Comrade Paul

Conservative Christians love Paul. They quote him more than they quote Jesus. In America, Conservative Christians are sometimes characterized by dismissive attitudes towards the homeless, usually focusing on either the vices that grip the homeless person or perhaps the supposed "lack of work ethic." These attitudes are justified by Paul's words in Second Thessalonians. Of course, I'm referring to a well-known saying that many can quote even though they might not know the source!

What Paul said and did

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

In the context, it seems Paul is addressing the issue of ministers who've entered the congregation and partake of their food but who really contribute nothing of value. This might be an understandable application, if only that's how it were applied in churches today. Unfortunately, many interpret this to mean that if any person won't work, then they shouldn't eat. "The church isn't for handouts," is a sentiment that I've personally heard from many pastors and parishioners alike. This is inexcusable.

What Jesus said and did

The difference between Jesus and Paul is night and day. This issue isn't any different. Let's ask the popular question again: What Would Jesus Do?

We only need to consider one instance to see what Jesus' thoughts were on "free-loaders." In Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6, we see a multitude following Jesus. They're noticeably hungry, so Jesus commands the disciples to feed them. 

When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. He said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.[3]

We see that a great multitude of people had followed Jesus into the desert and are far enough away from town so that it'd be impractical and dangerous for them to leave to find food. These people are traveling with Jesus, desiring to hear him speak and see him heal. These are what many in churches today would consider "free loaders." In John 6, we find the following:

The day following, when the people which stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone; (Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks:) When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.[4]

Here, Jesus discerns their true intentions. They weren't as interested in the healing and teaching as much as they were interested in the free food. "Free loaders." In light of this revelation, he proceeds to tell them to repent and to labor for the "meat" (food) that doesn't perish, which he alone can give. Rather than immediately chide them and turn them away, he turns this into a needful lesson on what truly matters: his words. Unfortunately, the crowds dispersed because they didn't believe what he was saying. It should be noted here that Jesus himself didn't turn them away and deny them anything. They exposed their own intentions and went away because they didn't get what they wanted.  

Jesus may perhaps have been frustrated, but certainly not incompassionate. He couldn't have been, considering the fact he's the one who commanded us to love even our enemies. The fact is that, unlike Jesus, Paul gave a stern admonition that such non-working people shouldn't eat! When we see the totality of everything Jesus said and did, we understand that we're to feed our neighbor and enemy, lazy or not; riddled with vices or not. We aren't to let people languish without food when it's in our power to feed them. 

Vladimir Lenin

Did you know, oh Conservative Christian, that Vladimir Lenin shared Paul's sentiment? He said,   

The socialist principle, "He who does not work shall not eat", is already realized; the other socialist principle, "An equal amount of products for an equal amount of labor", is also already realized. But this is not yet communism, and it does not yet abolish "bourgeois law", which gives unequal individuals, in return for unequal (really unequal) amounts of labor, equal amounts of products. This is a "defect" according to Marx, but it is unavoidable in the first phase of communism; for if we are not to indulge in utopianism, we must not think that having overthrown capitalism people will at once learn to work for society without any rules of law.[2]

Paul couldn't have known that his words would become a catchphrase of socialists and communists, but they did. Paul's words have been used to justify the social inequality that could be stemmed otherwise if we'd looks closer at Jesus' example of mercy and compassion.

Final Comparisons

Though understandably frustrated by the multitude's lack of spiritual insight and care for only the things of the body, he still sought every opportunity to teach the Gospel. Paul's approach is a bit different. Paul says next:

But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.[5]

The only redemption I think Paul has here is his caveat not to count him "as an enemy" but rather to admonish him "as a brother." Still, they were strictly charged, "note that man and have no company with him." Once more, we see Paul going beyond reason in dealing with someone in the congregation.

The ultimate standard

Jesus' compassion and mercy was reflective of our Father's compassion and mercy. Jesus told us, 

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he [The Father] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.[6]

Paul said not to count him as an enemy, but to admonish him as a brother. We do well to take that piece of advice, at least. Yet what do we learn from how Father interacts with all of us? He feeds and nourishes us all. Even if the man were an enemy, and not a brother, we still do well to feed them. In any case, you can't shun someone you're supposed to be feeding. If we fail to grasp this and obey it, then we cannot the children of our Father, as our Rabbi said: "That ye may the children of your Father which is in heaven." This, Jesus said, is how we can be "perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect." Paul was imperfect. Jesus was perfect. Which example do you follow? 


Jesus gives us The Way we're to follow, not Paul. Feed people when you can--whether they're employed or not; or interested in the preaching or not. Love your neighbor, love your enemy, thereby love your God.  


[1] 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, KJV

[2] Vladimir Lenin, Chapter 5, Section 3, The State and Revolution; "The First Phase of Communist Society"

[3] Matthew 14:13-20

[4] John 6:22-27, KJV

[5] 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, KJV

[6] Matthew 5:43-48, KJV


This is an on going study and is subject to revisions according to further studies.