When I was in basic training, one of the things we learned to do was march. We had to learn how to form tight ranks and keep in step. For me, this was challenging at first. I did not have the experience of learning to march when I was younger. I was not in band, I played football. Add to this, I went to basic in Great Lakes, Illinois, during November. This meant the streets and sidewalks accumulated snow and ice on them. All of our marching practice was not outside. However, when we did go out, this added an additional level of difficulty. Our unit had to learn to step together and keep in time with each other. The goal was to be a seamless team that moved as one unit. One person out of step or a slippery patch of ice typically meant not one but several people would fall. For Petty Officer Arnold, who took great pride in his recruit's marching ability, when we fell, we did push-ups. By the end of basic, we had learned how to march. To Petty Officer Arnold's delight, company 039 marched out first as we led our class at graduation.
We have all experienced being out of step. Sometimes, families get out of step. We may get out of step with a close friend or with co-workers. Husbands and wives, at times, get out of step. What happens when we are out of step? There is tension, stress, disruption, being out of step causes conflict, and sometimes emotional hardships.
As we conclude our studies of 2 Thessalonians, here is what I would like us to think about:
Hope directs our steps
Some Christians in Thessalonica were not in step. Being out of step affected how they lived and their example of Christ. Being out of step was causing disruption and disorder. How does Paul and God's word resolve this tension?
Idle & Disruptive
Within the church in Thessalonica, some were keeping Idle and disruptive patterns.
2 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (NIV)
"We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good."
There is a persistent problem within the church, and this pattern seems to be increasing. Paul addressed this in his first letter.
1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 (NIV)
"and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV)
"And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone."
There was a persistent pattern within the church that was increasing. Some were being "idle and disruptive." Seemingly, they had not followed the instructions in Paul's first letter, and this pattern had increased.
The term or phrase Paul uses does not mean they were simply lazy. It's not that they were lying on the couch scrolling social media. They were being irresponsible, refusing to work. This was causing them to be out of step. It was not a reflection of Christ or the example Paul had left with them.
2 Thessalonians 3:7–8 (NIV)
"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 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."
Where was this pattern developing from? It could be that it was connected to Paul's previous discussion. Thinking the Lord would return any moment, some quit their jobs and dropped out of life.
"However, it's more likely that this problem is related to a practice in Roman culture called patronage. Poorer people in cities would become clients, kind of like personal assistants, to wealthy people and live off of their generosity with many strings attached. This often forced the clients to participate in their patron's morally corrupt way of life, not to mention that it was an unstable source of income. This is what Paul refers to as "leading a disordered life, not working, but meddling in the business of others" (2 Thess. 3:11)."(1)
Paul reminded them of his example while he was with them. Paul labored night and day to not be a burden on anyone (2 Thess. 3:7-8). Among some, the pattern that had developed was a short-sighted perception counterintuitive to Christ.
The example of Christ and the Scriptures is an example of working that fosters an attitude of generosity. As Christians, our desire should be to share generously with others and not an attitude of taking. We see this in creation, where God created a place of life and abundance (Gen. 1). Jesus worked tirelessly to heal the sick as He shared the good news of the kingdom of God (Lk. 4:38-44). Paul, as we see in 2 Thessalonians, labored night and day to share the good news of Christ. In (Acts 2:45), Christians sold and brought what they had to give generously and share with the church. The short-sighted perception of taking and not generous giving is counterintuitive to the message of Scripture and the gospel. Some in Thessalonica were walking out of step. It was creating disruption and disorder contrary to the good news of Christ. Paul instructs the church, "never tire of doing what is good." (2 Thess. 3:13b).
The tension is resolved when we, as Christians, give our lives to the generosity of Christ. We never tire of doing what is good. We consider others ahead of ourselves (Phil. 2:3). The tension is resolved when we walk in the hope of Christ.
Crossing The Context
Hope directs our steps. As we cross the context and conclude our series of 2 Thessalonians, hope of the Lord's return is not meant to inspire speculation or fear. Hope of the Lord's return is a hope that directs our steps. Hope of the Lord's return should inspire faithfulness, devotion, and an abundant life.
What directs your steps? Any number of things may direct our steps. Misinformation, as we talked about last week, attitudes, the influence of friends or family, prejudices or pride, we could list any number of influences that direct our steps from day to day. Our challenge is to be led by the hope we have in Christ. Hope directs our steps.
What could it mean for us and the community around us to be led by the hope of Christ? What would it mean for our world if Christians walked in the hope of Christ and allowed His hope to direct our steps? Paul had a vision of transformation; transformation led through the hope we share in Christ. If you want to see a life of transformation, allow His hope to direct your steps.
1. BibleProject, BibleProject Guides Book of 2 Thessalonians Key Information and Helpful Resources, Accessed Jan. 20, 2024
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).