2Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, 2 and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will go on doing the things that we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.6 Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, 8 and we did not eat anyone's bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. 9 This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 11 For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13 Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. 14 Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so that they may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers. 16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you. 17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you.
Paul writes to reprimand Christian people who “are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work”. He noted that he has set an example of toil and labour , and encouraged those who follow Jesus to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. He also asked those who chose to emulate him to shun those who would not work. Mariam Kamell notes:“Verse 11 gives us one of Paul’s fun plays on words that help us realize his rhetorical brilliance. These disruptive ones will not “work” (ergazomenous), instead they work mischief (periergazomenous), building the counter to the positive of what they should be doing”.
So what do we make of all this?
Many have used this passage to condemn those who are assisted by welfare grants. Many, many politicians who want to cut welfare budgets have quoted the following words as their justification: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” This is not what this passage is about – and is an abuse of this text. Instead, this is about those who should and can work but refuse to do so, and instead cause chaos in the community.
Jesus’ people are not the leeches and parasites of society: we are to work harder than anyone else, using our skills and strength to earn our own living. In this way the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere.
Ordinary 33 / Pentecost +26
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 335.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.