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375

VII.

THE CHRISTIAN WORTH OF LABOUR.

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; neither did we eat bread for nought at any man's hand, but in labour and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you: not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear of some that walk among you disorderly, that work not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing. And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother."—2 Thess. iii. 6-15 (R.V.).

THIS passage is very similar in contents to one in the fourth chapter of the First Epistle. The difference between the two is in tone; the Apostle writes with much greater severity on this than on the earlier occasion. Entreaty is displaced by command; considerations of propriety, the appeal to the good name of the church, by the appeal to the authority of Christ; and good counsel by express directions for Christian discipline. Plainly the moral situation, which had caused him anxiety some months before, had become worse rather than better. What, then, was the situation to which he here addresses himself so seriously? It was marked by two bad qualities—a disorderly walk and idleness.

"We hear," he writes, "of some that walk among you disorderly." The metaphor in the word is a military one; the underlying idea is that every man has a post in life or in the Church, and that he ought to be found, 376 not away from his post, but at it. A man without a post is a moral anomaly. Every one of us is part of a whole, a member of an organic body, with functions to discharge which can be discharged by no other, and must therefore be steadily discharged by himself. To walk disorderly means to forget this, and to act as if we were independent; now at this, now at that, according to our discretion or our whim; not rendering the community a constant service, in a place of our own—a service which is valuable, largely because it can be counted on. Every one knows the extreme unsatisfactoriness of those men who never can keep a place when they get it. Their friends plague themselves to find new openings for them; but without any gross offence, such as drunkenness or dishonesty, they persistently fall out of them; there is something about them which seems to render them incapable of sticking to their post. It is an unfortunate constitution, perhaps; but it is a grave moral fault as well. Such men settle to nothing, and therefore they render no permanent service to others; whatever they might be worth otherwise, they are worth nothing in any general estimate, simply because they cannot be depended upon. What is more, they are worth nothing to themselves; they never accumulate moral, any more than material, capital; they have no reserve in them of fidelity, sobriety, discipline. They are to be pitied, 377 indeed, as all sinners are to be pitied; but they are also to be commanded, in the name of the Lord Jesus, to lay their minds to their work, and to remember that steadfastness in duty is an elementary requirement of the gospel. Among the Thessalonians it was religious excitement that unsettled men, and made them abandon the routine of duty; but whatever be the cause, the evil results are the same. And, on the other hand, when we are loyal, constant, regularly at our post, however humble it be, we render a real service to others, and grow in strength of character ourselves. It is the beginning of all discipline and of all goodness to have fixed relations and fixed duties, and a fixed determination to be faithful to them.

Besides this disorderly walk, with its moral instability, Paul heard of some who worked not at all. In other words, idleness was spreading in the church. It went to a great and shameless length. Christian men apparently thought nothing of sacrificing their independence, and eating bread for which they had not wrought. Such a state of affairs was peculiarly offensive at Thessalonica, where the Apostle had been careful to set so different an example. If any one could have been excused for declining to labour, on the ground that he was preoccupied with religious hopes and interests, it was he. His apostolic ministry was a charge which made great demands upon his strength; 378 it used up the time and energy which he might otherwise have given to his trade: he might well have urged that other work was a physical impossibility. More than this, the Lord had ordained that they who preached the gospel should live by the gospel; and on that ground alone he was entitled to claim maintenance from those to whom he preached. But though he was always careful to safeguard this right of the Christian ministry, he was as careful, as a rule, to refrain from exercising it; and in Thessalonica, rather than prove a burden to the church, he had wrought and toiled, night and day, with his own hands. All this was an example for the Thessalonians to imitate; and we can understand the severity with which the Apostle treats that idleness which alleges in its defence the strength of its interest in religion. It was a personal insult.

Over against this shallow pretence, Paul sets the Christian virtue of industry, with its stern law, "If any man will not work, neither let him eat." If he claims to lead a superhuman angelic life, let him subsist on angels' food. What we find in this passage is not the exaggeration which is sometimes called the gospel of work; but the soberer and truer thought that work is essential, in general, to the Christian character. The Apostle plays with the words when he writes, "That work not at all, but are busybodies"; or, as it has 379 been reproduced in English, who are busy only with what is not their business. This is, in point of fact, the moral danger of idleness, in those who are not otherwise vicious.2929   Cf. 1 Tim. v. 13: "And withal they learn also to be idle, going about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." Where men are naturally bad, it multiplies temptations and opportunities for sin; Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do. But even where it is the good who are concerned, as in the passage before us, idleness has its perils. The busybody is a real character—a man or a woman who, having no steady work to do, which must be done whether it is liked or disliked, and which is therefore wholesome, is too apt to meddle in other people's affairs, religious or worldly; and to meddle, too, without thinking that it is meddling; an impertinence; perhaps a piece of downright, stone-blind Pharisaism. A person who is not disciplined and made wise by regular work has no idea of its moral worth and opportunities; nor has he, as a rule, any idea of the moral worthlessness and vanity of such an existence as his own.

There seem to have been a good many fussy people in Thessalonica, anxious about their industrious neighbours, concerned for their lack of interest in the Lord's coming, perpetually meddling with them—and 380 living upon them. It is no wonder that the Apostle expresses himself with some peremptoriness: "If any man will not work, neither let him eat." The difficulty about the application of this rule is that it has no application except to the poor. In a society like our own, the busybody may be found among those for whom this law has no terror; they are idle, simply because they have an income which is independent of labour. Yet what the Apostle says has a lesson for such people also. One of the dangers of their situation is that they should under-estimate the moral and spiritual worth of industry. A retired merchant, a military or naval officer on half-pay, a lady with money in the funds and no responsibilities but her own,—all these have a deal of time on their hands; and if they are good people, it is one of the temptations incident to their situation, that they should have what the Apostle calls a busybody's interest in others. It need not be a spurious or an affected interest; but it misjudges the moral condition of others, and especially of the labouring classes, because it does not appreciate the moral content of a day full of work. If the work is done honestly at all, it is a thing of great price; there are virtues embedded in it, patience, courage, endurance, fidelity, which contribute as much to the true good of the world and the true enrichment of personal character as the pious solicitude of those who have 381 nothing to do but be pious. Perhaps these are things that do not require to be said. It may rather be the case in our own time that mere industry is overvalued; and certainly a natural care for the spiritual interests of our brethren, not Pharisaic, but Christian, not meddlesome, but most earnest, can never be in excess. It is the busybody whose interference is resented; the brother, once he is recognised as a brother, is made welcome.

Convinced as he is that for mankind in general "no work" means "no character," Paul commands and exhorts in the Lord Jesus all such as he has been speaking of to work with quietness, and to eat their own bread. Their excitement was both unnatural and unspiritual. It was necessary for their moral health that they should escape from it, and learn how to walk orderly, and to live at their post. The quietness of which he speaks is both inward and outward. Let them compose their minds, and cease from their fussiness; the agitation within, and the distraction without, are equally fruitless. Far more beautiful, far more Christlike, than any busybody, however zealous, is he who works with quietness and eats his own bread. Probably the bulk of the Thessalonian Church was quite sound in this matter; and it is to encourage them that the Apostle writes, "But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing." The bad behaviour of the busybodies 382 may have been provoking to some, infectious in the case of others; but they are to persevere, in spite of it, in the path of quiet industry and good conduct. This has not the pretentiousness of an absorbed waiting for the Lord, and a vaunted renunciation of the world; but it has the character of moral loveliness; it exercises the new man in the powers of the new life.

Along with his judgment on this moral disorder, the Apostle gives the Church directions for its treatment. It is to be met with reserve, protest, and love.

First, with reserve: "Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us; ... note that man, that ye have no company with him." The Christian community has a character to keep, and that character is compromised by the misconduct of any of its members. To such misconduct, therefore, it cannot be, and should not be, indifferent: indifference would be suicidal. The Church exists to maintain a moral testimony, to keep up a certain standard of conduct among men; and when that standard is visibly and defiantly departed from, there will be a reaction of the common conscience in the Church, vigorous in proportion to her vitality. A bad man may be quite at home in the world; he may find or make a circle of associates like 383 himself; but there is something amiss, if he does not find himself alone in the Church. Every strong life closes itself against the intrusion of what is alien to it—a strong moral life most emphatically of all. A wicked person of any description ought to feel that the public sentiment of the Church is against him, and that as long as he persists in his wickedness he is virtually, if not formally, excommunicated. The element of communion in the Church is spiritual soundness; "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." But if any one begins to walk in darkness, he is out of the fellowship. The only hope for him is that he may recognise the justice of his exclusion, and, as the Apostle says, be ashamed. He is shut out from the society of others that he may be driven in upon himself, and compelled, in spite of wilfulness, to judge himself by the Christian standard.

But reserve, impressive as it may be, is not enough. The erring brother is to be admonished; that is, he is to be gravely spoken to about his error. Admonition is a difficult duty. Not every one feels at liberty, or is at liberty, to undertake it. Our own faults sometimes shut our mouths; the retort courteous, or uncourteous, to any admonition from us, is too obvious. But though such considerations should make us humble and diffident, they ought not to lead to 384 neglect of plain duty. To think too much of one's faults is in some circumstances a kind of perverted vanity; it is to think too much of oneself. We have all our faults, of one kind or another; but that does not prohibit us from aiding each other to overcome faults. If we avoid anger, and censoriousness; if we shun, as well as disclaim, the spirit of the Pharisee, then with all our imperfections God will justify us in speaking seriously to others about their sins. We do not pretend to judge them; we only appeal to themselves to say whether they are really at ease when they stand on one side, and the word of God and the conscience of the Church on the other. In a sense, this is specially the duty of the elders of the Church. It is they who are pastors of the flock of God, and who are expressly responsible for this moral guardianship; but there is no officialism in the Christian community which limits the interest of any member in all the rest, or exempts him from the responsibility of pleading the cause of God with the erring. How many Christian duties there are which seem never to have come in the way of some Christians.

Finally, in the discipline of the erring, an essential element is love. Withdraw from him, and let him feel he is alone; admonish him, and let him be convinced he is gravely wrong; but in your admonition remember that he is not an enemy, but a brother. Judgment is 385 a function which the natural man is prone to assume, and which he exercises without misgiving. He is so sure of himself, that instead of admonishing, he denounces; what he is bent upon is not the reclamation, but the annihilation, of the guilty. Such a spirit is totally out of place in the Church; it is a direct defiance of the spirit which created the Christian community, and which that community is designed to foster. Let the sin be never so flagrant, the sinner is a brother; he is one for whom Christ died. To the Lord who bought him he is inexpressibly valuable; and woe to the reprover of sin who forgets this. The whole power of discipline which is committed to the Church is for edification, not for destruction; for the building up of Christian character, not for pulling it down. The case of the offender is the case of a brother; if we are true Christians, it is our own. We must act toward him and his offence as Christ acted toward the world and its sin: no judgment without mercy, no mercy without judgment. Christ took the sin of the world on Himself, but He made no compromise with it; He never extenuated it; He never spoke of it or treated it but with inexorable severity. Yet though the sinful felt to the depth of their hearts His awful condemnation of their sins, they felt that in assenting to that condemnation there was hope. To them, as opposed to their sins, He was winning, condescending, loving. 386 He received sinners, and in His company they sinned no more.

Thus it is that in the Christian religion everything comes back to Christ and to the imitation of Christ. He is the pattern of those simple and hardy virtues, industry and steadfastness. He wrought at his trade in Nazareth till the hour came for Him to enter on His supreme vocation; who can undervalue the possibilities of goodness in the lives of men who work with quietness and eat their own bread, that remembers it was over a village carpenter the heavenly voice sounded, "This is My beloved Son"? Christ is the pattern also for Christian discipline in its treatment of the erring. No sinner could feel himself, in his sin, in communion with Christ: the Holy One instinctively withdrew from him, and he felt he was alone. No offender had his offence simply condoned by Jesus: the forgiveness of sins which He bestows includes condemnation as well as remission; it is wrought in one piece out of His mercy and His judgment. But neither, again, did any offender, who bowed to Christ's judgment, and suffered it to condemn him, find himself excluded from His mercy. The Holy One was the sinner's friend. Those whom He at first repelled were irresistibly drawn to Him. They began, like Peter, with "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord"; they ended, like him, with "Lord, to whom shall we go?" 387 This, I say, is the pattern which is set before us, for the discipline of the erring. This includes reserve, admonition, love, and much more. If there be any other commandment, it is summarily comprehended in this word, "Follow Me.">


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