Before we get to the passage for today’s lesson, let’s do a quick vocabulary lesson from the Old Testament. Remember the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.
Avad – this is a Hebrew word that is rich in meaning. It appears in both noun and verb forms in the Old Testament. The noun is found 145 times (avodah) and the verb 289 times. This root word informs our theology of work.
It can be translated with the English word, service – 2 Samuel 16:19 – Hushai declared to Absalom that he would be in “service” to him, just as he was to David.
This word is also translated with the English word, worship – Exodus 3:12 – God told Moses that Israel would worship Him on the mountain after the exodus.
This word can also be translated with the English word, work – Genesis 2:15 – God instructed Adam to work in the Garden of Eden. It is also found in Exodus 34:21 where God further explains the 10 Commandments.
So – think about this word in Hebrew. It is translated serve, worship and work. Those three concepts are so closely affiliated in the Old Testament that the same word is used for each of them! Our work is to be service and worship. Our worship is to be service and work. Our service is to be work and worship.
Paul expresses this truth in the New Testament when he writes, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).
1 and 2 Thessalonians
We have already studied passages from both 1 and 2 Thessalonians in this journey of constructing a theology of work. Paul and Silas visited Thessalonica on a missionary journey (Acts 17:1-9). Later he wanted to re-visit the church he established there, but he was hindered by Satan (1 Thessalonians 2:18). So, he decided to write letters to them instead.
In both of the letters to the church at Thessalonica, Paul addressed the topic of work. He mentioned the work of the church members and remembers it in fondness in his introduction to the first letter (1 Thess. 1:3). He admonished them to work with their hands and live quiet lives so they would win the respect of those around them (1 Thess. 4:9-12).
Later in his second letter to the church, he has some harsher advice for them about work. He chastised those who could work, but were unwilling to work as he reminded them that they were not to eat if they didn’t work (2 Thess. 3:10). He exhorted them to get jobs and go to work (2 Thess. 3:12).
1 Thessalonians 5:12-24
So, obviously, the topic of work was on Paul’s mind when he wrote these letters to the church. In this section of Scripture, Paul offered the church members some practical advice and issued challenges to them. I want us to hear these instructions from Paul and apply them to our life/ministry at work.
Recognize the value of hard work – In v. 12-13, Paul told the church to honor those who were working hard among them. Evidently, this is a reference to the leaders of the church. Paul seems to be encouraging them to acknowledge and respect those who are leading the church. Certainly this is an appropriate thing for the church to do. However, with respect to our topic, I want us to see the principle underneath the admonition. Recognize the value of hard work.
As you go about your tasks at work, work hard. Remember – you are representing Christ at your work. God had placed you there. You have an opportunity to minister to people there. You can honor God with hard work. It is honorable to work diligently and honestly.
Don’t be idle and disruptive – Again, Paul seemed to be concerned about those who were not working. These folks were causing problems in the church. He wanted those who were idle to get to work! Again, at our workplaces, we need to be industrious workers. It will be difficult for us to lead out in ministering at work, if our colleagues don’t respect us. We need to be characterized by a strong work ethic.
Be sympathetic and supportive – In v. 14 – we read the general instructions to encourage the disheartened and help the weak. Again, we have learned that our work allows us to experience a certain independence that enables us to help others. Whether it be at work or in the community, we have a responsibility to help the weak and impoverished.
I like this image in verse 14. I think this communicates an opportunity for ministry at work in informal ways. There are always disheartened people around us at work. As Christians, we have the chance to bring an encouraging word to those around us. We can share the love of Jesus with our colleagues as we go about our daily tasks.
Seek God’s presence – the rest of this passage seems to communicate that we need God’s presence as we go about our daily lives. These are basic instructions for life from Paul. We spend a great deal of our waking moments at work. Why not apply these truths to the workplace? We can seek to be peacemakers – at work! We can express and attitude of thanksgiving and rejoicing – at work! We can pray – at work! We can seek the power of God’s Holy Spirit – at work!
Our work can be a tool for ministry!