Q. In reading 2 Thessalonians 3 we see Paul exhorting his readers to work for a living and that if someone refuses to work then they shouldn’t eat. I recognize that Paul probably wasn’t advocating starving someone into submission, so the question for me becomes, where is that line? What is Paul advocating here?
A. Paul wrote that that a person who won’t work should not eat (2 Thes. 3:10). Some say he was referring to people in Thessalonica who believed the Lord was coming back very soon and wanted to devote all their time to studying His word. They thought this was an acceptable reason for depending on other believers for their support.
Since Paul always provided for himself even though his ministry was a full time endeavor (2 Thes. 3:7-9), he didn’t have much patience for people like this. He taught that people who are able to work are responsible for themselves.
We’re called to feed the poor and clothe the naked, but the underlying motivation is to provide temporary help to someone going through a difficult period, not to create a dependency.
People who can get back on their feet should be encouraged to do so as quickly as possible, even if the only work that’s offered is below their skill level or previous income experience. According to the reports I see, this is becoming more and more the case in our time.
Whatever the circumstances, the Bible tells us to do the work we’ve been given with all our heart, as if we’re working directly for the Lord, not for an earthly boss, since we know we’ll receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward (Colossians 3:23-24).