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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, November 19, 2019  

Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13 

Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. (NRSV)

This passage is an easy one to misunderstand. I have heard it quoted in order to support getting rid of the social safety nets of Medicaid and Food Stamps. “People who can work and who don’t work should not receive benefits,” folks will state, then quote from this scripture. Yet it is important to remember, as scholar Frank Crouch has written, that “Paul is not trying to establish social service policies for the city of Thessalonica. He is trying to establish a ‘do good for others even when you don’t have to’ ethic among those who seek to follow Christ” (Frank Crouch, Paul was writing to a faith community, not to the city council.

The faith community context is important. It is important because one of the things Paul is demonstrating in this letter and in this passage is that there is no part of our earthly lives that is to be separated from our faith. All of our humanness (including the need to be productive and the need to eat) is claimed by God. And in response, all of our life is to be a continual thank-offering to our God. We are to worship God in all things and with our whole selves.

One last thing to note: Our translation of verse 6 and 11 that has opted for variations on the word idle is a bit off. The actual word Paul uses is a rare one, and it is better understood as “disorderly” or “disruptive.” When we see these verses through that lens, all of the sudden we realize that those within the church who Paul is chiding are not just being lazy and not contributing to the whole. Rather, they are actively stirring up trouble with the church. No wonder Paul wanted to call them out!

Gracious God, help me to live this day as an extension of my worship of you. May I move through the minutes and the hours knowing you are with me, and may my response to that knowledge of your presence fill me with gratitude. Amen.

Written by Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor

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