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No Work, No Eat!
November 19, 1989


One thing about the apostle Paul; he said what he thought, and you knew exactly what he thought. Take, for example, our lesson today. He wrote to the church in Thessalonica, "If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work." Evidently some were taking advantage of the kindness and generosity of the Christian community. Paul continued, "Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living. Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing."

I'm talking about work this morning. Someone said, "I have met a few people in my time who were enthusiastic about hard work. And it was just my luck that all of them happened to be people I was working for at the time." Paul believed in hard work. Now, Paul was quite literal in this passage--no work, no eat--but he is also expressing a very important principle about living. "No work, No eat" also means if you're not eating, it's because you are not working.

Are you hungry? In the delightful play, Auntie Mame, the theme of the play is exclaimed by the irrepressible Mame when she cried, "Life is a banquet; but most "" (except she didn't use the initials) starve to death." Why are people starving for life? Why do they feel empty? Why do some feel lonely, discouraged, listless, unfulfilled? Why do they feel their relationship with God is empty? Why does the church not seem to be meeting their needs? Why do they feel as if they don't really belong anywhere? Whatever particular expressions of dissatisfaction or lack of fulfillment you might be experiencing, perhaps one reason is the principle: No work, no eat.

In other words, THE DEGREE OF SATISFACTION ACHIEVED IS IN DIRECT RELATIONSHIP TO THE DEGREE OF INVESTMENT. The degree of involvement, the degree to which you work at it, has a direct bearing on the degree of satisfaction achieved. You have a role to play.

One of the tragedies of our society today is the legalizing of gambling in California. What we did not need is the Lottery. According to School Superintendent Bill Honig, we know it is not providing all the miraculous funding for our schools. But, what we don't know, and cannot measure, is the irreparable harm the lottery and all gambling does to our corporate psyche. Gambling is predicated on and the feeding of human greed which wants something for nothing. Gambling directly undercuts the principle we are looking at this morning: no work, no eat. There is no real work involved in gambling; nothing comes out of it that benefits society.

Gambling promotes the wrong attitudes toward work. Gambling promotes the idea that a person live by his/her wits and luck without making any contribution to society. Gambling fosters a sick society in which work is no longer honorable, a society composed not of honorable workers, but of suckers and pigeons who are suckered into get-rich-quick schemes and scams, by the promise of getting something for nothing. Gambling goes hand in hand with the speculators who want to make a killing on the stock market, and with those who cannibalized the Savings and Loans; both subscribing to the principle: get rick quickly at any cost, rather than, "No work, No eat."

This principle of "No work, No eat" also applies to family life. The degree to which a child finds satisfaction, fulfillment, independence, a sense of worth and dignity, is partially dependent upon how much the child works, how much the child contributes, or is allowed to contribute, to the well-being, health and success of the family. All children want to help, beginning at a very young age. They want to set the table, make the bed. Children need chores, chores that if not done obviously disrupt family life. One mother served food on dirty dishes because there were none clean, and quickly taught the child how important the job is to clear the table and stack the dishwasher.

But, too often parents are concerned about the child breaking something, or getting in the way. Too often we are too busy to allow the child to work, and do not receive her/his effort as a gift to the family, an important ingredient in the family's well-being, health and success. In modern homes, with all the conveniences, parents need to be creative to find ways the children can work, can contribute to the family.

The principle of "No work, No eat" applies to the church as well. What does it mean to belong? At the least it means to work for the improvement and success of the group. It gets tiresome to be a continual guest. My father-in-law liked to use an old Minnesota expression, "Company are like fish; after three days, they begin to smell." If you relate to the church, or any group, as company, you will not enjoy it, you will not find meaning. No work, No eat. If you act like company, expecting to be treated differently or specially, you will be disappointed because the rest will assume you've joined. And when you join, when you belong, then you work. You contribute towards the good of the group with your money, time, energy, wisdom, and devotion.

Even in your relationship with God, even in salvation, you have a role to play. Paul met some folks who believed God's grace was all sufficient. According to his letter to the Romans, some were saying that the more a person sins, the more God has to forgive, so the greater God's grace. Therefore, they concluded, a Christian can live any way he/she pleases.

In our lesson today from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians, some were getting so spiritual they felt they didn't need to work anymore. They just wanted to receive. With open hands they sat around waiting to receive, expecting to be waited upon.

To both, Paul was emphatic, "No work, no eat!" Yes, God's grace is sufficient for salvation, but you have a role to play. And, when you have been saved by the grace of God, your life should reflect it. The way you live your life, the way you serve God by spreading the word, loving others, and being the body of Christ are all part of the process we call salvation.

Some of you have heard the story of the mother who decided to instill an appreciation of music in her six-year-old son by taking him to a recital by the famous pianist, Paderewski. She obtained seats right in the front row, and was enjoying looking at the magnificent concert hall and the dresses the other women were wearing when she realized her son was not in his seat. Just then a murmur went through the crowd, a hush settled over them, and she looked up to see her six-year-old seating himself at the grand piano in the middle of the stage. With horror on her face, wishing she could crawl under the seat, she watched and heard him begin to play with one finger, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Stage hands began coming out to remove the boy, but they were stopped by the great Paderewski himself who walked to the piano, placed his arms about the boy, and began to improvise, playing the lower and upper ranges on "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." It was magnificent.

Usually when I hear or tell this story, I am reminded of God's grace, how God makes up for the shortcomings in our lives, how God takes our "Twinkle, twinkle little stars" and turns them into masterpieces. But, there is another lesson in the story as well. Paderewski could not have produced the masterpiece without the little boy. Improvisation alone without the melody being played would have been flat. Yes, God can make masterpieces out of our feeble attempts, but not without us doing our part, not without our work.

Did you ever see the signs staked along rural highways years ago advertising Burma Shave? One series of signs read,

Sitting still and wishing

makes no person great.

The good Lord sends the fishing

but you must dig the bait.

Our relationship with God requires work. "No work, no eat!" An abiding, fulfilling, beautiful, loving, saving relationship with God is not just handed to us on a platter without work on our part. God's grace is free, salvation is free, the conversion experience is an act of God, but the process of growth and development requires work on our part. We must receive, and we must act on that which we receive.

I don't know about you, but for me prayer is not an easy discipline. Satisfaction in prayer is not automatically experienced. The relationship with God through prayer requires work on our part. Discipline. Follow-through. For example, it is difficult to concentrate. My mind wanders. Distractions come in and carry me off another road. I begin to think of something I forgot to do, or need to do. In the magazine, Weavings, Francois Fenelon in his article, "A Persevering Will to Pray," encourages us to hang in there; keep trying, persevere. He writes,

A sincere and persevering will to pray is true prayer...If you will try it patiently, you will find that there are seasons of prayer which, though spent amid distractions and tediousness, are yet, owing to a good intention, fruitful to the heart, strengthening it against all temptation. Dry prayer (I like that expression), provided it be perseveringly and faithfully kept up, accustoms the soul to carry its cross, hardens it against itself, humbles it, and practices it in the dark paths of faith. If we always enjoyed a bright, fervent, sensibly attractive prayer, we should feed all our lives on milk, instead of eating hard, dry bread...we should be like those of whom Jesus Christ said reproachfully that they followed Him, not for His doctrine, but for the loaves which He multiplied. So do not be discouraged though your prayer seems to you dry, lifeless, and hindered by distractions. Be patient, then, in prayer, for God's sake, and go on without stopping.

The reward of work is an occasional breakthrough, where God's presence is overwhelming, where the Holy Spirit becomes more than an "it", but a personal loving presence, where you are fed with the banquet of life.

Is there something missing in your life? Perhaps you're expecting to be treated like company, without really belonging. Perhaps you're expecting a return with no or little investment. Perhaps you're expecting something for nothing. If so, remember Paul's principle: No work, No eat!

© 1989 Douglas I. Norris