If Anyone Will Not Work, Let Him Not Eat
In the previous two articles we looked at some helpful insights from Tim Keller and Wayne Grudem. I want to follow up on that with some comments of my own concerning those who can work but for whatever reason choose not to. Continue reading . . .
In the previous two articles we looked at some helpful insights from Tim Keller and Wayne Grudem. I want to follow up on that with some comments of my own concerning those who can work but for whatever reason choose not to.
Many choose to remain unemployed rather than do work they believe is beneath them. This is sinful. Consider Paul’s counsel in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 –
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess. 3:10-12).
Clearly there was a problem in the church at Thessalonica. Perhaps some in the church had become so obsessed and preoccupied with the possibility of Christ’s soon return that they quit their jobs and, although healthy and able to work, refused to support themselves and their families. Instead, they became “busybodies,” squandering time while meddling in the affairs of other people, making it almost impossible for them to get their work done, all in the name of being spiritual and zealous about the second coming of Jesus. They also likely expected, indeed sinfully presumed, that others would supply their needs and feed their families while they were off somewhere engaged in more “spiritual” activity.
Paul’s command is to the point: If they are able to work, but unwilling, don’t let them eat. In other words, don’t support them out of a false sense of love and charity; otherwise you will only encourage their sloth and laziness.
Paul clearly has in mind those who are “not willing to work.” He’s not talking about the man or woman who is unable to work. There are a number of reasons why a person who is willing to work might not be employed. He/she may be suffering from some physical illness or disability that makes work impossible at the moment. Others may want to work and wish they could but for reasons beyond their control there simply isn’t a job available. Economic depression may be the reason for their failure to work. They are looking for work and would be quick to take whatever job might come their way, but the times are tough and nothing is available. Or someone may be in between jobs. The promise of employment is there but there is a time gap through which they remain unemployed. Neither Paul nor any other author of Scripture is condemning such individuals. So, if you are unemployed through no fault of your own, please don’t take offense.
What Paul has in mind is the man or woman who is physically and mentally capable of working and supporting themselves and their families but refuses to do so. This person is always making lame and baseless excuses why they aren’t working. This is the sort of person who is, for lack of a better way of putting it, sinfully slothful (i.e., lazy). This is the person who also would try to excuse their sloth by portraying themselves as super spiritual and devoted to doing the Lord’s work when it comes their way.
What, then, is Paul’s counsel to us?
“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” (Col. 3:22-23).
This passage refers to people who didn’t work on the basis of principle: an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage. They only worked when the boss’s eye was upon them, when they knew he was watching. Paul is saying that no Christian should behave that way. You work hard because that is what godliness requires of you, regardless of who is or is not around to keep an eye on your performance.