Good morning, Bereans. We are looking at 2 Thessalonians this morning. We are in chapter 3 and today we will be looking at a very interesting section dealing with the subject of work (verses 6 through 15). Paul writes to address the problem of people within the congregation who won't work. This is the third time he's had to do it, so it is understandable that he comes across pretty strong.
Paul deals with some great theological subjects in this second epistle to the Thessalonians and then he closes the letter by saying: GET A JOB! The majority of this closing chapter deals with work. This must be an important subject if Paul thought it necessary to spend ten verses on it. And after last weeks study, I hope you see that our vocation, our job, is important to God.
God had created a world which included work needing to be done, and he created man with a mission to do that work. As a matter of fact, God has commanded us to work.
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, Exodus 20:9 ESV
That is a command. Six days you are to labor. God's design is for man work.
Look at what Paul told the Colossians about work.
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:22-24 ESV
Here's the sum of it: No matter what your job is, it is the Lord Christ whom you serve. Your job is not a secular job; it is a spiritual duty. You are serving the Lord with your attitude and your diligence. You're doing it unto His honor and to His glory.
So, Paul is saying work is a sacred duty not a secular one. Work is sacred in the sense that it is done to the Lord whether you're washing dishes, scrubbing floors, taking care of children at home and maintaining the house, or whether you're running a fortune 500 company. Whatever it is that you're doing, it is a service rendered to the Lord. He has given you the power to get wealth, as it says in Deuteronomy, through the means of labor. Everything you do is a sacred trust.
This is important teaching to us because we live in a culture that has a very skewed view of work. We act as though work really cramps our style. We seem to see work as mercenary, in other words, work is simply a way to pay off your debts and fund your lifestyle. But for Christians, it should be different. We need to see work as a sacred duty that brings glory to God.
Commenting on our text in 2 Thessalonians 3, G.K. Beale writes,
Christians in various sectors of the workplace too often undervalue the work they do, failing to see it as vitally related to their relationship to Christ and the advancement of his kingdom. Paul elaborates in these verses that the performance of work to the best of one's ability is a vital part of living out one's faith.
You are in full-time ministry all the time, ministering to the glory of Christ whatever you do. It's no different for you to do your job to the maximum ability for the glory of Christ than it is for me to prepare this message to preach for the glory of Yeshua. Paul put it this way to the Colossians:
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, Colossians 3:23 ESV
St. Francis said, "The most powerful effective evangelism takes place on the job as you live out your Christianity in the face of unbelievers."
Paul doesn't tell us the reason why people weren't working, so all we can do is speculate. Some think it may have been the Jewish influence that contended that the very elevated religious people were to study the Scriptures full time and be supported for doing so. Others think it may have been the Gentile mentality that says freemen don't work. But most scholars draw a connection between these non-working brothers and Paul's teaching about the coming of the Lord. They surmise that those who did not work had become so caught up with the idea that Yeshua would return soon that they quit working. They didn't want to "waste time" working because the end was near. They had the eschatological end times mentality that says, "Yeshua is coming. We can't be doing work. We've got to be doing evangelism."
Now before we jump into our text, I want you to see that what Paul teaches here, he has already taught them on two other occasions. Look with me at 1 Thessalonians 4.
and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV
There are a lot of questions regarding Paul's meaning in verses 11 and 12.
Most commentators, though, have advocated a reading that states that the Thessalonians had abandoned work as part of their eschatological expectation. Why work if Yeshua was coming soon?
Paul said in verse 11 that they were to "aspire to live quietly." This is a very interesting statement because the word "aspire" is philotimeomai. It means "to be zealous and to strive eagerly." They were to strive eagerly to be quiet. The word "quietly" is hēsuchazō. This word is used in the New Testament of a number of concepts, such as to keep one's mouth closed and not saying anything or to become quiet after speaking. It is used of resting. But it has the idea in all of those usages of a tranquility, a calm tranquility, and peacefulness. The root has the idea of "quiet" and "peaceable." One noun form literally means to keep your seat, sit down, relax.
So, I guess we could say that Paul means a life that is peaceful and not turbulent. A related word is used to describe the wife with a quiet spirit in 1 Peter 3:4. It is a life that does its best to avoid unnecessary contention and to be at peace with all men in so far as it is humanly possible.
Since this seems to be connected with their view of eschatology, maybe Paul is teaching that we are to be peaceful when sharing our views on the exact timing of the second coming.
"And to mind your own affairs"—some translate this "mind your own business." We don't really know what he was speaking to because we don't know what the issues were. He seems to be exhorting his hearers to not be a busybodies.
"And to work with your hands"—commenting on this, G.K. Beale writes, "Most agree that the problem is Christians not working to support themselves because of a mistaken belief that Christ would return within the near future. The fact that the warning against slackness in working occurs both directly before and after (5: 14) Paul's explicit teaching about Christ's final coming (4: 13—5: 11) supports this conclusion."
To work with your hands was something that slaves and artisans did (the work of the artisan was compared with that of a slave), but those of high social rank and wealth lived "knowing nothing of labor," according to Philo.
and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV
"Walk" is peripateo ("to walk") and refers to one's conduct in all the various areas of life. Paul exhorts believers to be loving, to not be busybodies, and to work hard as a testimony to their faith in Christ to outsiders. They are to walk/live properly, in other words, to live in a way that brings glory to Christ.
Now, what he's talking about here is work. In verse 12, he says, 'so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one." Work! Don't be a meddler, don't be a busybody, and don't be sticking your nose in other people's business. Attend to your own business and do your own work so that you won't be dependent on anyone.
Notice what else he says at the end of verse 11: "and to work with your hands, as we instructed you." This is a reference to the first letter, so this isn't the first time they've heard this from Paul. When he was there, he must have confronted it and commanded them about it. It was a problem from the beginning.
They apparently didn't obey it, so now, a few weeks later, he writes this letter (1 Thessalonians) to them and he says again, "You must do this as we commanded you." Now you come to 2 Thessalonians and he has to repeat it a third time. With that as a background, let's look at the text.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Yeshua the 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. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV
"We"—is the polite plural including Silas and Timothy, but in reality, it is a word from Paul the Apostle himself. He recognizes his inspiration and authority in Christ to lead and "command" (present active indicative) the church. This is not a suggestion; he is commanding them.
"In the name of our Lord Yeshua the Christ"—name is a Hebrew idiom referring to one's character or person. Paul is saying, "I am standing on Christ's authority, in the name of the Lord Yeshua the Christ, consistent with His person and work and Will."
"Keep away from"—this is a present middle infinitive, often used in Koine Greek as an imperative. Its force is: "you, yourselves, continue to keep away from." It is used in secular Greek to speak of furling the sails. You unfurl the sail, in other words, you open it up. You furl it or you roll it back in. Pull yourselves in from them, keep your distance, keep separate.
This is very strong, and what it calls for is the church to separate itself from these Christians who won't work and then depend on others to care for them. Let me say again that we don't know for sure why they won't work, but whatever their reason, it is condemned.
He is commanding the church to keep aloof from these people who won't work. Now you may be wondering how this command fits with the biblical admonition to help those people who are poor?" The solution is that Paul is not talking about people who would work but can't find work or people who don't have the physical ability to work. Their needs must be met. The people Paul is talking about refuse to work for some reason or another, and they are disorderly and insubordinate.
"Walking in idleness"—this is atakts in Greek. It's a military term which means you're out of rank, out of line, out of order, displaying disorderly conduct. But what was their out-of-order behavior? Idleness is the verbal form of the adverb "disorderly" in 3:6 and 11 and the form of the adjective "disorderly" in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. The word means "to be undisciplined" or "to live in a disorderly manner." It is used to describe those who were refusing to work. The apparent closeness of the Second Coming had caused many believers to quit the normal affairs of life. They expected to be supported by other church members. God has commanded us to work. It keeps people from being busybodies. God is serious about work. It is a means by which man does an honorable task to the glory of God and the benefit of his fellow man.
"Not in accord with the tradition that you received from us"— "Tradition" is from the Greek pardosis which means "that which is handed down or handed over." This term, pardosis, is used in several senses. Negatively, it is used in the New Testament of the teaching of the Jewish Rabbis.
Paul does not mean tradition as it is often understood in modern English in the sense of mere human customs that one can simply accept or reject. And he doesn't use it in the way the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church use it to put a great emphasis on the traditions that have been handed down from the early centuries of the faith. But often, these traditions supersede the Bible in authority.
Traditions such as doctrines like transubstantiation, the immaculate conception of Mary, praying to the saints, purgatory, and other teachings have no basis in Scripture. These churches point to verses like verse 6 in our text to justify their emphasis on church tradition.
Paul uses pardosis in our text of the teachings handed down by the apostle and his missionary team which in turn had been handed down to them by the Lord. He calls them, "tradition that you received from us." The only traditions that are valid traditions are the traditions of the word of God, the traditions of the apostles, and the apostolic traditions. The inspired word of God is our only source of spiritual truth.
In verses 7-10, Paul refers to his own example of working to provide for his own needs when he was in Thessalonica.
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 2 Thessalonians 3:7 ESV
"You ought to imitate us"—imitate is from the Greek word mimeisthai, from which we get mimic, imitate. Paul had set an example, a pattern in his own life, and he wanted it to be the pattern they would follow. Paul knew the importance of example in teaching others. He told the Corinthians that he was their father in the Gospel and then added:
I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 1 Corinthians 4:16 ESV
Why does he want believers to imitate him? It is because he is imitating Christ:
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV
Paul was imitating Christ who was the perfect image of Yahweh. Paul tells the Thessalonians:
And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 ESV
They were in a sense imitating Paul and now he tells them to imitate him in his work ethic. Paul was living out this command that he is giving believers. He was imitating Christ. Notice what he told the Philippians:
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 ESV
Basically, Paul is saying, "Do what I do." Can you say to others, "Follow me as I follow Christ"? The constant call to the Christian is to be like Yahweh. It is Yahweh's purpose that each of us reflect the image of our Father. Teaching by the example of a person's life was well known in antiquity.
"We were not idle when we were with you"—We have set the pattern, follow us. This is the heart of his leadership. He's saying, "Just follow the pattern we set, just follow the model, the example."
nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:8 ESV
"Nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it"—is a Hebrew idiom. Paul, like all rabbis, worked for his daily needs.
"But with toil and labor we worked night and day"—"toil" is the Greek kopos which refers to "laborious toil, trouble, difficulty." And "labor" is mochthos which, according to Strong's Concordance, is toil, that is, (by implication) sadness: - painfulness, travail. It refers to the kind of labor that is a genuine hardship. These are strong synonymous terms which are often combined together. They simply speak of hard and exhausting labor.
Greek society designated labor as only for slaves. Paul, being a Jew, respected manual labor and continually encouraged it.
"Night and day"—this is an idiom meaning "worked full time," not literally 24 hours a day. Paul is referring to the fact that he worked hard making tents (Acts 18:1-4) so that he didn't have to take any support from the Thessalonians while he was planting the church there.
It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 2 Thessalonians 3:9 ESV
"It was not because we do not have that right"—the truth is he absolutely has a right to be supported. As an apostle and a preacher, he was really entitled to full support. I feel kind of self-serving in teaching this, but this is what the Scripture says. Paul was affirming the concept that believers should support their leaders.
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? 1 Corinthians 9:7 ESV
Nobody serves as a soldier at his own expense. The government pays him. "Who plants a vineyard and doesn't eat the fruit of it?" Nobody. If you're going to plant the vineyard, it's so that you can have the benefit. "Who tends a flock and doesn't use the milk of the flock?" No one.
Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 1 Corinthians 9:8-9 ESV
Doesn't God also say this? Isn't it written in the law of Moses, "you shall not muzzle the ox while he's threshing?" That's a proverbial way of saying that we are to feed the one who serves. God isn't really just concerned about oxen. Is He? No. He's concerned about men. When someone serves, meet his needs.
If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? 1 Corinthians 9:11 ESV
Bible teachers should get paid from those they teach.
Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 ESV
This was the standard, but Paul set aside this right to provide an example to these new believers and to squelch any accusations that he was preaching the gospel to bilk people out of their money. In 1 Timothy, Paul tells churches to support elders who work hard at preaching and teaching.
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves his wages." 1 Timothy 5:17-18 ESV
John also encourages churches to support missionaries and evangelists (3 John 5-8). So, there's nothing wrong with a Christian worker receiving support. In fact, someone who is teaching you the Word should be supported by you.
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Galatians 6:6 ESV
But for Paul there were times in his ministry when he refused to receive anything gratis, but he insisted on working. It wasn't that he didn't deserve it, he says that in verse 9, he had a right to it, but it was that he was trying to dignify work. He didn't want anyone saying, "Well, after all, all Paul does is preach and teach and study, he doesn't work."
So, in order to waylay such criticism here in Thessalonica, when he was there, he worked. Now, of course, there was nobody there to support him when he arrived anyway because there was no church, but he set an example. Paul did receive funding from another church while he was in Thessalonica.
Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Philippians 4:16 ESV
And according to Acts 18, he also made tents or, literally, was a leather worker. He worked with hides. He had a task that he knew how to do. He had a trade that he was skilled in, and so he said, "Look, I gave you an example. I didn't want you to be confused about it, it was a big issue, so I set you an example.
For 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 ESV
"For even when we were with you, we would give you this command"—this is an imperfect active indicative, which in context must mean that Paul had told them over and over when he was with them. This command was not new information. As I said earlier this is the third time, he is telling them this, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat"— this is a present active indicative followed by a present active imperative. This is the point of the entire chapter. That's an axiom that was a Pauline tradition. That was a divine, authoritative, revealed truth. If you don't work, you don't eat. What is God's cure for laziness—hunger.
The Didache, a second-century book of church order (Did. 12:1–5) says that if a traveler comes, the church may help him for a few days, "And if he wishes to settle among you and has a craft, let him work for his bread" (12:3). The church should reject anyone who is unwilling to work (12:4).
2 Thessalonians 3:10 was quoted by Captain John Smith in the early years of Jamestown Virginia. His order was: "He that will not worke, shall not eate." Captain John Smith was instrumental in the survival of Jamestown colony. He insisted that all colonists work on producing food if they were to eat. He implemented a policy that required every colonist to contribute to growing crops.
In March of 2017 Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-Tex.) cited 2 Thessalonians 3:10 to justify changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. He questioned the strength of current work requirements.
The sad thing is that in our day God's cure for laziness is short circuited by our government which gives away our money to those who refuse to work. So, we are forced to feed the lazy. We are forced by our government to violate this verse.
But God's Word makes it clear that: If someone won't work, let him go hungry. If you don't work, you can't eat. In fact, the apostle Paul said if anybody doesn't provide not only for himself but his family, he's worse than an unbeliever because even unbelievers do that.
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8 ESV
What he was saying was even unbelievers work, make provision for their own. Worse than an unbeliever, that strong.
What about women?" The biblical pattern is that men should support their families financially, while women are to be "workers at home." Paul told the older women to teach the younger women,
to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Titus 2:5 ESV
Yes, this is radically countercultural! Married women may help contribute to the family's income (Proverbs 31), but when there are young children in the home, her work should not hinder her from raising them in the Lord. When you live contrary to these things, you cause the Word of God to be reviled.
"We would give you this command"—ignorance was not their problem. They knew this. He had told it to them over and over. He taught them this when he established the church, he wrote about it in the first letter, chapter 4 verse 11, chapter 5 verse 14. They didn't have a problem of ignorance.
This command is addresses a lifestyle inactivity, not temporary unemployment. We must balance this with Paul's other letters on his care for the poor.
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. Romans 15:26 ESV
This command, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" can be understood as not feeding those who refused to work.
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 2 Thessalonians 3:11 ESV
"We hear"—is a present active indicative, which is literally "keep hearing."
"You walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies"—This is a play in the Greek text on the word "work" — "idleness (epgazomenous), but not busy at work (periergazomenous)." Their "work" had become interfering with everyone else's business (work). Literally, in the Greek it's a play on words and actually says, "Not busy but busybodies."
"You walk in idleness"—the word means "to be undisciplined" or "to live in a disorderly manner" and is used to describe those who do were refusing to work.
Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Yeshua the Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 2 Thessalonians 3:12 ESV
"Now such persons we command"—that's very strong—"and encourage"—that's more compassionate, parakale, the paraclete, the comforter. So, it's both commanding and comforting, it's a command with some compassion in it. "We command and exhort in the Lord Yeshua the Christ"—that is, those of you who are in Christ, within the family of God, the idea being emphasized here "in Christ."
"Earn their own living"—this is an idiom which means to support yourself with your own labor.
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV
"But as for you, brethren"—this is addressed to those who are working. Those of you that are having to help the people who are not working.
"Do not grow weary in doing good"—the potential was they would become so tired of these deadbeats, they'd become so fed up with giving this money and this charity to these lazy people, that they would become very weary of the whole process, and then when somebody came with a real need, they would be indifferent to it.
The assumption is they were weary of taking care of these people who should have been taking care of themselves, and he says don't let your weariness translate over to weariness in doing what you really should do, doing what is good. Kalos is the term for "doing good." It means what is perceived by others to be noble, so says Milligan in his lexicon. What is perceived to be noble.
Paul brings these two ideas together in Galatians 6:9–10 where in v. 9 he makes the same appeal as in the present verse:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10 ESV
In Acts chapter 20 Paul says,
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Yeshua, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Acts 20:35 ESV
And even in the letter to the Galatians chapter 2 and verse 10, he says,
Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. Galatians 2:10 ESV
Who asked him? The church at Jerusalem, the leaders there, John, Peter, James, Barnabas. We remember the poor.
There may be single parents who do everything they can, who try hard, and they work as hard as they can, but they still can't make ends meet. There may be people who have physical disabilities and consequently they have needs. So, he says, "Don't you get weary in doing what is really good for people who genuinely have need."
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 2 Thessalonians 3:14 ESV
"Take note of that person"—this is literally "tag" or "mark." This is a metaphor of "taking notice of" mentally.
"Have nothing to do with him"—this is a present middle (deponent) infinitive used in an imperative sense. This is the same as "draw back from" of verse 6.
"That he may be ashamed"—many Middle Eastern cultures today are still honor and shame based. An honor culture is characterized by a complex set of beliefs, attitudes, and norms about the importance of personal reputation, and the necessity of protecting and defending one's reputation and social image. But in our Western world today, the concepts of honor and shame are not so strong. The ostracized person would just go find another church to hit up for money.
Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3:15 ESV
The apostle warns the church in Thessalonica not to express hostility toward the disorderly, attacking them because of their lack of conformity to the norms of the group. He exhorts, "Do not regard him as an enemy"—means "not as one who is opposed to Christ." He is not an enemy, he is a brother.
"But warn him as a brother"—"warn" is the Greek word noutheteo which means to strongly encourage, correct, or warn someone to change from behavior that is wrong or potentially wrong according to Scripture. Noutheteo is a present imperative and can be translated keep on warning. The aim of all church discipline must be repentance followed by restoration.
Jay Adams has a book on biblical counseling (Competent to Counsel) that is based on the Greek word noutheteo. All believers are responsible to admonish those who are leading an undisciplined, disorderly life.