Brothers and sisters, you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.
This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
Can I ask you a favour, dear reader or listener? Before you continue with this reflection, take a minute and consider who you follow on social media – on your TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook – and the numerous other social media platforms that I’m too old and/or uncool to know about.
So, how many “influencers” do you follow?
To be honest, the idea that someone can list “influencer” as their job boggles my mind. Be it food, fashion, fitness, or even faith – someone, somewhere, on some social media platform is attempting to influence others to act in a particular way. Now, full disclosure, I’m guilty of spending time (way too much time!) mindlessly scrolling through my feeds to see what people are up to. I open myself up to their influence and can find myself modelling my actions on their actions – and most of these people I don’t even really know! And yet they influence me. Proof of that are the one or two … or six cookbooks on my shelf that I have bought because they were written or endorsed by a chef that I follow. Influencers are models of living for so many people – and are making a living doing so!
I don’t think these were the type of model workers that Saint Paul imagined as he wrote his letter to the Christian community in Thessalonica. An influencer is someone concerned with creating and growing their brand in the hopes that their actions will invoke others to literally and figuratively follow them and in turn model their purchases, their processes, and their personal choices after them. I know influencers work hard to create content and curate their feeds. However, Saint Paul is drawing our attention to the dignity of work: work that adds to our wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. This is to be imitated.
Saint Paul’s words are a reality check for me: Who am I following? Who am I imitating? Because ultimately, the point is not so much what we model, but rather who we model. If I am a disciple of Christ, then it is Christ whom I must model. And my aim is not to be an influencer but to be a witness. I don’t just want to influence people's actions. I want to witness how I am under the influence of Christ. In encountering him I have been transformed – heart and mind – by a Love that is beyond anything I could ever or will ever know. This Love compels me to witness it to others through my work. That is, the work that we are to be about: proclaiming who God is, caring for the sick, poor, and vulnerable, and inviting others to encounter Christ. Being a follower of Christ is hard work. God asks much more of us than anyone. However, he gave us the ultimate influencer in Jesus.