2 Thessalonians 3:6-18 - Admonishing the Disorderly
Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
Before coming to the end of this epistle the Apostle has to deal with an important but touchy matter concerning the life of some in the church of the Thessalonians. He has paved the way for it in the preceding verses. It is a matter which he also touched upon in the first letter (4:11-12) but seemingly they have not listened to him and the situation has become worse. He has indeed been filled with joy when he sees the progress of this church in the faith, but there are a few who do not live the kind of life required of true believers.
On Christ's Authority
It is not enough that he merely call attention to the way of life of some in this church. He uses stronger language than he had used in the previous epistle. He comes with his Apostolic command. His office is not one of service alone but he also comes with authority. It is an authority which has been given him by the King of the church in Whose employ he finds himself. He is the ambassador of Jesus Christ. He speaks in His name. He never considers his person to be important but he certainly realizes the importance of his office! The commands which he issues are in the name of the Lord Jesus. His word is the word of Christ. Let the people in Thessalonica therefore listen carefully to the commands he gives. He addresses the problem of the brother who walks in a disorderly manner and not after the traditions which they have received from Paul. He has given them the rule of life according to which they are to walk while he was with them. They are to believe in the gospel and so be united to the Christ and all His benefits. At the same time, they must live in gratitude for the salvation which they have received. Those were the traditions which he had given them. There is something wrong in their conception of the faith if they confess to belong to Him and walk in a disorderly manner. Later he will inform us what that disorderliness was.
He is addressing the true members of the church and is warning them about the lives of the disorderly. They must withdraw themselves from them. There are different views concerning the meaning of such a withdrawal. He does not ask them to shun such people entirely. He still calls such as walk in a disorderly manner brothers. It is therefore clear that they may not be completely shunned. However, those who so walk are a threat to the manner of life of others and something must be done to cause them to see the error of their way. Therefore, withdraw from them. Don't have close contact with them. Do not show such friendliness to them that they come to the conclusion that you approve of their manner of life. It must become clear to such people that their manner of life is a hindrance to the full fellowship with other members of the church. One can do this while still counting them as brothers. This is an important principle which the church must not overlook.
Follow Paul's Example
The traditions which had been given to this church by the Apostle were according to the demands of the law and the gospel. These were the traditions which Paul and his associates also kept. He had advised them to imitate him. Is this a dangerous form of teaching? It could be. But, we must not forget that the manner of life which was required of those who professed their faith in Jesus Christ was so different from the manner of life to which these people were accustomed that an example had to be given them. Nowhere would they be able to find an example except in the lives of those who had led them to the faith! Paul is, therefore, not afraid to use his own life as an example for these people to follow. And — if they follow his example and imitate his life, they will have a safe guide. We did not behave ourselves disorderly among you, he says. Life must correspond to the profession made. They did not only hear a message from Paul concerning a religion; he lived that religion which he brought to them.
Instead of living in a disorderly manner, Paul and his companions had lived an exemplary life before them. What did this consist of? They were not a burden to anyone. They did not live on the labors of others but on their own. This demanded long hours. It was with difficulty that they were able to do all that was required. Not only did they have to labor with their hands to make a living, the gospel also had to be proclaimed. They did both. As a result they had to work day and night; and they did this so that they might not be burdensome to any of the people there. Is this the approved way? Is this the standard for all others? No, he immediately adds that he had the right to ask for the support of this church so that he would not have had to labor day and night with his hands to make a living. He who brings the gospel has the right to live of the gospel. But, he purposely worked in this fashion so that he might be an example for them and that they might imitate him. Paul is always very much aware of his rights but is also ready to sacrifice these rights for a higher purpose. The gospel has to be proclaimed and the church of Jesus Christ must be built. To attain this purpose he will gladly spend himself and be spent. However, let not the church think that his manner of doing things in this particular church is to be of universal application. Therefore he reminds them of the rights he has which should be honored under normal conditions.
He reminds them now that he had taught them in the short period of time he had been with them in Thessalonica how a person should live as a believer. Here he gives us the nature of the disorderliness of the lives of some. They refuse to work! It has been brought to his attention that, despite all the things he has taught them, there are a few among them who do not work at all but make themselves busy with other things which are none of their business. They are busybodies rather than busy workers. This brings a twofold difficulty. They cannot support themselves and they make themselves obnoxious to others. The Apostle has a very simple remedy for the first. If any will not work, neither let them eat! Doesn't this sound harsh? So it indeed sounds to many today. However, we must remember that no one has spoken of love for the brethren and exhibited that love more in his own life than this Apostle. He is not only ready to slave for them but even to give his life for them. However, his love does not blind him to duty nor does he allow his love for others to trample the commandments of God! If they will not work, they have no right to food. If they will not work, they have no right to the support of others. They would then rob those who are really in need. Paul sees not only one aspect of the gospel, but the whole gospel. Those who think his comment here to be harsh do not take the whole counsel of God into consideration.
The reason these people do not work is not expressly stated in these verses. However, it is seemingly not due to a laziness which might be true concerning certain people in various churches. But in Thessalonica there was a belief that Christ would return soon. Why then work anymore? They became busybodies, i.e., they went about speaking to others concerning this imminent coming of Christ. This seemed to be much more "pious" than to work with their hands. Let them not eat — and thus learn the lesson which, seemingly, nothing else can teach them.
He now addresses these disorderly ones specifically. They will hear this epistle read in the church as well as the other members of the church. He gives them his Apostolic command and at the same time urges them to leave their former way of life and do those things which they have been taught. This he again does in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not coming to them with personal opinions but with the authority of Christ Himself. They are urged to work with quietness and eat their own bread. They have stirred up some of the others. They have been meddlesome. They have been a bad influence in the church. Let them now work calmly and they will then be able to provide their own needs. These things have been told them before, but it comes to them with a stronger emphasis now. The work-ethic which he holds before them is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore of great importance in the life of the believer.
The faithful members of the church are now addressed. They have seen the way in which some of the other members have conducted themselves. These seem to "have gotten away with it" till the present time. This can discourage the faithful members. What's the use? The Apostle now speaks directly to them and counsels them not to become weary in well-doing. This is the natural requirement of the gospel. His commands are not grievous. Continue to do well.
Even though Paul is writing the inspired word of God he is realist enough to realize that there may be some who will not obey the word which he is sending to them. What must the faithful believers do then? They must take notice of such a person. They should not assume an attitude as though nothing has happened. In verse six he had told them to "withdraw" themselves from such persons. Now he tells them to "have no company" with such a person. They must not take such a person into their intimate circle of friends. He must be made fully aware of the fact that his walk of life is offensive to the other members. They do not feel at home or comfortable with him. This is to be done in order that he may be ashamed of his own conduct. They are not to set up their own standards and say: "He now needs all our love" and thereby invite him into their intimate friendship. That would be contrary to the word of God as Paul writes it. The purpose of this attitude is to reform the one who has gone astray. When he has become ashamed he will turn to the manner of life approved of God and will again seek the fellowship of His people!
The way in which they are to deal with such an erring one is disciplinary but not to the extent of excommunicating him from the church of God. Even though he does not live the way he should and has not listened to the admonition of the word of God, he may not yet be counted as an enemy but must still be admonished as a brother! The others still have a responsibility toward him. If he continues along the path he has taken then the time will come when he can no longer be considered as a brother. But, that time is not yet. There is still the hope that he will become ashamed of his own ways. He has been taught the error of his way before and now again. Admonish him according to this word. A rift in the body of Christ is a serious matter and must be avoided as long as possible. Paul places responsibilities concerning this matter upon all believers but does not make a hero of the one who is erring!
In closing the Apostle prays that the peace of the Lord of peace may be given them. There were so many things which had disturbed the peace in this church and certainly the things of which he had just spoken were not the least of these disturbances. God is the One, and the only one, who is able to give peace of heart. He is also the only One who will be able to give this peace at all times and in all ways. Doubts may arise in the hearts of the faithful in this church whether or not there shall ever be the true peace again in this place. God is able to give it and He will give it. They, however, must be true to His word and walk uprightly before Him.
"The Lord be with you all"; also with those who do not live as they should; also with those who have the wrong view concerning the doctrine of the last things. With you all! You all need it! He will be with you all!
No doubt, Paul dictated his letters to others. If someone else wrote the letters there could always be the possibility that such a secretary would say that it was from Paul even though it was not. There were evidently letters in circulation which were not the letters of Paul (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2). This fact could undermine the authority of the Apostle. He therefore states in vs. 17 that he "autographs" each epistle. Though others may have been used to write the body of the epistle, he writes the closing words with his own hand. When the churches see his own handwriting at the end of the letter, they will thereby know that the whole letter is genuinely Pauline. It is mentioned at the conclusion of this particular epistle because the danger was present in this church that some might not believe this epistle to be authentic. At the same time we are then also taught that this is the mark which he has placed on all his writings, even though he doesn't mention it after each letter.
The benediction is the same as at the conclusion of his first letter to this church except that the word "all" is added. The grace of God is needed by all believers — and by all who stray.
Questions for Discussion
How can one withdraw and not have company with an erring brother and still have a good influence on such a one?
What authority did the Apostle have? Is this the same authority which ministers of the word have today? If not, why not?
We often hear of the Judeo-Christian work ethic. Is this Scriptural? Is it emphasized enough or too much?
Is it proper today to refuse food to someone of whom we know that he will not work? How about his family?
How long must the church labor with someone who errs before excommunication takes place? Are we usually too patient or not patient enough?
Paul wrote more letters than are, contained in the New Testament. (Cf. Colossians 4:16) If these are ever found, should they be added to our Bible?