Monday, November 11, 2019

Willingness To Work


When I was in middle school, our youth group went to a revival of sorts in Panama City Beach. I don't remember all of the details--whether it was a Spring Break trip or a weekend away--but I do remember how attractive the thought of going to the beach was and how disappointed we all were that we didn't get much (any) time on the beach. I also remember how highly pressured we were to give our lives to Christ in order that we might be saved. As someone who had tried to give his life to Christ every night since I could remember only to wake up the next morning unsure of whether it had worked, I found the teaching they offered that one must publicly give one's life to Christ a seductive invitation to really, really make it work this time. (It didn't.) And I also remember a strange Bible study about social issues.

We were split up into groups of four and handed a Bible. The leaders told us that we were supposed to use the Bible to address certain issues like sex before marriage, abortion, and homosexuality. Our group was asked to find what the Bible said about welfare. I remember it well not because I recognized it at the time as a traumatic experience but because of how beautifully simplistic the results were. Our group scoured the concordance/index for any references to "welfare," but found none. We tried to think of a passage but couldn't. Finally, when we were called upon to give our answer, I offered the best we could come up with: "We didn't find it in the Bible, but we think that God helps those who help themselves." We knew right away that we had made a mistake.

"That isn't in the Bible," the leader snapped at us. "That's Shakespeare." (Actually, it's older than Shakespeare, but that didn't seem to matter to her.) She then told us that the right answer is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. So, dutifully, we opened our Bibles and read, "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." What fools we had been! The answer was so simple and beautiful! Of course Paul would have something to say about this. If you weren't willing to work, you shouldn't eat! It was all clear to us now.

This Sunday, we'll hear those words in our second lesson (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13). I'm sure Paul knew that community well enough to speak to the particular circumstance that made that an issue, and I trust that they knew Paul well enough to hear his instruction not as a cold-hearted demand for a work requirement. I wish I had known the Bible well enough to respond to the leaders of that conference by pointing to Jesus feeding the 5,000 or God raining down manna in the wilderness or Jesus' command that we feed those in need in Matthew 25. As I prepare for church this week, I'm taken back to a moment from my past, and I see it as a gift as I remember how easily it is to find a simplistic answer in the Bible even when one is asking difficult questions. At this point, I don't really worry about what the Bible tells me about welfare. I trust that the generosity of God and of Jesus Christ and the command to be generous in the Christian community inform my approach to issues like that. But I can't afford to forget that many religious arguments depend on a narrow reading of scripture and that, in response to them, we all have good news to share. But, in order to share it, we must be immersed in God's word daily.

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