Summary: Why work? Work has meaning as a witness, as a way of focusing our efforts for the Kingdom. Look at the work of Christ, so that you do not lose motivation to work.
Is there anyone here today whose name is Rockefeller? No? Then maybe there is a member of the Kennedy family, other than Mrs. Currie – and I don’t think she is of the Hyannisport Kennedys? No one? Well, let me try someone else – the Sultan of Brunei, possibly the richest person in the world. Your majesty, are you here today? Is there a Sultan sitting in my worship service? I guess not; he is a Muslim, after all. But if you are here today, sir, this would be a very good time for you to put your tithes in the plate!
None of these ultra-rich people in our congregation? Nobody from old money? How about new money? Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, are you here? If so, we sure could use new computers for the After-School ministry! Bill, a tithe would not be necessary. If, as they say, you are worth a hundred billion dollars, I’ll be happy with just one percent – one measly billion will be fine. Huh? Bill Gates is not here either?
Well, then, I guess we know who we are, don’t we? We are the working stiffs. We are people who have to work in order to eat. We are the folks who live from paycheck to paycheck. Or if we don’t work now, because we are retired, we did at one time. Most retirees can remember the lean times, when there was always more month than money and the soup got watery at the end of the week. We are or were the people who have had to work in order to eat.
Or, again, if we don’t work now, because we are too young and are in school, well, may I be the one to tell our young people the news? The news is, guess what, that when you finally finish your education, somebody will expect you to work! When you get your B.A. or your M.A. or your Ph.D., someone will tell you to get your J.O.B.! Work is a part of life. We work in order to eat.
That’s fine. But the Bible, as always, brings another point of view. The Bible puts another spin on reality. The Bible will tell us that life is more than working so that we can eat. The Bible will teach us how to eat in order to work.
I raise with you today this question: do you work to eat or do you eat to work? Do you work to eat or do you work to eat? There is a difference.
The Christians of Thessalonica had gotten the wrong idea about work. Having heard that the Lord might be returning soon, they decided that all they needed to do was sit down and wait. Jesus is going to return, the end of the age is coming, so, hey, why work up a sweat? Let’s sit down in the old rocking chair and let it happen! Kind of like a man I know who took out a thirty-year mortgage on his home when he was already close to seventy years old, because he knew he’d never have to pay the thing off! What, me worry?! Relax, why work? The Christians of Thessalonica figured that God would take care of everything, so why bother to work?
To these lazybones Paul delivered a stinging word of rebuke:
What has happened to the work ethic in our time? Why is it that employers complain that workers do not want to work? Our late Minister of Music, William Garrett, had charge of personnel matters for the Montgomery County government; he used to agonize about having to fire so many people simply because they would not do their jobs. Bill kept asking, “ Where is the work ethic?” Where is the work ethic?
I wonder if people get lazy because they never got a witness about work? Is it, in part, because no one ever shared with them the meaning of work?
Paul says that we work as an example to others. Our work is a part of our witness.
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.
I’m thinking of my father today, because, were he still alive, this would be his 97th birthday. I’m thinking of my father and his witness about work. As a young man he experienced the depression of the 1930’s, and felt fortunate to find work at all. He moved houses in Indiana, he laid concrete pipe in Texas, he managed a service station in Kentucky, but none of that really worked out. In fact, his service station business failed because he extended so much credit to so many people who had no work, and ran out of money. My father would have had every reason to feel that work was pointless. But he did not. He did not give in to laziness or to despair. His work was his witness.