Online Bible Commentary
If Anyone Will Not Work, Neither Shall He Eat
2 Thessalonians 3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; 8 nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, 9 not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us. 10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. (NKJV)
The literal Greek translation of verse six is: “we enjoin And you, brothers, in the name of us, Jesus Christ, to draw back you from every brother Insubordinately walking, and not to the tradition which you received from us.” Paul is saying that Christians are commanded, in the name of Jesus, to “draw back” from, not associate with or support as they normally would according to Christian tradition, those fellow Christians who are “insubordinately walking.” The Greek word translated “insubordinately” is “ataktos” which is better translated “disorderly”. “Disorderly walking” would refer to anyone walking in sin. Christians are not to support or socialize with a Christian who is living in a lifestyle of sin. This interpretation stays faithful to the context of the preceding passage that encouraged the Christians to do good, not evil.
Paul then encourages the Christians to follow his example in not being “disorderly (v.7). Paul uses as an example, the fact that he worked “night and day” to pay for his food so that he would not be a burden upon his fellow Christians (v.8). Paul still worked as a tentmaker, when he was not doing his ministry work.
However, Paul knew that, according to Scripture, he had a right to be supported by those who benefitted from his ministry: “Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered at the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:13-14). Christians are commanded to support those who benefit them through ministry.
Paul wrote that he still worked outside of ministry purely to be “an example” to those in the early church, specifically the church at Thessalonica (v.9). The church still had many critics that this new sect was just a way for men to profit from setting up Jesus as king: “They (the crowds in Thessalonica) are all defying Caesar’s decrees , saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Paul wanted to be very careful, especially in Thessalonica, to show that his motives were pure, and not for power or monetary gain.
He also did not want others in the church to have a monetary motive. He had been writing to them of the end times and some had stopped working thinking that Jesus was about to come back and they would profit from His Kingdom. He wrote " If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (v.10). He wrote that some were not really working, but were just being “busybodies”, while waiting, which is literally translated “nothing working, but working all about” (v.11). Those Christians are commanded and urged by the Lord Jesus to earn the bread they eat (v.12).
This passage requires further context. There are exceptions to this teaching. This teaching is not intended for those who are working at learning in school. They are working, hard. It is not intended for those of retirement age. Paul was in his early fifties when he wrote this letter. He was still of working age for a Jewish man. This teaching is not intended for those who are disabled or unable to work because of some physical condition. It is not intended for those who work in the home. It is not intended for those who are diligently looking for a job. It is not intended for those in vocational ministry. Paul did not recommend outside work for those in ministry, as is evidenced by the above cited Scripture (1 Cor 9), just for himself as an example in his own unique circumstances. The early church was accused of profit motives and some members of the early church were not working in anticipation of the imminent return of Christ. It was important that he be an example for them.
Those of working age and ability and not in school are expected to earn their own way or be diligently looking for a job. Working age in our culture is generally considered to be under the age of sixty-five. This passage was directed at those living in sinful lifestyles, “disorderly walking”, and used the lifestyle of laziness as an example.
Christians are not to support or socialize with other Christians if they are living in a sinful lifestyle. They are to warn their fellow Christian and “draw back” from them, in the hope that he, or she, will abandon that lifestyle.