Coronavirus Lockdown Messages
Edington Chapel: Devotion and study notes -
Sunday 24th May
by Matthew Edwards
Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
Paul was informed about a specific problem that had developed in the church at Thessalonika. Now he writes this second letter to the fellowship of believers to address the problem. The apostle has discovered that there are some believers that think they have already entered into the day of the LORD (or great tribulation). As a consequence they have stopped working, meaning they have stopped earning a living because they believed that the second coming of the Lord was imminent. As an apostle Paul now address the situation both theologically and practically. He will have some harsh words to say to those who have given up their livelihoods and taken advantage of other believers.
Paul had already warned the Thessalonians that they should not be deceived about the coming day of the LORD. In chapter two he gave some eschatological details concerning things that will happen before and during the time when God pours out his judgment upon a sinful world. Of course, we are getting ever closer to that day when all prophecy concerning the end will be fulfilled. The Lord Jesus will return in the brightness of His majesty and glory. Yet before that glorious event takes place the world is going to go through a period of tribulation. We read about that day in the Old Testament prophets, the gospels, the letters and finally the apocalyptic book of Revelation.
Perhaps this current lockdown shows us how quickly something as microscopic as coronavirus can wreak havoc in society and throughout the entire world. With modern methods of transport our planet is a diverse and interconnected place. This has made the globe more accessible and yet more vulnerable in terms of spreading disease.
Just the other day I was watching an interview with Britain’s Poet Laureate, who said that he believed that nothing as bad as Covid 19 could ever happen again. Yet as we read the prophecies of the end of days the whole world is heading toward even greater chaos. We have not seen the end of world wars and global pandemics (Rev. 6-19). However, the good news is that this period of tribulation is reasonably short in terms of the history of mankind. Yet in terms of time, we have all learned that after eight weeks stuck indoors we develop an itching to get back to some sense of normality.
Thus, two months can seem like a very long time. For those who are alive in the tribulation seven years will seem like an incredibly long duration. This is due to the fact that conditions on the earth will be far from normal. The good news is that once the tribulation arrives the apocalyptic clock is ticking toward the climax of all things, culminating in the second coming of Jesus Christ.
One of the problems in Thessalonika was certain believers who had stopped working as a result of their bad theology. They believed they had entered into the tribulation period and could not see any point in carrying on with their regular jobs. In turn this had shaken the faith of some within Thessalonika. Paul had already pointed out to them in his first letter that the church was not appointed to wrath. The bride of the Messiah would be taken from the earth before the tribulation began (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Paul had previously instructed the Thessalonians to “comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18).
The apostle further explained that the day of the LORD will not arrive until the great apostasy takes place and the man of sin (the antichrist) is revealed. There will come a time before the beginning of the day of the LORD when believers will be able to work out the identity of the man of sin. This can be achieved by means of gematria and the fact that the man of sin will be the one about to sign a seven year peace treaty with Israel (Dan. 9:24-27). Gematria involves working out the numerical value of a person’s name. According to Revelation 13:18 the number of the antichrist’s name will amount to the value of six hundred and sixty six. Hebrew letters have a numerical value, and those living at this time will use gematria to work out the number of his name.
Paul tells the Thessalonians that they have not entered into the tribulation as some were teaching. Thus, they should not be shaken in their spirit. These believers needed to continue with their working lives as normal. In chapter 3:1-5 we learned that it was important for the Thessalonians to be busy doing three things:
- Continuing in prayer for Paul, and that those preaching the gospel may be delivered from unreasonable men.
- To recognise they are in a spiritual war with Satan, and believe that the Lord is able to protect them from harm.
- To grow in the love and patience of Christ.
Admonishing the wayward
So now we are told how the church was to deal with those individuals who were veering off-course. Paul wanted their theological error and bad behaviour to be snuffed out. He knew that if false doctrine spread it would create even further problems. If a believer has false doctrine they can also behave inappropriately. If people say they love Jesus and live in a state of unrepentant sin they prove their lack of love for Him (Jn. 14:24). They need to be corrected in their doctrine.
We should never fall into the trap that a persons theology is not important. The things that we believe will effect the way that we behave. Let me illustrate this point with an example from my early days as a believer. When I was a young in the faith I was a bad witness to my peers. I thought it was still okay to carry on taking drugs and be a Christian at the same time. That was until God shone a light on my problem. The more I began to read the Scriptures and talk to genuine people who cared for me I was shown the errors of my ways. Now that is an extreme example! Yet the point is that God in is the business of changing the way that we think and behave to bring us into line with His word. The Bible calls this process sanctification (1 Pet. 1:2).
Growing in Christ
As we walk with the Lord we grow from spiritual infants to mature adults in Christ. This also means being prepared to study the entirety of the Scriptures. One of the reasons why we have systematic study at Edington is because the whole of the Bible is inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Many churches stunt their spiritual growth by ignoring the more complex parts of the Scripture. Yet we are exhorted to encourage each other to seek and understand the more difficult parts. All believers should move from spiritual milk to the meat doctrines of the word (Heb. 5:14). In the last days there will be great spiritual deception. The way to avoid being deceived is to pursue the knowledge of the LORD and grow into spiritual maturity.
What action does Paul instruct the church at Thessalonika to take?
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 (2 Thess. 3:6-10).
Paul commanded the church to withdraw from any believer who had stopped working as a result of their faulty theology and behaviour. Those who were walking in error had become a burden upon other believers to provide for their basic needs. Paul had to remind the Thessalonians of the example that he and his missionary companions set when they were with them in person. The apostle was not burdensome to the assembly but worked hard to support his pioneering and church planting endeavours. There were times when Paul relied on his trade of tent making to support himself (Acts 18:3). Alongside his tent making profession he also instilled the spiritual principle of financial giving to support the ministry (1 Cor. 9:11).
On his journeys Paul made sure that he was not a financial burden to the people whom he was seeking to reach and disciple. Yet this burdensome behaviour had come to define the congregation at Thessalonika. There were some who had given up their jobs and were living from the goodness of other hard working brethren in the Lord. Thus, there is a reminder of another biblical principle, “…if anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).
Work is good
Paul and his companions set the example of how the church was to live. While we may be a church that is anticipating the coming of the Lord, we must also be a church that is busy about His business. For those able it means to support ourselves financially by means of employment. From the very beginning man was not to be a kind of idol lay about! In the beginning Adam was told to look after the garden, “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Adam was not created to live a life of laying about in the garden without lifting a finger. He was to tend the garden and keep it, even in its pre-fall condition. I am sure that tending to the garden brought Adam much pleasure. It was not hard work. It was only post-fall that work became hard, ““Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:17).
Sweat and tears
After the fall there were thorns and briers for Adam to weed out of the ground, denoting a future of blood, sweat and toil in his labours. This is the type of work that we have inherited. Yet even in this tough environment there is a sense of purpose in creating and delivering something with the work of our own hands. The lockdown has left many with more time on their hands than usual. What do people do when they are stuck indoors? They must find something to do. That is why we still see the need to create, take care of the garden, do the DIY and produce art. We begin to realise that watching day time television may be novel at first, but in the long-term this cannot satisfy. Therefore, work can be a great blessing, despite it often being hard and challenging.
Our hearts go out to people who have lost their jobs and businesses due to the crisis. We are yet to discover how much damage has been inflicted on people’s careers and livelihoods. And for those who want to work and are unable to find it have our deepest sympathy. Man made schemes like the national lottery are not the answer to man’s deepest needs - one of which is to live a productive life. I often think when I wait behind people in the queue who buy their ticket, “The worse thing that can happen to you is that your number comes up!” Why? We were not born to live the life or Riley but to be productive, to work. Work is a blessing and not a curse!
The great example
This could not be illustrated in any greater way than the life of Christ. Where the first Adam failed, the last Adam, Jesus Christ, was victorious (1 Cor. 15:22). This victory took hard work! Through the sacrifice and shedding of His own blood. Jesus was always busy about the work of His heavenly Father, fulfilling all that He had been given to do. He accomplished the purpose of His coming into this world not by sitting in a palace by a luxury swimming pool. He was out and about among the people - ministering to their needs, healing the sick and raising the dead, preaching hard truths and confronting the religious hypocrisy of His day.
Challenging wrong behaviour
Now there were believers at Thessalonika that were no longer walking in the good works that God had prepared for them to do (Eph. 2:10). This information had been fed back to Paul:
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. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed (2 Thess. 3:11-12).
The apostolic command was given for those who were obedient and working in their jobs to separate themselves from those who wanted a free hand out. This may seem harsh but it was the only way to bring those who had fallen out of favour back into correct doctrine and appropriate behaviour. They were not just to let this disobedience and false attitude go unchallenged. Paul reiterates, “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). The word admonish means to reprimand someone strongly, to warn them about their false doctrine and behaviour. It is a line of action that nobody wants to take when someone is behaving in an inappropriate manner, but it is for that person’s own sake, to bring them back into line with the Scriptures. How can we apply this today? It may be some other issue about our behaviour that is completely wrong and needs to be called out for what it is, lest it spread violently throughout the assembly, damaging our own lives and influencing others.
As for those walking with the Lord they should not grow weary whilst doing good. Working in the midst of spiritual opposition was tough, hard work. Yet like this church we should never grow weary of doing good for the Lord. Not only being a good citizen but being a witness for Christ. We are therefore encouraged to press on, keep going, because the ultimate prize and the end is in sight. Soon the Lord will come to take us. Until then we must be busy labouring for His kingdom.
And finally Paul states, “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (2 Thess. 3:16-18).
If they had any doubt that this epistle was not from Paul he signed it with his own hand. Some of the apostle letters were probably written with an amanuensis and then signed off by him with big letters due to his failing eyesight. We may be going through tough and challenging times but there is a peace and assurance that only God can give. God is in control no matter what the circumstances. Let us be busy working for Him as we await His glorious return from heaven!