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2 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV),

10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

Regarding the emboldened text above, is the proscription on eating related to not being allowed to share in the communal love feasts where the bread and wine would be shared? That is, it's a command to disfellowship the person who will not work?

Or is Paul here merely enumerating a principle that people in the church who can but won't work for a living don't have the right to sponge off other people, and charity to them should therefore be revoked?

Said another way, if you won't earn it [i.e., the ability to purchase your own comestibles] for yourself, you have no right to expect anyone else to supply your lack.

And, perhaps a related question, that might help answer the first:

What is the meaning of work here? Is it secular labor at a job or profession? Or it is working in the church through ministry, calling and gifts, etc.?

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2 Answers 2

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You need to look at how this came from the Law of Moses. Ruth 2 is an example of this law in action.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut. 24:19–22, ESV)

Thus, it's about providing the means for a person to gather their own food rather than giving it to them. My grandfather-in-law put it this way. "I will let people pick fruit from my fruit trees to eat, but I'm not going to pick the fruit for them.

However, note that Ruth brought to grain to Naomi. Note 1 Tim. 5:3-16,

8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Tim. 5:8, ESV)

Also in this passage Paul discussed providing for widows over 60 with no family. Even here, he discusses what they will to do serve people in the church.

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, 10 and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. (1 Tim. 5:9–10, ESV)

Thus, Paul does not say to forsake those without a job. He said provide the means for a person to be capable of working for food, but let them not expect people to be obligated to feed them without contributing with what action they are capable of.

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  • What about people who can't work because they're victims?
    – moron
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 21:46
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    Paul didn't say they had to earn money to eat, but to contribute some helpful activity according to their ability. Also, family are obligated to take care of relatives. The particular focus in the New Testament is widows and orphans with no family to support them.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Dec 25, 2021 at 22:13
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    You're right, even a victim can do something meaningful.
    – moron
    Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 23:53
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Is Paul here merely enumerating a principle that people in the church who can but won't work for a living don't have the right to sponge off other people, and charity to them should therefore be revoked?

Yes, exactly. The clue to understanding this verse is found in the following verses:

11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (ESV)

There were some Christians that were being lazy and did not present themselves as followers of Christ.

Further insight is found in the study note of this verse in the New World Translation:

Paul quotes counsel that he earlier gave to the Thessalonians, which set the standard for all Christians regarding industriousness. As the context shows, the congregation was not under obligation to provide materially for those who were able to work but refused to do so. (2Th 3:6-15) The exact saying is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures. However, the principle may be based on such scriptures as Ps 128:2; Pr 10:4; and 19:15.

What is the meaning of work here? Is it secular labor at a job or profession?

Yes, Paul uses himself as an example. Note what he says:

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.–2 Thessalonians 3:8 (ESV)

The NWT study note for verse 8 reinforces this:

Paul may be referring to his hard physical work as a tentmaker. (Ac 18:3) He hoped that by providing for their own needs, he and his companions served as examples that the Christians in Thessalonica and elsewhere could imitate.​—Ac 20:34, 35; 1Th 2:9; 2Th 3:7-10

[Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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