As we wrap up our series on 1 and 2 Thessalonians, we are going to continue our focus on Christ's second coming.
I am a member at Sam's Club and every month I receive a flyer. Each month there is one item that sparks some curiosity in me. It's a collection of pails that are filled with food. Supposedly, these pails are enough for four people to last a whole year. So, for $2,800.99, you can have a food supply to last you a whole year. As I think about it, I would assume most of the people who buy them are looking to the future, unsure about what is going to happen. They want to ensure their survival. It is about them.
As we walk through 1 and 2 Thessalonians, our view should not just be about our own survival, our focus should be on others—loving and encouraging them. The future return of Christ should transform all our relationships today. We will discover today the different relationships that should be transformed, as we focus on his coming.
Transformed relationships with non-believers: evangelism
The first relationships, in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, that should be transformed are those with non-believers. We discover what our relationships should look like in verse 1. Paul's life was consumed by the mission of God—of seeing people come to faith in Christ. As he looked to the future of Christ's return, knowing that some would be with him and some would not, he realized that his life needed to be consumed by the ability to share the gospel. We see this in Matthew 28:18-20 in the Great Commission. This was Paul's mission. Jesus' command to us, his followers, is that our relationships be marked by evangelism—all the more as we look to Christ's return.
The imagery that Paul uses in vs.1 is that of the gospel spreading rapidly. In the Greek, it is literally the idea of running. Paul envisions the gospel running forward. Lives will be transformed because they come in contact with the gospel. The gospel will have a finish. When Christ returns, people's destinies will have a finish line—either with Christ or apart from Christ. But until then, we can participate in the gospel moving forward with others.
I remember the first time I had the opportunity to see someone come to Christ. I went on a Spring Break mission trip to East L.A. We set up a table outside one of the largest high schools in the U.S. When kids were walking home from school, we would try to engage them in spiritual conversation. There was one young boy who was fascinated by boxing. He came up and we began to talk. We started there. I shared the very few facts about boxing that I knew and then began to transition to Jesus. I could tell he was interested, and after some time, he said "I want to place my faith in Christ and acknowledge Jesus as my Savior." So there, in East L.A., as cars were flying by, this young boy's destiny was changed for eternity. That's what we can do with our lives—and all the more, as we recognize Christ's return, it should impact our relationships with those far from Christ today.
Paul realized there were difficulties. His whole life was consumed by this mission, but as vs. 2 says, he was entrapped by wicked and evil people. Sharing the gospel doesn't always bring about happy circumstances. We see this most clearly in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28. Before you get too excited about sharing your faith, here's what happened to Paul. Paul realized that even in the midst of the shipwrecks and beatings, it was all worth it for his relationships to be consumed by the gospel. Why was it worth it? Because of Jesus.
Because our destinies have been changed by Christ, we should be motivated to share the gospel with others. Paul describes what compels him to share his faith in verse 3. He knows the Lord's faithfulness. God is there and present and has not abandoned him. When God calls us to share our faith, we need to remember that God loves that person even more than we do. The Lord is faithful to draw people to himself. We should join him in his work. In vs. 5, we see it's his love—love that sent Jesus to die for our sin that should compel us. Christ was able to persevere in his life. How much more should we persevere in sharing our faith with those who are far from Christ. As we think about Christ's return, our relationships with those who are far from Christ should be transformed.
Transformed relationships inside the church: encouragement
We also see that our relationships with those inside the church—who already have a relationship with Christ—should be transformed. We see this in vs. 6 and vs. 14-15. Those verses are strange to most of us. Paul's message there is to keep away from believers who are idle and disruptive. Yet, as we look at Scripture, we see what he is describing here is for us to encourage believers to apply truth to their lives.
We all have sin areas where we need the truth of God to transform us. If we love believers, we should want them to walk in the fullness of life Christ offers, especially when we think about Christ's return. Taking a look at Matthew 18:15-17 will help us to understand what Paul is describing here. Jesus describes a paradigm for encouragement. He is saying that if we see an area of sin in another believer's life, we should go to them and say, "God wants something better for you. You should live differently in this area." If they say, "Wow, thank you. I really needed to hear that," then praise the Lord. But often they don't listen. It says, then, to bring a couple of other people who know and love them. If they still don't listen, bring in more people to be a part of their life change. At some point, it may mean bringing them in front of the church, encouraging them to live differently. And if all of these measures have failed, it may mean asking them to leave the church, because they are affecting others by their disobedience. We can see it is a long process.
Where we pick up with the Thessalonians is years after Paul has started this process in the church. In 1 Thessalonians 4, he dealt with these people initially and here in 2 Thessalonians, he is still encouraging these same people to live differently. He is saying it out of love for these people. In light of Christ's return, true love continues to encourage people and apply the truth to their lives. If we are to encourage other believers in the church in this way, it implies that we know people. We know their behavior. God's design for the church is that we have deep relationships.
Transformed relationship with work: work as worship
Finally, our relationship with work should look differently, in light of Christ's return. That's the issue that Paul saw here. Most likely the reason why the people in Thessalonica stopped working is because they thought Christ was coming back soon. They thought, "If Christ is coming back in the very near future, why should I work. I can just go have fun." For many of us, we have a false view of work. As we walk through this passage, I want us to think about our relationship with work. We see Paul's instruction in vs. 7-10 regarding work. Paul over the years has told the church, "You are understanding work wrongly."
Work is the means by which God has allowed us to eat and provide for ourselves. Paul put the truth of work over and over again in front of them. I want us to step back and look at the Bible and see work rightly:
Work is a command from God. In Genesis 1:28 we see, before sin entered the world, God had a plan for work. He said for Adam to rule over the fish and livestock. Everything was perfect, and, yet, even in that place God told Adam and Eve to work. As people designed in his image, we are to be like him. He is a worker, a Creator. What that means is to do something productive with our lives. For some of you, you are at a place where you don't need to work for a paycheck anymore. You are retired. The command regarding work would still apply to you as you ask, "Am I being productive with my life? Am I seeking to love others? Am I serving? Am I encouraging?" Work is a command from God. When we go to work, we should recognize that it is an act of obedience to God.
God is our ultimate Boss. Most of us have an earthly boss, but we need to recognize that we ultimately report to God. At times, that may mean that our earthly boss is not satisfied, or is frustrated. Are we living to please God?
We can glorify God through our work. For many of us, when we think of worship, we think of a Sunday morning, but the reality is that whenever we are at work, it is a chance for us to glorify God. We see this in Colossians 3:17, 23. Work provides us with a place to worship and glorify God. Whatever you are doing you can worship God through it. We have to embrace that. Otherwise, we are going to be frustrated with our work. When we think about it as an act of worship, it raises its significance.
Online, there is a "Work as Worship" network. One of the stories on there is about Jeff, who works in the restaurant industry. Jeff began to go into work in the morning and recognize that work was an opportunity to glorify God. He started to see people differently saying, "This person was created by God. They may be hurting or struggling. I can speak a word of encouragement to them or smile at them to affirm that they have dignity and value." Work wasn't just a place to get a paycheck, it was worship.
There are consequences for failing to view work in these ways. We see this in vs. 11-13. You may think that a false view of work is not that big of a deal. But here we see the consequences of that way of thinking. These people had stopped working altogether, and they began to disrupt other people. If we view work falsely, it will negatively affect others. In the same way, if we view work rightly, we can have a positive impact. There is a beautiful quote by John Piper that will help us think through this. He says:
Work is a glorious thing. If you are starting to grow lazy, I summon you back to joy. God made us to work. He formed our minds to think and our hands to make. He gave us strength, little or great, to be about the business of altering the way things are. That is what work is: seeing the world, thinking of how it could be better. From the writing of a note, to the building of a boat. To the sewing of what you wear, to the praying of a prayer. Come, leave off sloth and idleness. Become what you were made to be … work.
This is what work should be—our joy, our purpose. Tomorrow, when you go to work, view it as an act of worship. All of 1 and 2 Thessalonians have been pointing us toward eternity and how that should transform our lives today. Even in eternity, we will work in some sense. It is part of what it means to reflect God's character.
Ultimately, what allows us to live differently now is a relationship with Christ. If we have placed our faith in Christ, we have been given the Spirit. He challenges us to live the abundant life that Christ died to give us. It's not about working harder or just thinking about these things differently, it's about allowing God's Spirit to mold you into the likeness of Christ.