Idle speech is an important theme in this letter. Words have power. What comes out of our mouth, our speech is critical. With words, we are to encourage and build each other up.
1 Thess 5
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.
How are we to encourage and build each other up? To answer that, we have to read the verses just prior. 1 Thess 5:5-10 [READ].
These words were spoken and some of the brothers and sisters at Thessalonica were encouraged and built up in their faith. But not everyone was encouraged and built-up. How do we know this? Paul gives some clues that this church was having some internal problems of disunity.
1 Thess 5
13 …Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thess 5
15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
Why would he say, be at peace AMONG yourselves? Or, why would he have to give the very obvious reminder NOT to repay evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for everyone? These are such obvious points, but somehow, in their context, it became not so obvious. Peace and unity in a church filled with broken people is such a fragile thing. How is peace lost and how is basic Christian behavior of not repaying evil and looking toward the good of others lost? Through careless, hurtful words.
Careless, hurtful words destroyed the peace and unity of this church and made things that are obvious–like don’t be evil but pursue the good of others–these things which are obvious became not so obvious to them. It’s doesn’t say exactly what happened at this church for Paul to have to spell out, you guys need to go get a job, to work quietly and to mind their own business, but I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine how the peace at this church was shattered. Because this scene happens over and over at every church that has ever existed.
I can picture some well-intentioned brothers and sisters who were not working, they had some idle, free time, and they were sitting around the table at someone’s house. And they just start talking. The talk was harmless at first. Weather, politics, food, but as time goes on, you run out of interesting topics to talk about so I bet they started talking about people, esp. other brothers and sisters in the church.
Did you see so and so? He’s working late again. Doesn’t he know that Christ is coming back? I know. He should be praying like us. Yeah, he’s thoroughly unprepared spiritually, I mean how can anyone prepare themselves when he is working so many hours? Yeah, we got to pray for that brother.
Someone else chimes in. Did you hear about so and so? I heard their family took a vacation by the Sea of Galilee. What? Really? At a time like this? Shouldn’t they be mourning the loss of our beloved brother who got martyred, what was it, a few months ago? Yeah, and Jesus is coming back any day now, what if Jesus comes back and they’re out sailing on the Sea of Galilee instead of fasting and praying like us?
Can’t you imagine the conversations around somebody’s dinner table and this kind of talk is being spoken, hour after hour, for days, weeks, months?
What’s going to happen? The church is going to be torn apart. By careless, hurtful words. What’s behind those careless, hurtful words? A spirit of judgment. A judgmental spirit. A proud spirit. I am living like this but how come others are not measuring up?
What if you are on the receiving end of these careless, hurtful words? You get angry. Who does this person think he is? Am I under surveillance? Are they the spiritual police, watching my every move? What makes them so spiritual? I am out there in the field sweating to make a living. Those lazy bums. I am going over to their house and give them a piece of my mind.
What’s happening? A fracture is forming. A judgmental spirit has led to evil being done to a fellow brother or sister and now those words have inflicted damage. The recipient of those hurtful words is wounded and now he speaks out of his woundedness. When someone is wounded, their speech quickly degenerates. Like when you’re in a fight. You say something and your spouse is hurt and so she says something back and the fight escalates. And you are just slicing and dicing each other with your words.
If one of the Thessalonian brothers is a victim of this idle talk, he may give these idle brothers a piece of his mind and what he says might be right on the money. But if he’s wounded and he speaks, how do you think he would confront these idle brothers? With malice in his heart. With anger. The content can be right because Paul would agree–idle people, get off the couch and get a job–but even right content if delivered in the wrong way can cause damage. You can’t justify an evil retaliation simply because you are the victim of evil. You can’t say, they hurt me so I can hurt them. No, that’s not Christian. We are to love even our enemies so when someone does evil toward us, what should be our response? Still, as a follower of Christ, we are to seek the good of the other, even the enemy.
This relates back to my thesis for this letter–proper faith and proper hope leads to proper love. How should we love each other properly? Did you know that there is a proper way of loving someone and an improper way of loving someone?
Loving someone improperly is saying, I’m more spiritual than you and so I just have to get this off of my chest and you’re going to have to take it because I’ve been Christian longer and you know that I love you, right? Then, they proceed to blast you with what you did wrong and how this reflects your sinful heart. And the issue is something stupid like buying the wrong pie for church. This is not loving someone properly for many reasons. First of all, it’s not a sin to buy the wrong pie. It’s a mistake, but certainly it’s not a sin because we all make mistakes.
Maybe I’m the pastor of this church and I love pumpkin pie but you bought pecan pie and so I sit you down, and I start admonishing you mostly out of annoyance that I can’t eat my favorite dessert. But to really make my point, I ascribe motive to your mistake. Like, I am allergic to pecans and so I assume you don’t love me because if you loved me, you’d know that I’m allergic to pecans and you would’ve remembered to buy pumpkin pie. Or, I accuse you of making this mistake because you don’t have love in your heart so this incident is a reflection of how your heart is so selfish. Obviously, anyone with half a brain would look at this scenario and conclude, this is not right. This is improper. This is not love. I am not loving this person at all. In fact, I am damaging this person. And because of my hurting this person, they may stumble and leave church and forsake Christ. And that’s on me because I’m the one who blasted this person for no good reason.