You can listen to the accompanying podcast here.
Last week we saw that Paul didn’t just talk about living an authentic Christian life, he demonstrated it. He and the others were an example to the Thessalonians. Jesus Christ and His Word did such a work in their lives that they became examples to others. Paul wanted the Thessalonians to follow him and we know contextually, Paul was referring to everyone, but particularly people who were unwilling to work.
We’re looking at 2 Thes. 3:9-10 today, but for the sake of context go back to v. 7.
What was Paul’s motive? Paul continues the thought from the previous verse and issues a negative statement. “Not because we do not have the right to this.” There is much talk over rights in the news. The Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution are the first ten amendments to the Constitution and all speak to individual rights. There was the Civil Rights movement. There are human rights and women’s rights. There are Miranda rights and gay rights. There are some that think healthcare is a right.
So what is Paul talking about? He’s talking about the right to expect some support from the church. Just to be clear, there is no evidence in Scripture to support the idea that the Thessalonian church gave Paul financial support. But he had a right to receive support because of who he was. 1 Cor. 9 details the rights Paul and the rights the other apostles have because of their position. Specifically look at 1 Cor. 9:1-7. 1 Tim. 5:18 says, “For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” Gal. 6:6 says, “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.” It is completely right and acceptable to financially compensate the leaders that labor and toil in the work of the ministry.
So Paul’s motive for not accepting compensation is honorable and he insists that we follow their example. Even though they had the authority to exercise the right to receive compensation, the missionaries to Thessalonica did not. These guys worked long and hard days, “In order to offer ourselves as a model for you,” v. 9 says. Model comes from the word that means a three dimensional representation of a person or thing. What a great word. They engaged in physical manual labor in order to provide a model for the church to follow. They offered themselves as a model, but Paul doesn’t stop there. He expects that the Thessalonians would, “Follow our example.” That seems simple enough doesn’t it? Example comes from the Greek word that means mimic. Paul wants the church to mimic the model that he has set forth. He worked hard so that he wouldn’t be a financial burden to the church even though he had the authority and right to do so. They didn’t just talk about how people should act; they demonstrated what that should look like. Paul understood that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and he was willing to work day and night to support himself.
When you are hired on for a new job you should be presented with a list of expectations for your position. When you get married, there are certain expectations each spouse has for the marriage. When you have children, there are certain expectations that must be met. What does Paul expect of the Thessalonians? He reminded them of his lifestyle and his work ethic saying in v. 10, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order.” He refreshes everyone’s memory and now he makes sure everyone understands exactly what he is saying. The rest of v. 10 says, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
Let’s make sure we understand what Paul is saying. If you’re able to work and just don’t want to, the consequence is that you shouldn’t get to eat. Paul is not talking about people that want to work but can’t for various reasons like injury, sickness, or they can’t find a job. Paul is talking about the lazy people; the people who would rather lounge around living off of the fruit of someone else’s labor. Don’t think he’s being too harsh. Paul worked day and night in order to provide for himself. He was willing to do what was necessary to enable him to continue teaching and discipling these people. Remember this is coming on the heels of the encouragement in v. 4 when he says you’re doing what we commanded you to do and we want you to continue doing so. He also said in v. 6 to stay away from unruly brothers; people who were out of synch with the local church. So the idea of not eating because you don’t want to work is not something that should take us by surprise. The incentive is that the idle, lazy person will want to start working because he’s hungry.
As Christians today, is there any parallel to what Paul said almost 2000 years ago? What should be expected of us? The application is the same; if you don’t want to work as a habit of life, then you shouldn’t be allowed to sponge off of the generosity of others. Society is quickly moving to a place where more and more people are dependent upon the government to live. As Christians, we should be different.
Paul didn’t just talk about working hard, he demonstrated his work ethic and he expected the Thessalonians to work hard too and not put up with people who were able to work, but didn’t want to. We need to be careful about who we help, individually, and as a church. If someone’s not willing to work, they shouldn’t be able to eat. Paul will continue this theme in the next couple of verses so you can read ahead to see how he closes out this letter. We’re getting close to the end, but Paul still has some good things for us that we’ll look at in the next couple of weeks.