Working with your hands

I’m chatting elsewhere (a Facebook group) about the phrase “work with your hands” in 1 Thess 4:11.

1 Thessalonians 4:11b-12 NIV
You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

(Please forgive the NIVness).

We have got to the point that we agree that it is wise for men to use their bodies and develop their physical strength as a means of fulfilling their God-given roles as men. It is also wise in order to stay grounded, especially in this screen-obsessed age.

But, is it a biblical requirement to 1) make a living from physical labour, and/or 2) include physical labour as essential to men’s Christian discipleship?

My answer: despite the wisdom of physical labour, it is not a requirement to make a living from it or include it as part of discipleship (1Tim 4:8).

I’m curious what others think.


My gut is that it isn’t “essential” or “requirement,” but that it is good for discipleship.

It teaches hard work that’s useful otherwise; it occupies time; it allows you to be useful to others instead if just yourself.

I think it’s a good question.


I think the “why” in verse 12 gives us the sense of what Paul has in view.

“…so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

He isn’t trying to contrast those who work with their hands versus those who work in front of a computer in an office. Rather, he doesn’t want the church to have the reputation of being sloths and beggars – people so consumed with high-minded spirituality that they can’t do honest work, and depend on others to put food on the table. He doesn’t want us to be spiritual busybodies who spend our days in idleness.

To work “with your hands” in this respect is not to say the work must be physically taxing, but that the work must actually be something we’re actively engaged in throughout our days. Our work needs to actually consume our time and attention. We should actually be laboring. The rich man who makes his wealth through sitting on the interest of his inheritance has his money working for him, but it can’t be said that he is working with his hands if he, himself, spends every day in leisurely pursuit. Such a man gains a certain reputation in the world. So too, the lazy “spiritual” man gains a reputation which is unbefitting of the people of God.

To summarize, Paul is commanding us to be engaged in good work as a manner of life. I don’t think this text has physicality in view.


That’s an excellent response. Thank you.

There are, of course, other passages in the NT that mention physical labour in different contexts. I’ll keep reading.

Thought a lot abt this through the years and I’ve found I never fully trust a man who does no work with his hands. And by this I don’t mean writing or coding or designing on a computer, even though these are dignified works. We all know the blowhard media maven who gives advice and trumpets his wisdom and opinions online while his house and car are a shambles, and his children are waifs. Sure, his wife thinks he’s wonderful, but this is because she’s not a wife. She’s a member of his fanclub. Do any of us disagree that what this man needs is to lose his phone and pad and go work, physically? That he ought not talk for a living? Or at least not until he’s proven willing to spend a year or two breaking a sweat at something other than exercising in front of a mirror.

Vanity and effeminacy are cast out by physical labor, by working with our hands. Yesterday I told congregation that their officers might well be picked by seeing if they clean toilets when they’re in the church restroom. And yes, I’ve said these things to men in the church. Some have listened. Love,


Thanks for these thoughts, Pastor Tim. Reminds me of things you said in S1, E4 of The World We Made, “The Sin of Effeminacy.”

Link here for those interested. Helpful listen on this topic.

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