Deep Dive: What does Paul mean by “work with your hands”?
In v.11 Paul starts to list out some instructions he has for the Thessalonians: aspire to live quietly, mind your own affairs, work with your hands, walk properly, and be dependent upon no one. To us this maybe sounds like a crotchety old man telling some hippie to get a job. But, the Thessalonians needed some encouragement in this because they were struggling to know how to live in light of Jesus’ eventual return. You’ll see that topic later in the chapter when Paul explains more about the Second Coming (4:13-5:11). When Paul was with the Thessalonians he told them about the Second Coming of Jesus, but he likely had to leave Thessalonica before being able to clarify all the details. So, some of the Thessalonians had quit their jobs and were waiting around for Jesus to come back at any moment. Paul got word of this, and their questions about the Second Coming, through Timothy’s report to him (3:6-10), so Paul wrote this letter to help clear things up. Thus we find in this section his encouragements to lead faithful, hard working lives until Jesus’ return, instead of sitting around and having to borrow money, which some of them had apparently started doing. Also, it took a while for this teaching to really sink in for the Thessalonians; Paul had to say some of the same things again in his second letter (2 Thess. 3:10-12).
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