In any group of people, there are those who do so much more than the others. On the other hand, there are also those in the group who do much less and become a burden to the remainder. When Paul came to bring the gospel message to the people in Thessalonica, he was determined not to be a burden on them but to set them an example of disciplined living that made no extra demand on those in that place.
In this epistle, he warns against idleness and suggests that those who are idle should not be encouraged in their idleness. The believers might even need to separate themselves from those who were not willing to fend for themselves. He also went on to address the idle “busybodies” and commanded them to earn their own living.
Warning Against Idleness. Verse 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.“ [Note 1].
Paul’s command here is quite strong. It is “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, this was God’s will for them, not to be idle. It was also contrary to the teaching Paul had left with them. The slackers, having been once warned and failing to heed that warning meant that the faithful believers should go to the next stage of discipline and cease to have contact with them. This was to make them realise the loss they were experiencing in not having fellowship and to motivate them to change for the better.
Paul went on in his letter to remind his readers of the good tradition he had set for the believers in Thessalonica which they needed to follow.
The Example Of The Good Tradition Paul Set. Verses 7- 9
Paul had set a good example of working faithfully
7 “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you.”
Paul was self-sufficient and catered for his own needs.
8 “nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labour we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.”
Paul deliberately gave up his own personal rights to set a good example for them
9 “It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an
example to imitate.”
Jesus had instructed His disciples to receive material support for their ministry in sharing the gospel when it was offered to them. “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire.” Luke 10:7.
Paul had followed that instruction by noting that the labourer was deserving of his wages,“For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The labourer deserves his wages.”1 Timothy 5:18. So it was Paul’s deliberate decision not to impose any burden on the believers in Thessalonica, even though he had a God-given right to do so. Now they should not support those who were not fending for themselves and thus placing burdens on them.
Discipline Is Hard But Necessary. Verses 10- 13
Paul obviously saw that the church in Thessalonica had a serious problem. He had previously taught them that those who failed to work should not be supported, 10 “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Later it seemed that some in Thessalonica had not followed Paul’s teaching and had chosen to be idle, 11 “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” [Note 2].
Commands For The Whole Church In Thessalonica
Paul finishes this portion of his letter with commands both to the idle and to the faithful. To the idle he wrote, “Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” This gave the busybodies another chance to repent of their idleness and to become productive so that they ceased to be a burden on their fellow believers.
But Paul also had an encouraging word for the faithful believers, 13 “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” They had been doing good but they needed to continue to do good. One of the possible problems in the church is when the faithful folk have been doing more than their share of the tasks that face them are tempted to slacken off like some of the lax folk around them. God’s people need to be disciplined knowing they are working for the Lord and not just for themselves or for fellow humans. It is to be doing His will to His glory.
It is probably true that in many parts of the world, the church is composed of the faithful and also of those who are more lackadaisical in their lives. But the church can only function properly when every member is playing their part and not some leaving it to others to fill in when they slacken off.
The commands in Paul’s letter give a great example that churches and indeed individuals should follow in their Christian experience. As Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.“ Colossians 3:23-24.
What a privilege it is to know that we are serving Christ as we live and work for Him. But always with privilege comes responsibility. What a difference it would make in the world if we as believers, were to always be conscious of our privileges as saved, redeemed people and fulfil our God-given responsibilities in serving the Lord Christ in ways that bring Him joy and exalt His name!
[Note 1]. “Idleness” is an adverb from [ataktōs; ἀτάκτως] derived from [a] privative meaning the opposite and [tassō; τάσσω] meaning to arrange in an orderly manner. So they were leading disorderly lives instead of being responsible.
[Note 2]. “Busybodies.” This is from [periergazomai; περιεργάζομαι] derived from [peri] meaning “around’ and [ergazomai] meaning to work or perform. It appears to mean walking about, being busy but accomplishing nothing.