Idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:6–15)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

Idleness Is a Matter for the Christian Community, Not Just the Individual

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The words of 2 Thessalonians 3:10 are critical. “If anyone is not will­ing to work, neither should he eat.” God regards shirking work as a grave offense, so grave that the church is called to correct its idle members. Paul exhorts the church to “warn” those dodging their obligation to work (1 Thess. 5:14) and issues a “command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–15 that the church impose disciplinary measures on the offending brothers. The discipline is relatively harsh, which underscores that idleness was no minor foible in Paul’s assess­ment. The church is called upon to “disassociate from” those who shirk their responsibility to work, presumably meaning that they are to avoid including them when they gather together in Christian fellowship. The intention was, of course, to induce a short, sharp shock in the offending brothers by alienating them, and thereby bring them back into line.

Idleness Leads to Mischief

The negative consequences of shirking work go beyond the burden placed on others. Those who evade work often end up spending their time on unwholesome pursuits. Paul’s exhortation of the Thessalonian manual laborers “to aspire to lead a quiet life” and “to attend to [their] own busi­ness” (1 Thess. 4:11) hints at what 2 Thessalonians 3:11 states explicitly, “We hear that some among you are living in a disorderly manner, not doing their own work but being busybodies.” The Greek word periergazomai (“busybodies”) refers to meddling in other people’s affairs.[1] A similar thought is expressed by Paul in 1 Timothy 5:13, where Paul says of younger widows being supported by the church that “they are not only lazy, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things they should not.” It seems that the Thessalonian idlers were interfering in other people’s business and being argumentative. Idleness breeds trouble.

Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2 vols. (New York: UBS, 1988), §88.243; Horst Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, 3 vols., trans. J. W. Medendorp and Douglas W. Scott (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990–93), 3:73.