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Echo Evangelique

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Dealing with the Unruly in the Church

Text: II Thess. 3:6-12

Key Concepts:

  • In light of the imminent return of the Lord, how then shall we live?
  • What is the biblical approach to deal with idleness in the church?
  • Paul invites the unruly to imitate him

The church of Thessalonica was a church that could righteously echo the words of Richard Mullins, “All the way my Savior leads me.” It was a church that undoubtedly could sing of the faithfulness of God. The church was not only founded by God’s will, but it was led by God as well. The Thessalonians thus enjoyed heavenly peace and divine comfort. Their spiritual growth was a source of joy for Paul who faithfully prayed for them. Consequently, God provided for and sustained them through every trial. The Thessalonians rightly believed in the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, this belief drove them to a sinful practice which threatened to dismantle the spiritual stability of the church.  Paul identified it as a problem of idleness in the people. For there were some in the congregation, who under spiritual pretext, stopped working to care for their families but instead idly waited for the Lord to return. This erroneous response to prophetic truth led not only to idleness but to misery. Indeed, wrong interpretation of biblical truth inevitably leads to wrong application.

In light of the imminent return of the Lord, how then shall we live?

The Bible does teach the imminent return of the Lord. Though this event can occur at any time, no one knows the hour (Matt. 24:36). In light of the imminent return of the Lord, we must strive to live with Christ by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit and by the truth of His Word.  Any teaching, that is inconstant with the Word of God and attempts to urge us to violate biblical principles, must be viewed as a deception from the enemy. Therefore, before we apply what people claim is from God, we must make certain that indeed such teachings adhere to what God has already been revealed to us in His Word. From generation to generation, the Bible is what we ought to follow in order to live according to God’s standards. However, the Thessalonian church was overrun by people who called themselves spiritual and claimed to have special revelations from God. They encouraged idleness which inevitably caused a problem for the church leadership.

What is the biblical approach to deal with idleness in the church?  

Paul warned us clearly. “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 you received from us” (2Thess. 3:6, NIV). Because they are “idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies” (3:11, NIV)  Paul prescribed Christian ethics by commanding that those who are idle should “settle down and earn the food they eat” (3:12, NIV). Living in idleness, in disorder, is to live destructively. This had become the new characteristic of some of the congregants. But as with any community, it only takes one influential person doing wrong to affect the testimony of the church as a whole. Paul exhorted the church “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” because it was what the people used as authority to make their false claim. Since the Church as a community represents Christ, when the Church is not living according to the will of God, this affects the integrity of its message. This also would misrepresent the Head of the Church. Paul’s command to “keep away from every believer…” (2Thess. 3:6, NIV), tells us that we should be wary of whom we associate with, even though they are of the faith. This caution is necessary because those we identify with inevitably affect our attitude, conducts and testimony. The alienation of those who are idle and disruptive is not the responsibility of the leaders alone but of the entire church.  Sin being closely related to guilt, as guilt is the outcome of one’s sin, are often used interchangeably in the Bible. And, since sin – the violation of God’s law, is a threat to the spiritual welfare of the child of God, it is not to be tolerated. Thankfully, God offers repentance as the remedy to sin. 

Paul invites the unruly to imitate him

Although quoting Scripture at someone who is living  disorderly may not be effective, they cannot deny your exemplary lifestyle. In fact, by living righteously, we can inspire others. Paul was such a man, even those who disliked him, could not accuse him of wrongdoing. His life was consistent with his teaching. He reminds those who are idle that they (Paul and his companions) “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” (2Thess. 3:7-8, NIV). Clearly, Paul is encouraging the disorderly ones to imitate his faith and way of life.  He is teaching us that Christians are expected to work to the degree they are able. Paul also instructs us to work with our hands (1 Thess. 4: 11-12).  The concept of earning one’s wages is not a political one. Being a welfare program dependent curtails one’s freedom to choose and one’s liberty of conscience. Labor is freedom. Earning one’s living, affords one the right to freedom to be and to do as one pleases. It is unacceptable to be completely dependent on others because of laziness. Love and respect are essential Christian attributes. Consequently, when practicing Christian charity toward those who justifiably are unable to earn a living, we are to do so lovingly and respectfully. It is a sin to do otherwise. Furthermore, it is a blessing and privilege to be able help others. Indeed, Paul is not telling us to refuse aid to those who truly need it, since generosity is a principle of holiness. Generosity and grace flow from the same source. Paul sought to establish the notion of responsible independence. Biblically,  those who choose idleness should be left to hunger (2Thess. 3:10, Gen. 3:19, 1Tim. 5:8). The message the Thessalonians represented was diminished by their needy behavior.

In conclusion…

 Paul points to the fact that to every problem, there must be a solution. Those who are in leadership must be able make difficult decisions as the need arises. What is the church’s responsibility toward those who are able but simply refuse to work under spiritual pretext? Church discipline – the biblical process of confrontation and correction, must be carried out by leaders, as necessary. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to correct us, for, “[His] rod and [His] staff, they comfort [us]” (Ps. 23:4, NKJV). “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves and chastises every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6, ESV). That spiritual authority and responsibility to discipline  is passed down to church leaders to confront and correct any believer who is not living according to God’s Word. The definition of sin is not limited to sexual immorality. It also involves disorder and discord in the church. It has to do with strife and division among leaders. Sin includes rebellion whereby people pretend to be spiritual while disrupting the welfare of the congregation. Church discipline is never easy; however, its purpose is the restoration of the offender. The wrath of God is not only provoked by sin, but the church as a family is affected as well.  Because sin left unanswered or unchallenged, festers like and infection.  It causes damage, disruption and can lead some to go astray. The teachings of the Bible are consistent from Genesis to Revelation because there are not contradictions in the Scriptures. For this reason, we must abide in the Word. And, as long as our spiritual leaders are making biblical decisions, it is our responsibility as the body to support and pray for them. It is also the believer’s duty to warn those who are disruptive and idle, to encourage the disheartened, to help the weak, and to be patient with everyone. May the Lord will grant us the necessary grace to live a life that glorifies Him.

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