A Look at Second Thessalonians. Part 3: Don’t be lazy
There are different attitudes to work. Some work long hours, while others work as little as possible. Is work a vital part of our lives or just a consequence of the fall into sin? Today we see how Paul addressed laziness at Thessalonica.
Previously, we have seen that in his second letter to the believers at Thessalonica, Paul encouraged them to persevere in their trials, suffering and persecution although they were so occupied with these that they forgot about their hope for the future. So Paul gave them an eternal perspective with a vision of the appearing when their suffering will be replaced by glory and the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. He also reminded them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. This would have helped them to cope. Then he addressed the false teaching that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. Paul points out that this is false because the antichrist had not been revealed yet. In the tribulation, the antichrist will use miracles to deceive the people as God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the antichrist’s lies. Instead, Paul told them to “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you”.
The third problem in Thessalonica was that some had stopped working because they thought the Lord was returning soon. Instead of working they were being lazy and disruptive in the local church. Paul had told them in his first letter to return to work, but evidently his directions had not been obeyed.
Prayer Points (2 Th. 3:1-2NIV)
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.
Before he addressed the problem, Paul requested prayer; he wrote “pray for us” in the wicked city of Corinth. He had three prayer points:
First, pray “that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly”. The Greek word is “logos” (3056), sometimes translated as “word”, which in this context means the message from the Lord. Paul used the word “logos” twice in 1 Thessalonians: to describe the gospel (1 Th. 1:8) and to describe how the message about the rapture was a direct revelation from Christ—it was “according to the Lord’s word” (1 Th. 4:15). So Paul wanted the message of the gospel to be spread to unbelievers and the truths of the New Testament to be spread to believers. That’s what happened in Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:7).
Second, pray “that the message of the Lord may be honoured”. The Greek word is “doxazo” (1392), sometimes translated as “glorified”. What does this mean? At Pisidian Antioch, the Gentiles honoured the message by believing and obeying it (Acts 13:48-49). It was life-changing. So Paul wanted the message of the gospel to be believed and obeyed by unbelievers—that they would repent and turn to God. He also wanted the truths of the New Testament to be believed and obeyed by believers. Once again, that’s what happened in Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:7).
Third, “pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith”. He wanted to be protected. Because Paul was preaching the gospel in Corinth, the unbelieving Jews opposed him and became abusive and later they accused him before the Roman governor (Acts 18:6, 12-15). These people were hindering the spread of the gospel. As Paul wanted to be able to continue preaching the gospel, they were to pray that this would not be hindered by wicked and evil unbelievers.
The secret of success (2 Th. 3:3-5)
But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
He then encouraged them with a promise that the Lord will strengthen them and protect them from Satan. God is faithful, He keeps His promises. This faith is contrasted with the lack of faith in the unbelievers noted in the previous verse. Elsewhere we know that God faithfully promises to not let believers be tempted beyond what they can bear (1 Cor. 10:13) and when they confess their sins, He will faithfully forgive their sins and restore their fellowship with Himself (1 Jn. 1:9).
Paul now balances God’s provision for the Thessalonians with their responsibility to keep doing the things that Paul had commanded. It’s not good enough to relax and think that because God will look after us, then we can be lazy and ignore His commands. Christians need to be active, not passive. It’s doing the things God has commanded and continuing to do these things.
Remember, the Thessalonians were being persecuted. Under these circumstances, Paul urges them to have God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. This is the opposite of being bitter and giving up. Here the “heart” means the unseen part of us such as our mind, will, and emotions.
The Lord endured as an example for us: “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus … He endured the cross … consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1-3). Likewise, they were to “never tire of doing what is good” (v.13). Those who had been obeying Paul’s instructions were encouraged to keep it up. Even though there were those who were lazy, this shouldn’t stop the others doing what is good. This included not giving up on the lazy ones but carrying out Paul’s instructions.
Work for a living (2 Th. 3:6-15)
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
Ever since the days of Adam, people must work for a living. Adam had to work and take care of the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). After the fall into sin this work became arduous (Gen. 3:17-19).
Paul now addresses the third major problem in the church at Thessalonica. It seems as though some of the Thessalonians thought the Lord was returning soon, so they stopped working and relied on others to support them. So they were idle instead of working and this lead to them interfering with other people’s affairs. What is a Paul’s solution to this problem? First, he says these people are out of line with what he had taught them (v.6). Here’s what they were advised to do.
Follow Paul’s example (v.7-9).
Paul, Silas and Timothy had worked hard while they preached in Thessalonica so they would not be a burden to others (1 Th. 2:9). Paul was a tent maker by trade. Although he could have relied on the support of others for food, accommodation and money, he worked night and day to pay his expenses and not be dependent on them. When he was not preaching, teaching and shepherding the new believers, he was probably making and repairing tents. Paul was self supporting; he didn’t seek funds from those to whom he was preaching the gospel. The reason he worked was so he wouldn’t be a burden to those who were poor and persecuted and he didn’t want to hinder the gospel message in any way.
Now he urges those who had stopped working to follow his example (v.7). Although he had the right to financial help, Paul “did not use this right” of support in Corinth so that the gospel would not be hindered (1 Cor. 9:12, 14). Instead, he offered the gospel “free of charge” (1 Cor. 9:18). He then gives another reason for supporting himself: Paul wanted to be a model for them to imitate; an example to be followed.
Command them to get back to work (v.11-12).
Previously, Paul told them how to increase in their love for one another (1 Th. 4:11-12). First they were to “mind your own business”. Instead, some Thessalonians, probably because of idleness, were taking undue interest on other people’s lives. They were commanded not to be a busybody who interferes in the lives of others in an unnecessary and unhelpful way, because idleness and meddling in the lives of others is not loving. Second, they were to “work with your hands” in order to provide for themselves and their family (1 Tim. 5:8). In the context of caring for widows, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
Two reasons were given in 1 Th. 4:11-12 for working to support themselves: “To win the respect of outsiders”—they were being watched by people who judged Christianity and God’s Word by their behavior; and to “not be dependent on anybody”—not to be a burden to others.
He had also instructed them how to deal with those who disobeyed this command, “warn those who are idle and disruptive” (1 Th. 5:14). Those who had stopped working were disorderly, disobedient and rebellious busybodies who caused disruption in the local church. This behaviour was unacceptable. They were to be warned to get back to work so as to be able to support themselves and their families. We will see they could also be warned by saying that: “we will stop helping you” and “we will no longer socialise with you”.
Now Paul gives further instructions about these people who were minding everybody’s business but their own (v.11-12). When they could no longer find any meaning in their work, they started messing in other people’s business, criticizing, grumbling, gossiping, and trying to control others. Paul commanded and urged them to get back to work to support themselves and their families. How they behaved would have affected their witness for the Lord. How could they urge people to get their spiritual lives in order, if they couldn’t get their physical lives in order?
Don’t help them (v.10)
Now we will look at how Paul advised then to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions. Paul said don’t help them by feeding and supporting them; instead let them experience the consequences of their behavior. This is addressed to those who are “unwilling to work”, not those who cannot work. If an able-bodied Christian refused to work, neither should they eat. This rule was to stop them becoming busybodies that disrupt the local church. Does this conflict with the fact that Christians should be kind and loving? No, it is a tough love that draws a boundary against encouraging laziness. That’s why this article is titled, “Don’t be lazy”.
Keep away from them (v.6, 14-15).
This was followed by further instructions on how to deal with those who refused to obey his instructions. Finally Paul commands them in Christ’s name not to socialise with believers who refused to work and who were disrupting the local church. The Greek words used mean to “withdraw” from or “avoid” and to not keep company with them. It was to be a more distant relationship instead of a close one. This let them know that this behavior was not acceptable. The purpose of this discipline was to awaken their conscience to make them feel ashamed of their behavior and give them a reason to change it. They can still have some of the benefits of the family, but their part is restricted until they repent and are restored to the close relationship.
Paul warns them not to take it too far, so they feel like an enemy. Don’t make them feel like an unbeliever, as they don’t deserve to be expelled from the church. In the case of expulsion, people are to be treated as an unbeliever; as though they are not in the family (Mt. 18:17). Note that the instruction was addressed to the behavior of fellow believers, not to the behavior of unbelievers.
Our resources (2 Thess. 3:16-18)
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Paul finishes reminding them of the Lord’s peace, presence and grace. They could have “peace at all times and in every way”, including when they faced the problems created by those who refused to work for a living. They needed this peaceful attitude as they addressed these problems. The Lord of peace was with all of them, including those who were idle and disruptive.
Perhaps because of poor eyesight, Paul dictated his letters to a secretary (Rom. 16:22), but near the end of some he added some words in his own handwriting. This practice was his distinguishing mark. Then as usual he ended the letter with a benediction of grace for the Thessalonians. This is God’s unmerited favor though the saving work of Christ.
Lessons for us
Do we follow Paul’s example and pray that the gospel and the truths of the Bible would spread rapidly and obeyed? Is that our mission as well? Do we pray that preachers and teachers would be protected? Surely this is what all missionaries and those serving the Lord would request.
Do we realise that our success in living for God relies on God’s promises of strength and protection and our obedience to the commands and principles for believers in the church? Do we feel secure? We have God’s love and His protection. Are we consistent? We can learn for Christ’s persistence.
Paul worked hard night and day to support himself while he preaching the gospel. He was an example to be followed. Are we? What sort of a witness is our work? Do we support our families? Work is important because it gives a sense of worth and meaning in our lives. But there were believers at Thessalonica who refused to work and were disruptive busybodies in the local church. Are we idle?
Today we don’t face the problem that people are so ardently looking forward to the Lord’s return that they abandon their daily duties. Instead we are so busy with our business and money-making that we forget that the Lord could return at any moment. Nevertheless, the same principles apply in cases of disobedience. What would Paul say to us? Would it be that we work too much instead of not enough? Are we so busy with our things that there is little time for God’s things? Are we lazy, busy or too busy supporting our families?
Do we do the things God has commanded, like “Love one another”; “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10); or are disobedient, or are we hypocrites?
Paul wasn’t lazy. Are we lazy or busy for God? Let’s be like Paul by being busy for God and busy supporting our families.
Written, April 2007