Get a Job!
Updated: Jul 28
Wives to husbands. Husbands to wives. Parents to adult children. In-laws to the bums their daughters married. Random elderly people on the internet to random 40-year-olds living with their parents. I’d love to see a statistic on how many times per day the command, “Get a job!” gets hurled from one frustrated individual to another. It’s definitely higher than zero.
For centuries, citizens of the United States have generally valued commitment and hard work. We, along with much of Europe, have embodied what is known as the Protestant work ethic—a sense that each person should work hard, make a living, and become a productive member of society.
Moreover, some today bemoan the decline of the Protestant work ethic. They call large swaths of people unmotivated and lazy. Others, in turn, deride that attitude as "out of touch," arguing that nobody understands how hard they have it.
Churches have generally entered the fray and sided with the first group. We pull out 2 Thessalonians 3:12 and read Paul’s command for idle people to “do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (ESV). We chastise the lazy and repeat Paul’s refrain, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). We berate people for their poor work ethic, and we tell “those lazy bums” that the Bible says to “get a job!”
While 2 Thessalonians 3 is an excellent passage for this discussion, many of our conversations based on the passage still seem to miss the mark. Where is grace in those conversations? Where is the gospel? If Christ is at the heart of everything we do as believers, why does he feel so absent from these encounters?
There’s nothing particularly Christian about telling people to get a job; some of the hardest working people on the planet are not Christians. And, as the book of Ecclesiastes argues, their work is ultimately empty and meaningless. They bring no glory to God through their endeavors, so they will accomplish nothing of lasting value. Therefore, the advice to “get a job” for its own sake is not inherently good. Following that advice doesn’t necessarily conform a Christian further into the image of Jesus.
I think our conversations are missing a crucial aspect of 2 Thessalonians 3. Paul doesn’t say we should get a job for the sake of becoming a productive member of society. He doesn’t lament that Thessalonian parents are doing a poor job of raising hard-working kids. Instead, he holds up his own behavior and that of his team as an example for the Thessalonians to follow.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he and his team paid for their own food while living in Thessalonica, and that they worked tirelessly. Why?
Well, according to Paul, they worked hard that they “might not be a burden” to the church (2 Thess 3:8). They got jobs and worked hard for the sake of the body of Christ. They weren’t trying to become productive members of society or working hard just for the sake of doing so; they viewed themselves in connection with a local body of believers, and they did not want to become a burden to that body.
Therefore, connection to a local church is the basis for the command to get a job in 2 Thessalonians. If that's the case, then here is the order of events that lead up to the command to get a job:
An individual comes to faith in Jesus. He or she believes the gospel, recognizes how loved they are by God, and receives forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ.
Upon salvation, God places the individual in the body of Christ—the universal church.
The believer becomes part of a local expression of that universal body—a local church.
Now that the believer sees himself or herself as part of a family of faith, he or she determines not to become an unnecessary burden on the family. Instead of taking resources from church members to compensate for his or her laziness, the believer chooses to get a job so the church can redirect resources to those in need and to gospel proclamation.
When we simply tell people to get a job and to stop being lazy, we miss this progression. If we’re speaking to nonbelievers, their problem is lostness, not laziness. They don’t need a job; they need Jesus. They don’t need a career; they need Christ. Instead of career advice, let’s offer them the good news of salvation in Jesus!
If we’re speaking to lazy believers, their problem is a misunderstanding of their connection with the church. They don’t need to get a job for their sake; they need to get a job for the church’s sake. Their laziness isn’t just hurting them; it’s hurting the church. Giving them the command without explaining the reasoning behind it can lead to legalism—a sense that they are superior if they have a good work ethic or inferior if they’re lazy. We turn the attention to them instead of Jesus.
If you’re a believer who can work but doesn’t—get a job. But don’t get one just to get one; get one because your fellow believers are counting on you to contribute to the work of the gospel rather than detracting from it. And if you’re a believer who’s frustrated by someone whose laziness is affecting you, advise them to get a job, but do so in a way that glorifies Christ and keeps the focus and attention on him.