My mother wasn’t the sort of parent to offer me catch phrases in order to inspire changes in my behaviour. She would lovingly guide me through life with kind words and explanations.
But there was one phrase that she would use to inspire and motivate (to thwart complaining and move us to working).
“You don’t work, you don’t eat”
This sounds harsh but everything in context, right?
My mother would use this phrase while standing beside me, holding a hoe, as we gazed down at the enormous garden (no exaggeration. Just her potatoes alone took over part of a field) that she worked every summer. This garden was what fed us through the winter, filled our deepfreezes, and provided nourishment throughout the long Manitoba winter.
As a child gazing over the garden that took two days to weed, this phrase was daunting. I was learning early that some of the things that are necessary to our well-being require work.
Imagine my surprise when one day I found this saying in the Bible. So many times the things we may say or think are in the Bible may actually not be. I never imagined that this would be a phrase that was Scriptural. It sounded too human.
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, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: If someone will not work, they shall not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10
I’m not in possession of an acre of garden, nor am I in the position where the work of everyday is a straining necessity for the day’s food. But I am in possession of the blessing of a Christian community around me. A Church where I can receive and serve, surrounded by others who see the same.
But it’s not always that cut and dried, that simple where within the Church we contribute as much as we receive.
In our Churches we don’t always work to eat.
If we enter the door of our churches with a consumer mindset, and if we’re honest, many of us do.
“I’m not being fed”
“It’s just not my style”
“They’re just not in line with my passions and goals”
Just like the friends of the Little Red Hen, we can have the deep desire to benefit from the labours of others. Their gift of service becomes our homage, and we become almost parasitic in our approach to Church family.
And then when our appetite becomes insatiable, we feel our needs aren’t being met despite the blood, sweat, and discouragement of others, we leave.
When I look at Paul’s words here I love the picture he paints. He speaks of how they worked, not only to keep from being a burden, but to bless others.
And there’s a symbiotic nature to what he’s saying. “We did, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you.”
Paul realizes that the nature of the Church is to give so that others are fed and to receive that we may give again. We nourish so that all of us are equipped.
We work so that we eat.
We give of our gifts, working for the good of others and through those experiences we learn and grow. We learn more about God and ourselves, our love grows bigger, our endurance sinks deeper into Christ.
If we sit on the surface of Church, grazing off the top and leaving before we seek deeper nourishment, we are losing out on the depth of connection and purpose that God has planned for us. He created his Church for us to be filled and poured out, and grown. Grown deeper, wider, higher in relationship with God and each other.