When Idleness Becomes Idolatry

12th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friend in Christ, When most people’s alarm clocks go off, they’re already working at the gym.  I think it’s safe to say that if you were going to train to be in the Olympics it would require hard work.  I did a quick search: typically an Olympic athlete will plan his or her exercise schedule 4 years in advance, a runner will run at least about 20 hours a week, have at least 2 hour training sessions twice a day 5 or 6 days a week, there’s also proper nutrition, hydration, recovery, etc.  I think it’s safe to say that to be an Olympic athlete requires determination, dedication and hard work.  Well, here we are once again at another Labor Day in America.  And what’s the point of Labor day?  Is it the last day of vacation?  A last day for a good summer grill out, last day for the beach, last day off of work or school before the fall grind?  Actually, it’s a holiday that’s been celebrated since 1884 to honor the importance of hard work and labor.

And it gives us the opportunity to ask: How should we as Christian view “work”?  We often here people in our world either express or imply that work is one of those necessary evils that we have to put up with.  Wouldn’t an ideal world be one where you don’t have to work and can live in luxury waited on by others?  This negative view of work can distort people’s lives as well.  In one case it may cause someone who is unwilling to work- the key word is unwilling not can’t work – to exploit the support provided by government welfare programs.  In another case, this negative view of work can cause people who are willing to work to view work simply as a means to an end.  Work is the unpleasant price you pay to get money or stuff so you can enjoy the weekend.  We hear phrases like, “I’m working for the weekend” or “Thank goodness its Friday.”  But what is a proper view of work?  How does a Christian approach work?

In our text for this morning the apostle Paul addresses this issue of work.  Apparently the Greek mindset wasn’t too different than the mindset of many in America, particularly that work is bad and should be avoided if at all possible.  Add to that, that in Thessalonica some Christians had taken seriously Paul’s instruction that the Last Day could happen at any moment.  But instead of that being a motivation to live in a God-pleasing way, some in the congregation had quit their jobs and become idle simply because they figured Jesus was going to return soon anyway, so what’s the point of working?  Paul had addressed this issue briefly with his first letter to the Thessalonians, but apparently some were still refusing to work.  So, here, God gave a stricter warning, that the congregation members were themselves to keep away from those who were idle as a further warning to them.  God certainly wants His people to love their neighbor as themselves, but he doesn’t want them to encourage the sin of idleness by providing for those living in that sin.  And Paul provided a visible example of hard work.  While he taught God’s Word to them he didn’t even accept a free meal, but labored night and day in order to set a model to them.  And while they were there, they set the rule that “If a man will not work he shall not eat.”  He’s not talking about people who are unable to work, but people who are unwilling to work.  It’s an attitude problem.  People who are unwilling to work, expecting to be carried along by others, should not eat.  And what often happens?  Those who aren’t busy become busy bodies.  Not minding their own business they minded everyone else’s and ended up meddling and gossiping about other people.  The old saying has a lot of truth to it: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

So Paul urges them in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.  That is God’s good and pleasing will for them.  Then Paul also addresses the others who are busy and hard working when he says, “And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.”  You know how it is when you’re busy and working hard and you see someone who is idle or lazy.  The sinful nature immediately kicks into gear and you become ready to give up, to quit helping others, to be demoralized and that’s when the devil whispers in one ear, “Why work so hard?  Look at those other people!  Why, they’re not working and they’re better off than you!”  But here the Lord whispers in our other ear, “Don’t envy people who are idle.  They’re under God’s judgment, because they are living in sin.  Listen to your Savior, who loves you and died for you.  His will is that you live a quiet life, mind your own business, and provide for your own needs as much as possible.  Do what is right.  Not only is that pleasing to the Lord but it also glorifies His name in this world.”

You see, work itself is a gift of God.  We see two kinds of people in this text: those who were lazy and idle and those who were hardworking and diligent.  What about you?  Are you a “hard worker”?  Am I a “hard worker”?

There’s a lot of people who would consider themselves hard-working.  Perhaps many of us.  But the truth is, the world we live in really only looks at one dimension of work.  Often when someone says, “He’s such a hard worker.”  They are referring to his job, his work ethic.  Perhaps he’s on the jobsite early, he takes minimal breaks, he’s constantly busy, he’s the last one to leave.  That might be considered “hard work” and that might be very pleasing to an employer.  But the reality is, that same person could also be terribly lazy.  You see, God has called each of us to positions in life that are more than our employment.  Each of us has a calling from God in His Church, in the Home, and in society.  He’s called us to be Christians, if we’re married, God’s called us to be a spouse, if we have children, God’s called us to be parents, if we’re a citizen of the U.S., God has called us to be a faithful citizens, if an employee, a faithful employee.  But first and foremost each of us has a calling as a Christian.  And God wants us to be hard workers at that calling.

So what about our work in God’s Church?  There are certain things that God has NOT enabled us to do by ourselves.  We can’t come to faith on our own, we can’t decide to become a Christian, we can’t save ourselves by our hard work, we can’t become good people in God’s eyes by what we do.  Our salvation from a to z is God’s work.  He made us, He chose us, He redeemed us, He worked faith in our hearts, He will bring us to heaven.  However, once God has done His wonderful work in our hearts, brought us to faith in Jesus, once GOD does that, He enables us to do all kinds of things for ourselves.  And God doesn’t do for us what He’s already enabled us to do for ourselves.  As a Christian in God’s Church, He wants us to work hard.  God wants us to be growing spiritually.  If we want to grow spiritually, it requires hard work and time.  It requires time spent listening to and studying God’s Word.  If we want to have a stronger faith, it requires effort to be in God’s Word on a regular basis, attending church, attending Bible classes.  God wants our spiritual training regimen to be of Olympic quality.  And why?  Oh, just where we spend eternity is stake!

But that’s not it, we also have an obligation in the home?  Again, it’s our sinful human nature to want something for nothing.  If you want to be physically fit, but you’re unwilling to work out or exercise, it’s not going to happen.  If we want a “fit” marriage, but we don’t spend any effort on it, it’s not going to happen.  If you are married, God has called you to love and serve your spouse in a unique way.  A good marriage takes dedication, it takes hard work, it takes sacrifice, it takes time spent together, it takes a motivation to grow closer together.  Far too many people have marriages that are way out of shape because either one or both are unwilling to work hard at the marriage.  Being a good parent doesn’t just happen.  It takes hard work, it takes dedication, it takes a willingness to be an active part of your child’s life to love and serve them.  If a child, it takes determination and dedication to love and serve your parents.

What about in society?  If we are citizens, God wants us to be faithful citizens, aware and active about the issues in our community or in the government.  If we are employed, God wants us to faithful employees, to find a job we enjoy and work at it as if we are working directly for the Lord himself.  Martin Luther once pointed out that just like God works on us spiritually through means – the gospel in word and sacrament- he also works through means to physically care for His people.  In other words, God works through the person who built your house, made your clothes, prepared your food, picked up your trash, designed the technology you use, to take care of you.  God hides behind all honorable jobs to take care of us humans.  Likewise, when we’re faithful and work hard in our jobs we become God’s means for providing for other people.  So, instead of having an attitude of “what can I get for me?”  “How can I get other people to take care of me?”  Unfortunately, our society is plagued by many people who abuse government welfare programs who can work but don’t want to placing the burden of their support on others, perhaps to satisfy their greeds instead of needs.  But like the apostle Paul, God wants Christians to set an example of hard work and faithfulness in service to others.

So how do you measure up?  How do I measure up?  If we’ve failed to be hard working in our spiritual life, in our home life, in our lives as citizens, in our life as an employees, then really we’ve made idleness our idol.  We’ve bowed down to the idol of laziness in our home, our work, our spiritual lives.  So one thing is for sure: none of us can stand before God and say, ‘God you should like me because I’m such a hard worker.”  We’ve failed.  But God didn’t.

Jesus spent whole days teaching people and preaching God’s Word.  He knows what it is like to be tired and hungry after a long day of work.  Yet, Jesus also found ample time to go off by himself and pray to God His Father.  Jesus always kept his relationship with God as first priority in His life.  Jesus also took care of his family.  While on the cross he provided for the physical needs of his mother by giving her the disciple John to take care of her.  Jesus also led a perfect life in society, paying his taxes, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, honoring the laws of the government.  He worked perfectly for us, in our place, for all the times we’ve been idle and lazy in our various callings in life.  For every time that you or I have been lazy, have failed to work whole-heartedly at our jobs, every time we’ve been a lazy spouse or a lazy parent, every time we’ve been lazy in our work of growing in our faith, studying God’s Word, neglecting the Sacraments.  For every time we’ve been lazy, Jesus wasn’t.  Jesus worked hard, indeed perfectly.  And his hard work, his faithful work led him to work out our salvation by becoming all our laziness and dying as God’s curse on that cross for us.

And because God did that to Jesus, His view of you has entirely changed.  In His sight you are a faithful worker.  In His sight He sees you as a hard worker in your spiritual life, your home life, your work life, for Jesus was for you.

And what’s our response to that?  To view work as a burden, a drudgery?  Sure there are times when it’s a struggle, when it’s difficult, but it’s worth it.  For work itself is a wonderful gift of God and He wants to bless us by it.  So he’s built into honest work a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment for work well done and He gives that blessing to those who work faithfully.  So be faithful, work hard like an Olympian at home, at your job, in society, but most importantly “work” spiritually by staying in God’s Word and receiving the sacrament.  In that faithful work he gives blessings not just temporal, but eternal.  Because of Christ labor is a blessing, celebrate that this Labor day!  Amen.