“But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.”
-2 Thessalonians 3:13
Don’t get tired of doing the right thing. That’s what the verse above means, taken at its face. But to gain a more complete understanding of how it applies to today’s fire service, let’s dig deeper into it, and other verses penned long ago.
First, a little background knowledge. First and Second Thessalonians were epistles, or letters, written in 51 A.D. by the disciple Paul to the early Christian church at Thessalonica. Even when the letters were written, Thessalonica was already large port city, and remains the second largest city in Greece today. Early Christians there were facing persecution from outside the church, as well as internal turmoil with regard to living and acting in the ways of Christ. The letters Paul wrote to the Thessalonians were meant to guide them and encourage them in the face of daily pressure to give up.
Which of us cannot draw comparison from that to our daily lives as firemen? Whether from the officers above us or the firemen beside us, discouragement and derailment are constant threats to the fire service. But Paul doesn’t just point out the problems with the church, he gives them encouragement. He gives them solutions.
2 Thes 3:10-11 says, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.” What Paul is saying to the readers in Thessalonica is that a man should pull his own weight. At the time of writing, Paul was speaking to a church plagued with men who were not just shirking their daily work, but were actively interfering with the work of others. Bringing that into today, we have all encountered not just lazy firefighters, but also those who go out of their way to bring others down and impede the improvement of their brothers. You know them: the ones who do as little as possible and then belittle those who go above and beyond.
Next Paul writes, “But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.” Paul was encouraging the church to never tire of performing the good work with which they were charged. The fire service parallel is easy. We, as a profession, as a brotherhood, are charged with performing good works everywhere we go and in everything we do. Problem solving and situational improvement are our job. But simply running the calls is not enough. That’s not even the bare minimum; in our line of work, to do that and nothing else would be loafing at the least and dangerous at the worst. To be able to truly perform at the level of the public’s expectations, we have to constantly learn, train, and work to master our craft. My brethren, that is the well doing in which you should be not weary.
Paul closes this part of his letter with the verses in 2 Thes 3:14-15: “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” In the Greek in which his letter was originally written, the phrase Paul uses for have no “company with” means not to “mix up together with.” Paul was advising the Thessalonians to take note of those within the church who were not doing the work or were ruining the good work of others and to avoid associating with and becoming like them.
Paul was not suggesting that the church engage in the kind of shaming that comes from one person acting against another, such as from bullying or shunning. No, the shaming he’s talking about comes from within oneself. The passage points to the manner in which one comes to the realization that his own actions or inactions are, indeed, shameful to the group. In Paul’s example, he instructs the young church to set the example in their actions. By standing separate in their ways, the disobedient come to the knowledge of their transgressions, which results in an internal shame. For the fire service, this example is one of great importance. We are not to attack and directly shame those who are reflecting poorly upon our departments. We are to continue to be steadfast in our strong work ethic and desire to do well in doing good. In doing so, we set a positive example to help lift up instead of strike down.
The spirit in which we approach this situation and these people in our organizations matters, too. Paul tells the Thessalonians not to treat the lazy and disobedient as enemies, but rather as brothers. This is imperative. A fire department is a team. If we are to truly improve our ability to help other people with their problems and emergencies, we must approach our own problems with the spirit of helping as well. To that end, treating a member of our team, though he or she may “deserve it,” as an outcast is contrary to our mission and our roots. This is a brotherhood, and we are to reward and discipline our members as brothers: with love.
There exists in probably every fire department a minority few who seek not to lift up, but to bring down and take away from other firemen. If we listen to them, and follow them, we will simply all pull each other down like crabs in a bucket. Despite the detractors, the loafers, the busybodies, and the critics, there is still good work to be done. Good men and women are doing it daily in firehouses, on training grounds, and at emergency scenes around the world. So follow the words of Paul to the Thessalonians: But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.