In the third chapter of Paul’s 2nd epistle to Thessalonians, he gives the Thessalonians rules about dealing with disorderly persons.
A few Thessalonian Christians were so sure that the Day of the Lord had begun that they quit their jobs and were just becoming busybodies in the church (2 Thessalonians 3:5). Paul was forced to rebuke such as them (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 11). 1
Those Who Would Not Work
The idleness of some had become a source of sin.
Paul says that if anyone will not work(instead of can not work), neither shall he eat.
There was preexisting precedence for this command, the pagan parallels are in the form, “He who does not work does not eat.”
The idle claimed the right to be supported by the members of the church who were well off.2
It is altogether inexcusable for Christians, when they are no longer children, to expect others to provide their sustenance while they stand idle, even if they offer some spiritual excuse for not working.1
John Calvin wrote “For Paul censures those lazy drones who lived by the sweat of others, while they contribute no service in common for aiding the human race. Of this sort are our monks and priests who are largely pampered by doing nothing, excepting that they chant in the temples, for the sake of preventing weariness.”3
John Calvin also wrote, “Paul forbids the Thessalonians to encourage their laziness by indulging it, and teaches that it is those who proved themselves with the necessities of life by honorable and useful work that led a life of holiness.”4
God’s plan provides for our needs through our work. Since God can provide our needs in any manner imaginable, but He has chosen to meet our needs through work. God, Himself, is a busy God and always at work.
From the very beginning, God has ordained that men should work for their food (Genesis 2:15, 16). This became even more necessary with the entrance of sin and the curse (Genesis 3:17-19). We Christians will even continue to work, serving the Lord, in the End Times new earth (Revelation 22:3).
With authority, “through our Lord Jesus,” Paul commanded these busybodies to work, to get out of the business of others (“in quietness”), and to provide for their own needs (eat their own bread) instead of expecting other Christians to provide for them.
Perhaps the idle thought that if Jesus was coming soon, it made no sense to work. It would then be easy for them to intrude into the lives of others and take advantage of Christian generosity.
The sin was not only because of the work that they didn’t do, but also because of the harm they did with their idle time. The sinners were worse than idle, they were interfering with other people’s affairs. Idleness often leads to meddling.
There is a play on words between the ancient Greek phrasing in the lines “not working at all” and “but are busybodies.” The idea is something like “busybodies who do no business.” Literally, it means to be working around with the idea of meddling in other people’s business. They are not busy in their own business but busy in the business of others. These people bustle about, trifling needlessly in other peoples’ business.
Paul had to admonish the Thessalonians to return to their daily occupations. Paul spoke of himself as remaining until the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:11 – 15; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). In Thessalonians 3 12, Paul implores the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to command and encourage idle believers to get to work.5
The Apostles wrote commands to the Church in the name of Jesus, and failure to obey them was a reason for disassociation from the disobedient person (2 Thessalonians 3:6-14). The disassociation was within the Church’s discipline power.6
Each church had the power to carry out its own discipline (2 Thessalonians 3:6).7
Scripture shows the early church provided examples for the carrying out of church discipline, and the present church is not excused from this duty (Acts 5:11; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 John 10).8
The idle were lazy people who took advantage of the charitable disposition of the church (see 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10) and used the expectation of the immediate appearance of the Lord as an excuse for abandoning their ordinary occupations. They claimed the right to be supported by the members of the church who were well off.9
Paul forbids the church to support the able-bodied who could work but would not —he even commands the church not to associate with them. There is nothing in the teaching of Paul, or of Christ, or anywhere in the Bible, to encourage charity to able-bodied, lazy people who make begging their profession.
Paul was an ardent advocate of charity toward those who were really in need, and he spent a good deal of time collecting gifts of money for the poor.9
The early church did provide for the truly needy among them, but only after being certain that they were truly needy and after putting them to work for the church (1 Timothy 5:3-16).
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2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 – For even when we were with you, we used to give you 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 the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (NASB)
A few Thessalonian Christians were so sure that the Day of the Lord had begun that they quit their jobs and were just becoming busybodies in the church. Paul was forced to rebuke them.
Paul forbids the church to support the able-bodied who could work but would not. Paul commands the church not to associate with them. Nothing in the teaching of Paul, or of Christ, or anywhere in the Bible, encourages charity to able-bodied, lazy people who make begging their profession.
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- Morris, Henry, The New Defender’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: World Publishing Inc, 1995 and 2006) pg. 1855
- Henry H. Halley, Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992) pg. 630
- John Calvin, https://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom42/calcom42.vii.v.ii.htmlhttps://ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom42/calcom42.vii.v.ii.html
- Henry C. Thiessen (revised by Vernon D. Doerksen), Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981) pg. 377
- Stanley M. Horton, general editor, Systematic Theology (Springfield, MO: Legion Press, 1994) pg. 94
- Thiessen, pg. 322
- Thiessen, pg. 331
- Halley, pg. 630