We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
2 Thessalonians 3.11, 13
Each summer we rent a cabaña at our building’s pool. It’s no big deal—a narrow room with a refrigerator, cabinets, and a bathroom—but we like it because it’s cheaper and more convenient than a weekend place out of town. Our building, one of the bigger high-rises in the city, is a vertical village; we have a few neighbors as close friends and otherwise maintain passing acquaintances with dozens of others we regularly bump into. During the summer, however, things get trickier because the pool turns into a closer-knit community where we spend a lot more time with other cabaña renters. Our number always includes a few with nothing to do, however—people on extended vacation, recently retired, etc. They’re lovely and outgoing at first. Then, as the season continues, they tend to compensate for weekday idleness with weekend updates of all we’ve missed. The guy in 14 won’t turn his music down. The couple in 22 had another spat. He drinks; she’s uppity; their teenagers are rude; and so on. After the busy bee buzzes off to light somewhere else, my partner often says, “He/she gets me tired.” By that he means shoveling out trash as soon as it comes in takes a lot of time and energy.
While this is a trivial example, it goes to show trying to do what’s right can be exhausting, because the world is full of idlers who are happy to talk about everything yet content to do nothing at all. It’s easier—and safer—to watch other people make mistakes than trying to do what’s right. That’s really hard work, not only because it demands constant attention to prevent careless mistakes or being misunderstood. It also requires us to act without expectation of gratitude and asks us to monitor our motives to be sure we’re doing the right things for the right reasons.
And as for You
Idlers are easily spotted because they always look busy. If you observe them closely, though, what they’re up to never yields anything of its own. They’re not producers. They’re borrowers, taking something here and dropping it off over there. In 2 Thessalonians 3.11, Paul calls them out: “They’re not busy; they’re busybodies.” Yet many of us like having idlers around because they amuse us. We pride ourselves in never prying into other people’s affairs or spreading gossip, but we have no problem entertaining those who do. Idlers depend on our curiosity to make their way in the world. Take a moment to rifle through the company you keep and the idlers leap out of the list. They’re always guests, never hosts. They volunteer information, never service. They advise, never assist. They know everything about everyone else, but no one knows much about them. In the next verse, Paul takes them to task: “Such people we command… to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” In other words, quit mooching and start making.
Verse 13 takes us to task. “And as for you,” Paul writes, “never tire of doing what is right.” What’s interesting here is this portion of the letter isn’t really about us—it’s about busybodies. Still, Paul slips this in for a purpose. Indulging idlers gets us tired. It wastes our time and energy and pulls us away from doing what’s right. First, and most obvious, passive participation in gossip and meddling is participation nonetheless. It’s not right. But second, hanging out with idlers results in our falling into something far more invidious than idleness. We become slothful. Time and stamina to do what’s right evaporate right out from under us as we sit and listen to idle chitchat. Paul tells us how to manage idlers: “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (v14-15) Association with idlers harms them, harms us, and harms others. It cheats people in need of love and concern we could offer if we spent less time hearing about their problems second-hand and more time doing what’s right—helping them, praying for them, and standing beside them.
A World on Idle
TV, the Web, and tabloids have exploited our tendency for idling to the point we now live in a culture of voyeurism. We’re so consumed with watching others we’re not getting anything done. A world on idle is a world in trouble. Helping others takes a lot of time and personal sacrifice. Because we’re surrounded by so many who mistake curiosity for concern and sympathy for support, it’s harder than ever to get over the hump and get busy doing what’s right. Yet Jesus says we’re obligated as His followers to go beyond merely meeting needs and/or demands of others: “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5.40-42) That’s asking a lot, but doing what’s right always asks more than seems reasonable and always leads to giving more than we anticipate. Our world is overrun with tiresome people talking about problems they’ve seen and why they’re not fixed. Christ calls us to be tireless people who see problems and go out of our way to fix them.
Indulging tiresome idlers gets us tired. Christ calls us to be tireless.