Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 10:38-42; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Psalm 149; Ezra 9
Our passage in 2 Thessalonians addresses the importance of work. Paul calls people away from what is usually translated ‘idleness.’ The Greek word here is an adverb, connected to the verb for living. This verb is used several times in the Thessalonian letters (1 Thes 2:12; 4:12; 2 Thes 3:6, 11). Each time a different adverb elaborates on how we should live our lives. A life of idleness is contrasted with Paul’s example of hard, diligent work. This work ethic is widely accepted in Christian circles. This passage may seem to have little to say in today’s world where people are extremely busy, either by necessity or because they enjoy work.
Idleness is part of what Paul addresses here, but it is not everything. The Greek word used for idleness is not straight-forward to translate. In verse 11, the word for busy is the same as the one translated ‘work’ earlier. These people were active, but engaged in the wrong kind of activity – and lots of it. Their busyness left them relying on the rest of the community for support, making them a burden on the others. Their focus was on themselves and not others.
Work is important because it provides for people’s basic needs. Christians should work to provide for themselves and to help others in need. Work should not be the source of our identity and meaning. Some will need assistance, but should still be willing to work in productive ways. Paul does not specify what these people were doing. They were probably not being unethical, or he would have addressed this, but they left themselves with no time to work. People today can spend hours and hours doing things that leave them little time or inclination to be productive or serve others. People’s time and energy can be sapped on speculative ways to get rich, leaving them unable or unwilling to put in a decent day’s work. When such schemes fall through, as they inevitably do, people end up depending on the state, rather than the church. But the principles are the same. Work is the means by which we should provide for our needs, and those of our family, and have ways of sharing with those in need.
The story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 provides a balancing point on work. Even productive busyness can get off track. Martha is busy serving others, something the idle Thessalonians were not doing. But she was also busy worrying about what Mary was doing. Jesus reminds Martha of the importance of taking time to sit at the feet of Jesus. We must balance our activity with our time with God. We should serve others (including working to provide for our families). But we must also spend time with God, in prayer and in the Word. Whether serving or sitting, we should do what God has asked us to do, not passing judgement on what others are doing. Psalm 149 is yet another reminder of the importance of balancing our time with God and our activity for God.