Warnings against Laziness
6My dear friends, in the name of the Lord Jesus, I beg you not to have anything to do with any of your people who loaf around and refuse to obey the instructions we gave you. 7You surely know that you should follow our example. We didn't waste our time loafing, 8and we didn't accept food from anyone without paying for it. We didn't want to be a burden to any of you, so night and day we worked as hard as we could.
9We had the right not to work, but we wanted to set an example for you. 10We also gave you this rule: If you don't work, you don't eat. 11Now we learn that some of you just loaf around and won't do any work, except the work of a busybody. 12So, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask and beg these people to settle down and start working for a living. 13Dear friends, you must never become tired of doing right.
14Be on your guard against any followers who refuse to obey what we have written in this letter. Put them to shame by not having anything to do with them. 15Don't consider them your enemies. Instead, speak kindly to them as you would to any other follower.
16I pray that the Lord, who gives peace, will always bless you with peace. May the Lord be with all of you.
17I always sign my letters as I am now doing: PAUL.
18I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to all of you.
This section would be easier to understand if we knew more of what was going on. Paul refers back to what he told the Thessalonians when he was with them, and then to what he had heard since then. But what exactly was it that they were doing? (The word translated “loafing” in the CEV (v 7) has two meanings in Greek, “idle” and “disruptive,” and the NIV gives both of them.) There is the implication that somehow they were living in community – how else could he require that those who didn’t work shouldn’t eat?
Differences in our culture makes Paul’s remedy inappropriate today. Avoiding people who behave badly doesn’t have the same effect when they can just join the next church down the road. And it no longer holds that if people are shunned they will be ashamed. Shame – or rather the avoidance of it – is no longer the powerful motivator that it was in Paul’s culture.
With all that said, we can discern at least something of Paul’s point. He emphasizes how he set them an example in working hard, presumably in his job as a tent maker (see Acts 18:3), so that he would not be a burden to anyone.
You have probably had the experience of working on a group project where a few people do all the work and others take no responsibility. You know how frustrating that is. (And conversely, what a joy it is when everyone takes part, doing whatever they do best, and something good is accomplished.) There is surely work for everyone in the church and in the wider community. And there is no place for disruptive behaviour.
Father, show me where I can best use the gifts you have given me. Make me a cheerful worker and a good team player. Amen.