The Mandate to Work
“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 3:10–12
Christians are exhorted to love one another through their vocations, which entails working to help meet the needs of others and even to serve those with whom they labor (Eph. 4:28). But this is not all we are to do in our vocations, as we see in today’s passage: in addition to loving others through our work, we are to work hard in our callings (2 Thess. 3:10–12).
Paul criticizes those who “walk in idleness” and who are “not busy at work” (v. 11). Given his exhortations elsewhere to work for the good of our neighbors, it is not difficult to see why he would be unhappy with those who do not labor diligently. Failing to work diligently at our assigned tasks is unloving to our coworkers, for it forces them to pick up the slack. Furthermore, a failure to work hard is a failure to love our employers and supervisors. We also serve them in our labors, and we do not love and serve them well by putting in the least amount of effort possible or by wasting time.
The Apostle also has stern words for those who refuse to work, informing us that the church should show discretion and wisdom in attending to those who are in need. Simply put, those who are not willing to work should not eat (v. 10). Obviously, Paul does not have in mind those who are kept from laboring by illness, severe disability, or another hard providence. Neither is he talking about those who are diligently searching for work but have yet been unable to find it. Instead, he is talking about those who are able to work and yet impenitently refuse to work. God’s people are to be generous toward the ill, toward the infirm, and toward those who are seeking to find work but who cannot find it on account of things beyond their control. This is one reason why churches should be careful to choose deacons who are not only compassionate but also discerning. They must extend assistance wisely, not closing their hearts to the needy but also encouraging those who are able to live up to the high work ethic revealed in Scripture.
Believers, in fact, should be the best workers of all no matter the vocation to which they are called, for we have been given two powerful motivations for our labors: the love of neighbor and the glory of God. We should all take to heart John Calvin’s comments on today’s passage. Believers “should be intent upon their calling, and devote themselves to lawful and honorable employments, without which the life of man is of a wandering nature.”
God’s command to love our neighbors is not an abstract principle or a call to mere sentiment. Instead, we are to love our neighbors concretely, and that love is to be shown even when we are at work in our vocations. We should be asking ourselves if others would see us as diligent workers. If not, it may mean that we are not loving our neighbors as we ought.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 5:14