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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

A Kingdom Work Ethic

Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost


In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching[a] you received from us. 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. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”


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.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13


Work and the work ethic have long been synonymous in this country. The American work ethic is associated with hard work, honesty, and morality. Put those three together, and you should achieve the “American Dream.” Hard work is part of the American way of life. I’m sure most of you were taught that when you were young. I was. As a matter of fact, I think most young children want to work. They even want to do things they aren’t ready to do – like carry the baby when they aren’t much beyond being a baby themselves! One of the first things my mother let me do was wipe dishes. And then one evening after supper I told her I wanted to do the whole job myself: wash, rinse, dry, and put them away. She let me. And when I was all finished, I told her I’d done an extra-good job. She asked, “What do you mean, an ’extra-good’ job?” I said, “The dishes are cleaner than ever, because I even put soap in the rinse water!” I can’t remember when I began to shovel snow. But I know it was something I wanted to do. We lived in a corner house until I was nine, and one day I took my little shovel and made a shovel-wide path all around the corner on the city sidewalk. I thought that was above and beyond the call of duty until two girls went walking by and one said, “Someone must have shoveled this sidewalk with a pancake turner!” My first rebuff at not doing a good job. Years later, when I was in high school, I was shoveling the driveway when an old Finn came walking down the street and said, “Hey, poika, you work faster, you get done quicker!” I guess we can always work harder! I’ll tell you one thing for sure: I’m not afraid of work! I can lie down right next to it and go sound asleep! Work doesn’t scare me a bit! Even St. Paul, in today’s Epistle lesson, says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat!” Strong words – but Paul has more in mind than mere moralizing – much more. His concern is with a Kingdom work ethic. What’s the biblical view of work? First of all: idleness is sinful. Sloth is one of the “seven deadly sins.” The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about laziness, like: “The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.” (Carol called our daughter a sluggard once and told her that the Bible says people shouldn’t be sluggards. To which Valerie, who was the batting champion in her girls softball league retorted, “Yeah? Then why, when I get up to bat, do the kids all holler, ‘Come on, big slugger?’” There’s a big difference between a “big slugger” and a lazy sluggard! She’s far from being lazy today!!) Again, Paul in our Epistle lesson said, “Keep away from every brother who is idle.” Work, on the other hand, is considered virtuous in the Scriptures. Psalm 90, a Psalm of Moses, says, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands.” Jesus himself said, “The worker deserves his wages.” A 19th century author named Henry Ward Beecher, observed: “When God wanted sponges and oysters, He made them, and put one on a rock, and the other in the mud. When He made man, He did not make him to be a sponge, or an oyster; He made him with feet and hands, and head, and heart, and vital blood, and a place to use them, and said to him, ‘Go, work!’” But what’s at stake in the Thessalonian congregation – and in our own congregation – is more than a distinction between hard work and idleness, between earning one’s own way and freeloading, between industry and sloth. The Kingdom is at stake! Souls are at stake! Eternity is at stake! And that spells the difference between Heaven and Hell! Paul first recalls his own work among the Thessalonian congregation. “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you.” Paul didn’t “sponge” off anyone, but “worked night and day.” He wrote to the Corinthians, “I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.” As with his words, so with his deeds. Now don’t misunderstand what we’re saying here. We’re not talking about works-righteousness – that devilish delight that seduces human pride and makes people think, “I do all right by myself!” Martin Luther wrote “Human nature would like to have the kind of God who would be reconciled by our works, but it repudiates the One who freely gives.” And then from his own life experience he said, “Though I have fasted much and invoked the saints, have gone on a pilgrimage too, have kept vigil, have done this and that work; take these performances, make a pile of them, throw them into a bag, and see whether such works are the body and blood of Christ.” No, works-righteousness does not save. Rather, the work of the one righteous man does save us. And when this righteous man came to Earth, He came to work! And work He did! “The works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me.” (John 5:36) Read the Gospels and see Him at work: preaching and teaching from dawn to dusk, surrounded by multitudes, healing the sick and the crippled and blind and deaf and leprous, praying early in the morning and late in the evening. His pace never lets up. So exhausted from work that He sleeps in a boat tossed by wind and waves while experienced fishermen struggle to keep it from sinking! But there’s more to the work of our Lord – much more. In His high priestly prayer, He speaks to His father, “I have brought you glory on Earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” For Jesus, work is spelled CROSS. The betrayal in the garden was work for Him. The mockery of a trial and sham justice was work for Him. The denial of Peter was work too. The whip, the lash, the spit, the laughter – certainly that all involved His work. The nails, the splinters, the crown of thorns, the taunts and jeering of the rabble – He worked himself to the bone! And for what? For what reward? For what benefit? We confess His work in the words of the Nicene Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven…” When His last breath was taken, when all sweat was expended, when arms and legs could move no more, when the last drop of blood had been spilled – when the work was finished, He sighed, “It is finished.” He came to work – and He finished His work – “for us men and for our salvation.” “By grace you have been saved by faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” Every real Christian knows that. Every real Lutheran had better know that! But we don’t always remember to read the very next sentence in Paul’s Ephesian letter: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Good works on the part of the believer is not an option, not simply a matter of choice; good works are a Christian imperative! A Christian necessity! The One who wore a crown of thorns for us, so that we might wear the crown of life, tells us, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” Work, work, work, while it is day, while we still have the opportunity to seek the lost, until – and only until – He calls an end to His work – until He comes again in glory to close the book of His salvation work. It's not always easy! I’m not sure how natural it is to work. I think maybe it’s more natural to be lazy – we need to be taught to work. Sometimes you hear people in their 40’s or 50’s or 60’s say something like, “I’ve done my share of work in the church; now it’s time for some other people to do some work.” That philosophy is shot down, though, by people in their 70’s and 80’s and even 90’s, who are still working for their Lord. Oh, the kind and amount of work may well have to change, but as long as it’s day they work for their Lord. If the Apostle Paul were to come to our church, I pray that he wouldn’t have to say, “We hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work,” but rather he could smile his approval at our united work of soul-strengthening and soul-winning and say, “Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing.” Good works are acts of love to those in physical, mental, and spiritual need, done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, too, is sacrificial giving. And efforts to promote righteousness on Earth and retard evil. (If you’re looking for a project, someone has to save our children from pornography, illicit sex, abortion on demand, homosexuality, drugs, occult worship, filthy language and evil music – to mention a few.) But even a gift of a cup of water in Christ’s name is a good work. All believers must one day stand before the judgement seat of Christ where our works as Christians will be tested. Some works will bring a reward to the workers – some will suffer loss. St. Paul wrote, “You yourselves know how you ought to imitate us.” And we should follow not only St. Paul’s example, as impressive as it is, but follow the example, the Kingdom work of our Savior whose salvation work for us has opened the gates of Heaven! We’re going to serve Him throughout eternity. It’s time to begin now! “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” Amen.

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