Laziness: Unpacking the Biblical View

The Apostle Paul gives a stern command against laziness in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-8
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you,nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.

One interesting thing here is the word idle that appears multiple times in this chapter in one form or another. Some other translations render it unruly, disorderly, or undisciplined.

The Greek word used for idle is ataktos, which literally means out of line or without order.

The implication is the idle man breaks rank and refuses to submit to God’s order. He is not merely undisciplined – he is insubordinate and defiant towards God.

Great Commentaries

I love the thoughts on this passage from John Calvin and Matthew Henry.


And in the first place, he applies the appellation of disorderly persons, not to those that are of a dissolute life, or to those whose characters are stained by flagrant crimes, but to indolent and worthless persons, who employ themselves in no honorable and useful occupation. For this truly is ataxia (disorder) – not considering for what purpose we were made, and regulating our life with a view to that end, while it is only when we live according to the rule prescribed to us by God that this life is duly regulated.


It is not enough for any to say they do no hurt; for it is required of all persons that they do good in the places and relations in which Providence has placed them.

These two commentaries cause us to step outside of ourselves and to see our lives as a stewardship. And properly stewarding our time requires us to be active and diligent in doing good where we are. That’s a crucial way to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Growing Tired

But it’s tempting to read this and to feel… well, exhausted. With all of the stress of life, this seems like it’s just adding another layer of tension and guilt trips on top of everything else.

Four things to remember:

1. Paul may have been suspecting this reaction. As Paul wraps up his thoughts on laziness, he says in verse 13, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.”

2. Motivating yourself by a legalistic desire to keep yourself in line is a strategy that’s bound to fail. Remember instead the privilege of loving God and loving others in this way.

3. God is also the one that instructs us to rest.

4. God is not up in heaven barking out orders. He is active among us, working in us, and empowering us to live the life of a steward.

Photo Credit: Edwart Visser (Creative Commons)

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