UNWILLING to WORK…UNABLE TO EAT!
In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonian church, he ends with a very practical admonition regarding the high value of work! In verses 6-15 of chapter 3 of 2nd Thessalonians, Paul uses the phrase “we command you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” two times. This strong language reflects Paul’s understanding of the fact that he was not speaking his own words, but rather, God’s words!
In the context of this passage, 3:11 says, “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness (or an unruly manner), not busy at work, but busybodies.” Basically, what we see here is that Paul was made aware of a problem in the church, and that problem was that there were people who were able, but unwilling to work. They were lazy believers who were expecting others to give them handouts. Paul does a play on Greek words here. He says, “Some were not ergazomenous (doing no work at all), but rather periergazomenous (acting like they were working). Think of it like this, they were not busy, but rather, acting busy! They used their unoccupied time unproductively and were not using their time wisely! These people were irritants, creating disunity and discord by being a burden to the church. They were walking and living in a manner that was “out of step” with the teaching and tradition that Paul had taught them, which is why Paul says in 3:14, “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person and have nothing to do with them, that he may be ashamed.” Paul, again, was writing with a strong sense of clarity and purpose as he said the things the Lord commanded him to say. These words may be regarded as harsh by some, but people need to remember, this was God’s Word and not Paul’s.
Now, it should be noted that Scripture advocates that we should take care of the poor and we should care for those with real needs, but for those who are able to work and choose not to, Paul says we are to have nothing to do with them. Again, this problem was within the context of the local church. These were “supposed” brothers and sisters in Christ who were causing the Lord’s reputation and the reputation of His Church to be affected. Paul could not be clearer as he says, “If you have the ability to work for your food, you are to do so. Those who are able to work and chose not to are worse than unbelievers.” The slang version of this is, there is nothing worse than a lazy Christian who only looks for handouts. As I said before, there are times we are to help a brother in a time of need. God’s church should not be generous and helpful. In fact, when a brother falls on hard times and cannot find work or is unable to work, the church should step in and help, but the point here is, “If you can work, you should! Don’t call yourself a believer and be idle, lazy or unwilling to work!”
Keep in mind, there is a big difference between being unwilling and unable to work. According to this passage, those unwilling should be shunned. Why? Because it is a poor reflection of the Lord and His Church. You see, neither the world, nor the church owes a living to those too lazy to work. We are a society used to entitlements and the church should set the example here. We should be willing to work, and we should work hard, laboring unto the Lord and not man (Colossians 3:23). A Christian’s work ethic should exceed that of an unbeliever, which is why Paul is so harsh here. It is one thing for an unbeliever to be lazy; it’s another thing for a Christian to be lazy. This is why Paul says what he does in 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Paul and the apostles had set the example to follow. If anyone was entitled to be taken care of, it was them! However, even while they were ministering there, they made it a point not to be a burden to the church. Listen to what Paul says in 3:7-9, “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 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. It was not because we do not have the right, but to give you in ourselves an example to follow.” These verses are profound! The church, and our country, would be wise to heed them today. We must have an attitude in the church, as well as in our nation, of a strong, healthy work ethic. To be lazy is to be unpleasing to the Lord.
What are we to do? In 3:13, Paul says, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” All we can do is set the example. It is time for the church to “be” the church. We need to set an example to our community and our nation. The church should be full of people willing to earn an honest wage and not expect to grow fat off other people’s toil and labor. As our nation continues to move in more of a “socialistic” direction, may the church teach and live the truth of Scripture to a lost and dying world. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let you light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.” The Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:12, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Even though our country’s work ethic has eroded and our current government is contributing to the reality of this problem, the command to have a strong, biblical work ethic has not changed. Christians should vigorously purse the calling God has placed on their life and be excellent workers; laboring for the Lord and not man. We must honor the Lord and His Church in all we do, never bringing anything but glory to His name! May God’s Church rise up and set the example for others to follow!