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No Work, No Food

Anyone who has been raised, unbeknownst to them, steeped in the culture of the protestant work ethic has heard a paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ad nauseum: “If a man doesn’t work, let him not eat.” Growing up with one grandfather who worked as a crane operator, and the other as an over the road truck driver, Paul’s phrase as well as, “rest when you die, boy!” always rang in my ear. They were always meant to be warnings about what happens to the slothful. Though Paul’s words can be read as a warning, it serves as instruction for the Thessalonians congregation.

In Second Thessalonians, Paul is writing to inform the church how they are to care for those within the congregation who are unwilling to work and provide for their own needs. Paul is clear: the church is called to refrain from providing for the unwilling, slothful congregant. The apostle may be referring to the wisdom of Proverbs 26:16 which reads “A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.” In other words, the church is not called to feed into the slothful one’s laziness but allow the hunger pangs to stir him up to hard work. If one thinks that Paul is being harsh, he should hear Paul’s words to the church concerning widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. The apostle gives a few stipulations in verses 9-16 as which widows should remain on the support list:

[9] Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, [10] and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. [11] But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry [12] and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. [13] Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. [14] So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. [15] For some have already strayed after Satan. [16] If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows. (ESV)

Going back to our text from this morning, when refraining from giving support, we must be clear in distinguishing between those who are unwilling to work and those who are unable. Therefore, we are not called to be callous as a church, but attentive. As an attentive church, we help by providing what is needed for each individual. On a societal scale, we recognize the effectiveness of religious institutions and local non-profits in caring for those in need in comparison to the blanket solutions handed down by the government. No matter how well-intentioned government policies may be, to truly assist, one would need to have personal knowledge and true concern. Therefore, we should continue to be generous to ministries such as Gateway Pregnancy Center, that cares for the individual. With that, we must remember that not giving to the unwilling is being attentive, for we are giving (or withholding) what they need.

Though the culture around may misappropriate what it means for a society to be just, we are still called to be a just people as the church. To be just and truly religious would mean to “visit the widow and orphan in their affliction” (James 1:27) as well as refraining from enabling the lazy (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Though our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), church budgets still have a limit. It is just for us to use those resources for those who are unable to care for themselves and not for those who are unwilling.

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