The word of the day is “well-doing.” In our reading of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18, St. Paul warns against idleness and encourages all members of the congregation in Thessalonica to work for their living. The Apostle commands the loafers in the congregation to “work in quietness and eat their own bread” (vs. 12). Conversely, he directs the workers in the church “not to grow weary in well-doing” (vs. 11).
In this passage, Paul contrasts an undisciplined with a productive life. When he charges some church members with “walking in a disorderly manner,” “walking” is a metaphor for one’s conduct of life (Strong’s #4043, 199). The “disorderly” way of life concerns Paul because in Greek, “disorderly” is a military term for being “insubordinate” (Strong’s #813, 46). Thus “walking in a disorderly manner” means living an unruly life.
Idlers Should Support Themselves
Paul complains that the undisciplined idlers are “busybodies” (vs. 11). The Greek term refers to both wasting one’s efforts and meddling in the affairs of others (Strong’s #4020, 198). Instead of making mischief, Paul instructs these slaggards to spend their time earning their own keep. They should support themselves in “quietness,” that is, in tranquility and calm (Strong’s #2271, 112).
In contrast, “well-doing” combines the Greek words for “to make” and “goodness.” In Greek, the word for “goodness” has the rich meaning of what is intrinsically good, noble, right, honorable, and beautiful (Strong’s #2570, 127). “Well-doing,” therefore, is not only fruitful but inspiring.
Paul points to himself as an example of the way of life working for what is good. He explains that he does not want to “burden others” by depending on them (vs. 18). Rather, he works night and day, supporting his ministry as a tentmaker (Acts 18:30).
Not Weary in Well-Doing
Yet Paul notes that those who live such productive lives need encouragement. They are liable to become weary, that is, to become weak, exhausted, and faint-hearted (Strong’s #1573, 81). In Galatians, Paul expresses the same concern about the burn-out of those who are dedicated to doing good. He says, “And let us not grow weary while doing good” Galatians 6:9). But here, he provides the motivation for not giving up in the performance of good works. He sets out the principle, “Whatever a man sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Then, accordingly, he promises, “We will reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
We learn from this reading that idleness is the doorway to mischief. If our hearts are not devoted to doing good, if our minds are not engaged in something beneficial, they are liable to seek something less fruitful. We will search for an escape from boredom. On the other hand, God is just. He will see to it that well-doing receives its reward. Therefore, as he does for all believers, Paul assures the Corinthians that “their labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The topic of idleness and well-doing seems to be a minor, practical matter. However, we can understand the depth of Paul’s concern if we put it into context. About twenty years after the Lord’s resurrection, the Thessalonians expected him to return at any moment—if he had not come already. Some who looked eagerly for the Lord to usher in the new age might have thought that whatever they did in this current age was useless. All that they had to do was to wait passively for the end time. And that bred idleness.
Paul indeed advised against pursuing ambitions in this world (1 Corinthians 7:24) when “the time was short” before the coming of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:29 and 31). But Paul had to clarify that what the believers did before the Lord returns was relevant to their destiny after His coming. May we pay attention to the teaching of Paul in today’s reading. And may the blessing of the Lord be given to us as His faithful and wise servants. May He thus find us serving Him with diligence when He returns (Matthew 45-46).