“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2).
Paul the Apostle opened this letter to the Thessalonian church with the following word of encouragement: “…we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Here now in the final chapter of this epistle, Paul will make an appeal of his own: “pray for us.” So just as Paul prayed on behalf of the Thessalonian congregation, he now asked them to reciprocate in praying for him.
That petition took the form of three requests. Paul first asked the Thessalonians to pray for the rapid propagation of God’s Word. Prior to the advent of modern-day communication technology and the near-instantaneous exchange of information we enjoy today, this idea was effectively conveyed through the image of a speedy athlete sprinting towards a finish line. In a similar manner, Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray “…that the word of the Lord may run swiftly.”
He next asked them to pray that God would prompt others to honor (ESV) or respect (CEV) that message. The Christians at Thessalonica were in an excellent position to act upon that request since they had received the word of the Lord in that very same manner (“just as it is with you“).
Finally, Paul made a personal appeal: “…that we may be delivered from perverse (improper, unrighteous) and wicked (actively malicious) men” (AMPC). It is worth noting that Paul prioritized God’s agenda ahead of his personal needs in making this request. In doing so, he followed Jesus’ own example: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).
On a positive note, the New Testament book of Acts tells us that God answered this prayer request in an encouraging and personal manner (see Acts 18:9-10). Nevertheless, as one commentator reminds us, “Paul faced almost constant physical danger during his years of ministry. This text, along with Rom. 15:30, 31; 2 Cor. 1:11; Phil. 1:19, shows how much he relied on the prayers of God’s people for the continuation of his ministry, if not for his own survival.” (1)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2147). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 ESV).
Just as a tree can be identified by the fruit it produces, a person may also be known by the “fruit” that his or her actions produce. Jesus made use of this imagery as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew…
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:16-20).
For his part, Paul the Apostle was certainly familiar with people who exhibited “bad fruit.” Throughout his ministry, Paul regularly confronted those who were unreasonable (KJV), unprincipled (Mounce), perverse (NET), and/or stubborn (NCV). For instance, Paul encountered fierce opposition from the religious world (Acts 18:12-17), the secular world (Acts 19:23-41), and individuals as well (2 Timothy 4:14-15). Of course, this unfortunate reality was something the Thessalonian Christians also knew from their own experience.
Despite these things, Paul sought to encourage the Thessalonians in the following verse: “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). While conflict may kindle a sense of discouragement, this passage reminds us that God’s faithfulness is greater and far more durable than the opposition we may encounter. As we’re reminded in the Biblical book of Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 NIV).
Finally, one commentator leaves us with some valuable observations on this passage…
“Paul’s statement at the end of verse 2 that all men are not of the faith is a classic understatement. Jesus had put it much more strongly, saying that the world hated them (Jn 17:14), and Paul himself had been often badly misused. The unfaithfulness of men, however, provides a transition to the faithfulness of God, which is a favorite subject of Paul’s (1 Cor 10:13; 1 Thess 5:24; 2 Tim 2:13). The faithfulness of God means here that He will support and keep from evil.” (1)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2489). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ” (2 Thessalonians 3:4-5).
We can associate the word “confidence” with the quality of trust in the reliability of a person or thing. While confidence can often be a valuable asset, it’s important to consider the object of that confidence. You see, confidence can be a good thing when it is placed in the God of the Scriptures. But it is also something that can lead to failure when it is built upon our limited talents, attributes, skills, or abilities.
The Apostle Paul demonstrated the proper role of confidence in the lives of God’s people as he expressed his assurance that the Christian community at Thessalonica would follow through upon his directives. Notice that Paul’s confidence was not placed in the members of the Thessalonian church. Instead, his confidence was based upon the Lord’s ability to enable them to fulfill His agenda. As Paul once remarked to another first-century church, “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
He then followed with his expressed desire for the Lord to direct their hearts into the love of God and the patience of Christ. This reference to the “heart” is a Biblical metaphor that deserves closer attention, for similar references appear over one hundred times within the pages of the New Testament Scriptures.
The word “heart” is translated from the word kardia in the original language of this passage. It also forms the basis for our modern-day word “cardiac.” When used in this context, the heart refers to our innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense. Just as our physical hearts are internally concealed, so it is true of our spiritual and emotional hearts as well.
Although we cannot see the existence of physical heart disease without the use of advanced technology, we can certainly see the external effects of such disease upon those who suffer from it. The same is true of our emotional hearts as well. While we cannot physically detect the presence of spiritual heart disease, we can often discern its presence through the actions of those who are afflicted with it.
“But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Virtually everyone is familiar with the experience of dealing with a recurring problem. For Paul the Apostle and the members of the Thessalonian church, one such problem took the form of disorderly conduct within their congregation. If you’ve ever had to correct someone more than once, then Paul’s experience with the Thessalonians should feel quite familiar.
In addition to what we read in the passage quoted above, Paul offered the following counsel in his previous epistle to the church at Thessalonica: “…we urge you, brethren… that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-11).
So it appears that Paul addressed this issue at least once during his initial visit to Thessalonica and then again in 1 Thessalonians chapter four. This may explain why “…we urge you” in 1 Thessalonians chapter four has become “…we command you” once again in 2 Thessalonians chapter three.
While the concept of “disorder” may be expressed in many different ways, we can gain a better understanding of this passage by surveying the way it is rendered by different Biblical translators. For instance, consider the way 2 Thessalonians 3:6 appears in the following Biblical versions…
“…keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive” (NIV).
“…stay away from every brother or sister who lives an undisciplined life” (CEB).
“…keep away from every brother who walks irresponsibly” (HCSB).
“…I beg you not to have anything to do with any of your people who loaf around” (CEV).
“…keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness” (ESV).
So it seems clear that this problem was not limited to an isolated matter or an obscure individual within the church. It also appears that those who exhibited these characteristics exerted a negative impact upon many others within their fellowship.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this passage comes from the realization that Paul is not addressing outsiders but other Christians within the church. This reminds us of the need to prayerfully engage in a regular self-assessment to ensure that we do not fall into similar practices that harm us, negatively affect others, or reflect poorly upon Christ. The Scriptures identify several other attitudes and practices to avoid and we’ll consider some of them next.
“Now here is a command, dear brothers, given in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ by his authority: Stay away from any Christian who spends his days in laziness and does not follow the ideal of hard work we set up for you” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 TLB).
In addition to staying away from those who exhibit the disorderly characteristics of idleness, negligence, laziness, and/or irresponsibility, the Scriptures counsel us to withdraw from several other negative practices as well…
“Brothers and sisters, I urge you to watch out for those people who create divisions and who make others fall away from the Christian faith by teaching doctrine that is not the same as you have learned. Stay away from them” (Romans 16:17 GW).
“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts…” (1 John 5:21 TLB).
“Dear friends, your real home is not here on earth. You are strangers here. I ask you to keep away from all the sinful desires of the flesh. These things fight to get hold of your soul. When you are around people who do not know God, be careful how you act. Even if they talk against you as wrong-doers, in the end they will give thanks to God for your good works when Christ comes again” (1 Peter 2:11-12 NLV).
“Keep away from angry, short-tempered men, lest you learn to be like them and endanger your soul” (Proverbs 22:24 TLB).
“Keep away from every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22 GW).
“For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NET).
“Keep away from worthless and useless talk. It only leads people farther away from God” (2 Timothy 2:16 CEV).
“But keep away from those godless legends, which are not worth telling. Keep yourself in training for a godly life” (1 Timothy 4:7 GNB)
“But have nothing to do with foolish and ignorant speculations [useless disputes over unedifying, stupid controversies], since you know that they produce strife and give birth to quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23 AMP).
“But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11 NKJV).
Instead of engaging in such practices, 1 Timothy 6:11 provides us with a far better suggestion: “…flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.”
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
The concept of “walking” is a Biblical word-picture that is often used to describe a lifestyle or way of living. This metaphor is employed in a negative sense in the passage quoted above to identify those who were unwilling to work. This was more than just a temporary lapse in good judgment among some members of the Thessalonian church. Instead, it referred to a continual pattern of conduct that intentionally rejected the Word of God as delivered by Paul the Apostle. (1)
There were a few things that may have led Paul to issue this prohibition…
“The origin of this group of idlers in the church might be the Greco-Roman aristocratic disdain for manual labor, or a mistaken belief that the day of the Lord had come and canceled the need for such labor (2Th_2:2). More likely, they may have pursued a philosophic, specifically a Cynic, lifestyle… Idlers were known to pass their days in the marketplaces of Greek cities (including Thessalonica—Act_17:5); some may have been genuinely converted but not given up their previous lifestyle.” (2)
It’s often been said that a person is known by the company he or she keeps. Since we tend to be influenced by the habits, mannerisms, and convictions of our friends and associates, this may explain why Paul encouraged the Thessalonian church to disengage from those who displayed these behaviors. As Paul also reminded another first-century church, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33 HCSB).
The Christians of Thessalonica may have also been in danger of “guilt by association” by engaging with those who acted in this manner. Then, as now, those who seek to live off the efforts of others do not reflect well upon God or His Word. Such examples are sure to be acknowledged by the world at large and may lead to the sentiment expressed in the New Testament book of Romans…
“You are so proud of knowing God’s laws, but you dishonor him by breaking them. No wonder the Scriptures say that the world speaks evil of God because of you” (Romans 2:23-24 TLB).
This makes it important to ensure that we set the right standard for others through our work efforts. We’ll see how Paul modeled that example over the next few studies.
(1) See Wilbur Fields, Thinking Through Thessalonians, Chapter Three 3:6-8 [pg. 229] https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesThessalonians/17Thessalonians_djvu.txt
(2) Craig S. Keener The IVP Bible Background Commentary [2 Thessalonians 3:6-15]
“For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you, and we did not eat anyone’s food without paying. Instead, in toil and drudgery we worked night and day in order not to burden any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 NET).
This portion of Paul the Apostle’s message to the Thessalonian church is reminiscent of the standard of conduct he referenced in another of his New Testament letters: “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24).
As we see from this passage in 2 Thessalonians, Paul was certainly familiar with drudgeries of secular employment. However, Colossians 3:23-24 also implies that he viewed his work as a duty that God had entrusted to him. In a similar manner, we can find meaning and fulfillment in our work if we view it as a responsibility that God has given us.
A difficult, tedious, or unsatisfying job may prompt us to follow the poor example of some of these members of the Thessalonian church. However, those who labor “…as unto the Lord” (ASV) are motivated to perform quality work because it reflects well upon Christ even if they have no other reason for doing so. Consider the following observation on this subject…
“‘Some of you may say… my work is very humdrum and routine. I do the same old things over and over, and I get so tired of it.’ There is work like that, but the answer of Scripture to that situation is, ‘whatsoever you do in word or deed, do to the glory of God’ (Colossians 3:17 KJV), i.e., offer it as unto Jesus.
Even routine work can become very acceptable if you are concerned to do it as unto the Lord; every product that you turn out or every pull of the handle that you are responsible for, is done as unto the Lord; it is something he has asked you to do. That is the Christian philosophy of work. By means of that, we can transform even humdrum work into that which is meaningful and worthwhile.” (1)
Another commentator offers a perspective that we would also do well to consider…
“It is always a privilege to do even the most menial things for someone whom we love and respect and admire. All his life the Christian is on the business of the King.” (2)
(1) Excerpted with permission from Is Work a Curse? © 1988 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
(2) Barclay, William. “Commentary on 1 Timothy 1:1-2”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/1-timothy-1.html. 1956-1959.
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).
We can identify an important aspect of Paul the Apostle’s character by considering the example he set for the members of the Thessalonian congregation. In making these statements in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had established a standard for them to follow. In other words, Paul did not ask the Christians at Thessalonica to do something he was unwilling to do Himself.
We can uncover some additional insights from this passage if we take the time to examine it’s individual components. For instance…
“you yourselves know how you ought to follow us.” Paul’s conduct among the Thessalonians provided them with a template for life and work. Even though we are far removed from Paul’s in-person example, these verses provide similar directives for modern-day readers of this passage.
“for we were not disorderly among you.” Disorder is not a characteristic of God’s leadership nor should it exemplify those who follow Him. As Paul reminded the church at Corinth, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
“nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge.” A first-century document known as the Didache was written to provide the early church with general instruction and ethical guidance on various aspects of Christian life. A portion of that work applies to our discussion of 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8…
“Let every apostle, when he cometh to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departeth let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he findeth shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.” (1)
Finally, we’re told, “(we) worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.” Paul took care of his own expenses to demonstrate an important lesson: we should not seek to depend upon the charity of others if God provides us with the ability to provide for ourselves. Since Paul was employed as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), it’s probably safe to assume that he put those skills to work during his time in Thessalonica.
“not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
Paul the Apostle was not the sort of person to live by the motto, “Do as I say and not as I do.” Instead, he affirmed his message to the church at Thessalonica by “practicing what he preached.” For Paul, that meant work in a secular trade as he ministered to the people of that area.
While Paul is widely recognized as a teacher and evangelist, this passage tells us that he also employed his professional skills to provide for his material needs while pursuing God’s call to ministry. Yet even though he engaged in outside employment to support his work among the Thessalonians, Paul also endorsed the legitimacy of full-time ministry as well. Perhaps the clearest expression of that support is found in the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians…
“Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13-14).
Thus, Paul’s example reminds us that it may be appropriate to decline to exercise a right if doing so will serve a greater good.
2 Thessalonians 3:9 also implies that Paul resorted to such employment as a means of carrying out his ministry in a more effective manner. This set the right example for the Thessalonian church in several different ways. First, it prevented others from calling Paul’s internal motives into question. Anyone who might seek to delegitimize Paul’s ministry by asserting that “he was only in it for the money” would find that claim undercut by his own example.
From an external perspective, this approach served to contrast Paul’s ministry with others who were serving from a profit motive. Since there were many who sought to peddle the Word of God as a way of making money during that time, this decision set Paul apart from those who viewed religion as a business opportunity.
So just as we might expect from any good leader, Paul taught the Thessalonians what to do and then demonstrated how to do it. As mentioned earlier, this sent a clear message to the Thessalonian church: a God-honoring person must seek to be self-supporting if he or she is legitimately capable of doing so. Paul will go on to reiterate that point in a very direct manner next.
“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
One Biblical scholar identifies two important characteristics associated with 2 Thessalonians 3:10. First, the grammatical structure of this passage in the original language indicates that “He who does not work shall not eat” (TLB) was something that was already familiar to the congregation at Thessalonica. In fact, this verse implies that Paul the Apostle mentioned this repeatedly during his time with them. Next, this command was not theoretical in nature; there were individuals within this church who simply refused to work. (1)
So much like the mechanic who must continue to repair a device that will not stay fixed, Paul was forced to continue to address this problem among the Thessalonians. While this may have been challenging for Paul, we can benefit from their recalcitrance with a few observations from this passage.
First, it’s important to note what this text doesn’t say. For instance, this passage does not address those who legitimately cannot work. Nor does it apply to those who are temporarily unemployed, people who are experiencing short-term financial difficulties, the elderly, the disabled, children, or those unfortunate individuals who have been financially devastated by an unforeseen circumstance. Instead, this passage applies to those who will not work.
“Those who will not work” encompasses people who have made a conscious decision to avoid seeking employment in favor of some other form of support. This might involve a direct solicitation, an emotional and/or manipulative appeal, or an attempt to gain favor with other individuals who are capable of supporting their desired lifestyle. Even those who possess little wealth may face similar pressures from family members, friends, and/or others. In these instances, the words of 2 Thessalonians 3:10 serve as an important guideline: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” (NET).
Admittedly, it may be challenging to engage with those who fall into this category. This is especially true in dealing with those who are skilled in the art of emotional manipulation. On one hand, we may wish to support such individuals simply as a way to avoid conflict, alleviate a sense of guilt, or simply feel better about ourselves. On the other hand, this passage does not justify coldness, rudeness, indiscriminate rejection, or disinterest in the legitimate needs of others.
Instead of following those inappropriate extremes, we can use this passage as a guide to prayerfully determine what is best for others in such instances. We’ll consider an example where such support is warranted and see what we can learn from it next.
(1) See Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, [2 Thessalonians 3:10] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_03.html
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV).
The New Testament epistle of 1 Timothy offers some valuable insights that we can apply to our look at this passage from 2 Thessalonians 3:10…
“Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.
Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help. But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives. Give these instructions to the church so that no one will be open to criticism. But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers” (1 Timothy 5:3-8 NLT).
Unlike many contemporary forms of retirement planning, there were no means of assistance available to help the aged in the days of the first century. If an older person did not possess the physical ability to work and had no other source of income, he or she usually had to resort to begging to survive. In such instances, it was right and proper for the church to assist someone who fell into that category. This helped maintain a sense of dignity for those who could no longer support themselves.
Nevertheless, this passage provides us with several important qualifications…
The person under consideration must have no other means of financial support.
The initial support responsibility belonged to the immediate family members, not the church at large.
The person in need of support was responsible to pursue a lifestyle that honored God.
In a modern-day context, we might compare this example to those who are seeking financial assistance in an effort to start a new life in Christ. In fact, many churches maintain benevolence funds to assist those who are attempting to rebuild their lives in this manner. However, a person who seeks this kind of assistance while simultaneously pursuing a God-dishonoring lifestyle serves to divide him or herself from a church family who can help. In such instances, it may be proper to invoke the teaching given to us here in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
“For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11).
Earlier in 2 Thessalonians 1:4, Paul the Apostle issued the following commendation to the church at Thessalonica: “…we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring” (NIV). So it seems that word had gotten around regarding the church’s resilience in Christ under some difficult conditions. Unfortunately, there was some not-so-good news circulating about the church as well: “…we hear that there are some people among you who live lazy lives and who do nothing except meddle in other people’s business” (GNT).
The busybodies referenced here involved rumormongers who were in the habit of gossiping about others. So it appears there were some who were highly motivated to share the latest news or tidbit of information about the affairs of others within the Thessalonian church.
This type of attitude can be quite destructive and we’ll look at a few Biblical admonitions against such behavior in our next study. But before we continue, it might be helpful to consider the environment that may have led to this response within their congregation.
We should carefully consider the following analysis as we evaluate modern-day speakers, authors, video presentations, and websites that are primarily geared towards current events and their potential correlation to Jesus’ return…
“Perhaps the teaching that Christ could return at any moment had led some of the believers into idleness. This is not certain, but it has been the conclusion of several commentators. The ‘undisciplined’ had quit their jobs and were idle, ‘doing no work at all,’ and were simply waiting for the Lord to return. This interpretation seems justified, and is certainly consistent with life.
These idle ones most likely believed in the imminent return of Christ for them (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Such deductions have led other Christians to do the same thing at various other times throughout church history: quit working and simply wait for the Lord to appear. When people are not busy with their own work, they may tend to meddle in the business of others. They may become ‘busybodies,’ rather than busy, neglecting their own business in order to mind other people’s, even minding everybody else’s business but their own.” (1)
As another commentator observed centuries ago, “The servant who waits for the coming of his Lord aright, must be working as his Lord has commanded. If we are idle, the devil and a corrupt heart will soon find us somewhat to do.” (2)
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 2 Thessalonians 2020 Edition [3:10, 2. Specific instructions concerning the idle 3:11-13] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2thessalonians/2thessalonians.htm
(2) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary [Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15] https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=53&c=3
“For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11 ESV).
In addition to what we read here in 2 Thessalonians chapter three, the Scriptures have much to say regarding the type of behavior described in the passage quoted above…
“Don’t tell your secrets to a gossip unless you want them broadcast to the world” (Proverbs 20:19 TLB).
“A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret” (Proverbs 11:13 NIV).
“Gossip is spread by wicked people; they stir up trouble and break up friendships” (Proverbs 16:28 GW).
“The words of a whisperer or slanderer are like dainty morsels or words of sport [to some, but to others are like deadly wounds]; and they go down into the innermost parts of the body [or of the victim’s nature]” (Proverbs 26:22 AMPC).
“Anyone who spreads gossip will be silenced, and no one who is conceited will be my friend” (Psalm 101:5 CEV).
Proverbs 26:20 also tells us, “Where there is no fuel a fire goes out; where there is no gossip arguments come to an end” (CEV). This is a fitting illustration for 2 Thessalonians 3:11 for there are three things required to start a fire: oxygen, fuel, and an ignition source. With this in mind, we can say that information (or speculation) serves as the oxygen for gossip. A busybody who holds that information represents the potential fuel source. Ignition occurs (and gossip begins) when the person who possesses the information begins to repeat it to others.
When faced with a fire of any kind, the fastest way to stop it is to deprive it of fuel or oxygen. Not surprisingly, the fastest way to stop gossip involves a similar approach- don’t take part in spreading innuendo and don’t encourage others to do so.
We can differentiate between legitimate information-sharing and gossip by uncovering the nature of the information with a few important questions…
- Is it meddlesome?
- Is it gratuitous?
- Is it helpful?
- Does it serve to tear another person down or build that person up?
Asking such questions can help us heed Jesus’ warning from the Gospel of Matthew…
“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you” (Matthew 12:35-37 NLT).
“Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:12).
This admonition to “work quietly” (CSB) was nothing new for Paul the Apostle. In fact, Paul issued a similar directive in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica and later again in the New Testament book of 1 Timothy. We can gain a better understanding and appreciation for this directive by illustrating it with the concept of a workbench.
In this illustration, our workbench comprises the life and work that God has given us. The tools of our trade include the talents, skills, abilities, and/or opportunities that God has provided. Some have been given extensive workbenches with a high volume of work along with many tools and assistants. Then there are those who work largely alone on smaller workbenches with specialized tools that are designed to perform a specific task. Untold numbers of other craftpersons occupy every space in between.
For some, there may be a lengthy apprenticeship and training period before he or she begins work. Others are required to learn as they go with seemingly little or no external support. There may be some periods where the amount of work appears overwhelming while at other times, there are lengthy intervals between work assignments. Just as each human being is unique and different, so is the type and volume of work that God has placed upon our individual workbenches.
This brings us to Paul’s exhortation here in 2 Thessalonians 3:12. You see, it is often tempting to look at other workbenches to offer suggestions, criticisms, ideas, or opinions regarding the work that others perform. This may be appropriate if God has placed us in a supervisory capacity or whenever we encounter a work product that is clearly misaligned with God’s Word.
However, it is often better to focus upon our own workbench and the work that God has called us to do in most instances. Since it is difficult to produce quality work while simultaneously critiquing the work of others, the admonition given to us in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 offers a valuable reminder. While it may be God’s will for some to be placed in highly visible positions, the vast majority of God’s people are probably best served by working diligently and quietly as they dedicate their lives to representing Jesus well in the arena where He has placed them.
This illustration was partially inspired by Jesus’ Parable Of The Talents
“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13).
While it is one thing to honor God in the physical duties and responsibilities of life, the mental and emotional strain of those obligations should not be overlooked. While our earlier look at this chapter focused on the right external approach to the toil and drudgeries of life, this passage offers an opportunity to examine our internal approach.
You see, most people are familiar with “the daily grind” of life. Much like the abrasive effect of a machine tool upon a piece of metal, the monotonous toil of everyday existence tends to wear us down mentally and emotionally. As the days and weeks stretch into the months and years of life, it may be challenging to maintain the right attitude in regard to our lives and work. In other words, it’s easy to become weary in doing good.
For instance, we may be wearied by a sense of futility, the nagging suspicion that our lives and work have no lasting value. (1) As mentioned earlier, we can address that response by engaging in our daily responsibilities as if we were working for Christ.
We might also grow weary as we see the apparent prosperity of those who seem to care little for the things of God. We can respond to this strange disparity by remembering that our physical lives are relatively short (James 4:13-14) and eternity is far longer. Psalm 37 also addresses this subject at length and offers the following reminder…
“I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace” (Psalm 37:35-37 NIV).
Finally, we may grow disheartened by the seemingly never-ending problems of daily life and the prospect of having to deal with those problems well into the foreseeable future. In such instances, we would do well to remember Jesus’ counsel from Matthew 6:34: “So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own” (NET).
Therefore, we should seek to maintain our focus upon Christ each day while remembering the promise of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up.”
(1) It is significant to note that God inspired a Biblical author to write a book that is almost entirely dedicated to this subject
“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
Here in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Paul the Apostle offers some practical instruction for interacting with those whose lives do not accurately represent what they profess to believe as Christians. This is important, for a person who claims to follow Christ but habitually acts in a manner that denies His teachings is someone who misrepresents Jesus and will likely bring unwarranted criticism upon His people.
Unfortunately, this was not the only New Testament-era church where Paul had to address this issue…
“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Since those outside the church often judge Christ by those who claim to represent Him, we thus have Paul’s instruction to disassociate with those who are living in a manner that is inconsistent with genuine Biblical doctrine. Nevertheless, we should note the emphasis he places upon the potential for restoration: “Don’t think of him as an enemy, but speak to him as you would to a brother who needs to be warned” (TLB).
A person who is genuinely concerned about his or her relationship with Jesus will surely be shamed by such expressions of disapproval and hopefully be motivated to adopt a more God-honoring lifestyle. One source expands upon the desired outcome from such a response…
“‘…allowing a believer to persist in blatantly unchristian, exploitive, and disruptive behavior is not a kindness—neither to the church nor to the errant believer nor to the watching non-Christian public.’ (a) Paul put social pressure to good use here. It is regrettable that in our day social pressure often has very little influence on erring brethren. Rather than submit to church discipline, many Christians simply change churches. Strong measures may be necessary (‘do not associate with him’), in some cases, so the offender will feel the need to repent (‘so that he will be put to shame’), and to live in harmony with the will of God.” (b) (1)
(1) (a) D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, p. 213; (b) See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4:12:5-11. Quoted in Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 2 Thessalonians 2020 Edition [3:14, 3. Further discipline for the unrepentant 3:14-15] https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2thessalonians/2thessalonians.htm
“But if anyone does not obey our message through this letter, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NET).
This passage offers a brief opportunity to consider the proper approach to managing conflict between God’s people as well as the larger subject of church discipline.
We can begin with the following counsel from the New Testament book of Romans: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV). Even though this verse implies that it may not be possible to consistently live in peace with everyone, this should not prevent us from attempting to do so. As Jesus encouraged us in the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
Another portion of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew’s Gospel establishes the proper way to interact with those who have sinned against us…
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 NLT).
The Scriptures also tell us that there are some instances where it may be appropriate to end relationships with those who are responsible for generating division, conflict, and disagreement…
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (Romans 16:17 NIV).
“If anyone is causing divisions among you, he should be given a first and second warning. After that have nothing more to do with him, for such a person has a wrong sense of values. He is sinning, and he knows it” (Titus 3:10-11 TLB).
Nevertheless, we should seek to maintain humility, respect, and an opportunity for restoration in such instances…
“…if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong” (Galatians 6:1 TLB).
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
As we approach the close of this letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul the Apostle will begin his final remarks by sharing his prayerful desire for the members of their fellowship: “Now may the Lord of peace Himself grant you His peace at all times and in every way [that peace and spiritual well-being that comes to those who walk with Him, regardless of life’s circumstances]. The Lord be with you all” (AMP).
The importance of this prayer request should not be overlooked, for peace is an essential (yet often elusive) quality. Unfortunately, we never seem to be far from a headline, a phone call, or other piece of information that serves to remind us that this world is far from peaceful. Even “peace” itself may be something that is easy to say but difficult to define.
The concept of “peace” is generally associated with a sense of contentment and/or well being. This may be reflected in the absence of external hostilities ranging from personal disagreements all the way to armed warfare. The same is true for internal conflicts like anxiety or insecurity. Therefore, a person who is free from internal or external discord is someone who is likely to be “at peace.”
We should also recognize that peace is not necessarily synonymous with the idea of “happiness.” You see, happiness is usually derived from the acquisition of something we desire. The problem is that “things” cannot bring lasting peace, for the source of genuine peace is not something but Someone– God Himself. Since peace is a quality that is associated with the Spirit of God (see Galatians 5:22), we should look to Him to find lasting peace in a constantly changing world.
One source expands upon this idea with several additional insights…
“This is the only New Testament occurrence of the appellation ‘Lord of peace.’ However, God is called ‘the God of peace’ several times (Romans 15:33; Philippians 4:9; I Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). He is the one who both creates peace and sustains it in the believer’s soul. He is not only ‘the Lord of peace,’ but also ‘the Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6), ‘the God of peace’ (Romans 16:20); the Author of peace (I Corinthians 14:33), and ‘the King of peace’ (Hebrews 7:2). In fact, ‘He is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14) and someday ‘shall speak peace unto the heathen’ (Zechariah 9:10) and see that of ‘peace there shall be no end’ (Isaiah 9:7).” (1)
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 2 Thessalonians 3:16 https://www.icr.org/bible/2Th/3/16/
“The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (2 Thessalonians 3:17-18).
A first-century letter was often composed by a secretary known as an amanuensis. In such instances, a brief, handwritten portion from the author served to authenticate his or her message just as we see in the passage quoted above. For Paul the Apostle, this represented more than just a personal note for verification purposes; it also protected his recipients from others who might wish to circulate forged correspondence alleged to have been written by him.
This undoubtedly represented a concern for Paul and the members of the Thessalonian church based on something he mentioned earlier within this letter…
“We ask you, brothers and sisters, not to be easily upset or troubled, either by a prophecy or by a message or by a letter supposedly from us, alleging that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 CSB, emphasis added).
Many commentators believe that Paul was concerned with the possibility that others were using his name to legitimize and promote false teachings. To guard against that risk, Paul typically signed his name and added a sentence or two of his own at the conclusion of each letter. This provided an effective means of validation, especially in those instances where Paul used different secretaries to compose his messages. One source identifies the value of this simple precautionary measure by noting, “The salutation of Paul in his own hand is the mark of genuineness for his letter. The Thessalonians need not wonder whether another letter they might get would be authentic” (1)
With that, our look at this epistle concludes with a familiar benediction…
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (2 Thessalonians 3:18).
The following commentary offers a fitting observation that summarizes the value of this letter for readers of every generation…
“The book of 2 Thessalonians is especially meaningful for those who are being persecuted or are under pressure because of their faith. In chapter 1 we are told what suffering can do for us. In chapter 2 we are assured of final victory. In chapter 3 we are encouraged to continue living responsibly in spite of difficult circumstances. Christ’s return is more than a doctrine; it is a promise. It is not just for the future; it has a vital impact on how we live now.” (2)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2491). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Life Application Study Bible NKJV 2 Thessalonians 3:18 Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved.