52: Expected to work (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12)

Scripture Reading1 Thessalonians 4:11–12

Paul highlights that God expects every Christian who can work to do so. He exhorts the Thessalonians “to work with [their] hands” (1 Thess. 4:11) and to “have need of no one” (1 Thess. 4:12). Rather than evading work, the Thessalonian Christians are to be industrious, laboring so as to earn their own living and thereby avoid putting undue burdens on others. Being a manual laborer in a Greco-Roman city was a hard life by modern and ancient standards, and the thought that it might not be necessary must have been appealing. However, abandoning work in favor of living off the work of others is unacceptable. Paul’s treatment of the issue is framed in terms of “brotherly love” (1 Thess. 4:9). The idea is plainly that love and respect are essential in Christian relationships, and that living off the charity of others unnecessarily is unloving and disrespectful to the charitable brother(s) or sister(s) concerned.

It is important to remember that work does not always mean paid work. Many forms of work—cooking, cleaning, repairing, beautifying, raising children, coaching youth, and thousands of others—meet the needs of family or community but do not receive remuneration. Others—the arts come to mind—may be offered free of charge or at prices too low to support those who do them. Nonetheless, they are all work. Christians are not necessarily expected to earn money, but to work to support themselves, their families, and the church and community.

The positive view of hard work that Paul was promoting was countercultural. The Greco-Roman world had a very negative view of manual labor. However, Paul approaches the matter from an understanding strongly rooted in the Old Testament, where God is portrayed as creating Adam to work, and Adam’s manual labor is not divorced from worship, but rather is to be a form of worship. In Paul’s assessment, manual labor is not beneath Christians, and Paul himself had done what he demands that these idle brothers do. He plainly regards work as one way believers may honor God, show love to their fellow Christians, and display the transforming power of the gospel to outsiders.

Prayer: Lord, may the transforming power of your grace and love be evident through my work today. Amen.

For Further Exploration: Read Christians Are Expected to Work (1 Thessalonians 4:9–12; 5:14) from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary.

Author: Theology of Work Project

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