Accept or Decline?
November 17, 2019
Trinity Mennonite Church
Accept or Decline?
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
When you download an app to your smartphone or laptop, you are usually asked to accept or decline certain terms and conditions. Do you ever read these conditions? If, not, you are not alone. It would take you 25 days to read every such statement, and most of us just don’t have that sort of time.
It’s the “Age of the App! These mini-programs are now found everywhere in the digital world: on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. They tell us the weather, order our lunch, arrange our dating partners and even answer our doorbells.
So you download an app and you think you are all set. But now you’re staring at a window on your device with a teeny check-box, beside which are the words: “I have read and accept the terms and conditions for the use of this product.”
Out of curiosity, you may scroll down and peruse pages of fine-print legalese, but you are eager to enjoy your new app, so you simply mark the “I agree” option and move on.
Of course, you are not the only one who does this. These “terms and conditions” (T&C) paragraphs and privacy policies on average are more than 2,500 words long! Reading 250 words a minute, it would take most people at least 10 minutes to read through these conditions.
Who does that?
And given the fact that you’re likely to use more than 1,400 websites and apps a year, you would need to devote 25 days annually to reading these policies.
Who does that?
No one does that.
Yet, in checking that little box, you agree to the terms of a contract that could have serious implications concerning your rights and privileges, and, since you have made an overt act of assent, courts have generally held that it is legally binding.
A quick online search reveals that enterprising attorneys have established a cottage industry engaged in writing these statements. These websites offer a cornucopia of options for the prospective vendor to include in these Terms & Conditions. These often restrict your use of the product, your ability to share it with friends or family members, and your ability to obtain redress should it harm you or your equipment. There is truly a lot at stake here. In marking “I agree,” you may be getting a lot more than you bargained for.
When we accept Jesus’ call to follow him, we should probably be aware that there are terms and conditions, too.
Is this the attitude we’ve taken in our discipleship walk with Jesus? He calls us to follow him, so we do, without reading the terms and conditions. After all, if you can’t trust Jesus, who can you trust? But then, you discover that a cross and self-denial is involved!
Perhaps, when we sign on with Jesus, we’re getting more than we bargained for.
One would hope that’s a good thing.
But the going can sometimes be tough. One has to wonder whether the disciples of Jesus understood for what they were signing up. Did they accept the Terms & Conditions without actually reading the fine print? Were they so excited about getting to use this new app called “The Messiah,” that they threw caution to the winds?
“We’re in,” says Peter, speaking for himself and his fishermen friends.
Or consider the Christians of the church in Thessalonica to whom Paul is writing in today’s epistle reading. Did they know the Terms & Conditions of the faith they had embraced? At some point in time, they must have been offered an “accept” or “decline” option. They checked the “accept” box and now here they were: a religious minority in Thessalonica with a misunderstanding about something really, really major: The second coming of Jesus Christ.
They thought he was coming soon — like any time.
The return was imminent, they thought.
They might not have time to clear the breakfast dishes.
They “accepted” the Terms & Conditions of the “Christian faith” app which they assumed promised them deliverance and a future in a glorious new world, a kingdom of another world completely.
Paul’s correspondence with the churches of Thessalonica reflected a transition in the life of the developing Christian community. Most scholars agree that Jesus’ ministry emerged in a time of apocalyptic excitement. The New English Bible describes the people as “on the tiptoe of expectation” (Luke 3:15, emphasis added). Something was about to happen — and it would happen very soon.
After all, if God was going to intervene in history, there was no better time than the present. After two centuries of fairly benign rule, Rome was becoming increasingly engaged in the lives of the Hebrew population. Roman taxes were now being levied directly (Mark 12:17), and the occupiers were becoming more interested in the affairs of the Temple. Rebellion was in the air, and there was an expectation that something would happen soon — perhaps today.
The Essenes, the likely authors of the so-called “Dead Sea Scrolls,” had generated a dramatic war scroll, giving an account of how the final conflict would play out. In this coming battle, the present darkness would be destroyed forever so that light would prevail. In addition, vivid, apocalyptic literature describing this final age was widely circulated. Many Jews believed that God could not allow the present situation to continue much longer; the Lord was about to intervene, and, after the death of John, they saw the ministry of Jesus as God’s opening act.
The gospel accounts and Luke’s narrative in the Book of Acts continue that apocalyptic narrative. After Easter, Jesus’ followers anticipated his imminent return. Long-term planning was thus unnecessary and much that was done was ad-hoc and temporary. Luke’s description of the communal lifestyle (Acts 4:32-5:7), in which “everything they owned was held in common” (4:32), is an excellent picture of this “ad-interim” lifestyle.
But was this tenable in the long run? What if Jesus did not make a timely return? What if the church was forced to reorient its thinking to a longer-term, more-sustainable situation?
This is the situation in this morning’s text. Jesus has not yet made his triumphant return. The battle anticipated in the War Scroll has not yet occurred. And the church is forced to deal with this unexpected situation.
It has to learn to live in the world of the “not yet.”
But this is not what everyone had signed up for. When they checked “accept,” they expected results. So they had a hard time “accepting” this change in plans. Some members of the community were still living from the labors of others and not contributing to the ongoing common support. As Paul’s letter put it, they were “living in idleness” (v. 6).
So Paul instructed the community: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (v. 10).
He’s referring to those who — to their credit — actually believed the return of Christ was imminent. These were true believers. And their so-called idleness was a testimony to their fervent belief, however misguided, that Jesus was coming, like, any moment!
But Paul describes them as “walking idly” (v. 6), “being busybodies” (v. 11), and he exhorts them to “do their own work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12). It appears that their offenses may have been particularly institutional ones: lazy, obnoxious, and getting in the way of others. It was not just that they ate the “bread of others without paying for it,” (v. 8) but they were actively keeping others from doing the work of the community.
On other topics, Paul asks or urges the Thessalonian community to conform to certain patterns of behavior. Only when addressing issues related to the unruly do they command. Evidently the issue of the unruly touches an Apostle Paul’s nerve.
Paul and his associates address this concern in several ways. They remind the congregation about their earlier teaching—they recall their own pattern of self-support—they urge that this example be imitated—they address the unruly with a firm imperative to get back to work—they encourage the rest of the congregation not to become weary of doing good—and they prescribe a process of discipline.
The takeaway for this text could be whether we accept or decline the Terms & Conditions Jesus Christ lays out before us, and whether we fully understand those conditions.
Let’s go back to the early gospel accounts which describe the call to discipleship. In Matthew (4:19), for example, Jesus invites Simon and Andrew with the words, “Follow me,” and the writer reports that “immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
This call apparently came without the “trigger warnings” that we expect today. There was no statement of the potential side effects of such an action, no disclaimer of consequences and no limitations of liability. There was simply the command, “Follow me.”
Perhaps the “idlers” or unruly in today’s epistle reading had received just such a summons, and they accepted it without looking at the fine print. Perhaps, like Simon and Andrew, they left their nets and followed Jesus. That made sense, since Jesus was bringing in the kingdom of God. It was only a matter of time — a brief one, at that — before they would all be in the “great light” (4:17).
But there was more to this bargain, wasn’t there? Jesus did not simply ask his disciples to follow him; he warned them, saying, “If any want to become my disciples, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
There were consequences to clicking “I Accept” on Jesus’ “app,” and those consequences were frighteningly real.
A cross is involved. The social and political cost of identifying with Christ was real, and the injunction to “take up your cross” was no mere metaphor.
In any event, for the disciples in Thessalonica, a community under siege, there was no place for those who were unwilling to carry their share of the load. Paul pressed them to contribute to the task, not only for the sake of others, but their own. There was work to be done; a prize to be won.
Let us note several things about this command to work. The conditional clause “if anyone is unwilling to work should not eat” refers to willingness to work. This therefore does not include the unemployed seeking work or persons physically unable to work for their own keep.
These believers are meeting in homes owned by wealthier members, and that these gatherings often include a communal meal. It appears that communal meals are organized along the lines of a potluck, with everyone bringing food to share with others. The unruly appear unwilling to work both to support themselves and to contribute to the common cause by sharing their food with the community. Paul and his coworkers therefore instruct the rest of the community to exclude these members from the meals which they regularly share together.
These busybodies are not just lazy and inactive. They are also inclined toward disorderly conduct. Perhaps they are meddling inappropriately in the private lives of other members or engaged in certain forms of offensive propagandizing. In addition to being economically irresponsible, therefore, these people have developed some socially obnoxious patterns of behavior.
In his criticism of those who hang on, but do not contribute, he could have been echoing the words of Jesus: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
After all, that same Jesus is the one who said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
There’s a truism that says that you can do anything you want if you’re willing to pay the price.
The problem is that often we do not know the price.
The call in this text, one that echoes Jesus’ call to the Galilean fishermen, is to follow him.
We can do this, but do we accept the terms and conditions? Do we know what they are?
And if we do, are we still willing to follow, surrender all and not count the cost?
There are those who are spiritually idle. They may sit in the pew Sunday after Sunday, but they do not do any work themselves. “The preacher will tell me what the Bible says. The congregation will do my praying for me.” If you do not read the Bible for yourself, if you do not have your own prayer time, no one else can do it for you. You will not be fed. You will not grow. You will not mature as a Christian.
The second issue Paul focuses on is community. It is not enough to have an individual commitment to Christ. That commitment must be lived out in the context of a community of faith.
As individuals and as communities, brothers and sisters need to be encouraged gently but firmly not to become “weary of doing what is right” for each other’s sake.
Do not become weary of doing what is right.
Homiletics. Nov 17, 2019—Michael Blackwood, Patricia Johnson, Bud Ruggia, Stephen Schur, Melanie Silva and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Feasting on the Word. Year C, Volume 4.
Believers Church Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Thessalonians.