Surrendering and Demanding Rights: Two Kinds of Love

Thoughts on Mercy and Justice in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

By surrendering and demanding a right at the same time Paul modeled two forms of love.

  1. In verses 8-9 he surrendered the right to be paid by the church for his ministry: “With toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.” So Paul has the right to be paid simply for preaching. But he surrenders that right in this case to accomplish something else: giving an example to the church of secular work for self-support.
  2. But Paul also demanded a right in verse 10—the right to receive work for pay: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”

Both of these—the surrender of a right, and the demand of a right—are forms of love. Surrendering a right is love because Paul sacrifices his own right in order to model a productive way to live. Demanding a right is love because it aims not at self-aggrandizement, but at the good of the brother. This is what verses 14-15 make plain:

If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

The aim is not alienation, but restoration from destructive behavior through tough love that insists on change.

Another way to say it is that Paul was modeling mercy and justice. Mercy : because, in working a secular job for his bread, he gave more time and effort than was required, and demanded less than he had a right to receive. Justice: because, in demanding that others work, he was forbidding them to demand mercy from the church and insisting that they earn their food.

Now when should we do which? How do you know when to love with mercy and when to love with justice? Three guidelines:

  1. Know your personality well and be vigilant not to indulge your bent carelessly. If you are naturally merciful, consider justice seriously. If you are naturally judicial, consider mercy seriously. We are very likely to indulge our natural bent at the expense of love.
  2. The more personal and private a matter is, the more likely surrendering rights will be the loving way. But the more communal and public a matter is, the more likely demanding rights will be the loving way. The reason for this is that, in public, demanding rights can be seen as a way of caring for others, not just yourself; but in private a demanded right will almost surely communicate self-aggrandizement, and a failure to treasure Christ above all.
  3. Be sure in either case—loving with mercy, or loving with justice—that your burden is the greatest good for the greatest number. That is, seek to help the greatest number enjoy making much of Christ forever.

Learning with you how to live as an exile,

Pastor John

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org