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Warning Against Idleness May 25, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding the Thessalonians to withdraw from private fellowship with drones who – although they profess to be Christians – refuse to do a day’s work; the Thessalonians should revere this command as being given by Christ Himself. He states that he had given them an example in this regard, as he engaged in hard manual labor while he was with them. He teaches that even though he had the right to receive payment for his preaching, he did not insist on his rights; thus, they know what to do in their present circumstances as they have seen his example. Moreover, Scripture teaches that those who are indolent and idle should be deprived of food.

Paul then notes that some of the Thessalonians are actually drones, as they unnecessarily rush around and make a nuisance of themselves to others. He admonishes these drones; they should live quietly within the limits of their calling and be content with what belongs to them. He then tells the rest of the Thessalonians to never stop trying to be of assistance to these drones.

Paul now asks the Thessalonians to report to him anybody who disobeys his commands; they should also be excommunicated so that they can be shamed into repentance. Paul concludes by telling the Thessalonians to take care that those who are excommunicated are not overwhelmed by sadness; they must keep on trying to win them back.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul has some sharp words for those members of the Thessalonian church who were leading lives of idleness. Calvin offers some interesting thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

It is probable that these kinds of drones were, so to speak, the seeds for idle monks. For from the beginning there were some people who, under the pretext of religion, either ate at other people’s tables without paying for their food or deceived simple people into providing for them. They had become so numerous in Augustine’s day that he decided to write a book denouncing idle monks. In it Augustine attacks their pride because they reject these admonitions from Paul’s letters.

After a quick Google search I came across “Of the Work of Monks”, which, at first glance, seems to be an interesting read. Now Calvin’s frustration with the Catholic Church influenced his interpretation of this passage, as Catholicism did not exist when Paul wrote this letter. Did Calvin know of many “idle monks”? Did he confront any of them and castigate them for their indolence? One must also wonder if the Catholic Church made a concerted effort to address the problem of laziness among the clergy, or if this issue continues to plague the church. As the Catholic Church strives to remain relevant in the 21st century, the clergy must ensure that their lives reflect God’s glory.

In this passage, Paul also has some exhortations for those members of the Thessalonian church who were not living lives of idleness. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

I think Paul was trying to guard against giving unnecessary offense that might stem from the few people who were idle. It is usually the case that those who are often generous withdraw their help when they see their aid is not beneficial. Here we have a statement that is worthy of particular note – no matter how ungrateful, morose, proud, arrogant some poor people may be, no matter how much they annoy and irritate us, we must nevertheless never stop trying to be of assistance to them.

I wonder how Calvin’s interpretation of this verse would be received by those who call for the abolition of the welfare system. Perhaps they would respond, “what’s the point of assisting these people who are so ungrateful and arrogant? If we continue to assist them, they will think that they are acting rightly, and they will have no incentive to change their ways. Shouldn’t we use our money more wisely by helping those who would be grateful for our assistance?” In light of Calvin’s interpretation of this verse, perhaps Paul is telling the industrious Thessalonians that while they cannot control the actions of their idle brethren, they can control their actions towards them; it is essential that their actions be right in God’s eyes.

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