , from which you have the nouthetic counseling. The officers of the church are to warn these idle, excitable people, putting into their minds the gospel requirements and demands that they work. Parents, do you do this with your children? Do you teach them that they should work? Or have you indulged them with the latest roller blades, the latest computer, the latest modem, or the latest everything else? If so, you may be beginning to wonder why they are drones, lazies, and parasites. It is because you never demanded that they work. Therefore, I command you to demand. Everybody must work.
Oh, these Thessalonian people were excited. "Jesus is coming," they said. "What is the use of working?" But they lost their heads. They lost their minds. I urge you, never lose your mind. Be intelligent and anchored in the gospel so that you understand it. "Warn them," Paul said.
- We must mark out a disobedient brother. Put a sign on his neck, in other words. Single out that person who is a lazy drone so that everyone will know who he is. Mark him! Take note of such a person! Put a label on him!
- We must not feed an idler. In this section Paul implies that we should not feed the lazy, disobedient brother when he comes into our house. If he refuses to work, he should not eat, in other words. Let me assure you, that is a good way of dealing with this problem. After three days a person is going to work. He will lose his emotion and excitement as he experiences hunger pangs. Let the government try this. Let the parents and the society at large try it. If an able-bodied person refuses to work, we should refuse to feed him. After three days, such a person will lose his spirituality and will start working. Therefore, Paul says, don't feed them.
- We must withdraw from such a person. We read this instruction in 2 Thessalonians 3, verses 6 and 14. What is the meaning of that statement? Do not have intimate fellowship with that person. Do not eat with that person. Brothers and sisters, when a pastor, an elder, a brother or a sister is associating and fellowshiping with you, that is a blessing. It means that God loves you and is interested in you. But when the church is not fellowshiping with you, it signifies the disapproval of God. You should begin to grieve and ask, "Why am I not receiving this intimate fellowship of God's saints?" So, the fourth part of this discipline is to withdraw from the disobedient brother, but in a limited way. It is speaking about social intimacy. We are not told to expel him from the church.
We must let the idle brother feel shame . This discipline is restorative and redemptive. What is the purpose? That the lazy, idle, disobedient person may be ashamed. Do many people feel shame today? No. We should bring back shame as a public policy. Why? Because it is a scriptural policy. Suppose someone gets pregnant outside of marriage? Do we give our approval to that person and tell her, "What a great way to go! Isn't that wonderful? Do you need an apartment or furniture or a modem or a television? Whatever you want, let me give it to you." No! There should be a sense of shame in that situation and the public policy should reflect that need for shame.
So the apostle Paul counseled the Thessalonian church to let the person feel shame, meaning, "Let him reflect on his action and feel shame in the sense of repentance." You should feel shame when you repent.
Do you ever feel shame? Some people actually are proud and boast, "Oh, see what I have done." But what have you wrought? You have wrought shame--shame upon everyone. It is a shame for able-bodied people to be dependent upon parents and church and the government. There used to be a social stigma attached to this condition, but for the past thirty or forty years, that stigma has been removed. We threw away the Bible and everything else of any moral value and now everyone is okay. There is no shame.
What, then, is the purpose of this limited withdrawal from social intimacy? It is to bring about a sense of shame in the individual as he reflects upon what he has done and why the church is not fellowshiping with him.
- We should still consider him as a brother The text says, "Warn him as a brother." Why? Despite his idleness, this person is still in the church. He is not an enemy. However, if he refuses to pay attention to the church and refuses to amend his ways, then the church must exercise the final step of discipline as recorded in 1 Corinthians 5 and Matthew 18. The church must expel the person and consider him not as a brother but as a pagan, as an unbeliever.
Is Idleness Spiritual?
The idle Thessalonians clothed their idleness in piety. Oh, I have met a lot of such people. I grew up on a farm, and I knew people who would come, nicely dressed, to see me. Everyone would be working, including me, but when these people came, they would stand with their arms crossed and watch us work. They would not lift one finger to help us, but they were very interested in getting some money from me. I rebuke such people! They are lazy drones and I have no respect for them. I put myself through school by working two jobs. I would finish one job and then go on to the next job. On the weekends I would go and preach. That is why I have no sympathy for people who are able-bodied who will not work, especially when they cover it with piety.
Such people do not do anything. They say, "We are living by faith," but it is faith in your money and productivity, not theirs! I have known people who would get up late each morning and go faithfully to the post office for the sole purpose of seeing if they had received any letters that day with money enclosed. Some even manufactured newsletters which they sent to their friends, saying, "You see, we are doing great things for God. In fact, we are turning the world upside down. Just send us money!" Such people are clothed in laziness and piety. But the word of God tells us that if we do not work, we should not eat.
According to the Bible, what percent of the time are we to work? Six days. That is eighty-six percent of our time. And we are to worship fourteen percent of the time. Have you ever thought about that? John Murray did. In 1957 he wrote the article, "The Sanctity of Labor," and what did he say? "This five day work rule will contribute to moral degeneracy." Certainly, we find this is true. And now people don't even want to work forty hours a week. They want a thirty-five-hour work week, and maybe next year it will be thirty hours.
Someone recently said that now we have the most leisure time in history--forty hours a week. We have a lot of time on our hands, don't we? But what are we doing with it? Are we using it for God? Or are we watching pornography on the Internet?
Never cloak your laziness in the shroud of spirituality. In Luke 19:13 Jesus said to occupy until he came back. That means we must be busy functioning in the calling God has given us. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, and 24 we read about functioning in our calling until the day Jesus Christ comes.
In Matthew 25 we read the parable of the ten talents. What did the man who received only one talent do? Buried it. But what did the master say to him when he came back? "You wicked, lazy servant!" (Matt. 25:26). Why? God commands that we work.
Work Is God's Will
Work is the will of God. What is the necessary ingredient for bread? It is sweat, and in Genesis 3:19 we read, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread." In other words, God was telling Adam and Eve, "Yes, you have sinned and I have cursed the ground, but there is grace in it. If you work, my earth will still produce bread for you. But you have to sweat and toil. There will be bugs and thorns and thistles and everything else, but I will also give you intelligence so that you can deal with these problems." In fact, that is what human scientific research is for--to teach us to deal with these problems. But where do these scientists get the wisdom? God gave it to them. So we must all understand that sweat is spiritual--very spiritual.
In Exodus 20:8 God gave us the commandment, "Six days you must labor," and in 1 Timothy 5:8 Paul says, "If you do not provide for your own household," which, by the way, includes your mother, "you have denied your faith and you are worse than a pagan." If I were writing this, I would have said you are worse than an animal because animals care for their offspring better than some humans do.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 we read that Christians should calm down, settle down, and work with their hands so that they may win the respect of outsiders and have self-sufficiency. This is God's will for Christians.
Work is a wonderful thing. Not only does it provide us with money but it also keeps us from sin. Let me assure you, idleness is productive of a multitude of sins. What is going on in this country and the western countries of today? We have a tremendous amount of leisure time and we are sinning left and right with that time. Look at David. In 2 Samuel 11 we read that he refused to go out to war and stayed home. What was he doing? Oh, he was sinning greatly. Just read that chapter. So if you do not want a lot of money, that is okay, but keep working. Why? Work will keep you from a lot of sin.
How to Work
How, then, should we work? The Bible gives us clear instruction in several places. I especially recommend that you read Ephesians 6, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 2 wherein we find clear instructions for Christian slaves. There are several things we can apply to ourselves.
- Be conscious of your ultimate Boss. If you are a Christian and a worker, and especially if you are an employee, the first thing you must know is that you are not serving the state or your immediate employer or anyone else, but, ultimately, you are serving the Sovereign Lord of the universe who bought you by the price of his blood. You belong to him and you need to be conscious of it. In Colossians 3:22-24 we read, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
Be conscious of yourself. Who are you? You are a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ! As such, you are accountable to him in everything you do. And having understood who our ultimate Boss is, we should also be conscious of who our immediate boss is. We must realize that he or she is assigned to us by God himself as his delegated authority, and therefore we must respect and honor that boss. My daughter came home from work once and said, "Dad, the other workers are speaking against the boss all the time in that office." That's right. People are always speaking against the boss.
As Christians, then, we must first of all be conscious of our ultimate Boss, the Lord Jesus Christ, and know that we are accountable to him in everything we do. Second, we must be self-conscious and know who we are. We must know that we are servants of the Lord Jesus Christ and must embrace the truth that "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17) We must recognize that we have been born of God, given a new nature, and are indwelt by the Spirit of God who gives us the power and intelligence to do our best job. And we must, therefore, not depend on anything in our old nature, but rely on the promise that "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Thus, we must be filled with the Spirit in our daily work as Paul tells us again and again in his letters. We must understand that any work we do is a thank-offering to the Lord for what he has done for us. He redeemed us from the pit, and our work is an opportunity to express to God our Savior our love for him.
- All honest work, including manual labor, is God's will Colossians 3:23 tells us to work at "whatever you do" with all your heart. And in Ephesians 6:5 Paul tells slaves that what they are doing is the will of God. We tend to think, "Oh, my job is certainly not the will of God. It is clear that everyone else's job is God's will, but this job is not." Oh, no. Your job is also the will of God for you. "Whatever you do," it says. Your job is the will of God for you and there should be no question about it until he changes it.
- We are told to work with singleness of heart. We read that in Colossians 3:22. That means we are focused on our task. Come on, now, you focus on that work with your mind and with your eyes. We must be focused--total concentration--so that we can accomplish something. Have you ever seen someone who just sits around, wondering and wandering, periodically going to the water place to drink, getting up for a few sodas, a few snacks, and all that? We must be focused.
Do your work with enthusiasm and delight. Colossians 3:23 tells us "with all your heart." You see, work is not just a duty, as we said previously. Your job is given to you by God so that you can express your love for him by doing your best at it. So when you work, you are excited, delighted, and full of enthusiasm.
Have you seen the difference between someone working with enthusiasm and someone working without enthusiasm? When we see someone working without enthusiasm, we are revulsed. Our jobs must be performed as labors of love for the God who redeemed us.
- Commit our problems to God. Problems at work are inevitable, so what should we do when they come? Learn from Jesus Christ. In 1 Peter 2:23 we read that Jesus was continually handing over problems to the One who will judge justly. The Greek word is paredidou--entrusting continually. And therefore, Peter says later in the same epistle, "Cast all your anxiety upon him" (1 Peter 5:7). You can go to God with your work problems. Why? He is your ultimate Boss. You tell him the problem and take comfort in the knowledge that he cares for you. Hand your problem over to the One who sees all and is sovereign over all.
- Work to please God. In Colossians 3:22 we read, "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord." Do not work just to please man. Oh, no. Work to please God. For example, do you wash your dishes to please the Lord? Are they clean enough to please him? We must ask that in everything we do. Why? Because God's standard is higher than the man or woman who is the boss.
- Work for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we read, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." We must realize that our best work gives the Lord Jesus Christ greater glory. So if our human bosses are displeased with our work, how can God be honored? Additionally, if you do shameful things at work, you automatically shame the cause of Jesus Christ. So we must work for the glory of God.
- Know that God will reward us. We must know with certainty that our Lord, our ultimate Boss, notices the work we do and he will reward us in that day. We have an inheritance and reward coming. Our bosses may not see or recognize our efforts, but God will, as we read in Colossians 3:24.
For illustration of this principle, consider the life of Joseph. Joseph feared God and was obedient to his father but he was sold as a slave to Potiphar. As such, he had all reason to sulk, complain, and be depressed. Why? He was suddenly not living in the bosom of his father; rather, he was a slave in a far country.
But when you read Genesis 39, you notice that Joseph did not sulk, become depressed, or complain. Why? Joseph was conscious of God. He worked hard for his Egyptian master and focused on his work. He worked heartily with all his might, and we are told that God was with him and prospered him. God prospered him later even in prison and before Pharaoh. God was with Joseph. In due time God remembered and rewarded Joseph, and saved his people through him.
Work for God
May we begin even this day to work for God! If you are a student, I urge you to study hard to gain a skill. If you are a graduate, I encourage you to go out into the marketplace of the world, knowing that, just as he gave you skill, he will give you opportunity to work. And may all of us who work do so with all our hearts, as working for the Lord, not for men. And God will provide for us through our work. Amen.
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Copyright © 1997, P. G. Mathew
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