I love asking the question: “Why?” Or, more accurately, “Why do you do what you do do?”. It is often a question of some importance. Isaac Newton knew it. “Why must the apple fall perpendicularly to the ground?”, he thought to himself, unknowingly on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. “Why” assumes that every “action” has one or more reasons behind it. It assumes an established order, not chaos, and then it demands an explanation of the order. When applied to people, it is the same thing. We assume that every “action” is birthed by a specific set of beliefs on the part of the individual – whether their faith, or their “understanding”. You cannot separate the intention from the action. Even when a person does something for no reason other than “that person told me to do it”, their understanding or belief at that point is that the person who commanded the action is right to command it. And it can go real deep too. Psychiatrists use the same question to get to the bottom of a person’s emotional state. We play the “why?” game when trying to teach or correct a friend or a child. Even kids play the “why?” game with adults when asked to do something they do not want to. Since it ties in to the core beliefs of a person, “why” can be a very personal and a very “probing” question. In fact, I have gotten into trouble more than once for a poorly timed “why?”, and not even once stumbled upon a scientific discovery that changed the course of technology. Yet.
So, why do we do what we do? For the believer, there is an easy answer to this. The reason for their actions is their faith, and their faith is in the one true God and in His work of salvation, and that’s why they do what they do. At least, that’s how it should be, and it’s all good. However, I want to turn the question around a bit. I want to ask why we do not do what we should. Let’s face it. For the most part, most of us are not “out there” and “doing stuff”. Look at yourself. Like, right now. You’re probably at home, by yourself, reading a blog you came across online. No, there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is one of the things we must do, to read more and ask more questions to ourselves. The question is this – is that all you do? There is a dangerous state of lethargy that exists among some of us. Why? Well, the reason stated is usually something like this: “We’re saved. There’s nothing we really need to do now”. It is a quite tempting proposition, and it would alleviate a lot of the stress of daily life. Is it true, though?
Paul talks about this in his first letter to the Thessalonians. The footnotes in my study Bible elaborate that some people in the Thessalonian church were so convinced of the second coming of Jesus Christ that they gave up their jobs in preparation for it. I mean, wow! That’s one end of a spectrum I wasn’t even aware existed. Here are people sitting idle because of their faith in the second coming, and on the other end we have people who are idle because there is no pressing concern regarding the second coming in their minds. It is very interesting that the point of view on the second coming of the Lord somehow affects the day-to-day activities of believers. What does the Bible say about these things? Paul, speaking about the day of the Lord, says that we are “no longer in darkness but are now sons of the light and of the day”. The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night – no man knows when and no man will ever know. However, it is only those in the darkness who will be thrown into chaos and confusion when they see that the day of the Lord is suddenly upon them. It will find them unprepared and condemned. The sons of the light, though obviously still unaware of the actual schedule of the Lord, will be prepared, will see it come, and will welcome it with relief and joy.
A key here seems to be “preparedness”. Those in the darkness will be unprepared, and those in the light will be prepared. You see, God started this. He created man. He punished the first sin of the first man. He put into motion the greatest rescue mission of all time. He died on the cross, rose up on the third day, and ascended to Heaven, and He is preparing a place for us while watching over us wherever we are. Finally, He is going to come and take us all to be with Him. So, is it safe to say that all we really have to do is prepare for his coming? Well, yes and no. Yes, nothing you do matters from the point of view of God’s finished work of salvation. There’s nothing you need to do – nothing you can do – to become saved. And no, because “being prepared” for the coming of the Lord is definitely not a passive task with nothing for us to “do”! Let’s look a little deeper.
What is the logic that leads to a disposition of sitting idle, waiting for the Lord to come? Can we justify it? Maybe if you were doing some light reading of Ecclesiastes: “Meaningless! Everything is meaningless! All labour under the sun… is meaningless!” Is it really wrong to drop everything and wait? Well, it depends. In some cases it is simply wrong, and in others it is really, really wrong. No, really! Let me put it this way. If we were to imagine God following this same logic, do you think He would have said, “Well, they’re all going to hell any way. Why should I sacrifice anything?” It sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? And yet, we would apply this “logic” to ourselves and justify our actions, or lack thereof. But the real meat of the matter is what exactly it is that we are justifying. What does it look like to be idle? Sometimes it means we will not involve ourselves in the lives of those around us. Sometimes it is that we will not speak of the gospel with others. It could be a neglect towards family responsibilities, or a disregard towards the daily tasks of working and making a living. It almost always results in a lack of discipline. It could mean a lack of socialising, or a neglect of church itself. It comes in so many forms, but do you see the one thing they all have in common? All of these things go against what Scripture teaches us about our duties as Christians. No, let’s not stop there. Consider the full measure of this. Once a person is saved, he is a “new creation”. The Spirit makes His dwelling with them. The fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in their lives. Well, the one thing that all these aspects of lethargy have in common is that these are not the fruits of someone who is saved! That is what we attempt to justify with this logic. It will not stand, beloved! The anointing of the Spirit in a believer will, without fail, result in “actions” post-salvation. A believer cannot, and should not, sit still or idle.
All this, and we have not even considered the “great commission” yet. The Lord has given us a duty. To go into all the world and proclaim the good news of His love. Because that’s the difference, right? I mentioned a preposterous application of the lethargy logic to God – that He could have left us to burn in hell. Well, why didn’t He? Because, love!
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16
Beloved, this is the reason we cannot sit idle either. Love. We cannot help but proclaim the good news to those around us, because of love. We cannot possibly stand by as injustice and immorality take place around us, because of love. We cannot shirk our responsibilities to our families because of love. You see, life still happens. It happens around us, and it happens to us. The apples continue to fall, every now and then landing on someone’s head. Whether we participate or not is beside the point.
Lets go back to Paul’s words. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14:
“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle… encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone”1 Thessalonians 5:14
And in v16,
“Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.1 Thessalonians 5:16
These are instructions that we’ve heard before, but there is an aspect to it that applies in our context right now. The aspect of “always”, “continually”, “in all circumstances”, “we urge you”. There is a continual and endless nature to these instructions. It isn’t something that you ‘achieve’ or become ‘accomplished at’. In fact, in verses 1 and 10 of chapter 4, Paul speaks to the effect, “Are you doing it? Great! But we urge you, do it more and more!”
It’s as if it is never going to be enough, we’ve got to keep aiming higher. But I don’t think that even this is what the crux of the matter really is. I think it is to be constantly, continuously and intentionally wary that we never rest, thinking that we’ve ‘become somebody’ or ‘accomplished something’. Very often, it is that feeling of having ‘reached the top’ that leads to us becoming careless and sloppy about our life and about living to please God. Paul said it best himself,
It is a victorious statement, a declaration of a great accomplishment. Yet, his sense of achievement is after having fought for years, after having finished the race and kept the faith till the very end. Let us not forget about this, beloved. Let us not fool ourselves. There is a fight to be fought, a race to be run to the end! Let us stand up, throw off everything that hinders us, and pick up the pace. Let us run, our eye on the author and perfecter of our faith, that we may be found prepared and joyously confident at the coming of our Lord. Above all, we must remember that it is still God’s story. It is still His plan set into motion for His glory. The true sense of achievement is in the hope that we will meet Him one day, and He will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant”! Even 50 or 60 years into it, we remain, or we must remain, as dependent on Him as we were on the first day. Maybe not as dependent, but more and more. The king is coming soon, and there’s so much left to do!