“Why Perseverance Matters”
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 (3:9) –November 13, 2022
My line of work is called a “helping profession.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s a minister, a chaplain, or a pastoral caregiver. These types of jobs are “helping professions,” just as a social worker, nurse, teacher or therapist is, too. All jobs where we are involved in helping others!
In this reading today, the Apostle Paul talks about himself and his friends who were traveling with him. “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” Paul certainly did not stay idle when he was on the road! And, neither did his fellow missionary friends.
How ought we then live? This section of the letter to Paul’s friends in Thessalonica is the last part of the letter, where Paul gives his recommendations for Christian life and living. The believers in Thessalonica are called to seek after God, and to follow Christ’s example. Paul also tells us here to follow his example, and the example of his friends, in working diligently.
Paul firmly speaks to people: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.” If people sit around on their couches, eating junk food and simply watching YouTube or reality television all day and night, Paul has a strong criticism for them! “Hey! You! Get up and get going!”
I don’t want to heap this strong recommendation on everyone. There are lots of people who are unable to do a hard day’s work. Do you know any friends or acquaintances who are chronically ill? Not able to do anything, and exhausted by simply getting dressed, or walking from one end of the house to the other? For example, the dear people in my line of work, hospice patients, their caregivers, and close families. This is a sad reality for many families, right now.
I’ve often spoken of one of my favorite commentators, Carolyn Brown. She writes of children getting asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Often, children are focused on fancy or flashy jobs or occupations. Like, a major league sports player, or a member of a famous music group, or a television or movie star. But, why not suggest to children that they consider work that makes the world a better place? Why not a helping profession? What better thing to do than to do something that will make life better for everyone around them?
For that matter, we can think of the newer hymn that we sang last Sunday, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” This hymn talks about all kinds of people and all kinds of professions, like a doctor, a queen, a shepherdess, a soldier, a priest, and lots more, too.
But, there is a down side to caring and helping. People who help others can do too much helping. Did you realize that? There is a state called “compassion fatigue” or becoming weary of doing the next right thing. This is exactly what the apostle Paul is talking about, right here in this Scripture reading! “Brothers and sisters, do not become weary in doing what is right.”
Rev. Sharon Blezzard talks in all seriousness about compassion fatigue. It is when these sincere, caring, helping individuals help too much, and become overwhelmed by the sizeable needs and the huge crowds of people who are waiting in line to be helped. Their sincere wishes and deep desire to help and heal and ease the way for many people in need ends up in cynicism and disillusionment.
I hear about this so often, among pastors, ministers, missionaries and chaplains. Many seriously talk about burn out. There is nothing so sad than to see religious leaders and professionals cynical and disillusioned. Plus, they often leave their jobs if not the ministry altogether, and need serious therapy and recovery. I hear similar things from social workers, teachers, nurses, and other medical professionals, too. They can burn out and leave their work, too.
So often in the Bible there are recommendations on how to live. Like here, for example. How are is too far when it comes to caring too much? Having “compassion fatigue” when you and I are in helping professions? Yet, the apostle Paul is perfectly correct in recommending to his friends that they work diligently! He is correct when he tells his friends to “do not be weary in doing what is right.”
Striving to follow God and do what Christ calls us to do is what Paul recommends. Except – our Lord Jesus rested. Our Lord Jesus took time away to pray and to rest and to be with His friends. Paul was often with his friends, too, and I suspect Paul took breaks, too. We can see the good example of Paul and his friends here, in today’s Scripture reading, and take it to heart.
Perseverance matters. Paul knew that very well. “Because we WILL face opposition [in life], perseverance matters. Because culture and the forces of evil WILL place stumbling blocks in our path, perseverance matters. Because our lights will shine in the darkness, reflecting the light of Christ to a hurting, chaotic, and broken world, our perseverance matters.” 
We can all walk with God, strive to be the best Christians we can be, and follow Paul’s example, too. Don’t be weary and disillusioned; your perseverance makes all the difference in this world and for the sake of the life to come.
Which leaves us with…what? I offer the last verse of last week’s hymn, again. All three verses talk about the saints – the believers – of God everywhere. The last verse tells us “You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too.” Paul encourages us to go, be a saint. Follow his example, and above all, follow the calling of our Lord, Christ Jesus.