This morning I tweeted a sermon about how to use shame on disobedient Christians. You heard that right, guys. It was a sermon about how to shame people. I won’t bother recapping the sermon, but I’ll leave a link to it at the end of this post. Instead, I want to look at the passage of Scripture that the sermon used and see what we can do with it.
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
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[a] 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: “The one who is unwilling to workshall 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 food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
14 Take special note of anyone who does 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 an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
The basic argument of the sermon was that lazy people should be shunned and should not eat. This is a popular part of the Australian government’s current policy. They call it ‘work for the dole.’ The image is that there are people who simply want to live on handouts from the government instead of working for their money. The fact that this sermon came from a government minister’s church should tell you something about the state of politics in Australia right now.
Now I’m not going to argue politics, but I am going to argue that the interpretation of this passage of scripture has missed the whole point. That point comes down to two words: idle and disruptive.
It is not the person who simply is not working who should be shunned and shamed. It is the person who does not work because instead they are being trouble-makers, busybodies, people who offer no good to the people around them.
And these people are not supposed to be mistreated. They are supposed to be admonished, to be given opportunities, to not be treated like enemies. More than anything, this passage does not provide an excuse to mistreat people who do not work. Instead, it is an opportunity to give them something good to do.
Opportunity is a big thing. America is the land of opportunity, as many people have heard. But in Australia we have something called the “fair go.” People in Australia believe in things being fair so that everyone can have the opportunity to do some good. And this passage in the Bible is saying much the same thing. It is saying that we should give people a fair go to be good.
I think my biggest problem with the sermon’s particular interpretation of this passage is the judgment that goes along with it. Yes, it talks about being gentle about it, but ultimately, it’s saying that ‘we have the right to judge others and then punish them in the way we think is appropriate.’ Sadly, that doesn’t help anyone. Other people may be sinning (according to Christianity’s tradition), but when we judge them and punish them, we sin, too.
This little sermon misses the entire point of the passage by opting to give more power to itself. This sermon gives the right of judgment to us, to people who have no right to it, to people whose judgment is badly flawed. The sermon is nothing more than an invitation and a justification of sanctimonious sin. And it makes me sad. This kind of thing does no one any good.
What’s even worse is that it also happens to be government policy in Oz right now.