The Sins of Idle People
“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 3:11–12
The church is not an assembly of individuals wherein we take no interest in what other members of the group do or believe. Instead, we are one body in Christ, and we need one another as much as the parts of the human body need one another (1 Cor. 12). In a real sense, followers of Jesus are responsible for one another. We are called to encourage one another to persevere by stirring up “one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24). We are to bring back those who wander from the truth (James 5:19–20).
Consequently, the church is to act when we see able-bodied Christians refusing to engage in lawful work. As Paul tells us, we are to “keep away from any brother” who persists in idleness, and we are not to support those who will not labor even though there is no good reason why they cannot work to support themselves (2 Thess. 3:6–10). Such instructions, of course, are for those of us who do work as we ought. But Paul also has guidance for those who themselves are idle, as we see in today’s passage. Those who are walking in idleness are to find work, to do it quietly—that is, without making a great show of things—and thereby to earn their own living (vv. 11–12). If those who are presently refusing to work repent and seek to engage in lawful labor, then the church is not to reject them but is to receive them as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Paul’s emphasis in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12 is on laboring for the purpose of meeting one’s needs; however, we must be careful not to think lawful work includes only those things for which we are paid. It is possible to fulfill the mandate to engage in rightful labor by doing things for which one does not get paid. For example, retirees who volunteer at their church or in a civic organization that does good work are fulfilling this calling to labor even if they are not making money from their volunteer efforts. Most such retirees, in fact, are earning a living through a pension or investments that they have through their past employments. Also, we cannot overlook people such as stay-at-home mothers, who are among the most diligent laborers of all as they serve their families and manage their homes and children. Overall, Paul’s point is that all Christians should have a vocation, and that the church must support only those who are truly in need. When both of these are true, the church is a good witness to the world (1 Thess. 4:9–12).
We do not have to become respected preachers, notable heads of state, or scientists who make history-changing discoveries in order to live noble lives that honor God. Instead, we need only to engage in lawful work no matter what vocation we have been given. A quiet life of dignified labor is honoring to God, and He will not overlook it.
Passages for Further Study
1 Timothy 5:3–16