“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]