If you’ve ever tried to discern God’s call on your life, it can be just as helpful knowing what your gifts aren’t as knowing what they are. I realized early on in my life that God did not call me to be a handyman. Thankfully, many kind souls have recorded videos of themselves on YouTube to guide clueless people like me through basic do-it-yourself tasks. It’s one thing to read a how-to manual; it’s another thing to see how someone handles a problem.
It’s tempting to wish the New Testament included a “how-to” manual for building perfect churches. What we get in Scripture, however, is not a how-to manual. God is as concerned with what type of people we are becoming as He is with what specific actions we are taking. Looking at 1 and 2 Thessalonians is like watching a video of Paul nourishing a fledgling church to maturity. He shared the gospel and his life with these believers. They sincerely believed in the gospel despite being persecuted. They genuinely loved each other even though they were such young Christians. Like Christians today, they needed reminders of how their lives were to be different — how their lives were to be holy. Perhaps one of the most important issues we’ve seen is how deeply the fact that Christ is coming back mattered to them.
In the final chapter of this study, Paul gives an encouragement and a warning. The encouragement comes first in what is actually a request. Paul asks the believers to pray for him and his coworkers (2 Thessalonians 3:1). He asks them to pray that the gospel would “run” or spread quickly as it had done in Thessalonica. Thinking about how the gospel had spread in Thessalonica led Paul’s mind back to the Thessalonian congregation. He was confident that God would strengthen and guard them. He was confident that God would guide their hearts to continue to love and to persevere (3:4-5). But where did Paul’s confidence come from? It came from the fact that they had a track record of obedience (3:4). We’re not saved by our works, but our obedience (or lack thereof) can give others an indication as to whether we’re moving toward the Lord or away from Him. For Paul, the matter was clear.
Just before his final benediction, Paul ends the body of the letter with a warning. He wasn’t afraid of hard work (3:8), and he and his coworkers worked diligently to provide for his own needs. In doing so, he’d left an example for the believers. God expects Christians whom He has given the ability to provide for themselves to do just that. What it appears was happening in the church of Thessalonica is that some individuals had the ability to work but preferred to be “busybodies.” They were relying on their fellow Christians’ generosity so that they could be meddlers. This passage is one of the only times in the New Testament (maybe the only time!) where a Christian should not share food (3:10). The point here is not that if a lazy neighbor comes to your door hungry, you let them starve to death. The point is to share tough love with brothers or sisters by not enabling them to persist in their sin.
This last chapter of the Thessalonian letters does contain some commands and instructions. But it’s not a how-to manual. It’s a Spirit-inspired portrait of leaders and followers growing in the Lord’s grace. We need that portrait more than a manual.