2 THESSALONIANS 3:6-15
BRIEF RECAP: In our last study we meditated on Paul’s petition for prayer on behalf of himself and his associates (3:1-5). We discussed how the Apostle viewed prayer for others and ourselves as vital to our Christian lives. In those verses, the context was regarding the spread of the gospel and protection from “perverse and evil people,” who are under the control of the “evil one” (v.3). But regardless of our current context and life’s complex situations that we face, we all need divine aid in persevering through it all (v. 3)!
As Paul continues his letter, he addresses a situation within the church that already had been addressed in his first writing (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12); those who refuse to work and are a burden to others thereby exploiting them for their own gain.
He does this by placing the situation and the explanation of why such behavior shouldn’t exist among them between two imperatives (commands). The first imperative is toward those who are obeying the word of the Lord and how they are to treat those who don’t (v. 6). The second is for those who are living in disobedience to known truth and casting off the example given them by the Apostle and his associates (v.12). Ready? Let’s dive in!
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you avoid every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (v.6).
Focus one: Perhaps it would make more sense to begin with the problem and then place our focus on Paul’s response to it. Paul “heard it through the grapevine,” that some of the believers in Thessalonica were leading undisciplined lives, were not working, and rather than being busy were busy bodies (v.11). It wasn’t everybody in the church, but it only takes a few to break unity and cause strife. It appears that some people were not following the apostles exhortations and to some degree their disobedience most likely was a result of misapplying Paul’s teaching on the return of Jesus Christ. Since it appears, from what we read in these letters, that they believed His return would be in their lifetime.
The resulting behaviors than fostered laziness, living out of step with their profession of faith, and therefore led some to exploit the lives of others. Rather than being occupied with work, “some were leading idle lives, minding everybody’s business but their own” (Ewert).
The Apostle finds himself having to rebuke some for such behavior and exhort others who were following his teaching to apply a Christ-like loving response to those who were not. But, don’t think that means that they were to just “let it go,” or they were to “forgive and forget” what troubles these others were causing the body. Not at all. The most Christ-like and loving thing they could do would be to respond to these people by “withholding their fellowship in order to put such people to shame in hopes that they would repent and mend their ways and be restored to full fellowship” (Ewert). (V.6,14-15) Shame was a powerful tool in that culture for motivating a person to realign their behavior with the communities values. In this case Christ’s values! They are NOT to be excommunicated as we see in 1 Corinthians 5, but be denied close social contact with other believers.
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example. For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” (vv. 7-10).
FOCUS TWO: This was burdensome to the apostle because when he was with them he not only taught them about the Lord’s return, he and his companions were examples to them in leading disciplined, productive, godly lives while waiting for the Lord (vv. 7-10). They were not burdensome to any of them laboring hard day and night. They led disciplined, intentional gospel centered lives in order to model to these people what such lives look like, so they would have an example to follow.
So, Paul hearing that there was such an issue within the Thessalonian church, felt led to exhort this congregation in two ways. First, how are those who are walking in obedience to respond to those who aren’t, and second, what are those walking in disobedience supposed to do now that Paul has reminded them of his former instructions?
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you avoid every brother who leads an undisciplined (unruly) life and not according to the tradition which you received from us” (v.6).
FOCUS THREE: Now that we looked at the situation and why Paul is addressing it, let’s now put our focus on the imperatives surrounding it that he gives to instruct these believers regarding their current dilemma. In verse six he gave this command to those who are walking uprightly and following their example, clearly because some discipline is necessary for the unruly people. His exhortation is clear, simple, and according to “the tradition” they received from him.
This tradition most likely is a reference to gospel instruction and gospel living that Paul gave them while he was present with them (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 5:14). Because “these people refused to work and instead relied on financial support from other believers, because they ignored his previous instruction, he commands the rest of the church to avoid them” (social distancing, removing close fellowship). Such people who refuse to work and care less about being a burden to others, are NOT to be supported!
Some may argue that doing such a thing “is not loving.” But is it truly loving to let people continue in their sin, to hurt others? Is it loving to allow lazy people the opportunity to continually exploit those who labor faithfully?
After laying down some guidelines for the bulk of the church, Paul then addresses the whole church generally, and the lazy busy bodies in particular (v. 11-13). His command to them is found in verse 12.
“Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.”
His command to these people is very clear and direct. Stop doing what you are currently doing and be obedient to the things that you were previously taught. Stop being lazy and work with your hands to provide for yourself and your family. “Paul is not offering advice (command and exhort), the health and witness of the church is at stake.”
In verses 14-15 the apostle adds some more instruction for those who are living rightly on how to handle those within their body that refuses to obey these instructions:
“And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that personand do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
NLT: Don’t think of them as enemies but warn them as you would a brother or sister.”
The words for brother and man are words used in general speaking of people and those united in some fellowship together, in this case the church.
Paul uses the word admonish (noutheteo) here which means to warn someone of the consequences of their actions. Paul is making it clear that this is the responsibility of the whole church and at the same time he is providing a model for them to follow of “church discipline.” Discipline, yes. But discipline aimed at the restoration of the person, not their condemnation!
Going back to verse 12 we find Paul’s encouragement to these believers as they deal with unruly people among themselves: “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”
Dealing with unruly people can be hard, exhausting work. It can way heavy on our hearts and minds. It can lead us into bitter and complaining spirits. But despite the hard exhausting effort involved Paul exhorts them to persevere. Thankfully, dear Christian, we have the Holy Spirit residing within us. We know the “Lord of peace” who is able to grant us peace in every circumstance as we read in verse 16! He is able to sustain us as we seek to help one another along the narrow way.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
- 1. Are you weary of doing good. What other scriptures can you find that will encourage you to persevere?
2. What does Matthew 18:15-17 teach regarding church discipline?
3. How is that form of discipline different from what Paul speaks of in our text (vv. 12-15).