Working and Eating
“Even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”- 2 Thessalonians 3:10
Christian theologians often look to the creation account to determine God’s will for humanity. What He commanded before the fall of man remains in force for all people and gives us a basic picture of what human society should look like when it is functioning properly. Among other things, the story of creation in Genesis 1–2 tells us that our Creator made us male and female in His image in order to work. Human beings were created to have dominion over the earth, to work and tend the garden of Eden and extend it around the globe (1:26–28; 2:15). Though difficulties have been introduced into our labor by the fall into sin (3:16–19), lawful work is inherently good, a purpose-granting gift from God whereby we may image Him by working just as He works (see John 5:17).
This foundational truth helps explain why Paul is so hard on those who are able but unwilling to work, as we see in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12. Christians who are not kept from work by illness or disability and yet refuse to engage in lawful work are saying that the creation ordinance of labor is not the good gift of the Lord. Their actions call into question the benevolence of God in commanding us to work, and they upset the natural order of things. Importantly, one does not even need to know the Scriptures to understand that it is wrong for able-bodied people to live lives of idleness, for creation itself testifies that we should support ourselves through our labor. John Calvin comments: “We know that man was created with this view, that he might do something. Not only does Scripture testify this to us, but nature itself taught it to the heathen. Hence it is reasonable, that those, who wish to exempt themselves from the common law, should also be deprived of food, the reward of labor.”
Therefore, in telling us that those who are unwilling to work should not eat, Paul does not reveal anything that we do not already know deep down (2 Thess. 3:10). Aesop’s fables and the testimony of many other non-Christian writings bear witness to humanity’s awareness that those who will not work deserve to go hungry. But note again that we are talking about a willful refusal to work, not an inability to work. Scripture is clear that the church must support those who have lawful reasons why they cannot work—widows, orphans, and the severely disabled (Luke 14:12–14; James 1:26–27). To such people, as well as the unemployed who are diligently searching for a job, we must show charity.
Christians are to be kind and compassionate, helping those who are truly in need. At the same time, the church is no place of charity for the idle. We must seek to wisely assist those who cannot support themselves, especially fellow church members, but we cannot be enablers of those who can work but do not want to do so. As we give of our time and money to help others, let us seek to do so wisely, helping only those who are truly in need.
Passages for Further Study
2 Samuel 9
1 Thessalonians 5:14