Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 19. The Idle and the Timid
1 Thess 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
In the previous verse the “Live in peace with each other,” links from being at peace and have respect in relation to leaders and now with the rest of the congregation, for these are now instructions about how to live at peace with the rest of the people of God. When Paul says, “We urge you brothers,” he is exhorting them into action for there are three ‘actions’ here and one ‘inaction’. Lets consider them one by one.
He starts, “warn those who are idle.” When you warn someone you caution them against an imminent danger. Now the Bible has quite a lot to say about being idle, for instance simply showing how awful it is: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!” (Prov 19:24) The ‘sluggard’ for Solomon was a habitually lazy or idle person. He pictures his lethargy, so lazy he can’t even be bothered to lift food to his mouth. But he also warns about the outcomes of idleness: “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Prov 10:4) Wealthy people (unless they have inherited it) have wealth because they have worked hard. Poor people, so often, are poor because for one reason or other they have not worked. But Solomon also points out that the lazy or idle person makes excuses for not working: “The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!” (Prov 22:13) Excuses, excuses!
In his second letter Paul is even stronger on this issue: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 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 a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thess 3:6-10) Obviously he had received some report about people just sitting around idly doing nothing, perhaps awaiting the Lord’s return. Steer clear of such people he says, follow the example we gave you, and remember the basic rule we left you with – “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” He is not to sponge off others!
For Paul there were other dangers associated with idleness, as he said to Timothy, “they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Tim 5:13) There is a phrase, “the devil makes work for idle hands.” The idle person sits around and all they have left to do is gossip. The writer to the Hebrews extended this to cover growing in your faith; “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Heb 6:11,12) Diligence is a means of countering idleness, working to pursue your faith. Idleness at work, at home or in the kingdom. They are all rejected in the teaching of the Bible.
But moving from those who have a wrong attitude that produces idleness, he moves on to others in the flock who simply are not strong in various ways. Next he says, “encourage the timid.” A timid person is one who lacks self-confidence. Now, intriguingly, when he was eighty, Moses might have been considered timid in his responses to the Lord at the burning bush (Ex 3) but eventually that timidity was transformed into meekness which is defined in a dictionary as ‘patient and mild; not inclined to anger or resentment’ and seen in Moses, described as the meekest man on the earth, as coming out of a total reliance on the Lord. Timidity, it might be suggested, comes out of an insecurity, a lack of confidence in God. Paul had to say to Timothy, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7) He had to say to the Corinthians, “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am.” (1 Cor 16:10)
We have these things, in contrast to timidity, because of the Holy Spirit living within us. Paul said elsewhere, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Rom 8:16) Timidity follows when we are unsure of who we are and, even more, when we are unsure of God’s love for us. Timidity, as we noted, above is related to fear and fear freezes us or immobilizes us.
Again, don’t confuse timidity with gentleness. Paul had experienced this: “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you–I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!” (2 Cor 10:1) That’s what they had said of him – oh he was so timid when he was with us and so bold when he writes his letters of correction. No, he wasn’t timid with them, just gentle.
Get rid of timidity as you work to develop your relationship with the Lord, realizing who He is and who He has made you to be. Let His perfect love cast out fear (1 Jn 4:18). Be diligent in all things, working to gain a good reputation and bring glory to the Lord, allowing gentleness and meekness all grow and develop as you are able rest in Him more and more. May it be so!