“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).
Idle Christians can do tremendous damage to the church and in the community. They do not work. They do not pay for their own food. They are not busy. They are busybodies. The problem is so serious that Paul uses some strong language to warn the church about the problem of idle busybodies. These strong words need to be read in context. They are written to address the problem of idleness (some treat these words as though they were directed at people who did not hold to “sound doctrine” or more accurately, the accepted traditions of the church). Read them in context.
- The church is commanded to keep away from the idle (3:6)
- The rule is: if a man will not work, he shall not eat (3:10)
- The idle are commanded to settle down and earn their bread (3:12)
- Do not associate with those who refuse the instruction (3:14)
- The church is to warn the idle one as a brother (3:15)
But Paul did more than use strong language to address the situation. Paul and his team confronted the situation by setting an example of hard work. They were busy laboring and toiling. They did not seek to burden anyone by eating food when they were not working. Paul makes it clear they had every right to expect support from the church, but they gave up that right because the situation with idle busybodies demanded it.
The church has always had to face difficult problems involving the behavior of members and the effects that behavior can have on the church and the community. Imagine the courage it must have taken to look a fellow Christian in the eye and say, “If you are not going to work, you are not going to eat.” Who wants to sign up to be the deacon in charge of that program?
Are we willing to address dangerous situations with strong words? Are we willing to back up our words with an exemplary lifestyle? Would ministers be willing to give up their God-given right to pay if the situation demanded it? Perhaps the first step for paid ministers to take in order to live an exemplary life would be to work honestly for their food at their job. Labor and toil. Night and day. Not looking to take advantage of people for financial gain. Not becoming a burden to the church. Not expecting a level of dedication from “volunteer ministry helpers” beyond what they are willing to give of themselves even though they are “paid staff.” Truth is, I have seen some paid ministers who were less dedicated to their ministry than the volunteers who helped them. Is that the example Paul is looking for?
People are to work to earn a living. Ministers are to be an example of industry. The church is to address the serious problem of idle busybodies. This is the teaching of the church. Are we living according to the teaching?