The obligation to work. 3:6-15
In the final section of his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives some advice to the idle and disobedient. This section may rightly be titled "Godly Discipline." In his first letter, Paul raised the issue of those in the congregation who would not work, 4:11f., 5:14. It seems likely that this problem developed because some members had come to the view that the day of the Lord was now upon them. At any rate, Paul again addresses this problem.
v6. Paul now gives a firm direction on the issue of idleness. His direction is given "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ", ie. under Christ's authority. Those who are "idle", slothful, act against the teachings of Jesus. By refraining from employment they do not contribute to the support of their Christian community, but rather draw on its financial resources.
v7-9. Paul is able to point to his own example as someone who supports himself financially while performing his gospel ministry. He could rightly look for financial support from his converts, cf. 1Tim.5:17-18, yet for the sake of the gospel he pays his own way as a tent maker. By working for a living he sets an example for his mission churches to follow.
v10. Paul gives a summary of the work-ethic which is part of the tradition, or "sound teaching", which was taught the Thessalonians when he was first with them: "If a person refuses to work, then don't let him eat."
v11. Paul knows well that some of the Thessalonian believers are living workshy and indisciplined lives, they are "not busily employed, but busily busy."
v12. These members, who are living off the bounty of others, must from now on live off the fruit of their own labors. They must "settle down", in the sense of not going overboard with their second coming speculation, and start earning a living again.
v13. Addressing the majority of church members, Paul encourages them to act rightly. Most likely he is thinking of their behavior toward the idlers. The church should resist developing a handout mentality.
v14-15. Finally, those who ignore these instructions need to face the shame of their behavior, while being encouraged to change their ways.
No gain without pain
Work is an integral part of being human; we are created to work. Adam and Eve were to tend the garden - to order the creation, "subdue" and "rule" it. The only change to this creation ordinance came with the entrance of sin. Work is now cursed with frustration, and in this age it will always be so. "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground."
From the beginning, God reveals that work is a noble activity, yet it is not always seen this way. The ancient Greeks considered manual labor as destructive of the human psyche. The hands-on type of work was something best done by slaves.
Although the Bible doesn't really give us an economic system for modern society, it does give us principles we can use to shape and test our work-ethic. So, let's see whether we can draw some Biblical principles from our passage for study, principles we can apply to our present circumstances.
1. Industriousness is a moral imperative
The Bible encourages the application of our effort, energy, intellect and abilities, toward the ordering and ruling of God's creation. Industriousness is encouraged, it is seen as a virtue, while sloth is seen as an evil, Rom.12:11. As Jesus puts it, "a laborer is worthy of his hire."
2. Industriousness is to be encouraged
Paul commands the members of the church at Thessalonica to "keep away" from the idle brother. This follows Jesus' words in Matthew 15:15-17. They should treat the person as they would "a pagan or a tax collector". A similar idea is found in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where Paul uses the phrase "hand this man over to Satan." It doesn't mean abandon the person, rather we are to confront their sin, rather than letting it slide by unnoticed, so that they will recognize their sin and be brought back into full fellowship.
3. Industriousness has a social face
Paul financed his mission from his own work rather than relying on the generosity of his new converts. Yet, on a number of occasions, he pointed out that he had every right to ask for the funding of his ministry by the new churches. The simple reason being that work is a much wider activity than just commerce. A poet writing poetry is just as industrious as a farmer harvesting grain. Both are working and their effort should be rewarded equally.
1. Why should the idle not be idle?
2. Discuss the morality of accumulating the product of our own work and the removal of that product by government for the purpose of redistribution. (ie. is tax "theft"?).
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