Eugene Peterson’s father was a butcher. “I always thought of my father as a priest,” Peterson writes. “He wore a white butcher’s apron as he presided over the work of slaughtering heifers and pigs, dressing them out, cutting them up.” For Peterson, the butcher shop did not seem that different from the place of worship. It was filled with the same people and had the same easygoing atmosphere.
Tom works in a factory. Mary is a nurse. Jeff serves as a pastor. Whose work is more spiritual? If all of life belongs to God, then the answer is that each of these vocations has spiritual significance in the eyes of God.
Work is the ordinary means God uses to supply what we need to live. The Apostle emphasizes the central place of work in the life of the believer when he appeals to this general rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (v. 10). The church has a responsibility to care for those who are unable to provide for themselves (see Gal. 2:19; James 1:27; Acts 6:1–6). But the church should also expect its members to live responsibly. While not everyone can work, those who can should. In this way God provides for us and enables us to help those who are genuinely in need.
Some in Thessalonica were taking advantage of the church’s generosity. Instead of working, they were “idle” (v. 11). Paul employs a play on words in the Greek text describing those who are “not working at all” as busybodies (literally: those who “work intrusively”). Those who are idle are not necessarily inactive—they often occupy themselves with the wrong things and disrupt the community of believers. The solution to idleness is not just a job but working responsibly. Paul commands idlers to “settle down and earn the food they eat” (v. 12).