To Work With Their Hands - Page 2 of 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Thess.)
by John Lowe
Have you ever said to someone, “Mind your own business?” Or, has anyone ever said that to you? It’s a hurtful thing for anyone to say to another person. In Paul’s case, it perhaps points to a tendency to interfere in the running of the church by those who were not church officers. It does not seem excessive to suggest that, meeting trouble in their endeavor to be kept by the earnings of their brothers, some members had attempted to have the church officially support their demands. Or it may be that Paul is condemning taking undue interest in the concerns of one’s neighbors. It is not impossible that these are the people accused of being in busybodies in the second letter (3:11), though there again there is uncertainty about the precise meaning. At any rate, it is clear that Paul wants each to put his attention where it belongs.
• “Do your own work.” Paul was certain it would be better if, when Jesus returns, He found them productive and working. In a culture built on slave labor, Paul was teaching Christians that work is never beneath the dignity of any man. Paul wrote later, “If any one does not provide for his relatives and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
It is very probable that the majority of Thessalonian believers had learned some trade or other, and even considering that some were financially well-off, Paul believed that Manual labor would be good for them, so he commanded them to work with their hands. The Apostle challenged them to remember how he worked hard to support himself when he was with them before.
• “For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:9).
• “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to
imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12).
Paul’s unashamed advocacy of manual labor in a letter written to a community in a Greek city must have caused a commotion within the Christian churches in the area. The typical Greek attitude was that slaves did this sort of work, but that freemen would not stoop to it. It was degrading. Here, as in so many other ways, the Christians refused to take their principles from the community in which they lived. Rather, they held that everything they did should be done as service to Christ (Colossians 3:17), and they specifically held that manual labor was good (Ephesians 4:28). No doubt they remembered that Jesus himself had been a carpenter (Mark 6:3). How could the followers of the Carpenter do other than welcome manual work?
Paul recognized and acknowledged the danger of idleness. One of those great British preachers of a past generation, provided this insight in one of his Sermons: “If we cannot be holy at our work, it is not worth taking any trouble to be holy at other times . . . . If experience proves anything, it proves that nothing is worse for most people than to have nothing to do but be religious . . . . The daily life of toil . . . . does not rob us of the Christian life; it really puts it within our reach.” There can be no better preparation for the coming of Christ than to be faithful in ordinary duties. The man who is doing his work faithfully at the right time (the second coming of Jesus Christ) is ready to meet Him.
The believers at Thessalonica were on fire for God. They were zealous, their testimony had reached throughout that entire countryside, and Paul knew that it was altogether possible for them to become so enthusiastic that they would neglect the practical side of life and forget practical necessities. He therefore warns them not to be gadabouts and busybodies, for fear that they could become Lazy and adopt the attitude that the world owed them a living.