“If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
How can a good God intentionally deny food to a hungry person? The prevailing attitude in America toward the poor is all-inclusive, that is, the poor deserve the assistance of the more prosperous citizens, in spite of the reason or cause for their impoverished state. the West’s immediate response to the poor, who were displaced by hurricane Katrina in September of 2005, testifies to this widespread attitude. Without knowing how the money was going to be used or how much was actually needed, untold numbers of Americans sent millions of dollars to Katrina funds all over the nation. Evidence of misuse became known when the Federal Government issued $2000 in cash to the victims. Within days, multiple stories began to surface of “needy” victims using the money to purchase alcohol and cigarettes, and to frequent pornographic establishments. There are and will always be poor and low income people living in communities throughout the world for any number of reasons (Matthew 26:11) and the needs of most are legitimate and should be met—doing so is an example of true faith (James 1:27; 2:14-16); however, there are those who are destitute because they refuse to work. They know that some organization or government program will inevitably come to their aid. It is in reference to people such as these, especially in the Church, about whom Paul speaks. If a person can work, but is too lazy or self-centered to do what is required to make ends meet, then he should be denied assistance. This people intentionally live unruly and undisciplined lives (3:6, 7, 11)—they are sluggards who crave everything but do next to nothing to acquire it (Proverbs 13:4; 6:6-11). Those who assist these folks mistakenly feed their weakness more so than their bellies; an act which does nothing to help them long-term. Such an act is, therefore, unloving.
Alexander Hamilton, of revolutionary fame, understood this principle. When an artist he knew fell on self-imposed hard times and was unable to pay his debts, he was placed in a debtor’s prison. Rather than simply pay off the man’s debt, Hamilton devised a scheme to assist Ralph Earl so that he could earn the money for himself, as well salvage his own dignity. Because he was a painter, Hamilton encouraged his wife Elizabeth, who encouraged others, to sit for portraits for which Earl was paid enough to eliminate his debt and earn his freedom.
The Christian work ethic encourages being industrious and selfless. To refuse to work is frowned upon and a poor example of faith (James 2:17). Paul was unwilling to take from any of the churches without giving something in return. In Thessalonica, Paul and his associates paid for their necessities by working day and night, so as not to be a burden on the church. He wanted to be a model of hard work, selflessness, and stick-to-it-tiveness—one should never “become weary of doing good;” a worthy exercise which cannot be accomplished without a sound work ethic (3:5, 7, 11, 13). The resources of the Church, or a nation, are not to be wasted on the lazy or selfish; they are to be properly expended on those whose need is genuine and pressing or long-term. Good hard work is commendable, as is working hard for the good of others who cannot help themselves, which is specifically regarded as a service done for the Lord himself (Matthew 25:34-40).
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