2 Thessalonians 3:10
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
It is a curious circumstance that the first subject that disturbed the apostolic church was not of a profound character. It was the question of temporal relief — the early budding of a poor law. From that time forth the mode and measure of the administration of charity has been a vexed question in church and state. Here St. Paul lays down the grand principle which is applicable to all relief. We have here a common law to guide all our alms, national and individual. It is a law against wilful idleness. This is plain from the context. But we are not to withhold the hand from the necessitous (ver. 13). Let us apply this law that labour is life and life is labour to —
I. THE IRRATIONAL CREATION.
1. The inanimate creation is God's great chemical laboratory.
2. His animated creation is one enormous factory where the law of labour is rigidly enforced, from the royal eagle to the meanest reptile. The swallows skimming round us seem to be only sporting in the air. In reality they are working for their food, opening their beaks as they fly, and carrying home insects to their young. How many miles daily does a sheep walk to get its living? Look into the insect world (Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 30:24) at the ant hills, spider's webs, coral reefs, marvels of scientific, artistic, and laborious industry. The law everywhere is — no work, no life.
II. THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF MAN.
1. Here we might imagine that another great law meets us in opposition — the law of grace. Scripture teaches us that we are saved not by our own endeavours but by God's free and unmerited mercy. May we then lie down in antinomian security? That moment we cease to live. Antinomianism is spiritual suicide. Hear the word of God: "Agonize to enter into the strait gate." "Labour for the meat which endureth," etc. How is a Christian described? As a soldier, husbandman, pilgrim, and by other figures, every one of which implies exertion of the most strenuous character. Every promise is held out to the energetic; and not only so, but the result is proportionate. "The diligent soul shall be made fat." The more we pray and toil, the richer will be our present harvest in peace of conscience, the sense of pardoning love, and in the world to come eternal glory.
2. And if this be true individually in what we have to do in working out our own salvation, how much more in our labours of love. Here nothing is done without toil. You need but look at all the benevolent institutions of the country to see that no real good is done without trouble.
III. MAN IN HIS NATURAL STATE. Work was the law of Paradise; it only became a painful one after the fail. From the moment of its utterance, "By the sweat of thy brow," this law has ruled all human life. There is not a man who has attained to eminence save in obedience to it. In our country, whose distinction is that the paths of fame and wealth are open to the meanest, it is a fact that the vast majority of our greatest men in Parliament, the army, science, the law, the Church, have sprung from the lower or middle classes. It is not the poor mechanic only, but all must work or die. But what about the born wealthy? Well, that is the result of their ancestor's labour. It did not originally come by chance or fortune. And even those who are under no obligation to toil for their daily bread are obliged to have recourse either to it or to artificial labour in travel or sport to maintain their health and save their life.
Parallel VersesKJV: For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.