What unique type of problem does Paul face in the Thessalonian church? 2 Thess. 3:9-12.
In these verses Paul applies the tradition of what he did and said to a specific situation. A significant group of members were disorderly or out of order 2 Thess. 3:6-11). Paul had mentioned the problem in the previous letter, and addressed it gently there (1 Thess. 4:11-12; 5:14). But he uses much stronger language here.
As an apostle, Paul could have required the church to provide him with income, housing, and food. But in 1 Thessalonians he had set an example among them of “working night and day” in order not to be a burden on them (1 Thess. 2:9). This was an example of love. But according to 2 Thessalonians 3:8, he also worked “night and day” in order to create a model of how everyone should take care of their own needs, as much as possible.
If Paul had only set an example, some could have responded that the tradition was not clear. But Paul had also addressed this issue with words. During the short time he was with them in person, he often expressed (as the Greek imperfect tense implies) a popular saying as a command, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10 ESV).
In this passage Paul is not criticizing the efforts to care for those in need, those who can’t take care of themselves. After all, Jesus Himself left a powerful example of compassion toward those whose circumstances in life have left them helpless or destitute.
Instead, the target of Paul’s concern was a group of people in the church who were willfully idle. They were busybodies, minding everyone’s business except their own (2 Thess. 3:11). Like some of the popular philosophers in the ancient world, these believers preferred a life of ease over labor. Perhaps they spent their time discussing theology or criticizing the behavior of others instead of earning their way. Paul commands them “in the Lord Jesus Christ” to follow his example and earn the right to speak by caring for their own needs first (2 Thess. 3:12).
How amazing that, even so early in church history, Paul had to deal with so many problems among the members. How should this protect us (and especially new members) from the expectation that our churches are going to be filled with saintly people? More important, how can we be a positive force in our local church despite our own faults and weaknesses?