“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
One Biblical scholar identifies two important characteristics associated with 2 Thessalonians 3:10. First, the grammatical structure of this passage in the original language indicates that “He who does not work shall not eat” (TLB) was something that was already familiar to the congregation at Thessalonica. In fact, this verse implies that Paul the Apostle mentioned this repeatedly during his time with them. Next, this command was not theoretical in nature; there were individuals within this church who simply refused to work. (1)
So much like the mechanic who must continue to repair a device that will not stay fixed, Paul was forced to continue to address this problem among the Thessalonians. While this may have been challenging for Paul, we can benefit from their recalcitrance with a few observations from this passage.
First, it’s important to note what this text doesn’t say. For instance, this passage does not address those who legitimately cannot work. Nor does it apply to those who are temporarily unemployed, people who are experiencing short-term financial difficulties, the elderly, the disabled, children, or those unfortunate individuals who have been financially devastated by an unforeseen circumstance. Instead, this passage applies to those who will not work.
“Those who will not work” encompasses people who have made a conscious decision to avoid seeking employment in favor of some other form of support. This might involve a direct solicitation, an emotional and/or manipulative appeal, or an attempt to gain favor with other individuals who are capable of supporting their desired lifestyle. Even those who possess little wealth may face similar pressures from family members, friends, and/or others. In these instances, the words of 2 Thessalonians 3:10 serve as an important guideline: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” (NET).
Admittedly, it may be challenging to engage with those who fall into this category. This is especially true in dealing with those who are skilled in the art of emotional manipulation. On one hand, we may wish to support such individuals simply as a way to avoid conflict, alleviate a sense of guilt, or simply feel better about ourselves. On the other hand, this passage does not justify coldness, rudeness, indiscriminate rejection, or disinterest in the legitimate needs of others.
Instead of following those inappropriate extremes, we can use this passage as a guide to prayerfully determine what is best for others in such instances. We’ll consider an example where such support is warranted and see what we can learn from it next.
(1) See Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, [2 Thessalonians 3:10] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_03.html