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An Open Letter To The Idle Believer

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August 29, 2022

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour, we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now, such persons, we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. — II Thessalonians 3:6–15 [ESV]

In those days, Paul wrote to believers who thought there was no need for earthly work since Jesus was coming soon, so they could laze around while waiting for their one way ticket to heaven upon His return.

In our time, it’s quite the opposite, our generation is trying to do EVERYTHING before Jesus returns. The ongoing rhetoric is that Jesus should hold off on coming back so we can marry and “enjoy life” before going off to heaven to “rest”. We have become so busy that a warning against idleness can seem out of place to a generation that prides itself on hustle culture and multiple streams of income.

However, if “hustle culture” is a problem born out of discontentment and an inability to cast our cares on Jesus, idleness is an unsuspecting cancer that creeps up on the restless believer who is always busy, but can never point out what exactly their time was spent on.

So the warning against idleness is very fitting for a people who are often “busy” doing nothing. Just as Paul says, many are not busy at earnest work, but busybodies, living endlessly on social media, doom scrolling, contributing to meaningless conversations and engaging in high-sounding arguments that do not yield profit in righteousness.

It is only right therefore, that believers take heed against such idleness: i.e. lack of purposeful work (hands), mindless scrolling and consumption of content ( minds).

The Idleness Of Hand.

This refers not only to believers who do nothing to earn a living and be fruitful as instructed in Genesis 1:28, but also to those who abandoned their spiritual callings to pursue earthly passions. You might be busy in the physical but idle in the spiritual, and that is no way to live! It is not sufficient to focus solely on activities needed to survive on earth; we must to a greater extent pursue our spiritual callings and be fruitful in the work of God’s kingdom. When we fail to excel at either, especially the latter, we become idle in hand.

However, idle hands are a symptom a more subtle problem, the idleness of mind.

The Idleness of Mind.

not busy at work, but busybodies.

Those who don’t have their hands full with earnest work become gossips and busybodies. With no spiritual work to pursue, they begin to engage in comparison and gossip about the works of others, and end up busying themselves with affairs that do not concern them.

This is an idle mind in full swing. It never chooses to engage itself in thoughts that are noble, just, pure, admirable, praiseworthy and of good report (See Philippians 4:8). Instead, it gets fixated on menial gossip, bad news, perverse discussions, mockery, foul jokes, controversies and conspiracies.

Once such compromise becomes consistent, laziness sets in and idleness becomes the norm in a person’s life. When you give in to the spirit of idleness, the enemy immediately finds something for your empty mind to do. The man who is delivered of addictions and a perverse mindset but does not quickly fill himself with the things of the Spirit will soon find himself seven times worse than his previous state (Matthew 12:43–45).

This state of mind is described further in I Timothy 5:13, where the apostle warns believers to beware of those who “learn” to be idle. This shows that idleness does not happen suddenly, e.g. due to unemployment or life’s circumstances. It is actually something that is cultivated over time due to repeated patterns of behaviour! See Paul’s example below:

going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

To transpose such behaviour to our context today:

going about from one social media platform to the other, sharing unverified information, scrolling and commenting mindlessly, mocking others, saying and engaging in activities they should not.

The believer with an idle mind is only one step away from falling into temptation and bringing slander unto the body of Christ in a bid to satisfy their perverse desires. The mind is always working round the clock, even in our sleep through dreams and visions! If the mind is not fixated on heavenly things, it soon will be hijacked by the enemy to do evil.

Beware the Consequences.

Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger — Proverbs 19:15

The idea conveyed here and in II Thessalonians 3:6–15 is that an idle person will eventually be unable to care for himself and any family he/she may have.

There are believers with a victim mindset who shun earnest work and rely solely on chariatable activities from the Church and other goodwill organisations to care for their households. Such manipulative behaviour should be frowned upon in the body of Christ.

Many churches fail to achieve dominion because they are overwhelmed with caring for the needs of members who could be caring for themselves rather than pursuing spiritual callings! No church should encourage the idle believer who refuses to work by taking over all their earthly responsibilities and allowing them become a burden that hinders kingdom work.

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat; he that has an ear, let him hear.

Therefore, Warn the Idle to:

Get Wisdom: Have you ever seen an idle ant? Very unlikely, they’re always in motion! In Proverbs 6:6, the lazy-boned are instructed to learn the ways of the ant and become wise. By observing the way ants live solely for the needs of their colony, we too can understand what it means to prioritize the needs of God’s kingsom. Instead of busybodying, we can imitate James 3, which describes the wisdom of God as being open to reason, pure, peaceful and sincere; the very habits needed to defeat a lifestyle of idleness.

Renew their Minds: The believer addicted to mindless consumption of digital content, should train their mind through scriptural meditation. We hear this instruction to meditate all the time because meditation is a core activity of the Christian faith.

Countless verses of scripture exhort us on the need to keep God’s word in our hearts, bind it on our hands, our heads, use it as a lamp to guide our feet etc. Doing all this is not for show, it’s to help us place the needs of God’s kingdom at the forefront, thus ensuring we walk worthy of our callings. Scriptural meditation can also provide insights that are applicable to secular living and reveal how to use the work of our hands to yield fruit for God’s kingdom!

A Final Exhortation: Labour Quietly.

Imagine being intimate with celebrity news, but ignorant about the affairs of your nuclear and extended family! It truly should not be so, yet many believers live like this. Brethren, embracing quiet living is the way to ensure that we stay away from this trap.

Proverbs 31:27, describes a woman who looks after her household and does not “eat the bread of idleness”. Not only does this speak once again of the active nature of idleness and the importance of pursuing hard work, it also highlights the need to labour quietly.

The irony of idleness is that despite it being defined as a state of inaction, it is characterised in scripture using active terms such as “going about”, “saying what one should not” and “being a busybody”. None of these descriptions can be perceived at first glance as matching a state of inaction but on further reflection, the key is in what your action is producing.

What do “going about”, “saying what one should not” and “being a busybody” produce? What does it sow? What can it possibly yield?

Nothing.

And that’s the true reveal. That’s where idleness is. Your “busy” actions, purposeless hustle, mindless scrolling and chatting produce absolutely nothing. You’ve lived loudly, but have nothing to show for it. This is why we must embrace quiet living!

You cannot till the ground, sow bad seeds, yet expect good results, for God is not mocked. If the Father is always in need of labourers to plough His fields, why should His children be found meddling in meaningless matters and affairs that are not their concern? Surely we must get up and grab our ploughs to mind our father’s business!

Think upon this commentary on II Thessalonians 3:6–15,

It is the will of God that every man should have a calling, mind his calling, and make a business of it, and that none should live like useless drones in the world. This is an excellent but rare composition, to be of an active yet quiet spirit, active in our own business and yet quiet as to other people’s. [Matthew Henry’s Commentary]

This week, don’t be a drone, controlled by the tides of the world. Take control of your mind and of the work of your hands and have a quietly productive week ahead.

Selah!

Jola J. Atoki

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