2 Thessalonians 3
2 Thessalonians 3
2 Thessalonians 3. In this final chapter, Paul addresses some of the practical needs of the Thessalonians. But first of all, he mentions his own need for their prayers. He addresses the issue of those who were not working, but were instead gossiping and imposing on the generosity of others. Instructions are given as to how to deal with these ones, in order to help them. At the end of the chapter we have the closing salutations of the epistle.
Dependence and Confidence (3:1-5)
1 For the rest, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also with you; 2 and that we may be delivered from bad and evil men, for faith is not the portion of all. vv.1-2 Prayer for Paul. Paul desired the prayers of the saints for himself, and those who labored with him. Event he great apostle needed prayer! In this way, God in His wisdom seeks to draw the hearts of His people together, by causing them to feel their need, and others to pray for them. Yet Paul’s focus was right; he wanted “the word of the Lord” to be glorified, not himself. This ought to be the priority of every Bible teacher and preacher! When he says “that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified” he refers to propagation and effectiveness of the Word of God in the world. He adds, “even as also with you”, showing that his desire was for the Word of God to be every bit as effective in other places as it had been among the Thessalonians. We may ask ourselves; “does the Word of God have liberty among us? is the Word of the Lord glorified among us?” By God’s grace, it can be. But also, there were “bad and evil men”, who did not have faith, and these ones would oppose the spread of God’s Word. Paul requested prayer that they be delivered from such men. We might think, for example, of Alexander the coppersmith, who did Paul much evil (2 Tim. 4:14), or of Demetrius the silversmith, who stirred up the people against Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19). The saints could pray that Paul would be delivered from these men, who would seek to hinder the apostle in his mission. But this kind of enemy was to be expected; “for faith is not the portion of all”.
3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you and keep you from evil. 4 But we trust in the Lord as to you, that the things which we enjoin, ye both do and will do. vv.3-4 The Lord’s Faithfulness. Paul then speaks of the needs of the Thessalonians, and counts on the Lord to meet their needs. First of all, he speaks of their needing to be established. The saints in Thessalonica had been shaken by the false teachers who had gotten some of them to think that the day of the Lord had come. They needed to be established, first of all in the love of God, and secondly in the apostle’s doctrine. Secondly, the saints needed to be preserved from evil. The mystery of iniquity was working, and Satan was seeking to ruin the happy testimony in Thessalonica: from without through false teachers, and also from within through the activity of the flesh. Thirdly, the saints needed to “do” the things that Paul had instructed them. In all three of these things, Paul had confidence that the Lord would do it. He is the only one who can keep us. It is a good pattern for us; we can trust the Lord to work in the souls of His saints.
5 But the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of the Christ. v.5 God’s Love, Christ’s Patience. Paul’s last prayer was that the Lord would direct the hearts of the saints. Where someone’s heart is directed, their feet will follow. Changing the direction of someone’s heart is something only the Lord can do. God wants our hearts to be occupied with His love. The Lord directs our heart, but we also have a part; “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). How can we do this? Reading about and meditating on God’s love, allowing the Spirit to shed that love abroad in our hearts, and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs are a few ways we can do this. But also, the Lord directs our hearts into “the patience of the Christ”, which refers to Christ’s waiting to have us with Him. By occupying us with Christ, and considering that which He anticipates, it draws us into the communion of that same expectation; of being united with Christ, never to part! What a guard this occupation would be on our walk.
Rebuke of the Idle, Corresponding Instructions for the Assembly (3:6-15)
6 Now we enjoin you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the instruction which he received from us. v.6 Withdrawing from the Disorderly. Paul had given the Thessalonians instructions regarding conscientious behavior in 1 Thess. 4:11, that they were to “study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you”, but now a stronger word was needed. Apparently there were individual that were acting in an unseemly way, and it had gotten to a point where discipline was needed. Paul gave the saints a strong command, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, to do something that otherwise would be totally opposite to normal Christian behavior. To “withdraw from every brother walking disorderly” would mean to leave them socially isolated; to avoid them, and remain distanced from them. The conditions for this form of discipline are clear; it applies when a person is “walking disorderly” and “not according to the instruction which he received from us” i.e. not according to the word of God. We cannot apply this verse to brethren that we have a disagreement with, or because we simply do not like how they live, etc. If you are accustomed to wearing a suit and tie to the assembly meetings, you may view someone who doesn’t as disorderly. But just because a person is disorderly to you doesn’t mean they are disorderly according to scripture. These verses have been abused to allow for party-making and division. “Disorderly” here is walking against the express commands of scripture. However, the disorderly conduct is not to the point of unjudged sin like we have in 1 Cor 5. The goal of withdrawing from a disorderly brother is to reach the conscience of the person (v.14), before they get deeper into positive sin. Withdrawing is a form of discipline carried out by others toward and individual. It exercises the hearts and consciences of those in the assembly to have to carry out this commandment. It causes us to pass judgment on the same tendencies in our own hearts, and thus humbles us, and draws out our hearts toward the erring brother. In this way, sin is judged, and the discipline is carried out in love, rather than with hatred or expedience.
7 For ye know yourselves how ye ought to imitate us, because we have not walked disorderly among you; 8 nor have we eaten bread from any one without cost; but in toil and hardship working night and day not to be chargeable to any one of you: 9 not that we have not the right, but that we might give ourselves as an example to you, in order to your imitating us. 10 For also when we were with you we enjoined you this, that if any man does not like to work, neither let him eat. vv.7-10 Paul’s conduct and teaching among them. When Paul had visited the Thessalonians for a short time (“three Sabbath days”, which means between two and four weeks), he had left a pattern for the saints to imitate. Often the most effective way of teaching is by example. As an apostle, Paul had the “right” (v.9) to be materially supported by the saints. In 1 Cor. 9, Paul lays out the case for this. But in Thessalonica, Paul would not take from the saints. The reason was that he wanted his own conduct to be a positive example for the saints to follow. Therefore, in order to survive, Paul and his companions worked “night and day”, “in toil and hardship”. No doubt he operated as a tentmaker to earn money for food and lodging (Acts 18:3). How beautiful to see his care and concern for these young converts! May we have the same love and consideration for our brethren. But the example Paul gave was coupled with oral teaching; “For also when we were with you we enjoined you this, that if any man does not like to work, neither let him eat.” The principle of personal responsibility was something that some in Thessalonica naturally struggled with, just as the Cretans had a particular reputation (Titus 1:12). Paul sought to head that off shortly after their conversion by his example, and also by direct commandment. To “eat” without “working” is not right. “The husbandman must labour before partaking of the fruits” (2 Tim. 2:6). Sadly, as the culture drifts away from Christian values, the principle of personal responsibility is lost. It becomes normal to live on borrowed money, to impose on the good graces of others, and demand social welfare programs as a human right. But God’s order is that, even in the assembly, we ought to contribute if we are going to share in the results.
11 For we hear that there are some walking among you disorderly, not working at all, but busybodies. 12 Now such we enjoin and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that working quietly they eat their own bread. vv.11-12 Exhortation for the disorderly. Paul had heard that there were some who had left their secular employment altogether, and had become a burden to the assembly. Having no regular work, they fell into gossiping, and imposing on the generosity of others. It could very well be that the doctrinal error that had crept in among the saints had worsened their condition. The fear that the day of the Lord had arrived may have caused some to give up their work, and instead fill their time with talking about the evil condition around them. “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). In any case, it was a serious failure of these ones. How different from the Son of man, who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).
13 But “ye”, brethren, do not faint in well-doing. 14 But if any one obey not our word by the letter, mark that man, and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed of himself; 15 and do not esteem him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. vv.13-15 Exhortation for the assembly. Busybodies can make others “weary” of being generous, and also “weary” of seeking their restoration. The exhortation first of all, it not to give up in doing what is right! In v.14 Paul gives the course of action to be taken for those who do not obey the apostolic command; “mark that man, and do not keep company with him”. How difficult this would be for both sides, but how beneficial in the end! The goal of the discipline is stated; “that he may be ashamed of himself”. The assumption here is that the disorderly brother will come to his senses after others withdraw themselves, and correct the wrong behavior. But an important guard is given in v.15; “and do not esteem him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother”. Our thoughts toward a person who is walking disorderly, and perhaps needs to be shown some discipline, ought not to be thoughts of enmity, as if we are glad to be rid of their company. It ought to grieve us that this course of action is necessary! Another thing to note is that some communication is implied; “admonish him as a brother”. It could be taken that the withdrawal is a form of admonishment, but I think it goes beyond that. The disorderly brother needs to understand why his brethren are withdrawing from him. I think it is important that we never just cut someone off without explaining why. It could be perceived as hatred when it ought to be love; for even in discipline, faith works by love (Gal. 5:6).
Final Greetings (3:16-18)
16 But the Lord of peace himself give you peace continually in every way. The Lord be with you all. v.16 The Lord of peace. The Spirit here presents the Lord in a way that is totally unique; “the Lord of peace”. Elsewhere we read of the “God of peace” (Rom. 16:20; Phil. 4:9; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 13:20), but never the Lord of peace. Here it is Christ Himself, who rose victorious over the grave, and could say “Peace be unto you” (John 20:19, 21). It is a peace that the Lord Himself gives (John 14:27). It is a peace that abides “continually”, and calms our fears “in every way”. Whether it be the fear that the day of the Lord had come, His peace would meet that need. Whether it be difficulties in the assembly with those who were walking disorderly, His peace would also meet that need. No disturbance is too great. Paul also prayed that the Lord would be with the saints. Paul could not be there, but the Lord would be with them always. He wanted the saints to have an abiding sense of the Lord’s presence with them.
17 The salutation by the hand of me, Paul, which is the mark in every letter; so I write. v.17 Paul’s salutation, his mark. Ordinarily, Paul would dictate to a scribe (or an amanuensis, such as Tertius). The only inspired letters Paul wrote out with his own hand were Galatians and Philemon. But even when he would dictate a letter, Paul would sign with his own special signature to validate it. This he called “the mark in every letter”. This was important because in 2 Thess. 2:2, we find that one of the ways false doctrine was being taught to the Thessalonians was “by letter, as if it were by us”; i.e. a forged epistle containing misinformation. Paul made it clear that any epistle not containing his special mark was not to be trusted as a Pauline epistle.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. v.18 Grace. Finally, Paul prayed that “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” would be with “all” the Thessalonians. Surely, they would need it. This is the same way the first epistle was concluded. The needs were a little different, but the resource was the same; grace. They were a bright new testimony in Greece, but Satan was doing all he could to stop them. Whether it was the threat of persecution, the false teaching concerning the day of the Lord, or those who walked disorderly among them, these young converts would need the grace of Christ to be with them. But that grace was sufficient to meet all of their needs, and the same is true for us as well!