Summer in Thessalonica – Vocation

Penn State students are returning to campus this weekend! It is appropriate then to remind you all, as this study is focused for college students, that for Christians college is not just a path to get a job. The truth is that God has called you into service in your field and if you work for God any work can be holy work. Christian philosopher JP Moreland puts it this way:

But for a disciple, the purpose of college is not just to get a job. Rather, it is to discover a vocation, to identify a field of study in and through which I can serve Christ as my Lord. And one way to serve Him in this way is to learn to think in a Christian manner about my major. A person’s Christianity doesn’t begin at a dorm Bible study, when class is over; it permeates all of one’s life, including how one thinks about the ideas in one’s college major” (Moreland, Love God with all Your Mind, 28).

“A Christian goes to college to discover his vocation – the area of service to which God has called him – and to develop the skills necessary to occupy a section of the cultural, intellectual domain in a manner worthy of the kingdom of God” (Moreland, Love God with all Your Mind, 57).

Your classes in college and your career are not just things you do to occupy your time between going to church and being a Christian. Rather, they are an intimate part of your life as a Christian. We were created to work. You have unique gifts and are called to unique places to use your gifts. In and of itself your work has worth.

As we conclude our read through of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, we find him reminding them of the importance of their work:

3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 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. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

14 Take special note of those who do not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

17 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

In his first letter to the Thessalonian church Paul had reminded the Christians of how he had worked hard while he was with them so that he would not be a burden to them (1 Thess. 2:9). We know Paul had practical skills as a tentmaker (see Acts 18:1-3). He encouraged the Thessalonians to live a quiet life and work with their hands so that their lives would win the respect of others (1 Thess. 4:11-12).

There was a problem in the Thessalonian church with people who were “idle“. Paul warns those who are idle in his first letter (1 Thess. 5:14). This does not mean they just lazed around doing nothing, the word means more that they were busy doing the wrong sorts of things, which is why Paul calls them “busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11). Such people had fallen for a false teaching that the final resurrection had already occurred and thus the truly spiritual people had no need to work. This was a false teaching about the end-times, which is why Paul dedicated time to correcting them on this subject (2 Thess. 2:1-12). These false teachings about the end affected how people lived their lives: because they believed the end had already come, they were not working.

Paul says to keep away from such people (busybodies), although do not treat them as enemies but as brothers (3:6, 14-15). In other words, do not completely shun them, but do not allow their false teaching to influence anyone else and work to restore them to truth.

As this school year begins, who are you surrounding yourself with? Are they people who will help you grow as a person and do well in your classes? People who will help you manage your time well? Or people who will spend more time complaining about professors and gossiping about peers?

Your work shapes your character. As you follow Jesus in this life, what kind of person are you becoming? One who cheats, cuts corners, waits till the last minute, does just enough to get by? Or one who works hard, does your best, is honest, plans ahead and is responsible? How you do work opens a window to your heart.

Remember, in working hard at your job, you can win the respect of outsiders (1 Thess. 4:11-13). What kind of example are you setting in your work ethic on campus? Ultimately, in your work you are setting an example for those around you, so the final question is, in your work are you drawing them closer to Christ or pushing them further away?

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16)

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