Working for the Lord
2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
I only remember two occasions in my life when my father was unemployed. The first time it happened occurred when the engineering firm he worked for decided to relocate. Dad didn’t want to move our family 250 miles away in order to keep his engineering position, so he opted to take a redundancy payment that would keep our family going for three months. He felt certain that he could get started in a new job almost immediately and wasn’t worried about his long term prospects. He had marketable skills and he was in his early thirties, so he felt that he was making the right decision for our family. He didn’t want to uproot us away from our extended family to go south and work in England. He also knew that Scottish families underwent hard times in English towns. So he decided to stay and wait for work to come to him.
But it didn’t happen. He was unemployed for almost a whole year, so his redundancy money was quickly used up. He desperately went from factory to factory trying to get a job. Our extended families kept us from sinking, but there weren’t any luxuries in our home. Pieces of furniture were pawned, family antiques were sold, and items that he had brought from all over the world in his years as a merchant seaman, which hung proudly on our walls, began to disappear.
He was desperate for work and even tried his hand at being a door-to-door salesman. I can still picture the little brown leather suitcase that he carried, which was full of plastic ice scrapers, milk bottle lids, and jar openers. He even got me and my brother Andy to go around the neighborhood distributing leaflets announcing that he would in the area with some wonderful gifts and items that people couldn’t live without. He tried it for a whole week and gave up trying. He was an engineer, not a pioneer.
More than anything, I think being unemployed affected his pride as a man. We’re talking about the early 1960’s here, when most women stayed at home. He didn’t like being idle and he hated collecting unemployment benefit. All he wanted to do was to make an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. He hated depending upon government and charity. He wanted to support his wife and family. He wanted to be a real man.
I guess when Paul is writing to the Thessalonians “if a man will not work, he shall not eat,” he was thinking the same way. This young Greek church that the apostle had founded was going through what most churches experience: that some of the members were not pulling their fair share or being committed to the work of Christ. I guess that the 20:80 principal operated in Paul’s time – that 20% of the membership effectively carried out 80% of the work. But rather than put up with it, which so many of our churches do today, Paul was direct and candid. If you will not work, you will not eat. In other words, if you are not willing to contribute service, energy, and resources to the life, ministry, and work of the church, then you will not receive any of its benefits and blessings.
We might think that Paul was being unfair, insensitive, and judgmental, but we forget the times. Christians were losing their lives for believing in Jesus. They were persecuted by the Jews for daring to call God “Father,” as Christ Himself had done. And they were being executed by Romans for daring to say that “Jesus is Lord” instead of expressing that title to Caesar alone.
So, when Paul castigates the idlers in the church for not doing their fair share, he is letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that to claim to be a Christian takes a lot of courage, hard work, and effort. For the church to be effective in the world, it could not afford to carry religious idlers and loafers, congregational panhandlers and theological hobos. In those days, if you made a commitment to Christ and took up membership in the Church, it was all or nothing.
Seven hundred years ago today in Switzerland, a young father was ordered to shoot his crossbow at his young son. The Austrian tyrant Gessler gave the command to a Swiss patriot called William Tell. William had stirred up the Swiss people to revolt against their Austrian invaders and he used his expertise with the crossbow to kill many of the invading troops. He was captured along with his son, and Gessler wanted William tell to suffer for it. He told William that if he could shoot an apple off of his son’s head with his crossbow, both he and his son would be set free. So William Tell’s son stood up against a tree, with an apple in his head, which his father had to shoot or both of them would end up dead. It was all or nothing.
Tell took two arrows from his quiver, as Gessler and his Austrian troops watched with glee. William put one arrow in the crossbow and placed the other in his belt. Patiently, he lifted up the crossbow and took aim at the apple. If he missed the apple and hit the tree, then both he and his son would be executed. If he missed the apple and hit his son, William Tell’s heart would be broken. He took careful aim and focused on the shot, in what must have been the most intense few seconds of his life. I’m sure that his heart must have a skipped a beat when he fired the arrow. Thankfully, it split the apple in two and William Tell was freed. Just before he left, Gessler asked him why he took two arrows from his quiver, to which Tell fiercely replied, “If I had killed my son with the first arrow, I would have killed you with the second one.” It was all or nothing.
What I’m trying to relate to all of us this morning is what it means to actually be a Christian. It’s all or nothing. My Dad trudged the streets of Glasgow looking for work to support his wife and children – our survival meant all to him. William Tell applied his skills to free himself and his son – their survival meant everything to him. Paul urges the Thessalonians Christians to take their faith seriously in order to survive hostile persecution – it was all for Jesus, or nothing would remain. People in our lives, people in history, and people in the story of our faith have been faced with this choice generation after generation, and nation after nation. It’s all or nothing.
There’s no such thing as a nominal Christian. There’s no such thing as an average believer. There’s no such thing as come and go as you please servant in God’s Kingdom. It’s all or nothing. There’s no such thing as a nearly saved Christian – you’re either all saved or your not. There’s no such thing as a limited Savior – Christ is either all Savior to us, or he is nothing at all.
There’s an eerie, old-fashioned Baptist hymn that most of us have forgotten or some of us have never heard written by Philip Bliss. He wrote a lot of the old sacred songs and solos, which have become standards at many revival meetings and evangelical churches throughout the entire world. He died in a train wreck in Ashtabula, Ohio. He was traveling with his wife and Philip initially survived the wreck, but he went back on to the blazing carriage to try to save his wife. He never came out alive – his love for her was all or nothing.
Anyway, he once sang this song that he had composed at a revival meeting where many people had gathered. After the song was sung, fifteen thousand people bowed their heads in prayer and made their commitment to the Lord.
Here’s the song
“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
Seems now some soul to say,
“Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
Some more convenient day
On Thee I’ll call.”
“Almost persuaded,” come, come today;
“Almost persuaded,” turn not away;
Jesus invites you here,
Angels are lingering near
Prayers rise from hearts so dear;
O wanderer, come!
“Almost persuaded,” harvest is past!
“Almost persuaded,” doom comes at last!
“Almost” cannot avail;
“Almost” is but to fail!
Sad, sad, that bitter wail—
“Almost,” but lost!