Laziness is a problem with our generation. From both a charity and personal level, how do we deal with it? How do we overcome it in our lives? And what do we do when others refuse to work but demand charity? Paul the apostle has some guidance, but it’s not what you would expect.
Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6–18. Reflect on 2 Thessalonians 3:6:
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus 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” (ESV).
When Paul refers to “the tradition” here, he is primarily referencing his views on the gospel (see 1 Thessalonians 2:8). For Paul, the gospel requires that we live self-sacrificially.
Idleness has no place in a self-sacrificial life. If we are purely depending on others—while not working ourselves—we are not representing Jesus. Paul is not ruling out here the possibility that some people are called into full-time ministry; at times, he himself depended on the donations of others so he could spread the gospel (see Romans 15:28; 2 Corinthians 1:16). That’s work too. Instead, Paul is saying that an abuse of charity out of laziness is an absurdity. It is theologically indefensible.
The problem Paul is addressing is rooted in theological confusion. By “the tradition” Paul also seems to be referencing his teachings on Jesus’ return. Paul had formerly told the Thessalonians what must take place before Jesus’ return (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4; compare 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:2). Yet falsehoods had crept into the church and several people had become theologically misguided. Some people even falsely believed that Jesus had already returned (2 Thessalonians 2:1–2).
It seems that under the false belief that Jesus had already returned, a group of people in the church had stopped working altogether. It could also be that they had decided it was easier to live off the charity of others and so excused their laziness, appealing to misguided theology. They could have said things like, “Jesus will return soon (or already has), so what’s the point in working?” Or “The wealthy in the church can provide for my needs, why should I work?”
Whatever the case may be, it seems to me that we experience the same problems today. We have people who have job opportunities—and can work—but refuse to work. In a Christian context, we should carefully consider Paul’s words. Perhaps they offer us some guidance?
Paul understood that by refusing to condone laziness that the church could ultimately (and lovingly) bring people back to a right theology of work.
For these reasons, Paul tells the Christians at Thessalonica to distance themselves from people who choose to live idly or oppose the traditions he represents. Idleness does not represent Jesus; self-sacrifice represents Jesus.
In what ways can Paul’s views guide modern charity? How can we those capable of working find profitable jobs? Drop me a comment, I would love to hear from you.
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