“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living. As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good” (2 Thess.3:6-13 NLT).
Every once in a while, my kids catch me doing something that I told them not to do. It might be a certain word I told them not to say, or I might eat something I told them not to eat. It really stinks that they’re all old enough to spell now. Olivia and I used to be able to spell things out to each other while keeping the kids in the dark, but alas, that is no longer the case! Yet we still do have our secret take-out dessert and snack door for when they go to bed (in your face kids)! There has to be some perks of being a parent! However, it is good from time to time when the kids catch us doing something we’re not supposed to. It keeps us honest and on our game.
It’s the same way in the church. Needless to say, we’re not perfect. We do mess up from time to time. Nevertheless, it is important to set a good example. If we don’t, we have no right to teach someone else. That would classify us as hypocrites (Matt.23:3). With that in mind, there has been a persistent problem that I (and countless others) have had to deal with for years. As Christians, we desire to be like Jesus and love our neighbors. But what do we do when people take advantage of us? There are certain people and situations that can totally drain us of everything we have while asking for more. A pastor friend of mine many years ago called them “Joy Suckers.”
At that time, I was actually a little offended by his words. After all, aren’t we supposed to help people? Isn’t that why we’re here? Little did I know that there was good reason (and many years of experience) to back up his words. He was speaking from wisdom and experience. After all, he was the one with the gray hair. So I now realize that I should’ve paid more attention and given him the benefit of the doubt! However (before we get too far), I must stress that my goal here is NOT to make fun of people or make light of the situation. People in these types of situations are in a very dysfunctional place. And our goal IS to help people and show the love of Jesus. However, we need to learn how to offer the kind of help that will actually help them.
There’s a popular saying that has been misquoted and misapplied over the years: “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s not actually found in the Bible. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but there are implications of it in the Bible. Yet it needs to be applied in the proper context and in the right spirit. “A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense” (Proverbs 12:11 NLT). “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4 NLT).
So what do we do? Good and responsible believers (who do work hard) are usually very generous people. And that’s a good thing! But once they start to be taken advantage of, very needy people can easily and quickly suck out that good nature and burn them out quickly. Hence the name: Joy Suckers. So should we help people or not? Isn’t the Bible clear? Didn’t Jesus say, “But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you” (Matt.6:3-4 NLT)? Didn’t James hit us pretty hard to be generous when he wrote, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27 NLT)?
So if we have those Scriptures, how can we legitimately term people in a negative manner like Joy Suckers? As usual, there needs to be a balance. Of course we need to love people. Of course we need to give someone the benefit of the doubt first. We need to think the best of people. In fact, Paul presents a great definition of love to the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Cor.13:4-8 NIV). So we always choose love first. We always think the best of someone first.
On the other hand (and in certain circumstances), the best way to love someone might need to be tough love. Furthermore, we have biblical evidence to back that up. In fact, Paul tells us to “Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the traditions they received from us” (2 Thess.3:6). Holy Cow! Is that in the Bible? We’re actually supposed to stay away from people who claim to be believers and have heard the truth, yet follow a pattern over time that proves that they have no intention of changing? Yes. That’s what the Bible says!
Paul even says that he and his close associates have set the example to be followed. And since it is not being followed, “Those unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thess.3:7-10 NLT). Moreover, these folks are also trouble-makers because they talk about people behind their backs and won’t mind their own business. So he urges that we need to stay away from these people. They are Joy Suckers who suck the life out of us. And when they’re done, they move on to suck the life out of someone else. In other words, we are instructed to tell them to “Get a job!”
Paul urges us that we are to never tired of doing good, however, we need not shoot ourselves in the foot as we try to keep helping people that have no intention of helping themselves or anyone else (2 Thess.3:12-13). Moreover, I believe that money and work is just one example Paul gives here. There are many other examples where believers need to step up to the plate and make an effort. Perhaps you can think of some.
But please note that the following are not legalistic demands. We’re not trying to catch people making mistakes. We need to tirelessly leave a TON of room for grace. However, we cannot allow ourselves to be drained and burned out by people that wish to drain us and burn us out. We need to have a discerning eye to recognize the difference. So here are a few guidelines to go by when (not “IF” but “WHEN”) you run into Joy Suckers in your life.
Be willing to ask the tough questions and challenge people. Giving to the poor and needy is absolutely the right thing to do. Nevertheless, if the same people keep coming back for more it is indicative of a larger problem. Enabling someone doesn’t help them in the long run. So it’s more than OK to ask the tough questions, challenge people, and call them to accountability. And this doesn’t always have to do with money. Sometimes it can be romantic relationships, chronic health problems, dysfunctional sexual sins, issues in the home, and many other matters.
Invite people into relationship with you and your missional community. We need to protect ourselves from being used and abused. So if people won’t come to your meetings or hang out with you (or your community), stay away from them. But if they are willing to come into relationship and be accountable (there’s that word again), they’re not Joy Suckers. They might be EGR (Extra Grace required), but that’s OK. We’ve all been EGR at some point. So let your community show them love. Inviting people into relationship allows us to observe dysfunction and offer help. It also allows them to observe health and receive transformational help.
Questions to consider…
- According to 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, what is the point of living a quiet life, minding our own business, and working with our hands?
“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (1 Thess.4:11-12 NLT).
- According to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, why do we need to warn some, encourage others, care for some, and be patient with everyone? How can we distinguish the difference between someone who needs tough love and someone who really needs to be lifted up and cared for?
“Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone” (1 Thess.5:14 NLT).
- According to 1 Timothy 5:3-16, what could some other good examples be of who we should help? Does this apply to nonbelievers? Who should we challenge and/or not help? What could be some other potential joy sucking situations (other than money)? When we’re not sure, how could listening to the voice of the prophet help?
“Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God. Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help. But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives. Give these instructions to the church so that no one will be open to criticism. But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers. A widow who is put on the list for support must be a woman who is at least sixty years old and was faithful to her husband. She must be well respected by everyone because of the good she has done. Has she brought up her children well? Has she been kind to strangers and served other believers humbly? Has she helped those who are in trouble? Has she always been ready to do good? The younger widows should not be on the list, because their physical desires will overpower their devotion to Christ and they will want to remarry. Then they would be guilty of breaking their previous pledge. And if they are on the list, they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t. So I advise these younger widows to marry again, have children, and take care of their own homes. Then the enemy will not be able to say anything against them. For I am afraid that some of them have already gone astray and now follow Satan. If a woman who is a believer has relatives who are widows, she must take care of them and not put the responsibility on the church. Then the church can care for the widows who are truly alone” (1 Tim.5:3-16 NLT).