Of Mission and Service

The following message is based on 2 Thessalonians 3 and was preached at the Central Schwenkfelder Church of Worcester, PA on April 10, 2011.

Many of you have heard of St. Francis of Assisi. He was a 12th century Catholic Friar who founded the Franciscan order. When a man entered the order founded by Francis of Assisi, if he possessed any property, he gave that away, but he kept the tools of his trade. In Christ’s service we are still businessmen or physicians; we are scholars or laborers; we are men or women; we have white skin or black skin. We keep the tools of race and of body and all the service of our brains and hands. But now they are in the service of our Lord. We use them willingly for Him and under His direction.

That brings up the question: “What on earth am I here for?” Such was the subtitle of Rick Warren’s book: The Purpose Driven Life. That is a question that each of us must ask. Because God is the best manager that there is. And we are His resources, sent to accomplish His tasks. You are “one sent,” as Julian put it. I am “one sent.”

This morning is our last treatment of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Over the last several weeks, you have leaned that both of Paul’s letters to the Christians in this city of Ancient Greece, dealt with the themes of encouragement during adversity and persecution; what happens when a Christian dies. What are the events which surround the Second Coming of Christ? And today, we encounter the last of those themes, some practical advice on work. Paul is signing off. He is sharing some closing remarks. I would like to address the topics of mission and service. What can we learn concerning our sense of purpose and productivity in the world which He made? First of all…

MISSION AND THE CHRISTIAN FAITH GO HAND IN HAND.
These are verses which are practical in nature. So he says in verse one: “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.” Paul is asking for prayer concerning his mission. He realized that the success of his ministry was not up to his own efforts and giftings or those of his colleagues. Rather, he was aware that his success was dependant upon the grace and power of God. This is why he prayed for his fellow Christians in verse 5: “And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.”

Our mission can be summed up as how we spread the message of God’s love in Jesus Christ. It involves word and deed. But there were those who were antagonistic and oppositional to the Christian faith. There were many with differing motivations in the world and Satan was behind these efforts. Paul had his enemies. He mentions several in 2 Timothy. For instance in 1:15: “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.” And 4:14: “Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.” In 4:10, he refers to Demas who, “…because he loved this world, has deserted me.”

So we are reminded that Christianity is at odds with the world. Christ’s disciples often encounter opposition. It can be hard to be a Christian. We have the best message, but it can be offensive. Christ calls everyone everywhere to “…repent and believe in the gospel.” This is uncomfortable for many. But we cannot compromise. Paul drew strength from the Lord’s commission, encouragement and protection. Verse three: “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” Mission and the Christian faith go hand in hand.  Secondly…

OUR MISSION IS ROBED IN OUR WORK, WHICH IS OUR SERVICE TO GOD AND OTHERS.
Notice Paul’s words in verse seven: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.”

Our mission and vocation are both motivated by a sense of calling and purpose. How are we to regard work? Work, first of all, is a matter of adulthood and responsibility. Paul and his colleagues took it upon themselves to be a vocational example to those in Thessalonica. They were tent makers by trade. They preached on the side. People talk about the “Protestant Work Ethic,” which is as Dr. Roger Hill points out: “The norms regarding work which developed out of the Protestant Reformation, based on the combined theological teachings of Luther and Calvin, encouraged work in a chosen occupation with an attitude of service to God, viewed work as a calling and avoided placing greater spiritual dignity on one job than another…. The key elements of the Protestant ethic were diligence, punctuality, deferment of gratification…” In other words, what can I do to be the best homemaker, the best teacher, the best carpenter, the best accountant, the best pastor, of which I’m called to do. To look at my role in life as my service to God and a way to give thanks to Him.

But there were those in Thessalonica who did not adopt this attitude. Hear verse 6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.” What does “unruly” mean? It is synonymous with undisciplined. There was something taking place in the church at Thessalonica. Paul reveals that in verse ten: “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. 11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.”
What is a busybody? The Greek word is perierga,zomai (periergazomai) which means “to waste one’s labor about (a thing).”

In 1 Timothy 5:13, Paul is admonishes those who go about from house to house; those who are idle, gossips and busybodies, “…saying things they ought not to.” From this verse, we understand it to be people who seem to be busy, but are really not that productive. They spend time bothering and being a nuisance to others, without being fully effective in their own tasks. 1 Peter 4:15 uses the word: “troublesome meddler.” Here’s a person that has a diverted attention; someone who is more concerned about peripheral matters than the main thing. Someone who makes information about others more important than what needs to be done, or to complete a helpful task. Maybe you’ve known someone like this in your life?

How can we avoid being a busybody? How can we keep from being worthless at work? Might I suggest the following: First of all, explore your calling from God. Pray about what you’re supposed to be doing. What impact is it making on the lives of others? What purpose does it serve? Calling is a vocation. What has God called you to do? There is an old saying: “Find what you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.” What do you love to do? Life is short; too short to be miserable. Maybe you need a change of career to be getting on to doing the things that you’re more suited/fit for. Pray: “Lord, use me in my workplace. Give me direction about my life, my decisions, and possibly a change.” Maybe take an online survey that shows you what you’re best inclined to do.

Some of us are unhappy with our life roles or our work. Maybe it is time to Evaluate why you may be unhappy. Does your unhappiness have to do with work in general, or other matters? Maybe your home situation is not good, and that is affecting your outlook on work. You might hate your job. Do you hate it because you hate life? Or do you feel that it is not a good use of your education, talents and abilities?

Work is not a dirty word. That’s why they call it work. There is a difference between work and recreation. Work should be purposeful. You should be good at it, or strive to be better at it. Affirm your responsibilities. Set measurable goals, etc. What can I do to be better at what I do? What could I improve on? Because work, in itself is a noble thing. When God created the man and the woman, they were created with responsibility in mind. Hear Genesis 1:26: ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”’ Adam was told in 1:28 of the same book: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Balance work and rest so that you may be good at one and blessed in the other. There is a time to work and a time to rest. Am I taking the time for other things that would enhance my work ethic? Do you have a priority of family, exercise, and taking care of yourself? Be aware of the unbalanced life.

Be a valuable employee. What makes a good employee? Colossians 3:22 is a theme verse for our work, although directed to slaves in the first century Roman world. Paul writes: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” The following come from an article entitled: “The Qualities of a Good Employee,” (found at http://www.job-interview-site.com/the-qualities-of-a-good-employee.html) which shared a list of 12 things that make an exceptional worker. I thought it would be helpful to share a few of them with you today.

• A good communicator: being able to write and speak well, expressing yourself clearly

• Self-Motivated: A good employee takes responsibility. He is ready to work above and beyond the call of duty to meet a goal or solve a problem

• Hard worker: persistent. Finishing a task; not watching the clock.

• Adaptable/decisive and effective learner: willing to learn new things.

• Team player: working well with others toward a common goal.

• Helping others: Being able to provide assistance to others.

• Honesty: Be one who is willing to give and receive feedback. Procrastination and laziness are forms of dishonesty.

• Ethical: follow the company’s policies. Most of all, follow the ethics that are based upon God’s moral code, the Ten Commandments.

• Give credit where it is due. “One of the most prevalent practices doing the rounds in offices today is stealing the credit of a job well done.” Congratulate your coworkers. Compliment them. Their success does not mean your failure.

• Polite: Being friendly and approachable.

• Disciplined and punctual: Time is money. Being disciplined and conscientious of the time of others.

• Avoiding gossip: never spread rumors and respecting the privacy of others.

All of this can be summed up in the simple statement: “Do not grow weary in doing good.” The church in Thessalonica was faced with a difficult decision. They were forced with the necessity of approaching the unruly brother or sister and direct them in the right way. Hear verse 14: “And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. 15 And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Tough love involves showing others the way. It is between them and God if they obey.

I titled this message “Of Mission and Service” because each of us is on a mission and each of us is to see his/her vocation as a service to God and others.  Beth Anne Meninger wrote a devotional for our April newsletter. She stated: “We are the body of Christ, and the body has many members. No one knows the talents, abilities, and limitations of each individual member better than our creator; and knowing all that, He’s still commissioned us to make disciples of the nations, to not hide our light, to care for the least of these in His name, to keep reaching out to people for Him so that He can raise them from the death of their sins and give them new life, forever. All of us, working together, each doing what we can, can still accept His invitation to participate in the miraculous.”  Amen!

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