Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
1 Thessalonians 4:11‭-‬12 NLT

Life Application Study Bible
There is more to Christian living than simply loving other Christians. We must be responsible in all areas of life. Some of the Thessalonian Christians had adopted a life of idleness, depending on others for handouts. Some Greeks looked down on manual labor. So Paul told the Thessalonians to work hard and live a quiet life. You can’t be effective in sharing your faith with others if they don’t respect you. Whatever you do, do it faithfully and be a positive force in society.

Paul speaks a second time about this issue in this letter to the Thessalonian believers:

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 NLT

And in his follow up letter to the Thessalonians, we see him speaking even more directly, after he starts to end his letter in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5, but then shares that he “must share this command”:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV

I like the sermon notes from Dr. Ralph F. Wilson on this topic (found here http://www.jesuswalk.com/thessalonians/09_idleness.htm ):

This phrase variously translated “idle” (NIV), “living in idleness” (NRSV), “walketh disorderly” (KJV) — both here and in verse 11 — is a combination of the verb parapateō, “walk, conduct oneself” and the adverb ataktos, which means, “not in the proper order.”[311] The related verb, atakteō, is found in verse 7. Originally, it referred to soldiers marching out of order or quitting the ranks, thus it has the idea of “to be neglectful of duty, to be lawless.”[312]

Instead of doing their fair share to support themselves and help the poor in the Christian community, these idlers are lazy, hanging around other believers, and then expecting to be asked for dinner and given a place to sleep — night after night!

“Command” is a strong verb, parangellō, used here and in verses 10 and 12: “to make an announcement about something that must be done, give orders, command, instruct, direct.” It is a word used by people in authority — worldly rulers, Jesus, the apostles, etc.[313]

Paul isn’t talking about people who can’t earn a living because of sickness, mental instability, age, or infirmity. He isn’t talking about widows who have no support, or orphans whose parents have died. He’s talking about people who could work, but don’t.

Paul’s command to the believers is to “keep away” from these lazy people.

And:

Paul isn’t teaching a so-called “Protestant work ethic” here.[314] Rather he is teaching the concept of taking responsibility for oneself and one’s family, a basic concept that is found throughout the Bible. Paul reiterates this concept to Timothy:

“If anyone 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)

Paul ran across laziness elsewhere. In the church of Ephesus he gives instructions to former thieves: Get a job, do something productive, so that you may add to the community, not take away from it.

“He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)

Hard work is the norm laid out in Genesis:

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food….” (Genesis 3:19a)

The book of Proverbs especially is pretty hard on “sluggards.” Here are some examples:

“Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6)

“Lazy hands make a man poor,
but diligent hands bring wealth.
He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son,
but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.” (Proverbs 10:4-5)

“The sluggard craves and gets nothing,
but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4)

“One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9)

“The sluggard’s craving will be the death of him,
because his hands refuse to work.
All day long he craves for more,
but the righteous give without sparing.” (Proverbs 21:25-26)

“A sluggard does not plow in season;
so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.” (Proverbs 20:4)

“I went past the field of the sluggard,
past the vineyard of the man who lacks judgment;
thorns had come up everywhere,
the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed
and learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest —
and poverty will come on you like a bandit
and scarcity like an armed man.” (Proverbs 24:30-34)

“The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who answer discreetly.” (Proverbs 26:16)

“If a man is lazy, the rafters sag;
if his hands are idle, the house leaks.” (Ecclesiastes 10:18)

Women, too, were responsible to do their share.

“[The capable wife] watches over the affairs of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.” (Proverbs 31:27)

Paul advises Timothy not to put younger women on a list of widows who receive support from the church. Rather they should remarry. It’s obvious by his comments that he’s seen the result of idle women harming the church because they have too much time on their hands.

“As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list…. They get into the habit of being idle[315] and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Timothy 5:11, 13)

Paul teaches the same lessons to others. To the Ephesian elders, he said:

“You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied[316] my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help[317] the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:34-35)

To the Corinthians he says,

“We work hard with our own hands….” (1 Corinthians 4:12a)

For the believers in Crete, Paul instructed Titus:

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” (Titus 3:14)

The Bible is consistent here. We are to work so that we can care for our own needs, and for those who are weak and can’t work.

And for those who would point their judgemental fingers at full time Christian workers, preachers, ministers or missionaries who depend on support to continue in their life’s dedication to the Lord’s work, he makes a distinction between faithfully supporting the ministers of the church versus enabling the idle:

One’s own personal example is powerful. Paul’s lifestyle was abundantly clear to the Thessalonian believers. Let’s look at the elements of verse 8.

  1. “Toil” (NIV), “labor” (NRSV, KJV), kopos, carries the idea “to engage in activity that is burdensome, work, labor, toil.”[320]
  2. “Hardship” (NIV), “toil” (NRSV), “travail” (KJV) is mochthos, “labor, exertion, hardship.”[321] Robertson notes that it is an “old word for difficult labor, harder than kopos (toil).”[322]
  3. “Worked” (NIV, NRSV), “laboring” (KJV) is ergazomai, “to engage in activity that involves effort, work.”[323]

Hard work isn’t to be avoided or to be ashamed of; it is part of the life of a disciple of Jesus!

Notice that in 3:9, Paul does not say that all apostles or Christian workers should support themselves! Let’s not over interpret this.

“We did this, not because we do not have the right[324]to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” (3:9)

His purpose is to give the believers an example or model[325]of hard work, not to set a precedent for all Christian workers. To the Corinthians he outlines the case for supporting Christian workers, and reserves his right to be supported for his work in the gospel, while choosing not to exercise it.

“Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? … If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 9:4-5, 12)

So we don’t use this “command to work hard” as some weapon to hold as justification for our holding onto “our precious money” by refusing to support the church and those in full time ministerial positions — that is sin, and must be repented, you who are greedy and judgemental and hard hearted.

No, this is meant for discipline and clear guidance when dealing with lazy, and people — who seek to use others to enable their slothful and unproductive lifestyle choices:

“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work,[326] he shall not eat.'” (3:10)

Observe four things here.

  1. Persistent sin. The problem of laziness had existed from the church’s foundation — and Paul had taught about it then.
  2. Command. Paul’s instruction about work at the founding of the church wasn’t just a suggestion, but a command.[327]
  3. Willful sin. The issue is obedience to the Biblical injunction. The lazy believers know what the Bible says, but resist it. The will[328] is at stake here. Paul isn’t talking about those who can’t find work, those who are homeless against their will, or who are physically or mentally unable to work, but those who have no intention of working to support themselves.
  4. Consequences of actions. Paul commands the believers to step back from continually “bailing out” the lazy people, and let the consequences of their actions teach them what they won’t learn otherwise. Don’t feed them — and don’t feel guilt about it yourself

Why is this so important?

11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.
12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (3:11-13)

The laziness is causing two problems in the body.

1. Lazy people become busybodies and meddlers who hurt relationships in the body. Verse 11b includes a play on words that the NIV captures to some extent:

“They are not busy (ergazomai); they are busybodies (periergazomai).”

“Busybodies” is periergazomai, “to be intrusively busy, be a busybody, meddler.”[329] Thayer defines it, “to bustle about uselessly, to busy oneself about trifling, needless, useless matters.”[330]

Later in his ministry, Paul sees the same problem of busybodies in Ephesus among young widows with time on their hands.[331]

The situation at Thessalonica is serious and must be fixed. That’s why Paul can’t just hint at a solution. So in verse 12, Paul both uses two strong verbs, “we command (parangellō) and urge (“exhort,” KJV, NRSV, parakaleō) in the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 3:1, 10). The command is:

“To settle down and earn the bread they eat.” (3:12b)

The phrases “settle down and earn” (NIV), “work quietly” (NRSV), “with quietness work” (KJV) translate three words: the verb ergazomai, “work” (which we’ve seen several times in this passage), the preposition meta, “with,” and the noun hēsychia, “state of quietness without disturbance, quietness, rest,” that is, living in a way that does not cause disturbance.[332] I think that the NIV’s “settle down and earn” catches the idea well. These lazy people are stirring up others with their gossipy, busybody behavior. People resent them. The church is disturbed about it. So the lazy people are commanded to begin to work and stop stirring things up. As they begin to work, the dissension in the body will quiet down.

2. Lazy people can “burn out” or discourage church members from being generous and outgoing to the truly needy. The great majority of the believers at Thessalonica, no doubt, earn their own living, but have been putting up with the Christian freeloaders for far too long. They’re tired of it. They’ve worn themselves out trying to do the “loving” thing. Paul wants to encourage them keep on doing good works — just not to enable the lazy believers among them.

“And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” (3:13)

“Never tire” (NIV), “do not be weary” (NRSV, cf. KJV) is ekkakeō, “lose heart,”[333] literally, “to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted.”[334] Elsewhere, the New Testament exhorts people not to let discouragement immobilize them:

“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:1)

“I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” (Ephesians 3:13)

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

Having worked with those in need trying to help get them back on their feet after tragedy, addiction, unforeseen circumstances, and consequences of poor decisions — I can tell you that laziness and idleness in a person that you are trying to help is a immediate red flag. When we have ignored the signs, and continued trying to help someone who is not eager and willing to work hard to provide for themselves and their family — when we have shifted from equipping to enabling — it has always cost them and cost us as well. To avoid this trap, we must be conscious and intentional with our boundaries and limits (which can receive accusations of being cold and cruel), but is necessary and best.

“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.” (Titus 3:14)

Lord, help us and guide us in such things, to your glory and honor, Amen!