Category Archives: NT Exposition

1 Thessalonians 3:6-12

1 Thessalonians 3:6-12

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

In our passage this morning, we see God telling us to “keep away” from those who are “walking in idleness.” This is one of only about three places in the New Testament where we read that we are to avoid, or to stay away from someone. So, we must conclude that God takes this issue of idleness, or we might say, laziness, very seriously. And it seems to have been a problem within the Thessalonian church. And if we are honest with ourselves, we might even see this problem within ourselves.

Before we get any further, let’s define what we are talking about here. So what was the issue? Although we are not given many details, it appears that there were certain able-bodied members of the church, he does refer to them as “any brother,” who were not willing to work. It is understood that they were able, but they were not willing. Instead of being busy at their own work, they would spend their time being busy at other people’s business. They were busybodies! And although Paul does address the sins of gossip and slander elsewhere, here the issue is that these individuals were unwilling to support themselves. They were more than happy to live off the labor of others. In today’s vernacular, we would call them “freeloaders.”

And this is not the first time Paul has had to address this situation of freeloaders in the church. As he says in our passage this morning, he had already addressed this issue when he was with them in person. Let us look at verse 10, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: ‘If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.’” And, in his first letter to this church, Paul addressed this issue twice before, urging them “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.[i] He urged them to “admonish the idle.[ii]

It would seem that this issue had persisted in the church, so much so, that Paul feels the need, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to tackle this issue head on. And he does so with the full authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is important for us to feel the full force of what Paul is doing here. This issue was so important, that although Paul had already begun to draw his letter to a close at the beginning of this chapter, he was compelled to address the issue of this sin that was still persisting in this young church.

In verses 7-10, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of the example he and his coworkers had set for them while they were with them. They were not freeloaders! They paid for their food, they supported themselves. And it wasn’t easy, either. As he says, they worked night and day with toil and labor, all so that they would not be a burden to the Thessalonians and so that they could give them an example to imitate of how important it is to support oneself.

Paul does remind them in verse 9, that he and his coworkers did have the right to be supported by the Thessalonians. As we read in 1 Corinthians 9:14, “…the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” Yet in this case, it was more important to provide this example of supporting oneself, than it was for Paul to make use of this right.

I think it is important to point out that Paul is talking about those who will not work. He is not talking about those who cannot work. I think this is an important difference, although it may, at times, be hard to know where to draw that line. I have learned that not all those who have a doctor’s note stating that they cannot work, are actually unable to work.

And that can make it very difficult to be able to properly speak on this subject. This is because there may be those who desperately need to hear what God is saying in this passage, but have convinced themselves that they are the exception. That, because of their special situation, it is ok for them to live off the labor of others.

I can remember when I was a missionary, I needed to raise support and would have many individuals, families, and churches contributing to my monthly support needs. I would often meet with people for meals at restaurants, and I can tell you, I got quite used to others always picking up the check after the meal. And you know what happened? Not only did I begin to enjoy it, I began to expect it. And the Lord began to convict me about that, so I started to change, and I started to pick up the checks after the meals. I know that it sounds like a small thing, but it really helped to change my attitude. It helped to break that feeling of being dependent on others, of expecting to be served.

If you are a child living at home, are you contributing to the running of that home? Do you share in the chores, and if you are working, in the expenses? Or have you come to expect that your room and board should be yours without paying for it? Have you become comfortable living off of the labors of your parents?

In a very real sense, this is the whole process of parenting – training our children to earn their own living. When our child is born, they are totally dependent upon us for everything. They can’t even eat without our help. And one can say that the whole goal of parenting is to raise our children so that they would be dependent on no one but God.

On the other side, there are those, who because of illness, or advanced age, are not able to do as much as they once did. They may already be feeling guilty that others have to take care of them. And this is where wisdom needs to come in. We may not be able to change what we are able or not able to do, because of illness or age. I think the important thing is our attitude. Perhaps there is a sense that we should always be uncomfortable with being waited on, but not to the point of pride where we refuse to let others help us when necessary.

Let us also consider our own attitudes toward helping out at church. Whether it be contributing to our weekly or monthly lunches, or helping out on our work days, or even helping to keep the church building clean – do we tend to sit back and let others do the work? Do we want to benefit from the labor of others? Or are we willing to pitch in and help out in any way that we can? I admit that I tend toward the former, to my shame, and I need to, by God’s grace, fight against that tendency myself.

This sense of working with our hands, of not eating anyone’s food without paying for it, of being busy at our work, is so foreign in today’s culture. We have lost the sense of the nobility of hard work, and often we see the greatest good is to have free leisure time.

As we are looking at ourselves, we may very well need to re-evaluate our whole attitudes toward retirement, toward welfare, and even toward disability. In what ways have we begun to fall into the trap of being willing to, or even looking forward to, being able to live at the expense of others?

What often makes things even harder is our culture which lifts up the idea of being able to live off the government. And to make matters worse, we have politicians actively promoting the idea of giving us free benefits paid for by others.

This attitude of wanting a free ride is not of God. We are not to condone it in ourselves, and we are not to condone it in others.

As Christians, we should be known for earning our own living, for paying our own way. With one notable exception – there is nothing we can contribute toward our salvation. There is nothing we can do to pay our own way to heaven. When it comes to salvation, we are completely dependent upon the grace of God. As Jonathan Edwards is attributed to have said, “The only thing you contribute to your salvation is the sin that made it necessary.” As the old hymn puts it, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had made a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”

May the Lord bless the reading and exposition of His word.  Amen. 

[i] 1 Thess. 4:11

[ii] 1 Thess. 5:14

1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Greeting and Thanksgiving

1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Greeting and Thanksgiving

Paul first journeyed to Corinth near the end of his second missionary journey around 51 AD. He had been in Athens where he had addressed the Areopagus, proclaiming to them who was this unknown god that they worshipped. It was after he left Athens that he traveled to Corinth, where he met Aquila and Priscilla – fellow Jewish Christians and fellow tentmakers. It was while Paul was in Corinth that “the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.’”[i] And the book of Acts tells us that he stayed in Corinth more than 18 months “teaching the word of God among them.”[ii]

Corinth was a port city, one of the largest cities in the Roman world and one of the most corrupt.[iii] It was a strategic commercial center, filled with immorality of all kinds.

In 1 Corinthians 16:8, Paul tells us that he is writing this letter while he was staying in Ephesus. This would have been during his third missionary journey when Paul spent about three years ministering in Ephesus. This would put the writing of 1 Corinthians around 55 AD.

It had been a couple years since Paul was last with the church in Corinth. This letter reveals that instead of growing more mature in the faith, as Paul might have expected, the church at Corinth had developed a great number of problems. Word of these various problems had come to Paul, and he spends the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians addressing several of these problems that have come to his attention: problems like divisions within the church, arrogance, questioning of apostolic authority, incest, sexual immorality, and believers cheating each other and taking each other to court.

The rest of the letter is driven by issues raised by the Corinthians themselves, as we read in 7:1, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote….”

Beginning in chapter 7, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul tackles issues regarding: marriage, divorce, singleness, Christian liberty, headship, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, serving in the body of Christ, and the Resurrection.

And yet, in this letter that grew out of all these different problems, we find some of the most familiar and beautiful passages of Scripture: the chapter on Love, 1 Corinthians 13, read at weddings throughout the world; the chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, which has for centuries brought hope to believers during times of grief, and read at countless funerals and graveside services.

As Paul does in many of his letters, he begins 1 Corinthians with a greeting, followed by thanksgiving in verses 4-9. Contrary to how we write letters today, where you have to go all the way to the end to see who wrote the letter, letters in ancient times would begin with the author’s name – which we see here in verse 1, “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes.”

There is only one other Sosthenes mentioned in Scripture, and he was a synagogue ruler in Corinth. If you remember, back in Acts 18, we read about an incident when the Jews joined together to make a unified attack on Paul. They hauled him before the tribunal and accused him of “persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” As it turned out, Gallio, who was the proconsul in Corinth, had no interest in getting involved in matters of Jewish law, as he saw it, and he drove the Jews from the tribunal. Then we read in Acts 18:17, “And they all [that is, the Jews] seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal.” If this is the same Sosthenes, it’s not too hard to believe that he left Corinth after all of that, and later ended up in Ephesus with Paul.

In verse 2, Paul addresses the letter to “the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” Even in this simple address, we see an important truth: not only are we called to be saints, not only are we called to be holy (which is what the word “saints” means), but we are already, in Christ, seen as being sanctified.

There is said to be three tenses of sanctification used in the Bible: past, present, and future. In the past, when we came to Christ for salvation, we are said to be justified in Christ, and as we see in this verse, we are described as being “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” This is an accomplished fact. Those who are in Christ are clothed in Christ’s righteousness. So when God looks upon us in Christ, we are seen as being sanctified, as being holy, as being perfect, all for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. What a wonderful truth this is! It is our assurance as we come to God in worship and prayer.

The present tense of sanctification is ongoing. We are called to be saints, to be holy. As the catechism teaches us, sanctification is a work of God’s free grace, and as a work, it is continuing. It is the process by which we “are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”[iv]

The future tense of sanctification refers to that time when we go to be with the Lord, that we will be finally free from sin, both the sin within ourselves, and the sin that surrounds us. Verse 8 refers to this when it says that we will be sustained “to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We will finally be holy. And that is our glorious hope – that when we go to be with the Lord, we will be fit, by his grace, to live with Him forever, for we will be without sin.

Let us also notice the emphasis upon Jesus as Lord. Notice how in verse 2 the saints are described as those who “call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours­. In verse 3: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. In verse 7: “so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In verse 8: “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And finally, again in verse 9: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” More references are made to the Lordship of Christ in these nine verses than in any other chapter of Scripture.

How appropriate it is, in this letter that will deal with many different problems in the church, that it begins with all these references to Jesus Christ as Lord, and as verse 2 says, “both their Lord and ours.” As we go through 1 Corinthians in the months ahead, we should keep in mind that Christ is Lord of His Church. And as such, He is rightfully able to give direction as to how His Church should act and live.

One last thing to consider from our passage this morning: Even with all the problems the church in Corinth had, from rivalries and divisions, to incest and sexual immorality; even with all that, Paul gives thanks to God, in verse 4, for the grace of God that was given them in Christ Jesus. Even with all their problems, Paul is able to see the grace of God working out in their lives, and is able to write with confidence that they were “called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Some days we can tend to forget that. We can so easily concentrate our gaze upon our own problems, or worse yet, the problems of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and miss the evidences of God’s work of sanctification in His children, whom he has called to be saints. Let us be reminded to give thanks to God always for each other because of the grace of God that was given us in Christ Jesus.

[i] Acts 18:9-10

[ii] v. 11

[iii] Reformation Study Bible, Introduction to First Corinthians, p. 1642.

[iv] Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q35