If any would not work, neither should he eat - This is a just maxim, and universal nature inculcates it to man. If man will work, he may eat; if he do not work, he neither can eat, nor should he eat. The maxim is founded on these words of the Lord: In the sweat of thy brow thou shall eat bread. Industry is crowned with God's blessing; idleness is loaded with his curse. This maxim was a proverb among the Jews. Men who can work, and will rather support themselves by begging, should not get one morsel of bread. It is a sin to minister to necessities that are merely artificial.
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you - It would seem from this that the evil of which the apostle here complains had begun to operate even when he was with them. There were those who were disposed to be idle, and who needed the solemn command of an apostle to induce them to labor.
That if any would not work, neither should he eat - That is, at the public expense. They should not be supported by the church. This was a maxim among the Jews (see Wetstein, in loc.), and the same sentiment may be found in Homer, Demosthenes, and Pythagoras; see Grotius, in loc. The maxim is founded in obvious justice, and is in accordance with the great law under which our Creator has placed us; Genesis 3:19. That law, in the circumstances, was benevolent, and it should be our aim to carry it out in reference to ourselves and to others. The law here laid down by the apostle extends to all who are able to work for a living, and who will not do it, and binds us not to contribute to their support if they will not labor for it. It should be regarded as extending:
(1)to the members of a church - who, though poor, should not be supported by their brethren, unless they are willing to work in any way they can for their own maintenance.
(2)to those who beg from door to door, who should never be assisted unless they are willing to do all they can do for their own support. No one can be justified in assisting a lazy man. In no possible circumstances are we to contribute to foster indolence. A man might as properly help to maintain open vice.
In the parable the lord summoned the unmerciful debtor, and “said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.” “So likewise,” said Jesus, “shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” He who refuses to forgive is thereby casting away his own hope of pardon. COL 247.1
But the teaching of this parable should not be misapplied. God's forgiveness toward us lessens in no wise our duty to obey Him. So the spirit of forgiveness toward our fellow men does not lessen the claim of just obligation. In the prayer which Christ taught His disciples He said, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12. By this He did not mean that in order to be forgiven our sins we must not require our just dues from our debtors. If they cannot pay, even though this may be the result of unwise management, they are not to be cast into prison, oppressed, or even treated harshly; but the parable does not teach us to encourage indolence. The word of God declares that if a man will not work, neither shall he eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10.) The Lord does not require the hard-working man to support others in idleness. With many there is a waste of time, a lack of effort, which brings to poverty and want. If these faults are not corrected by those who indulge them, all that might be done in their behalf would be like putting treasure into a bag with holes. Yet there is an unavoidable poverty, and we are to manifest tenderness and compassion toward those who are unfortunate. We should treat others just as we ourselves, in like circumstances, would wish to be treated. COL 247.2
The Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul charges us: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:1-5. COL 248.1Read in context »
Faith and works will keep us evenly balanced and make us successful in the work of perfecting Christian character. Jesus says, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter in the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Speaking of temporal food, the apostle said, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The same rule applies to our spiritual nourishment; if any would have the bread of eternal life, let him make efforts to obtain it. FW 49.2Read in context »
Those who are endeavoring to reform should be provided with employment. None who are able to labor should be taught to expect food and clothing and shelter free of cost. For their own sake, as well as for the sake of others, some way should be devised whereby they may return an equivalent for what they receive. Encourage every effort toward self-support. This will strengthen self-respect and a noble independence. And occupation of mind and body in useful work is essential as a safeguard against temptation. MH 177.1
Those who work for the fallen will be disappointed in many who give promise of reform. Many will make but a superficial change in their habits and practices. They are moved by impulse, and for a time may seem to have reformed; but there is no real change of heart. They cherish the same self-love, have the same hungering for foolish pleasures, the same desire for self-indulgence. They have not a knowledge of the work of character building, and they cannot be relied upon as men of principle. They have debased their mental and spiritual powers by the gratification of appetite and passion, and this makes them weak. They are fickle and changeable. Their impulses tend toward sensuality. These persons are often a source of danger to others. Being looked upon as reformed men and women, they are trusted with responsibilities and are placed where their influence corrupts the innocent. MH 177.2Read in context »
Before he became a disciple of Christ, Paul had occupied a high position and was not dependent upon manual labor for support. But afterward, when he had used all his means in furthering the cause of Christ, he resorted at times to his trade to gain a livelihood. Especially was this the case when he labored in places where his motives might have been misunderstood. AA 347.1
It is at Thessalonica that we first read of Paul's working with his hands in self-supporting labor while preaching the word. Writing to the church of believers there, he reminded them that he “might have been burdensome” to them, and added: “Ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” 1 Thessalonians 2:6, 9. And again, in his second epistle to them, he declared that he and his fellow laborer while with them had not eaten “any man's bread for nought.” Night and day we worked, he wrote, “that we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.” 2 Thessalonians 3:8, 9. AA 347.2
At Thessalonica Paul had met those who refused to work with their hands. It was of this class that he afterward wrote: “There are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” While laboring in Thessalonica, Paul had been careful to set before such ones a right example. “Even when we were with you,” he wrote, “this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Verses 11, 12, 10. AA 347.3Read in context »