If a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat! We often use this thought, taken from II Thessalonians 3:10, to justify our refusal to provide benevolent help to certain ones who may be in need. Is this really the point of this verse?
Let’s look at this verse in its context. “7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” (II Thessalonians 3:7-15.)
First, from verse 7, Paul stated his conduct among the Thessalonians was blameless. Paul said he had not acted disorderly. The word Paul used in his writing, translated disorderly, was a military term, meaning “not keeping rank” or “insubordinate.”
Next, from verse eight, Paul did not eat anyone’s bread for nought, meaning free of charge. The ESV translates this, “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it.” Paul labored with travail, or painful effort, night and day. Paul did so in order that he would not be chargeable to any of those at Thessalonica, meaning he would not be a burden to them.
From verse nine, Paul certainly had power, or authority, to be supported in his work. But, as a result of his laboring among the church at Thessalonica, Paul became an example for others to follow.
From verses ten through twelve, we know that when Paul was previously with the church at Thessalonica, he had commanded them that, if any would not work, neither should he eat. Paul had received news that there were some in Thessalonica who were walking disorderly, out of rank or insubordinate, in that they did not work at all and were busybodies. Evidently, there were some in Thessalonica who expected Christ to come very soon (II Thessalonians 2:1-3). They chose to quit working and fell into a state of laziness, idling biding the time as they waited for the return of Christ. In verse twelve, Paul repeated the thought that they should work and quietly be about their own business.
From verses fourteen through fifteen, if any man did not obey the commandment to work, the church was to note that man, meaning they were to mark him and take cautionary note of the one who refused to obey. They were to have no company with him, that he might be ashamed. They were not to count him as an enemy, but rather admonish him as a brother.
Did you notice Paul’s comments in verse fifteen? They were to admonish him “as a brother.” It is obvious the man who refused to work was a Christian. A member of the church at Thessalonica. Paul’s admonition to “have no company with him” could not apply to someone in the world, living outside the body of Christ. The thrust of II Thessalonians 3:7-5 is not the need for man to work. The principal concern of the passage deals with the church’s responsibility to withdraw from fellow Christians who refuse to work
Obviously, God expects man to support himself through his work. God has always expected man to labor. Beginning with the creation of Adam, God has expected man to work and be productive (Genesis 2:15). Paul taught that man is to work with his hands, not only to provide for his own needs but to provide for others who were in need (Ephesians 4:28).
My advice to those who go down the path of deciding whose is worthy of help and who is not is this – proceed with caution! But some will be quick to say, “We are to be good stewards of that which God has placed in our hands!” Of course, we are! But, in light of the fact that everything we have is a blessing God has placed in our hands, and over which we are not owners, but mere stewards, we ought to think long and hard before we decide to withhold those blessings from others.
Whom of us is deserving of all that which we have been blessed? I’m thankful that God has blessed me in spite of my “bad habits” and those times in which I may not have “given my best effort” to life’s endeavors. It is interesting that God makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends his rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). The unjust are those who do not conform their lives to what is right – yet God sends them his blessings!
Does II Thessalonians 3:7-15 apply to all those who refuse to work, including those within and without the Lord’s church? Perhaps. We’ll leave that discussion for another day. But for now, let’s remember this – never take a passage out of its context to justify why we do, or don’t do, what God has commanded!