Home » Spiritual Direction » Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13      Disciplined

Beginning Good News, the gospel: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16)

But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion but born from God. (Jn. 1:12-13 CEB)

This is how we know that we love the children of God: when we love God and keep God’s commandments. (1 Jn. 5:2 CEB)

This is a quick, three-verse summary of the journey leading to life. These verses are for us individually. The problem is that we do not travel alone. Some who travel with us, willingly or unwillingly can slow us, stagnate us, sabotage us, and yes, even separate us from the gift of life eternal if we are not careful.

The lectionary passage today is given from a motivation of love and concern rather than control. The word “command” tends to irritate modern people in our culture. We don’t like to be commanded. We do not like being told this is something we must do. We live in a time in which, in our culture, many live by words, “what is right in their own eyes.”

Something has happened. We tend to value independence more than guidance. We tend to place more value on our autonomy rather than on authority. In the case of humanity’s relationship with God, we place more emphasis on the self than the soul. Just because the Bible says something does not mean that we will accept it. The days of “biblical authority” have passed for a large segment of the population including Christians.

But I have a question. If you were about to unknowingly walk off the edge of a cliff, would you rather be commanded to stop or be given a suggestion to stop? When driving, do you want the other drivers to obey the sign that states stop or just hope they will consider stopping?

Whether we realize it or not, we need authority, we need commands if there is to be order and safety in our world.

And, whether we realize it or not, when God’s word, the Scripture, gives us a command, it does so for our own good. It does so for the benefit of our souls. It always comes from a motivation of love and a desire to protect. God has demonstrated this over and over.

So, verse 6 begins with a command. It is a bit of a shocking command. This command seems to be paradoxical to what Jesus teaches elsewhere.

Jesus told us as believers, “This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples when you love each other.” (Jn. 13:35 CEB) Later, in the book of Hebrews we are told, “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:25 CEB)

But here, we are told, “to stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life that is not in line with the traditions that you received from us.” Is this not a contradiction?

This is not stranger-danger, this is staying away from other brothers and sisters in the faith who are “undisciplined.” Other translations state, “to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive (NIV); and, “that walketh disorderly” (KJV).

The question is why this paradox? Why are we commanded to do this?

We are given this command because God knows just how powerful influence can be, social influence. God knows how a negative attitude can be contagious. God also knows how manipulative and deceptive human beings can be.

In verse 11 we are told that these people (brothers and sisters, part of the family of faith) are meddling (the word translated meddling is a word meaning bustle about uselessly, be preoccupied with trifling matters, sowing discontent, confusion and creating conflict). All I could think of was social media and politics.

God, through the words of Paul, is warning us that such people, undisciplined people, can create resentment, fear, frustration, and distraction. Even though they are family members, they pull us away from the mind of Christ and can devastate the spiritual life of the community.

In the case of the Thessalonian church, their people would not work. They would not contribute, and they meddled in the work of others. This was not the example Paul set. This is not what Jesus taught the disciples. This produced a poor image for the church. By going along with this behavior, by tolerating this behavior, the church was harming the advance of the kingdom.

This is the key concept Paul is striving to get across. When harmful behavior (spiritually harmful behavior) is allowed, accepted, or simply overlooked, it will be toxic to the community.

This is not just about not working or meddling. It is about the effect of undisciplined behavior of any kind going unchallenged in our midst. The Scripture is clear, “Don’t be deceived, bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33 CEB) Pay attention to that and do not be deceived for there are many who are so discontent but pretend to be good.

But we are to be loving. We are not to judge. I absolutely agree.  However, you do not love someone by enabling them. We harm the body, the church when we are tolerant of such behavior.

This is not a command to judge people. Paul calls them brothers and sisters. What we are to respond to is to behavior, to attitudes, to a spiritual war in which sometimes the only effective response is showing our concern, and our anxiousness about the behavior by distancing ourselves from those who engage in the harmful activity to demonstrate the danger. Look down at verse 15. Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers. (2 Thess. 3:15 NRS) They are not our enemies, but individuals deceived.

Evil seeks inclusion. Evil seeks association. When we allow evil, rebellion, immaturity, or even spiritual apathy to be in our midst, it will be a corruptive influence. If we really care about people, we need to make sure we do not support or enable an undisciplined life. And we need to start with ourselves.

In the book of Jude, which is in many ways a quick reference in how to live in “undisciplined times”, we find the following: But you, dear friends: build each other up on the foundation of your most holy faith, pray in the Holy Spirit, keep each other in the love of God, wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will give you eternal life. Have mercy on those who doubt. Save some by snatching them from the fire. Fearing God, have mercy on some, hating even the clothing contaminated by their sinful urges. (Jude 1:20-23)

Brothers and sisters,1 do not be weary in doing what is right. (2 Thess. 3:13 NRS) Don’t let others who are not willing to develop the disciplined life of a true disciple corrupt you. Heed the warning given by a God who is love, and who loves us enough to warn us. Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Cor. 15:33 NRS)

Instead, follow the example and path the Lord gives us. No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:11). This is the truth. The truth in love.

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