15th Sunday after Pentecost September 10, 2023
2 Thessalonians 3:1-13
240, 447, 442, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: O God, the source of all that is just and good, nourish in us every virtue and bring to completion every good intent that we may grow in grace and bring forth the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.
But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you.
Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.
But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. (NKJV)
Dearly Beloved Fellow Believers,
The explanations of the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Small Catechism include both what we should not do and what we should do. For example, the Fifth Commandment, “You Shall Not Murder” is explained as “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body; but help and be a friend to him in every bodily need.” “You Shall Not Steal” means “We should fear and love God that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, nor get them in a dishonest way; but we should help him to improve and protect his property and way of making a living.”
These explanations of the Commandments remind us that it is not enough that we refrain from doing what is evil; we ought to be actively doing what is good. We all need this reminder, because it is easy for us to comfort ourselves with the thought that we don’t actively injure our neighbors or steal from them. But we need to ask ourselves what we are doing to help them. Parents may think that they are good parents if they haven’t taught their children anything evil. They should understand that if they have failed to teach them what is good and right—especially the gospel of Christ—they have sinned against their children. People may comfort themselves with the thought that they are not enemies of Christ, that they don’t speak against Him or work against the spread of the Gospel. But we all need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing for Christ? How am I working to spread His Gospel and advance His kingdom?” It isn’t only evil deeds like killing and stealing that are sins in the sight of God. Failing to do good is also sin. “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
In today’s text, the apostle Paul likewise teaches us to not be content with a passive profession of the Christian faith. The life of faith is a life of activity. It is a life of hard work and striving. It is not a working to pay for our salvation; that price Jesus paid in full when He gave His life for us. No, it is the working and striving of those who love Jesus and feel that they can never do enough for Him. It is to this way of thinking that the apostle directs us when he says, “Do not grow weary in doing good.” Doing good is hard, it is strenuous, and we get tired. We need new strength, new energy for doing good. The Lord will provide us with strength and energy from His Word before us today as we consider the theme: “DON’T GET TIRED OF DOING GOOD.”
One example of doing good is praying, especially praying for others. It is pleasing and acceptable to God that we should come to Him in prayer, not just for ourselves and our own needs, but for other people. It’s not a difficult thing to do; it doesn’t cost anything and takes only a little time. Yet how easy it is for us to forget and neglect to do it.
Paul here presents intercessory prayer as an important work. He lays it on the hearts of his readers as part of his final admonitions in this epistle. “Brethren, pray for us,” he pleads. Notice Paul’s humility in asking for the prayers of others. He was an apostle of the Lord Jesus, chosen and personally instructed by Jesus Himself. Paul was an educated, able, and gifted man. Yet he asks for the prayers of a whole congregation, including those who were lowly, those who were simple, those who were beginners in the faith. Paul valued their prayers, knowing that the Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18).
Paul asks for the prayers of fellow believers because he and those who worked with him needed prayers. They needed prayers because they were engaged in important work, preaching the Gospel of Christ. Paul asks that the people pray “that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified,” that the Lord would give them success in their work, that people would hear the Gospel, believe, be saved, and praise God for their salvation. Paul asks for prayers because in his work he faced much opposition. The people should pray that they would be “delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith.”
We too should pray for others because there is always a need for our prayers. Like Paul and his co-workers there are preachers of the Gospel today for whom we ought to pray. Let’s make a point of including in our prayers our pastors and missionaries. Here in the United States those who preach the Gospel face opposition. Sometimes it takes the form of hostility; mostly it takes the form of indifference. Our brethren in Africa and Asia face persecution and other obstacles. They surely need our prayers.
Our lives are full of people who are in need of our intercessory prayers. A Christian man once told me that there weren’t enough hours in a day for him to pray for his children. We understand what he meant. Every day we are made aware of people who need our prayers: people struggling with temptations, people dealing with pain and suffering, people dealing with setbacks and disappointments.
We shouldn’t tire of praying because, as Paul says here, “the Lord is faithful.” God hears and answers. A lot of the work that we do seems fruitless, but this is never true of our praying. We don’t always see the answers to our prayers, but often we do see them. Our Lord shows us that He is faithful to His promises. Let this keep us from tiring of doing good by praying.
Paul’s admonition, “Do not grow weary in doing good,” is part of a section dealing with a problem that had arisen in the congregation he is addressing. The two epistles to the Thessalonians both teach about the second coming of Christ. They address wrong ideas about this which had taken hold among some in the congregation. One of those ideas was that since Christ was about to return there was no point in continuing with the normal activities of everyday life. Reasoning in this way, some of them had completely stopped working at their occupations. The result was predictable: they had become busybodies. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it, to use to describe people who were idle? Yet it is appropriate. The human mind is a busy thing; if it isn’t employed in doing something useful, it will find something else to do, something unhelpful, at best; something evil and destructive, at worst. The Thessalonians who had given up working, having nothing constructive to occupy them were making nuisances of themselves. Instead of tending to their own business, they had begun to meddle in the business of others.
In response to this Paul says, “We command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.” This is God’s will for all of us as we wait for the coming of Christ. There are many things that He wants us to do, but among them is this: He wants us to continue to work—as God gives us the ability and opportunity—to earn our daily bread, to labor diligently and quietly. This too is “doing good.”
It is helpful for us to know that the useful work done by believers is God-pleasing. Most work in this world is hard, in one way or another. Some jobs are physically taxing. Some tasks are repetitive, uninteresting, not stimulating. Some jobs are vexing; you have to endure criticism and pressure from a boss or from customers or clients. Many jobs don’t pay very well. Some jobs are looked down on. It can be hard to get up and go to work, day after day. But if we are doing something useful, supplying a product or performing a service that people need, we are doing something worthwhile and have no need to be ashamed or discouraged. We can do our work “as unto Christ” (Ephesians 6:5), knowing that even in our daily work we are serving Him.
So far we have talked about praying and working. These are only two examples of doing good, the ones that Paul deals with in our text. The admonition not to grow tired of doing good of course covers every good and God-pleasing activity. Let us not grow tired of hearing God’s Word and participating in worship. Let us not grow tired of doing the necessary work of a Christian congregation. Let us not grow tired of what we do for our children, for our parents, or for our neighbor.
All this is easier said than done. How are we to continue in doing good? Paul here shows us how with this prayer, “Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.” We will continue in doing good by the strength that we gain from God’s Word. It is there that our hearts are directed into God’s love, for there we learn of the love of God that moved Him to save us through the sacrifice of His own beloved Son. In the Word our hearts are directed into Christ’s patience, that patience that He showed in His ministry to sinners and especially in His passion and death. Through the Word the Holy Spirit gives us the love and the patience to do good and not tire of it. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.