Tomorrow’s Sermon: Do Not Be Weary In Doing What Is Right
Verse 10 – ‘Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’ – was infamously a
favourite text of Margaret Thatcher’s, at a time when millions of people under
her Government had no chance to eat. And it is not our text for today. Mrs
Thatcher misused it, and I am not about to insinuate that anybody here is lazy.
Our text, instead, is verse 13: ‘Brothers and sisters, do
not be weary in doing what is right.’ But the trouble is, it’s easy to get
weary in doing what is right. So I want to look at some of the positive reasons
for doing good, but beginning each time from the reasons why we get
1. Doing Good is a
Sign of a Redeemed Life
Let’s start with the immediate situation in Thessalonica. Paul writes in this
way, because there are some idle people in the community (verse 6). The word
carries connotations of disorderliness and unruly behaviour. Paul spells it
out, because he had already briefly addressed this problem in 1 Thessalonians
(5:14), but evidently they had not listened. Here we learn in verse 11 that
they are ‘busybodies instead of busy’,
or ‘neglecting their own business to mind other people’s’.
I think you get a picture of idle gossips. That is something
not unfamiliar to our culture, with the rise of celebrity magazines, and
newspapers that report anything other than news. And it is not unknown in our
churches. Years ago, I heard a minister say he had three ways of getting
information around his church: telephone, telegram and tell Margaret. The means
of communication may have changed, but the attitude sadly has not. Some church
members devote too many energies to passing around unchecked stories about
others, discrediting them in the process. If only they devoted the same energy
to the kingdom of God, our churches might be different.
Gossip, after all, is a contradiction of the apostolic command
to ‘speak the truth in love’. Not only do gossipers give energy to this rather
than the ‘doing good’ of the kingdom, they also suck the life out of the
church. They discourage and demoralise others by their activities. If we are
serious about doing good, we will have no truck with gossip. When someone
starts to tell us a juicy story, we need to challenge them. Do they have
evidence that what they are saying is true, or is it tittle-tattle? Do they
have permission to pass on the information? Does passing the story around
achieve anything for the kingdom of God? There is a serious need in many
churches for repentance from the sin of gossip – and that includes both the
telling of it and the listening to it.
So it is a matter of redemption when a gossip turns from
snide comments that are dressed up as well-meaning concern for somebody’s
welfare. If a person who gossips knows that God has forgiven them in Christ,
then an obvious way of expressing gratitude to God for his love will be to
repudiate gossip and pour energy into doing good in general and edifying people
But gossip isn’t the only example in Paul’s letters where ‘doing
good’ is a sign of a redeemed life. In Ephesians 4:28, he says this:
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and
work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the
Again, doing good is the fruit of repentance. It does not
earn us salvation, but it does show we have received the grace of God. The Church
sometimes defends herself against criticism with the slogan, ‘Christians aren’t
perfect, they’re just forgiven’, is a half-truth. The problem is with the word ‘just’.
We are forgiven, but we are more than forgiven. The world is right to see
evidence of changed lives in those who profess to be disciples of Jesus.
2. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in Justice
But there are other ways in which we get discouraged from doing good. There is
the problem of evil. We believe that God is good, but we see the wicked
prosper. Then we wonder whether our efforts to do the right thing are worth it.
You may wonder why it’s worth being moral and ethical at work, when others in
the office crawl to their superiors or trample on those beneath them. Or your
company might conduct itself impeccably, only to be disadvantaged in the face
of unscrupulous competitors.
The classic expression of this in the Bible is Psalm 73. The
Psalmist wonders why the wicked enjoy the good life, while those who obey God
live precarious lives. He is about to become a bitter man, but then something
changes. He goes to worship. Then he sees things God’s way. He sees the eternal
perspective, in which God places the wicked on a slippery slope and ultimately
vindicates the righteous.
If we are to keep doing good in the face of evil, then, we
need God’s long-term eternal perspective, a perspective which is shaped by the
Last Judgment, where sin is judged, the repentant are forgiven and
righteousness is rewarded.
How might we attain such a perspective? The Psalmist did it
by giving focussed attention to God. He went to the sanctuary. Spiritual attentiveness
is what is called for. As I have said many times before, this is not
instant-coffee/microwave-meal spirituality; it is giving time to the God who
walks at three miles an hour with us. Attending to God in worship, prayer,
reflection on Scripture, both in fellowship and solitude are disciplines that
tune us in to his perspective.
But when we do, it is good news for us and those we serve. I
recall one of my favourite quotations from Martin Luther. Asked what he would
do if he knew the Lord were returning tomorrow, he replied, ‘I would plant a
tree today.’ A belief in justice and God’s good judgment is a reason to keep
going with doing good. Vindication will come. Do the right thing. Leave the
outcome to God.
3. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in the Resurrection
Similar to the discouragement of seeing wickedness succeed at the expense of
goodness is something else: a sense of pointlessness. Why bother doing good,
when you can’t seem to change anything? Everything keeps going ‘as it was in
the beginning, is now and ever shall be’. When you want to change things for
better, you are met by a stifling atmosphere of apathy. Just what is the point?
I know I’ve felt that as a minister many times, but it’s not
limited to church. You may have a fantastic vision for improving your place of
work or your community, but nobody cares enough to get on board with you. Here is
a brick wall, here is your head: they keep meeting with considerable force. Here
is your life, here is a plug: take out the plug and feel your will to live
What kind of Christian response can we make that would
motivate us to keep doing good when all positive effort seems a waste of time? The
usual response is to say, ‘We may not be reaping, but we are sowing.’ I’m sick
of that explanation. I know it’s theoretically true, but it is just an excuse
when everybody seems to be sowing and nobody is ever reaping.
I find a more helpful approach is found in 1 Corinthians 15,
where Paul discusses the Resurrection. At the end of that great chapter, he
concludes with these words:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always
excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your
labour is not in vain. (Verse 58)
It’s the Resurrection that means our ‘labour is not in vain.’
The Resurrection says that everything doesn’t end in death. The Resurrection
says that God’s kingdom purposes in Christ will never be defeated. That makes
everything good, godly and of the kingdom worthwhile.
So, for example, this story: in recent months, Debbie and I have
had emails from someone in the first church I served. This lady and her husband
came to that church about a year before I left. She got in touch with us when
her husband had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Every now and then
she sent us updates about his condition. To my surprise in the first email she
thanked me for encouraging them when they first came to the church. I didn’t think
I’d done anything out of the ordinary. I just thought I’d been happy to welcome
a new couple to the fellowship. But the lady’s gratitude for me was just a sign
that it was worth doing the right thing at the right time. It’s Resurrection
faith that makes it worthwhile, because God brings good out of it.
4. Doing Good is a
Sign We Believe in God’s Harvest
I said I was sick of the excuse that we are ‘sowing’, because it wants to
overlook the fact that sowing leads to reaping. But I do want, as a final
point, to say something positive about sowing and reaping goodness. For one
thing, in the context of mission, Jesus said that ‘One sows and another reaps’
(John 4:37), so we should persevere with our word-and-deed witness, trusting
that God will water what we sow. We need to use the ‘sowing and reaping’
metaphor not as an excuse but as grounds for prayer about what God will do with
our efforts in the power of his Spirit.
But we also need to remember that the one who sows is also
often the one who reaps. That is generally true in the agricultural world from which
the metaphor originally comes, and Paul claims it is also true in the spiritual
life. He writes these words in Galatians 6:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever
you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh;
but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So
let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time,
if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for
the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
Paul calls us, then, not to one-off acts of goodness, but to
a persistent conspiracy of goodness. The kind of sowing that will be rewarded
with a harvest is the goodness that perseveres. It is not the one good deed
that is rebuffed or ignored, but the repeated practice of godly good living in
blessing others. It is not a battle to be won in a day, but over a lifetime. Like
the whole Christian life, it is not a hundred-metre sprint but a marathon.
‘Do not be weary in doing what is right.’ It’s hard not to get weary, isn’t it?
In case you haven’t guessed, today I am preaching as much to myself as to
anybody else. My old job in the Civil Service drove me to boredom and
despondency. My work as a minister is by no means always wonderful. Alongside the
joys have come the physical threats, the personal abuse, the feeling like I am
in the wrong place and even in the wrong calling. If the place where you work
out your Christian discipleship is dispiriting at times, I have walked the same
path as you.
But be encouraged by the One who went through Gethsemane and
Calvary ‘for the joy set before him’ (Hebrews 12:2). It is worth doing good,
because we are redeemed in Christ. And it is worth doing good when we look
upwards and forwards, to God’s day of justice, to the resurrection from the
dead and to the harvest he will bring from our persevering obedience, either in
this life or the life to come.
Let’s keep on keeping on.