Questioning unconstrained benevolence
April 08, 2012
What does it mean to obey 2 Thessalonians 3:10? This question is quite interesting to me because of personal connections. First, Paul uses himself and other religious teachers as examples. Second, several churches in which I have occupied positions of leadership both as a deacon and as pastor, have been heavily involved in benevolence ministry. I have struggled mightily with making decisions regarding what ought to be done that would best help the poor and not violate 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

We must first determine to whom this verse applies. Obviously the command is given to believers in Christ who have the ability to provide food at no cost to others less fortunate. Believers are to restrain their desire to give food to certain people at no cost. Who are those certain persons? After studying the immediate context which I think is verses 6-13 and the secondary context which I think is verses 1-15, it seems that Paul is referring to all people everywhere. I am quite sure that he is setting up a contrast between himself and other religious teachers who were teaching only because they had decided it was a way to obtain provisions without having to “work” in the traditional sense. Having recognized that emphasis, I still believe he is applying the principle to every person. I also believe that this specific example ought to cause me as a religious teacher to examine my motives very carefully.

I also think Paul based this principle, which he has taught orally in person previously and is now sending in writing, on a Jewish proverb which may have been derived from Genesis 3:19. It seems that Paul is lending credence to the truth of this proverb, applying it to everyone. Having determined that the principle applies to everyone, we must now determine exactly what the principle teaches. The language in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is quite clear. The certain persons are those who refuse to work because they simply do not want to do so. It does not apply to those who are truly unable to work. It does not apply to those who do not want to work but go ahead and work in spite of that.

A Christian who refuses to work hinders his ability to advance the Kingdom of God. It is wrong for a Christian to give food at no cost to another believer who is capable of working but refuses to. In fact, in all likelihood such giving should be classified as sin.

I would not claim that simply giving a gift or picking up the whole tab at a restaurant as a kind gesture is included in that. I am not quite sure where to draw the line when dealing with unbelievers. It seems to me that a Christian dealing with a lazy unbeliever is at least somewhat different. I can envision (in fact I have observed real cases) examples where benevolence done for lazy unbelievers has been an effective witness for Christ leading to salvation. I have seen other examples where the aforementioned benevolence only enabled further indolence on the part of unbelievers and did not lead to salvation. In fact it led to more sin on the part of the recipient.

Perhaps the most complicated example, which by the way has been unbelievably prevalent in my experience, is the lazy unbeliever who presents himself as a believer. Some know they are not believers but they lie about it. Some really think they are believers but are in reality not. I often have said that benevolence ministry is the most difficult of all ministries.

Commentary is by Pastor Steve Ellison, Harvey's Chapel Baptist Church, Hot Springs, AR. Ellison's purpose in writing is to lead readers to examine their own walk with God and their relationships with other people. He enjoys giving presentations on the religious beliefs of America's Founding Fathers and preaching series of messages which some call "revivals."

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