Isaiah 59-61 2 Thessalonians 3
“We had the right to ask you to help us, but we worked to take care of ourselves so we would be an example for you to follow. When we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘Anyone who refuses to work should not eat.’” (2 Thessalonians 3:9-10 NCV)
One of the dangers of expecting Jesus to return immediately is that it’s easy to believe that nothing else matters. Should we get married? Of course not, Jesus is coming. Should we build a house? Why? Jesus is coming soon. For some in the church at Thessalonica, the problem was that they had decided it wasn’t worth it to work for a living? After all, if Jesus was coming, wouldn’t it be better to be waiting for Him than be surprised at work? And so, apparently, some stopped working because jobs didn’t matter that much if Jesus was coming soon. Only, He didn’t come soon enough and those people who had stopped working started depending on other Christians who kept working. Paul reminded them that even though he had the right to ask them to support him, he worked to support himself while he was sharing the gospel with them. He also reminded them of a rule that he had taught while he was there: if someone refuses to work, they shouldn’t expect others to take care of them.
This admonition causes problems for some people, since Jesus said we should care for people in poverty. There’s no contradiction here, though. Paul is dealing with people who are able to work but refuse to. There are a lot of physical and emotional reasons that some people aren’t able to work. Sometimes, people may be looking for work and can’t find it. Many Christians in Paul’s day lost their jobs when they turned to Jesus and Paul took up collections for people in those situations – specifically in Jerusalem. Paul isn’t making a heartless statement calling on Christians to starve people who are poor. Paul talked about those who were physically and emotionally able to work but chose not to and refused offers to work. These people were dependent on others and expected others to take care of them. We have people like that in society today: they’re able to work, but they choose not to because they’d rather survive on handouts from others than work – especially when it come to jobs requiring hard labor. Society, in seeking to be free from a judgmental attitude supports people like this. Or is “enabling” a better word? Such support doesn’t help that person become better as a human being, it allows them to slide into a cycle of dependency with no apparent way out. God’s plan for mankind from the beginning was that we should work. The curse from the Garden of Eden wasn’t a command to work, it was the observation that when we worked, our work would be fruitless. We no longer live under the curse of sin, and Paul rings a clarion call to all people that if we’re able to, we should be working to support ourselves.
Lord, thank You for the gift of work. Thank You for giving us the ability to work and take part in this world. I pray for those who can’t work, and I ask that You support them, and use me to help do that. I pray for those who are able to work but refuse to do so. Teach them the joy they can find in work and let them support themselves.
Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.