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Good Will toward Men

Good Will toward Men

Words of Faith 4-26-19

Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019

Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL

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2 Thessalonians 3

    [6] In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. [7] For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, [8] nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. [9] We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. [10] For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."


       This passage is a call to discernment and wisdom in the practice of charitable care. Yet, if we hear incorrectly, Paul sounds a little like old Mr. Scrooge responding to the London charity men who came asking for help.  Is Paul really giving a resounding "Bah, Humbug" or is there more to this?  

        Just who were these people that Paul referred to as "idle" and what did that mean?  The word used here is technically "disorderly" or "unruly" but in this period of time had come to mean "idle."  Many scholars deduce that the "idler" problem was related to doctrinal error concerning the Day of the Lord.  Some may have been under the mistaken belief that the coming of the Day of the Lord had canceled the need to work anymore.  

        Paul appealed, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, as a command, not a suggestion, for a warning to be issued. When Paul wrote the church earlier, he told them to "warn those who are idle" (1 Thes. 5:14).  Apparently, this warning had not been heeded. Now Paul prescribed harsher discipline.  

        This higher degree of discipline involved the “orderly” separating themselves from the lazy and the disorderly. This may have involved excluding those refusing to work from the life and meetings of the church (1 Cor. 5:11). This lack of contact would illustrate graphically the spiritual gap that the behavior of the unruly had created. 

         We must be clear that Paul was not talking about people with legitimate needs, widows, and orphans or those disabled and unable to work.  He was not condemning legitimate charitable care for the poor and needy.  He was concerned with deliberate loafing and the expectation that others will provide for a person's needs.  

        Paul pointed out that this was not at all the example that he and the other apostles had set for believers.  They had worked and provided for themselves so as not to be a burden on anyone.  They did not ask for anything, even though they had the right to do so.

         How were such situations to be handled?  Believers were to keep away from every brother who was idle and did not live by the teaching received from Paul.  Those who refused to work were not permitted in the gathering of the believers.  They were not to accept gifts or benefit from the believers.  

         Paul set down this simple command from the Lord: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."  This would presume that such a man was able-bodied and capable of work.  The idea that the Christian community should be a place where some take advantage of others was clearly dispelled in these early years of church history.

         Believers in the early church showed great concern and benevolence toward those in genuine need.  Paul received an offering from all the church around the Mediterranean to help Jewish widows in Jerusalem.  James, the brother of Jesus, wrote—“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (1:27).

         But the early church learned that some wisdom and discernment had to be applied even in this regard.  Paul wrote to Timothy as a pastor to advise him in this.  "Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need."  The primary responsibility was for people to care for their own families.  "If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God" (1 Tim. 5:3-5).

         Paul also advised that no widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds (1 Tim. 5:9-10).  If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need (1 Tim. 5:16).

        This raises significant and vital guidance for the church. All churches have contact with people who are in genuine need and should have a way to respond.  Some have a brief need between jobs or as a result of sickness or hardship.  The community of faith should have in place methods for these needs to be met.  Many churches provide financial counseling and instruction as well.

        Most churches also engage with some people who depend upon the church rather than seek employment or learn to manage their income appropriately.  There are also people who travel from church to church taking advantage of the goodwill of Christians as their means of support.  

       Some will try to bypass pastors and staff knowing that church members are ill-equipped to discern and are an easy mark to take advantage.  Some of these actually believe that "the Lord is providing" for them.   All of these problematic situations require love and discernment. Working through pastors and deacons is essential. Excellent teaching on budgeting is a vital tool in cases like this.   

        One of the most challenging things for a pastor to do is to turn away people who have a "good story" but don't seem to understand that they are taking advantage of the goodwill of Christians. The only thing harder is dealing with people in genuine need, when there is little or no money left to help.

        This passage is a call to discernment and wisdom in the practice of charitable care.


        Lord, give us Your discernment within the church.  Help us to see the genuine needs that cry out to us readily.  Give me a spirit to respond in the right way.  Help us to respond in love to those who are hurting.  Help us to answer in love toward those who are taking advantage.  In all things, give me the fruit of the Spirit.  In Jesus' name.