Are you a busybody?
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 – For even when we were with you, we used to give this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
When I read these verses this morning, I immediately disqualified myself as a “busybody.” After all, to my understanding, a busybody is a person who spends their time “poking their nose” where it doesn’t belong, concerning themselves about what other people might be doing. A closer look at the definition doesn’t let us all off quite so easily.
A literal translation would be “to be working round about, instead of at one’s own business;” signifying to take more pains than enough about a thing, to waste one’s labor, to be meddling with, or bustling about, especially overbusied in other people’s matters. Strong’s Dictionary defines the word “to bustle about uselessly, to busy oneself about trifling, needless, useless matters.”
The Greek word is periergazomai. Zodhiates Dictionary indicates there is a play on words in the way Paul wrote this verse. The word comes from peri (concerning) and ergazomai (to work). The phrase is ergazomenous alla periergazomai (where alla means “but”). We could translate it “occupied but busybodies,” i.e., everywhere doing everything but doing nothing.
While it is a wise and biblical principle to avoid meddling in others’ affairs (Proverbs 26:17, 1 Peter 4:15), I believe the context of Paul’s statements are directed more to encourage the believers to stop wasting their time on things that don’t matter, and instead, work diligently on what is more important.
Paul’s life was singularly focused on two things: the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the resulting glory brought to God because of the influence of the gospel. Everything else was set aside as of lesser importance. This is the focus of his second letter to the Thessalonians. In 1:11-12, he prays that God will “fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified” through those to whom he was writing. In 2:14, he reminds them God called them so that “you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and prays for God to comfort and strengthen their hearts “in every good work and word” (2:17).
In 3:5, Paul prays for the Lord to direct their hearts into the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ; he goes on to explain what this looked like in his own life. While others were undisciplined, unruly, and unfocused, Paul and his companions “worked night and day” to provide for their own physical needs so they could offer the gospel without being a burden on others. He viewed every God-given ounce of energy and moment of time as an opportunity to further the gospel and bring glory to God.
Full disclosure…to my flesh, this sounds exhausting. It seems too high a standard. After all, aren’t we entitled to a bit of leisure and fun? Is Paul advocating for Christ-followers to be “workaholics?”
I don’t believe so. Rest is also a biblical principle and a necessary part of life. Instead, Paul is calling us to examine our lives for anything spent on trifling, unimportant matters. He is urging us to make the most of the time we have. He is teaching us, by example, to be careful that we aren’t “everywhere, doing everything, but doing nothing.” He is warning us that we can be deceived into thinking we are doing what is good and right, but really, we are just “working around” the real work – appearing busy but accomplishing nothing.
Ultimately, I think Paul is teaching us that the spiritual, eternal work that God is doing in us and through us must take precedence as we make choices on how we use our time and energy. On a practical side, perhaps we should ask ourselves some good questions each morning and at the end of the day to help us evaluate if we are indeed, a busybody.
“What can I do (or what did I do) today to help the spread of the gospel?”
“Did I do anything to hinder the gospel?
“How can I (or how did I) bring attention to the glory of God?”
“Did I do anything that brought dishonor or distracted others from seeing the glory of God?”
Ephesians 5:15-16 – Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Colossians 4:5 – Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Galatians 6:9-10 – Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Time is short. We have no guarantee that we will live to see the sunset today. May we all take heed and examine our lives for any unnecessary things, and instead, live for the glory of God and the spread of the gospel.