“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
At first sight this command appears to be very harsh, but we must view it in light of Paul’s previous statements regarding church discipline. It is certainly not a suggestion that unruly believers be starved into submission; instead it is a continuation of the apostle’s teaching on who ought to be refused fellowship. We cannot support those who refuse to help themselves. , “Do not maintain him in idleness” (John Wesley).
There must have been many Christians in Thessalonica who were suffering deprivation as well as persecution for the Gospel’s sake. No doubt they were forced out of any employment they had simply because they trusted in Christ. The early church made provision for such people. It was no earthly government that invented social security, for it originated with God. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
Paul’s phrase “would not work” can be literally translated as “wills not to work”, so he is dealing with those who are lazy and are happy to take the handouts others have worked hard to provide. This makes sense because even our own government are trying to stop the work-shy from receiving benefits. “Let him who will not work show himself an angel, that is, do without food as the angels do, but since he cannot do without food, then he ought to be not unwilling to work” (Johann Albrecht Bengel).
Sowing and reaping
From Creation it has been set in stone that a person only reaps what he sows. God provided everything Adam needed but still expected him to work. “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Work is not just a Protestant Ethic; it is God’s ethic, for He immediately gave Adam, the first man, something to do. In other words, he had to earn his living. He was made to see that a man only reaps what he sows. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7) … “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Also, in light of the Fall, laziness is man’s attempt to break free of the curse. “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
Therefore the one who refuses to sow does not deserve to reap anything. Neither does he have cause for complaint if he refuses to labour with his own hands and goes hungry. He cannot expect to live on the charity of others for ever. “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat … The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing … I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 13:4, 20:4, 24:30-35).
The lazy person who refuses to work is actually doing the Devil’s work. “The Devil finds work for idle hands to do” (Anon). This saying was incorporated in a hymn for children by Isaac Watts, “In works of labour or of skill I would be busy too: For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” In our following studies this saying will be proven true. Paul’s teaching is encapsulated in that of King Solomon when he wrote, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 6:6-11).