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“Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you. And we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were here with you, we gave you this command, anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (RSV)
Here, it seems, there were folks who were living off of the church as they expected Christ to come back at any time. There is a specific context. And, yes, when taken out of that context it makes me uncomfortable…it seems to say that charity just for those who really need it.
But in the comments section came the following comment from someone named Leanne. It’s a great message for all who would look to Paul (or other parts of Scripture) when the Gospel passages get difficult.
We often run to Paul and to other Scriptures outside the Gospel to justify our dicomfort. But truth is, Christ called us to die, to pick up our cross. This is not a religion about what works economically. It is a belief system about God giving everything for Creation and inviting us to do the same.
…we shouldn’t run to Paul to explain Christ. We should run to Christ to explain Paul. As Bishop N.T.Wright states, read Paul first and the Gospels second, you’ll get Paul all wrong. Read Gospels first and Paul second, you’ll understand Paul in a whole new way.
I searched through a lot of N.T. Wright’s stuff to find an exact quote for the above comment but couldn’t find one. If one can offer it, I’d be appreciative.