A Warning against Idleness
“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” (v. 6).- 2 Thessalonians 3:6–9
Uttering an exasperated sigh, Bob moved the shoes of his seven-year-old son John away from the front doorway of their house for the third time in two days. Calling out to his son, Bob said: “John, you did it again! How many times do I have to tell you not to leave your shoes where we will trip over them?”
Conversations wherein someone says, “How many times do I have to tell you . . .” happen every day around the world. Not all of them are about shoes, but all of them express frustration that the addressee has to be told again the right course of action. The truth is, fallen human beings are stubborn and slow to learn. We must hear the same thing repeatedly to finally get the point and alter our behavior.
Because of this, it is hard to take seriously those who doubt Paul’s authorship of 2 Thessalonians simply because he addresses the problem of idleness in 3:6–12 after having dealt with it in 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 and 5:14. The argument goes that someone is trying to pass himself off as Paul by addressing the same topic dealt with in the earlier letter. Surely, the real Paul would not bring up the issue again because the audience would have learned its lesson, so the author clumsily imitates Paul by copying the way he addressed the same issue. It is a silly argument easily countered after only a brief reflection on common human experience. Alas, such is the case with much of the modern scholarship that denies the inspiration of Scripture.
As we noted in our study of 1 Thessalonians, the problems in the church at Thessalonica with members who were not working likely were due to a belief that the return of Jesus was imminent or had already happened. So, it was pointless to keep laboring because everything was about to change. Much of Paul’s instruction regarding idleness in 2 Thessalonians overlaps with 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 and 5:14, but some new points are made. Paul exhorts us to “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness” (2 Thess. 3:6). Obviously, the Apostle does not mean that we cease fellowship with a professing Christian the first time he evidences laziness; rather, the church must discipline the able-bodied who persistently refuse to work even when they can find employment. Paul also points to his own work as a tentmaker as he did in 1 Thessalonians 2:9 (see Acts 18:1–3), but he adds that his labor is an example that must be imitated (2 Thess. 3:9). If Christ’s Apostles worked diligently in lawful employment, surely we must do the same if we are able.
Many people want to work but are unable to do so because of illness, disability, or other things outside their control. Others are unable to work because they cannot find employment even though they are trying. Still others are able-bodied but refuse to support themselves even when they can find a job. The last group is not living according to Christ’s command. Let us take care not to be numbered among them.
Passages for Further Study
3 John 5–8