Notes on a study in 2 Thessalonians.
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 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 that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12, ESV)
Laziness is sin. There is a reason sloth was listed among the 7 deadly sins. Idleness promotes temptation. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Consider the bad example of King David in the Bathsheba incident. The good king committed adultery with a woman and had her husband killed. This all began after he failed to go out to battle with his army.
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel…. It happened late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” (2 Sam. 11:1a, 2, ESV)
‘keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness”
Not only are you and I to avoid laziness, we are to avoid those who live this way.
Paul offered himself and his companions as the example. The apostle had a practice of refusing gifts from a church during the time he was working to establish it. He often supported himself by working from working as a tentmaker. He exemplified hard work. Only when a church was self-sufficient and Paul had moved to the next mission field, would he accept it’s financial support. We discover this in the Corinthian letters (1 Corinthians 9, 2 Corinthians 11:8).
A possible reason for the problem of laziness in Thessalonica was the belief that Jesus’ return was imminent, and therefore there would be no reason to keep on working a job. Each one of us ought to live every day as though it were our last on earth, whether because we “always keep death in mind,” or because we have our “eyes to the sky” looking for the return of Christ. However, that doesn’t mean I retire and do nothing until the Lord returns.
God expects us to be busy with his work and with investing and remaining involved with our communities. Our situation is like the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. Heaven is our home and primary citizenship. We are exiles and dissidents here on earth. Our duty is to work for the prosperity and benefit of our city and community, to say nothing of the fact that we must make a living for ourselves and our families.
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7, ESV)
Sadly, it is far more likely in our time that people are overly focused on this life and take little or no thought for the next. Even so, there is plenty of laziness among some, who want to live idle lives. These seek to “eat, drink and be merry” all the time, but have no desire to work for the means to purchase the food and drink. Some want to live the lifestyle of the idle rich. Here’s a question to test you: What would you do with your life if you won the lotto? With more money available, I would seek to grow this church and put together projects and investments to preach the Gospel. If I had more money available I would be busier than I am now, not building my petty kingdom, but extending God’s!
“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Paul’s perspective was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Does that sound harsh to you? The precept to learn is: each of us is responsible for providing for ourselves. The government doesn’t owe you a living. Jesus commands us to give to those who ask, but not to support laziness. If you won’t work, you need to feel the consequences of that. Missing a meal or two would serve only to help many. It seems a contradiction when we observe a person who refuses to work—usually with some excuse—who is obese.
Everyone should be given an opportunity to be supported equitably for their work. Jesus said, “The worker is worthy of his wages” (Matt. 10:10). However, there should be no government or church welfare for those who will not contribute their labor to support themselves and contribute to their community. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had it right when he started the WPA program during the Great Depression. Many people were out of work, so the President gave them government jobs cleaning up roads and improving the nation’s infrastructure. My experience has been that many people who are on welfare and disability could be doing something, but don’t because they won’t. Their primary handicap is not physical but spiritual. They are lazy. They have convinced themselves that they are incapable of doing anything as justification for this sin. I believe the word “can’t” is the most destructive in a person’s vocabulary. Can’t often just times means won’t.
Socialism (and communism) sounds like it promotes justice. The reality is, socialism doesn’t work because there is no incentive for people to work hard, to produce, innovate, or create. A guaranteed job and income results in mediocrity at best. The following is a quote from Peter Hitchens, brother to the famed late atheist celebrity Christopher Hitchens. Peter is a journalist who spent a significant amount of time in the former United Soviet Socialist Republic.
“For the average citizen it was a life lived at a dismally low level materially, ethically and culturally. The Soviet Union may have been a great power, but it was a great power that had diverted its resources into the hands of the state.” (from Peter Hitchens, Rage Against God).
Let’s be clear, taking someone else’s hard earned income and giving it it to those who will not work is theft. Social welfare programs may be necessary to help those who verifiably cannot help themselves. However, any program that rewards laziness is not social justice: it is both unjust and destructive to a healthy thriving economy, as the current situation in Venezuela illustrates.
“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13–15, ESV)
For doing good we must look to our reward in the next life, for often we may be without in this one. Let the Holy Spirit encourage you to continue doing good and glorifying God. Be satisfied with little, even during times when you have much.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 6:6-7)
“and have nothing to do with him that he may be ashamed”
Shun lazy, or immoral, or rebellious supposed Christians (see also Matt. 18:17, 2 Tim. 3:5, 1 Cor. 5:9, 2 Jn. 10). Paul even states we should not eat with such people (1 Cor. 5:11).
“Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother”
We are not placing ourselves above and beyond those who are walking in sin. The purpose is to highlight their need to change. Be open and forgiving if the person repents or genuinely seeks help to change.