Some in the church at Thessalonica who were able to work apparently chose not to do so. Instead, they expected others to provide for their physical needs.
In addressing this issue, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in that city, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly …” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 1 Thessalonians 5:14Now we exhort you, brothers, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
American King James Version×). The Greek word for unruly is ataktos. This word “was especially a military term, denoting ‘not keeping rank, insubordinate’; it is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 1 Thessalonians 5:14Now we exhort you, brothers, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
American King James Version×, describing certain church members who manifested an insubordinate spirit, whether by excitability or officiousness or idleness” ( Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, “Disorderly”).
Being idle or lazy is not in step with God’s expectations of our behavior. In Paul’s second letter to this same congregation, he again addressed this situation: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly [ ataktos ] and not according to the tradition which he received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly [another form of the same word] among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-9 2 Thessalonians 3:6-9 6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
7 For yourselves know how you ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing; but worked with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample to you to follow us.
American King James Version×).
Paul, to show that his motives were pure and to avoid being accused of taking advantage of the members in Thessalonica, cited his own example of having worked to support himself when he was in the area earlier. Although he had the right to be supported by them in exchange for teaching and leading them in God’s way (1 Corinthians 9:1-18 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 1 Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not you my work in the Lord?
2 If I be not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of my apostleship are you in the Lord.
3 My answer to them that do examine me is this,
4 Have we not power to eat and to drink?
5 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
6 Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working?
7 Who goes a warfare any time at his own charges? who plants a vineyard, and eats not of the fruit thereof? or who feeds a flock, and eats not of the milk of the flock?
8 Say I these things as a man? or said not the law the same also?
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, You shall not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treads out the corn. Does God take care for oxen?
10 Or said he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that plows should plow in hope; and that he that threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope.
11 If we have sown to you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
12 If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.
13 Do you not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
14 Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
15 But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done to me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.
16 For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid on me; yes, woe is to me, if I preach not the gospel!
17 For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed to me.
18 What is my reward then? Truly that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.
American King James Version×), he chose not to.
Paul continued: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
American King James Version×).
Since other biblical instruction calls for helping the needy (Matthew 19:21 Matthew 19:21Jesus said to him, If you will be perfect, go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
American King James Version×; Galatians 2:10 Galatians 2:10Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.
American King James Version×), Paul is obviously correcting those who were able to work but chose not to do so. If we are able, God expects us to work so we can provide for our own needs and not unnecessarily burden others.