2 Thessalonians 3 – Appeals for Prayer and Labor & Labor and Welfare in the Ancient World

Old former slave with horn formerly used to call slaves, Texas, 1939.
In the United States, the term “freedmen” refers chiefly to former slaves emancipated during the American Civil War.

Slaves freed before the war, usually by individual manumissions, often in wills, were generally referred to as “Free Negroes”.

In Louisiana and other areas of the former New France (especially before annexation to the U.S. under the Louisiana Purchase), free people of color were so identified in French: gens de couleur libres.

Many were part of the Creoles of color community, well-established before Louisiana became part of the U.S.

The community in New Orleans increased in 1808 and 1809, with a wave of Haitian immigrants after the Haitian Revolution.

This strengthened the French-speaking community of free people of color.

This is the last chapter of this book so tomorrow we will begin with the book of…

2 Thessalonians 3
Appeals for Prayer and Labor

1 Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:

2 And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.

“Unreasonable” – the Greek for this word means “out of place,” and elsewhere in the New Testament it is used only of things.  Perverseness is always out of place.  For Paul’s difficulties at Corinth (what Paul wrote this letter).

3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.

4 And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you.

5 And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

“Withdraw” – not withdrawal of all contact but withholding of close fellowship.  Idleness is sinful and disruptive, but those guilty of it are still brothers.

“Walketh disorderly” – the problem was mentioned in the first letter and evidently had worsened.  Paul takes it seriously and gives more attention to it in this letter than to anything else but the second coming.

7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;

8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:

“Eat any man’s bread” – a Hebraism for “make a living.”  Paul is not saying that he never accepted hospitality but that he had not depended on other people for his living.

9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

Relief from Smyrna (present-day Izmir, Turkey) depicting a Roman soldier leading captives in chains.
Slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the economy.

Besides manual labor, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions.

Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves.

Greek slaves in particular might be highly educated.

Unskilled slaves, or those condemned to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills.

Their living conditions were brutal, and their lives short.

Pagan parallels are in the form, “He who does not work does not eat.”  But Paul gives an imperative: lit. “let him not eat.”  The Christian must not be a loafer.

11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

“Busybodies” – worse than idle, they were interested with other people, gossipers, a problem to which an unruly idle life often leads.

Here are two good examples of busybodies today:  1) the media.  At one time the media was to report news so people would know what was going on, but today they eaves drop into people’s lives for the sole purpose of selling their story, no matter how damaging it may be.

And number two is talk shows, such as the Oprah Winfrey show.  She does the exact same thing that the media does, but her main purpose is not to be the sneak that the media is, but to build herself, to convince the world that she is a great person.

12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.

14 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.

“Be ashamed” – and repent.  The aim is not punishment but restoration to fellowship.

15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.

17 The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

 The second epistle to the Thessalonians was written from Athens.

Labor and Welfare in the Ancient World

In the ancient world there were three classes of laborers: freemen, slaves and a middle group, serfs, who were bound to work the soil or to perform other menial tasks on behalf of some state or institution.

A sketch in rust-red drawn on a limestone ostraconOffsite Link represents the self-portrait of the scribe, Sesh, wearing a knee-length kilt, his arms raised to present a papyrus roll and possibly a writing pallette.

The sketch is signed with the hieroglyph of “scribe”, consisting of a palette with wells for red and black ink, shoulder strap, water pot and reed pen. Measuring 11 x 12 cm, it was created in Deir-el-MedinaOffsite Link, Western Thebes, 19th or 20th dynasty, and excavated there, circa 1975.

Slaves and serfs naturally labored under the direction of their overlords, but freemen were obliged to find means of providing for themselves. Most men learned their trade from their fathers, just as most women acquired domestic skills from their mothers.

The varieties of occupations an individual might follow involved both skilled and unskilled labor.

Jesus’ parable of the unjust steward (Lk 16:1-9) illustrates two extremes: stewards (educated people who managed the financial affairs of others) and those who dug ditches or even begged.

A remarkable Egyptian document called Dua-Khety, or “The Satire on the Trades,” lists a wide variety of possible occupations: jewelers, carpenters, barbers, smiths, potters, agricultural workers, couriers, cobblers and others.

Any and all of these jobs, this text asserts, were miserable occupations in comparison with the work of the scribe.

The rise of the Roman Empire also gave rise to a class of citizens that to some degree lived off the public dole:  During the period of the Roman Republic, politicians sought to gain the votes of the masses by periodically giving people a supply of grain, either freely or at a greatly reduced price.

C. Sempronius Gracchus (122 B.C.) made this a regular feature of Roman life by establishing a monthly ration of grain at a set price. In 58 B.C., P. Clodius Pulcher made the beginning of the empire, Augustus reorganized the system of the public dole, instituting the tradition of providing “bread and circuses” for the masses.

Apart from the state welfare system for the Romans, Christians were encouraged to donate freely to the poor, especially to fellow believers in need.

Cinerary urn for the freedman Tiberius Claudius Chryseros and two women, probably his wife and daughter.
Rome differed from Greek city-states in allowing freed slaves to become citizens.

The act of freeing a slave was called manumissio, from manus, “hand” (in the sense of holding or possessing something), and missio, the act of releasing.

After manumission, a slave who had belonged to a Roman citizen enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote.

A slave who had acquired libertas was thus a libertus (“freed person,” feminine liberta) in relation to his former master, who then became his patron (patronus).

Such generosity could be – and invariably was – abused.  Already in 2 Thess 3 Paul found it necessary to rebuke those who were content to live off the charity of other Christians, confronting them with the maxim, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat”(v.10).

ln 1Tim 5:3-15 Paul provided guidelines for providing assistance to widows who were indeed needy, in contrast to those who should not have been living off the beneficence of the churches.

Brought up in the Jewish tradition in which every son learned a trade, Paul supported himself as a tentmaker and he expected other Christians to work for their livings as well.

…First Timothy.