God & Work

Won’t work; don’t eat

Some people can be pretty blunt. Imagine being told, “You’re not working so don’t bother eating.” It might sound a bit harsh but that’s exactly what the apostle Paul said to the church members in Thessalonica. They had come to faith in Christ and got really excited about the teaching on the Second Coming. They expected Jesus to turn up at any moment, so they decided it was a waste of time working. Paul said they were more interested in “being busy-bodies than being busy” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11).

What was the train of thought behind Paul’s response? Was it just some practical advice of his own which he was giving to lazy people? The first thing to note about Paul was that his advice always had a Biblical perspective. He fashioned it around the teaching and practices of Jesus which were founded in the Law and the Prophets – that is – the Old Testament. While Paul’s advice might sound negative there was actually a flip side of the coin or a positive perspective as well. When Jesus sent out his disciples on mission he regarded them as working for the kingdom. He taught that they should expect to be fed at
the end of the day as due wage for their work saying, “the worker is worthy of his keep” (Matthew 10:9-10). The converse of this was that the worker who would not work had no right to expect to be fed.
The opening story of the Old Testament reveals two important things to us. Firstly, we are told that God was at “work” during six days of creation but “on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis
2:2). We might be tempted to say, “Well, that’s okay for God, he only had to work for six days but we’ve got to work for a whole lifetime.”

However, Jesus countered this notion of God sitting passively on his throne by saying, “My Father [God] is always at work to this very day” (John 5:17). God may have completed the work of creation in six days, but he has been busy within it ever since. Secondly, we are told in the opening story that we are made in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26, 27). This implies that because God is always busy at his work we are also designed to work, whether at the daily chores which enable us and our community to survive or whether it is the work of the kingdom that includes sharing the faith.

But the members of the community who could not work were provided for by those who could. When the wheat crop was being harvested the workers were not pick up the loose heads of wheat that fell to the
ground. These were to be left behind so they could be gathered by the widows who had no other way of feeding themselves (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). When oxen were used to grind the wheat, they were not to be muzzled so they could receive food for their labour (Deuteronomy 25:4).

It meant that every living thing in the community was provided for because all could receive the benefit of their labour.

From Frank Eames