Be Diligent Until He Returns
In early May 1980, Mount St. Helens was belching grey steam hundreds of feet into the blue Oregon sky. Geologists watched their seismographs in growing wonder as the earth rumbled beneath their feet. I read an article recently that described how the park rangers and the state police, their sirens blaring, herded tourists and residents from an ever-widening danger zone. Every piece of scientific evidence that they could gather from the field and in the laboratory predicted that that volcano would soon explode with a fury that would flatten the forest. Warnings blared from loudspeakers on patrol cars and helicopters. Radio and television warnings echoed up and down the mountain. Lakeside villages, tourist camps, biking trails, emptied as people heeded the warnings and fled for their lives.
But Harry Truman, no relation to the former president, refused to budge. Harry was the caretaker of a recreation lodge on Spirit Lake, about 5 miles north of the peak of Mount St. Helens. The rangers warned Harry of the coming blast. The neighbors begged him to join them in their exodus. Even Harry’s sister called him and tried to talk some sense into the old man’s head. But Harry ignored the warnings. From the picture postcard beauty of his lakeside home, Harry just grinned on national television and said, “Nobody knows this mountain better than Harry Truman, and it don’t dare blow up on him!”
Well, on May 18th, 1980, as the boiling gases beneath the mountain surface bulged and buckled the landscape to its final limits, Harry Truman cooked his eggs and bacon, fed the scraps to his 16 cats, and began to plant petunias in his yard. At 8:31 a.m. the mountain exploded. Concussive waves traveling faster than the speed of sound flattened everything within 150 square miles, including Harry. Millions of tons of rock disintegrated and disappeared into a cloud that belched 10 miles into the sky. The mountain erupted with a force 500 times the nuclear bomb which leveled Hiroshima. Harry had put his ear to the ground but had not headed the warning.
Now the Bible warns us that this world is going to come to a cataclysmic end one day when Jesus Christ returns. Second Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” Every bit of spiritual evidence that we can glean from the Bible, and from current events, indicates that that coming of the Lord is near. The disciples once asked Jesus, “Tell us, when will the end be? What will be the sign of your coming?” And Jesus answered, in Matthew 24, “There will be upheavals in nature. Famines and earthquakes will occur in various places, and these will be the beginning of birth pangs,” He said.
Now it seems to me that floods, droughts, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, like birth pangs, are increasing in intensity and frequency. The Weather Channel on television now, every day, has a feature where they report the earthquakes that have occurred that day. And it seems it’s not just an increase in our technological knowledge, it’s an increase in frequency.
Jesus said that one of the signs of the end would be religious apostasy. He said there would be a great turning away of the faith and an increase in false prophets. And major denominations now are denying the Scripture. Theologians are voting on which of the sayings of Jesus they are going to exclude from the Bible. People are enthralled with new age philosophy, eastern religion, psychic readings.
One of the signs of the end, Jesus said, would be an increase of wickedness throughout the world. “As it was in the days of Noah (when there was violence and crime and evil imaginations), so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37).
Another sign was the return of the Jews to Palestine and the reoccupation of Jerusalem. “When you see the fig tree blossom, and when you see the time of the Gentiles fulfilled in Jerusalem, lift up your head, because your redemption is near” (see Luke 21).
In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
Franklin Graham was a guest recently on the Bill O’Reilly podcast. In the course of the interview, he announced that his organization had access to a communications satellite that just recently beamed an evangelistic crusade held in Puerto Rico all around the world by television. His message, which was translated into over 100 different languages, was entitled, “Get Ready, For the Return of Christ is Near!” Yet with all of his warnings about the return of the Lord, there’s kind of a Harry Truman mentality that abounds today. An attitude of defiance. The non-Christian is cynical: “0, those evangelicals are just fantasizing about an Armageddon again.” Even people in the church are indifferent, saying, “I’ve heard about a second coming from the time I was a child. It’s just kind of a preacher’s scare tactic! I know this world, I know history, and believe me it’s not going to end in my lifetime.”
But you know what, 2 Peter 3:3 says that that will be one of the signs of the end. Peter writes, “…understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (vv. 3-4). But Peter goes on to say that they deliberately forget that one day God destroyed the world with a flood, and one day He’s going to destroy it again by fire.
Now we have been studying the book of 2 Thessalonians the last five weeks. It’s a letter about the Lord’s second coming. Paul wraps up this letter by urging Christians to be diligent until the Lord returns. Don’t get hyper and believe every wild prophecy, but don’t get careless either. He’s just encouraging his readers to be intense in their daily responsibility as they maintain a spirit of readiness for the Lord’s return.
I. A WARNING AGAINST IDLENESS.
Look at verse 6 with me, and I want you to see a warning against idleness.
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle…” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Now you need to understand that the early church had a very compassionate welfare system for the widows over age 60, for orphans, and for the legitimately needy among them. But this welfare system was not indiscriminately given.
There were three levels of responsibility.
First, there was personal responsibility.
Verse 10 says, “…we give you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”‘
If a man refused to work and there was an opportunity available, no one was to give him anything. If he got hungry enough, he would go to work and gain self-respect, then he wouldn’t be a burden on anybody.
The second level of welfare responsibility was the family.
Listen to these verses from 1 Timothy 5: “…put your religion into practice by caring for your own family and so repaying your parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. …If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. …If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need” (vv. 4,8,16).
You see, the third level of the safety net of welfare in the first century was the church.
But Galatians 6:10 says the church has a responsibility, first of all, to “the family of believers.” And then if there are still resources, we are to help those on the outside.
The absolute last safety net ought to be the government. If the individual, the family, and the church do their job, then there aren’t many people left over. But our problem in this nation is that we have inverted the order and the government is primarily responsible for welfare. It’s impossible for them to make discriminatory choices, and as a result the system has broken down—thus the need for major welfare reform.
But apparently some believers in Thessalonica were abusing the church’s welfare system by their laziness. “Maybe,” some reasoned, “the Lord’s return is so near that there’s really no need to work. There’s no need to plant a crop because we’re not going to have a harvest. There’s no need to fix up my house because I’m just going to leave it behind.” And Paul says that they weren’t busy; they were “busy-bodies.” They’ve got their nose in other people’s business because they have so much idle time. Today they would be delighting in gossip, and soap operas, and watching the daytime talk shows every day. Somebody called them “UFO’s—Uninvolved Freeloading Onlookers!”
But Paul says very clearly, “Have nothing to do with that person who is idle and does not live according to the teaching that you received.” He said, “We taught you that work is an integral part of the Christian life. It’s a blessing from God. And if somebody doesn’t work, have nothing to do with them. Don’t invite them to your home. Don’t stand around like buddies after church. Don’t take them out to eat afterwards. And hopefully he will be embarrassed and ashamed enough to repent and go to work.”
You see, the church can’t subsidize bad habits or addictions. And some people’s best hope is to get so hungry, so needy, that they will be ashamed and repent. Paul says in verse 12, “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”
Now the church today has a responsibility to encourage members to be diligent in the marketplace.
There are some today who get so caught up in the nearness of Christ’s return that they have become ineffective on their jobs. They regularly skip work to attend another spiritual conference. Or they are so obsessed with witnessing on the job that they become distractive to others. They’re listening to Christian radio or afternoon talks shows so much that they don’t give attention to their responsibility, and they’re lazy.
Now there are other more common reasons why people are lazy.
Some are lazy because it’s their temperament.
There are some people who are just born type-A personalities—they are ambitious, and they have to worry about being workaholics. But there are some people so laid back that they have to battle the temptation to laziness all their life.
Some laziness has to do with our upbringing.
I remember one Saturday morning when I was about 13 years old, I woke up—I had a radio in my room and was just into rock and roll music—and the announcer said, “I’m going to play the top 20 tunes, beginning with number 20 and going down!” I thought to myself, “What a great way to spend a Saturday morning! I think I’ll just lay here in bed and hum along with the top 20 tunes.” Well about 10:00 o’clock my father came into the room and said, “Why aren’t you out of bed?”
I said, “Well, I’m just going to lay here and listen to the top 20 tunes.”
Now my Dad, he didn’t’ think that was such a great idea. He said, “I’ve got a list of the top 20 jobs I want you to do! You come on out of there!” And to this day I feel guilty if I sleep in. My dad warped me for life! But if parents don’t train their children to work, the child grows up thinking the world owes them a living.
Sometimes people are lazy because of too much talent.
There are some people who are just innately so gifted, so intelligent, so attractive that they get by doing very little for a long time. But eventually it catches up with them and people lose respect.
Some are lazy because of affluence.
If you inherit enough money that you don’t have to work, it can be a curse. You have no incentive, and you eventually lose self-respect. A 35-year-old man sold his business for several million dollars. But then about 6 months later he bought into an automotive business. He said, “You know, I don’t need the money, but I sure need the job.” That was a very wise decision.
Proverbs 13:4 says, “The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”
But there is one primary reason that Christians need to be diligent in work, and that is to be the best witness we can possibly be in the marketplace.
A reporter once asked Joe DiMaggio why, when he was in his late 30’s, that he still hustled so much on the ball field. He said, “Every day when I walk through that tunnel and I look up a Yankee Stadium, I imagine that there is a young man who has come to see me play for the first time. And I want that young man to see me at my best!”
Every day when you go to work you are representing Jesus Christ, and there just may be somebody watching you for the very first time. They need to see Him at His best. And the best way to give testimony for the Lord is not to spend all day passing out tracts about the second coming. If you are lazy, inefficient, then you lose credibility. You gain respect by working hard, being diligent, and paying your own way. You have an opportunity to give testimony to your faith in God by being diligent at the daily job.
Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus….”
II. AN EXAMPLE OF INTEGRITY.
Now look at verse 7 with me. Here Paul speaks of himself as an example of integrity.
Verse 7: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (vv. 7-8).
Whenever Paul went to a place to start a church, he did not take a salary from the church. Paul worked to support himself. And when he started up the church he just worked as a tentmaker by day, and then he would preach at night, or preach on the Sabbath day. Now Paul was not opposed to a paid ministry, praise God! He says in verse 9 that he had a right to such help, so it’s not un-biblical for a preacher to be paid. First Timothy 5:17 says the pastor who preaches and teaches deserves his wages.
But Paul didn’t take money from the church for three reasons. First, he wasn’t a financial burden on this small new congregation. Secondly, he avoided the accusation that he was preaching for money, like many itinerants in that day. And thirdly he says, “I did it to be a role model for others about diligence.”
Church leaders today should be a model of integrity and intensity.
Now I can’t say with Paul that I’ve never eaten anybody’s food without paying for it. From the time I first came here the church has given me a fair salary, and unbelievably I get paid for doing something that I enjoy doing so much. And I have been the recipient of generosity in a lot of different ways. But, you have a right to expect me and any other staff members to be models of integrity in handling the finances.
And you have a right to expect your minister to model intensity.
One of the hazards of ministry is lack of accountability. We don’t punch a time clock. Our overseers aren’t in the same building, watching how we spend our time. So there’s a tremendous temptation to sloth in some ministries. We can get by on talent for a little while. We can get by on exploiting the graciousness of Christian people. If you suspect, however, that I am not giving a fair effort then you lose respect and I lose influence. You have a right to expect me to be diligent every day. That requires integrity and discipline.
In my first ministry I decided early on to establish a positive routine. Angela got up and went to work early every morning and I had a choice that I could sleep in, get up and lounge around, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, listen to news on the TV, and go down to the donut shop. Or I could go into the office and sit down at the desk and study. And I realized that I was establishing a habit pattern that would probably stay with me a long time. So, I forced myself at 7:00 o’clock every morning to go into the office, sit down at the desk, and study. When it came to sermons, I decided to write out every word of the message I would preach on a particular Sunday. And to this day if I’m not up and working early in in the morning I feel guilty. And I think that’s positive.
You see, we are inclined to see the other person’s job at its glamour moment. We see the surgeon when he takes off the surgical gloves following a successful operation. He’s greeted warmly by the waiting family. He gets into his Escalade, drives to his half-million‑dollar home, and we say, “Boy, it would be great to be a surgeon!” But we don’t see the years of tedious study. The years of paying back the school loans. The late-night phone calls. The major stress of having someone depending on you for life or death.
Or we see a basketball coach when he’s carried off the floor following a dramatic championship victory, and we say, “Boy, it would be great to be a basketball coach!” But we don’t see the agonizing defeats, the long practices, the watching of hours of game films, the fragile egos that he has to deal with.
There’s a little poem that says,
The test of a man’s devotion
will come some other day.
They love God most
who are at their post
when the crowds are gone away.
Most all the people that God called were busy at their jobs. Moses was tending sheep. Amos was picking figs. Gideon was threshing wheat. David was herding his flocks. Peter and John were mending nets.
And when Jesus Christ returns may He find us being diligent at our jobs.
III. AN APPEAL FOR INTENSITY.
Now in 2 Thessalonians 3:13 there is this simple appeal for intensity.
Verse 13: “…never tire of doing what is right.”
It is so easy for a Christian, especially if you’ve been one for a long time, to get tired of doing what is right.
I think some of the great heroes of the faith are people who just hang in there, even though it’s not easy.
People who have taught in our school system for years and are excellent, and they just keep teaching. People who have been married for 50 years because they’ve stayed with it. People who go to church every week and never miss. People who work in departments where they get no encouragement, but they just keep on. They don’t grow weary in doing good, knowing that the Bible says in due season they will reap a harvest if they don’t give up.
I’ve read that John Wesley is estimated to have traveled 250,000 miles on horseback – 20 miles a day for 40 years. He preached 40,000 sermons, wrote 400 books and knew 10 languages. But at age 83, John Wesley complained in his diary that he couldn’t preach more than twice a day without getting tired, and that there was an increasing tendency to lie around in bed until 5:30 in the morning. Now I understand that. There’s an increasing tendency for me to do that, too!
Why should we keep on doing the things that we do? Because we have been commissioned by Jesus Christ to go into all the world with the gospel. We have been told in the Scripture, “Never grow weary of doing what is right.” We have been told in Scripture, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” We have been reminded in Scripture that Jesus Christ did not quit because of us, but on the cross He said, “It is finished!”
Somebody wrote, “Lord, help me stand, not fall. Lift, not let down. Be true, not false. Courageous, not afraid. And just when I’m tempted to fold, please bring to my mind the memory of Jesus who stood alone, stayed courageous, and went all the way to the cross for me.”
Harry Truman scoffed at the idea that a volcano could erupt, but it did. And Harry Truman died. He was vaporized in an instant. And people today may scoff at the idea that Jesus Christ is in charge and that one day He’s going to return. But He will. The Bible says, “…how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
And when He comes, may He find us faithful at our duty.
There’s a Negro spiritual that I like. It goes like this:
There’s a king and a captain high,
And He’s coming by and by,
And He’ll find me hoe’in cotton
when He comes.
You can hear
His legions charging
In the regions of the sky,
And He’ll find me hoe’in cotton
when He comes.
There’s a Man they thrust aside,
Who was tortured ’til He died,
And He’ll find me hoe’in cotton
when He comes.
He was hated and rejected,
He was scorned and crucified,
And He’ll find me hoe’in cotton when He comes.
When He comes! When He comes!
He’ll be crowned by saints and angels when He comes.
They’ll be shouting out Hosanna!
To the Man that men denied,
And I’ll kneel among my cotton when He comes.
When the Lord comes may He find us diligently working, honestly serving, and faithfully finishing the task that He has given!