Paul addresses the matter of working to make a living in both 1 and 2 Thessalonians. In the first letter, he urged his readers to work to meet their own needs as part of their testimony for Christ (1 Thess 4:10–12). In the second letter, Paul commanded his readers to distance themselves from the persistently lazy, repeated his command to work, and reminded his readers of his example in this matter (2 Thess 3:6–15).
Paul: An Example of Working Hard
Focusing on Paul’s example, we remember that his entire life was worth imitating because he imitated Christ (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17; 2 Tim 3:10, 14). An exemplary life is required of every spiritual leader (1 Tim 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 5:2).
Part of Paul’s godly life was his excellent ethic for work. A tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:3), Paul regularly worked to support his needs as he traveled on his missionary endeavors (Acts 20:34; 1 Cor 4:12). More than that, he intentionally chose not to ask for compensation for his missionary labors. He could have asked for compensation to meet his basic needs, but he did not want anyone to think that he was peddling the gospel for personal gain (1 Cor 9:3–14; cf. 1 Tim 5:17–18).
Sometimes voluntary donations supplemented his income (2 Cor 11:9; Phil 4:15–16), but his regular practice was to forego finances from converts so that he could point them all the better to Christ (2 Cor 12:13–19). By working hard, he helped the weak and knew the blessing of giving to others (Acts 20:33–35).
Lazy People: Working Hard at Hardly Working
As for the lazy in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, what are we to think of them?
At the least, we see that they were not acting like their God. God’s nature is to rule, and God created man in His image to imitate who He is. As God rules over all things, man is to rule the earth and work (Gen 1:26–28; 2:15). After man’s fall into sin, work became difficult, but man was to work nonetheless (Gen 3:17–19), sharing with others in need (Eph 4:28).
At the most, we could conclude that the persistently lazy do not know their God. As thorns overtake an unkept path, problems overtake his unkept life (Prov 15:19). Due to his inordinate love of sleep, his property is full of thorns, its walls are crumbling down, and his house is in need of repair—sudden poverty is his end (Prov 6:6–11; 10:4; 24:30–34; 26:14; Ecc 10:18). He is so lazy that he will not even feed himself (Prov 19:24; 26:15), let alone pick up a plow at harvest (Prov 20:4). It is no wonder he suffers from hunger (Prov 19:15; 20:13). As a result, though the lazy man wants the blessings of hard work, he has nothing to enjoy (Prov 13:4). This desire contradicts his actions and makes misery for his soul (Prov 21:25–26).
The lazy man is ridiculous for his reasoning—he believes that any work might kill him (Prov 22:13; 26:13) and thinks his excuses for laziness outdo the wisdom of many men (Prov 26:15). If he does any work at all, it is forced upon him (Prov 12:24), and even then, he is repugnant to anyone who would be his master (Prov 10:26). His name is marked by shame (Prov 10:5).
If he finds sleep itself a bore, he busies himself with the lives of others, becoming a nuisance and a burden (2 Thess 3:11; cf. 1 Tim 5:13; 1 Pet 4:15). He is destructive to himself and others and gravitates to company like himself (Prov 18:9; cf. 28:24). If he refuses to fend for others in his care, he denies the Christian faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8).
Working Hard to Please Jesus Christ
The Bible clearly commands and encourages us to work quietly, earn our own living, and mind our own affairs. We should share and generously meet the needs of others as we are able. In short, we should work hard instead of hardly working. What Paul said to others long ago still stands for us today: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23–24).