2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 Handling the lazy

by | May 17, 2023 | 01 Podcasts, Thessalonians

In 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18, Paul closes with with three directives regarding work: 1) follow Paul’s example of being willing to work; 2) work to meet your own needs; and 3) stop enabling those who won’t work.


Paul wrote 1Thessalonians from Corinth about nine months after leaving Thessalonica (Acts 18:5; 2Co19). Most scholars think Paul wrote 2Thessalonians a few months after the first epistle while he was still in Corinth (approx. 51/52 AD). After delivering Paul’s first letter, the courier probably reported back to Paul and Paul wrote this letter in response to the courier’s news.

In chapter 1, Paul expressed his gratitude for their growth in faith and love. Their faithfulness under persecution is evidence of their genuine faith. He assured them that their suffering would end. One day God will bring justice to them and their persecutors will be judged.

In chapter 2, Paul cleared up their confusion about the return of Jesus. Paul clarified that Jesus has not returned yet. But when Christ does return he will bring both justice and rescue.

Passage: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18

Paul gives 3 exhortations in his closing:

  • Stand firm and hold to the traditions Paul taught them (2Thessalonians 2:15).
  • Pray that the word of the Lord would speed ahead (2Thessalonians 3:1).
  • Keep away from the idle brother (2Thessalonians 3:6).

1Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, 2and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. 3But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. 4And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. 5May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. – 2Thessalonians 3:1-5

  • Paul wrote this letter from Corinth where he was facing significant hostility. The forces against Paul were so overwhelming, God gave him a vision telling him to stay (Acts 18:1-11).
  • Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray that he would be delivered from his opponents so that others could find the same faith they found.
  • Paul is confident that they have genuine saving faith and God will faithfully keep His promises.
  • He prays that God will hold them tight and continue His work in them.

6Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. 13As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 16Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. 17I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. -2Thessalonians 3:6-18

Paul gives three directives regarding work:

  1. Follow Paul’s example regarding work (3:6-9).
  2. Work for your own support (3:10-12).
  3. Do not enable those who won’t work (3:13-16).

Some in Thessalonica thought Jesus was coming back imminently so there was no need to work. They were contributing nothing, and letting others support them.

  • Loving my neighbor as myself requires me to avoid being a burden to others if I can help it.
  • It is disobedient to our calling to be lazy and refuse to contribute to our own needs or our family’s needs. That is a different situation than being hit with an unexpected disaster such that I am unable to care for myself.
  • Paul’s advice: stop enabling those who are being idle by providing for their needs.
  • Paul set the example by willingly working to support himself when he was with them. The idle have no excuses. Paul both showed them and taught them what is right.
  • Paul encourages the givers to continue being generous to those in true need but to stop supporting the idle. Paul encourages the idle to work if they want to eat.
  • The motivation here is not get your act together because you’re being a financial burden. The motivation is believe the gospel and live like what God says is true. 
  • We have an obligation to take care of ourselves and provide for our own needs. The question holiness asks of me is not: “Are you working hard enough?” Rather, it is: “Are you trying to care for your own financial needs?”

Paul also addressed this topic in 1Corinthians:

23 1Corinthians 9:1-14 Living on support 1

24 1Corinthians 9:15-27 Living on support, 2

Putting Thessalonians and 1Corinthians together

  1. All of us are responsible before God to work and to provide for our own needs — no matter what kind of work we do.
  2. As a giver, it’s appropriate to support someone out of gratitude, patronage, or charity.
  3. If I have benefited from someone’s ministry, I ought to be willing to support them as I am able.
  4. As a full-time Christian worker, I have no reason to be ashamed for accepting gifts of gratitude or patronage but I ought not to put myself in a position where I require charity. 

See: The Holiness of Financial Independence by Jack Crabtree

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

Previous: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 The Lawless One

Series: 1&2 Thessalonians: Between Times

Study: 1 Thessalonians Resources

Scripture references are from the English Standard version.

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