6 December 2014

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

“We did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” (vv. 7-8)

Psalm: Psalm 75:1-7


In this final section of the letter Paul deals with a practical matter that he has already touched on in his first letter (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 5:14). Some of the Thessalonians had given up work in the belief that the end of the world was at hand. It also seems (verse 8) that they were depending on other members of the Christian community for their food. He sees them as idlers, and reminds them of his previous teaching that those who were unwilling to work should not eat (verse 10). The emphasis must be on the word "unwilling". They have made a deliberate choice not to work, albeit perhaps for reasons of faith, but this is not the way of Paul. He has supported himself during his missionary work by working as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), not wanting to be a burden on the fledgling Church. He sees this as an example for them to follow.

In verse 11, he describes them as "mere busybodies". It sounds as if they were taking an unhealthy interest in the lives of others. Gossip and prying into other people's lives can destroy community, and Paul suggests that they get on with some work. A by-product of that is that they would then have no time for idle gossip.

Whilst Paul suggests that the others should keep away from the idlers (verse 6), he nevertheless goes on to say that they are still believers (verse 15). An NRSV footnote suggests the translation 'a brother'. They have misunderstood Paul's teaching, and their behaviour has left much to be desired, yet they are still to be dealt with in love.

To Ponder

  • What do you think of Paul's example of 'tent making ministry' whereby Christian work is self-financed? What are the arguments for and against such ministry in today's Church?
  • Have you ever been the subject of gossip? How did you deal with it?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Bielby

Richard is a supernumerary Methodist presbyter in Stockton on Tees. He is a part-time prison chaplain and also serves as a voluntary chaplain at Durham Cathedral.