2 Thessalonians 3 – Guidance for Church Life
A. Prayer requested and given.
1. (1-2) Paul’s prayer request.
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.
a. Finally, brethren, pray for us: Paul constantly asked other Christians to pray for him (Romans 15:30, 2 Corinthians 1:11, Ephesians 6:18-19, Philippians 1:19, Colossians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, and Philemon 1:22). Paul knew that the success of his ministry in some measure depended on the prayers of God’s people.
i. “You cannot tell how much God’s servants are helped by the prayers of his people. The strongest man in Israel will be the better for the prayers of the weakest saint in Zion.” (Spurgeon)
b. That the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified: Paul’s great concern – what he first asked the Thessalonian Christians to pray for – was that God’s Word be free to do its work among others, even as it had among the Thessalonians (just as it is with you).
i. Paul asked for prayer so that the Word can run freely, without any hindrance. Paul’s prayer request makes us wonder how often the work of God’s Word is hindered by our prayerlessness.
ii. God has promised that His Word would be free and perform its work: It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11). But as with many of God’s promises, we are expected to take this promise in faith, and in prayer, to ask God to perform the promise for His glory.
c. That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: These were those who wanted to hinder the work of the gospel. Paul wanted God to either deliver him from such men, or change them into reasonable and godly men.
2. (3-5) Paul’s confidence in the Lord and prayer for the Thessalonians.
But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. 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.
a. But the Lord is faithful: Even if not all men have faith, the Lord is faithful. This was the basis of Paul’s confidence in God’s ability to establish and guard us from the evil one.
i. God promised to keep Satan on a leash. He will not allow any temptation to become too great for us (1 Corinthians 10:13), and will not allow Satan to do whatever he wants with us (Luke 22:31-32).
b. And we have confidence in the Lord: Paul was also confident (in the Lord) regarding the Thessalonians themselves, that they would follow through and be obedient to God’s Word (that you do and will do the things we command you). This shows that God’s work of establishing and guarding us is done, in part, through His appeal to our will in obeying His Word.
i. God doesn’t just pour spiritual maturity and stability into us. He works it in us through our cooperation with His will.
c. Now may the Lord direct your hearts: Towards this end, Paul wisely prayed for both love and patience (endurance) for the Thessalonian Christians. These were two qualities essential for the kind of spiritual stability and strength the Thessalonians needed.
B. Instructions for the strength and purity of the church.
1. (6) The command to withdraw from the disorderly.
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.
a. But we command you: The strength of this statement is plain. It was not only a command, but it was also made in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
b. That you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly: Paul defined the disorderly as those who did not walk according to the tradition (the pattern of teaching and living) Paul and the apostles gave to them.
i. Churches should never withdraw from someone because he fails to conform to man’s traditions or teachings. The only standard to uphold is apostolic tradition and teaching.
ii. “The present tense of the verb walks denotes that it is a deliberate course of action. Their disorderly conduct is not an occasional lapse but a persistent practice.” (Hiebert)
c. Withdraw from every brother: Paul had already told the Thessalonians to warn the unruly (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Apparently, the problem still remained in some measure, so he told them to now discipline the unruly ones in question.
i. The purpose in withdrawing from these disobedient was not so much punishment, but more so simply to deny these disobedient ones the aid and comfort of the fellowship of the body of Christ until they repented. It put them out of the church into the “domain” of Satan (the world), in hope that they might miss the fellowship of the church so much they would repent of their disobedience.
ii. Paul echoed the same idea in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5. The purpose was to bring about repentance and salvation in the disobedient ones, not to condemn or damn them.
iii. In an indirect way, Paul showed that his vision for the church was that it should be such a place of love and comfort that one would genuinely feel sad and sorry to be excluded from the church. Churches today should also fit that description.
2. (7-9) Paul describes the life displayed by the apostolic tradition.
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, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
a. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us: Paul was an excellent example among the Thessalonians, in that he worked hard to support his own needs. This wasn’t because apostles like Paul didn’t have the right to request support. Instead, it was because he wanted to set a good example of hard work and prove false any accusation that he preached the Gospel for personal gain.
b. To make ourselves an example of how you should follow us: Therefore, the Thessalonians should follow Paul in his example of both hard work and willingness to sacrifice for the furtherance and integrity of the Gospel.
3. (10) Paul describes the teaching presented by the apostolic tradition.
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.
a. If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat: Simply put, Paul says that if anyone will not work (instead of can not work), neither shall he eat. God’s plan is to provide for our needs through our work.
b. Neither shall he eat: Since God is able to provide through our needs in any manner imaginable, it means something that He has chosen (for the most part) to meet our needs through work. This is part of God’s character, because He is a busy God and always at work.
4. (11-13) Paul applies the apostolic tradition to the situation among the Thessalonians.
For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.
a. There are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner: The idleness of some had become a source of sin. It was not only because of the work that they didn’t do, but also because of the harm they did do with their idle time (but are busybodies).
i. There is a play on words between the ancient Greek phrasing in the lines not working at all and but are busybodies. The idea is something like “busybodies who do no business.”
ii. Perhaps these busybodies thought that if Jesus was coming soon, it made no sense to work. It would then be easy for them to intrude into the lives of others and take advantage of Christian generosity.
iii. “It is the inactive drones whom Paul is berating – those who live by the sweat of others while they themselves do nothing for the common good to help the human race, such as our monks and priests who acquire ample dimensions by their inactivity.” (Calvin)
b. Now those who are such we command: With authority, through our Lord Jesus, Paul commanded these busybodies to work, to get out of the business of others (in quietness) and to provide for their own needs (eat their own bread) instead of expecting other Christians to provide for them.
i. The early church did provide for the truly needy among them, but only after being certain that they were truly needy and after putting them to work for the church (1 Timothy 5:3-16).
ii. “Paul forbids the Thessalonians to encourage their laziness by indulging it, and teaches that it is those who proved themselves with the necessities of life by honourable and useful work that lead a life of holiness.” (Calvin)
c. Do not grow weary in doing good: This was a proper encouragement for those who were working as they should. Few things are more wearying than seeing others take advantage of Christian generosity. But we should never let the manipulations of some discourage us from doing good to the truly needy.
i. The older King James Version has this, be not weary in well doing. There is plenty of well-wishing in the world. Well-resolving, well-suggesting, and well-criticizing are also found in plenty. Many people are good at well-talking, but there is not enough of simple well doing.
ii. “But well doing consists in taking down the shutters and selling your goods; tucking up your shirt sleeves and doing a good day’s work; sweeping the carpets and dusting the chairs, if you happen to be a domestic servant. Well doing is attending to the duties that arise out of our relationships in life – attending carefully to them, and seeing that in nothing we are eye-servers and men-pleasers, but in everything are seeking to serve God.” (Spurgeon)
iii. There are many excuses one might make to allowing weariness in doing good, but they should all be rejected.
· “It takes so much effort to keep doing good” – but you will extend effort towards the things of the world.
· “It takes so much self-denial to keep doing good” – but it is worth it when we consider the reward.
· “It just brings me persecution to do good” – but your persecutions are nothing compared to that which others have suffered.
· “People don’t respond and there are little results when I do good” – but remember how slow you were to respond to Jesus Christ.
· “It doesn’t earn much gratitude when I do good” – but God sends many blessings even to those who do not thank or appreciate Him.
5. (14-15) More on how to deal with the disobedient.
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.
a. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle: Here, Paul finished the thought introduced at 2 Thessalonians 3:6. He here elaborates on what it means to withdraw from a brother as mentioned previously.
b. Note that person and do not keep company with him: To withdraw means to note that person, and to not keep company with him, with the purpose of causing him to be ashamed. Yet, the purpose is not to make him an enemy of the church, but through the severity of the withdrawal from fellowship, to warn and admonish him as an erring brother.
i. “The intention of excommunication is not to drive men from the Lord’s flock, but rather to bring them back again when they have wandered and gone astray… Excommunication is to be distinguished from anathema.” (Calvin)
6. (16-18) Conclusion to the letter.
Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all. 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.
a. Now may the Lord of peace: Paul’s blessing of peace (always in every way) was appropriate for this church experiencing both persecution and tribulation. It is the presence of the Lord of peace that will grant them this peace.
i. “I want to call particular attention to the apostle’s words in this place. He does not say ‘May the Lord of peace send his angel to give you peace.’ It were a great mercy if he did, and we might be as glad as Jacob was at Mahanaim, when the angels of God met him. He does not even say, ‘May the Lord of peace send his minister to give you peace.’ If he did we might be as happy as Abraham when Melchizedec refreshed him with bread and wine. He does not even say, ‘May the Lord of peace at the communion table, or in reading the word, or in prayer, or in some other sacred exercise give you peace.’ In all these we might well be as refreshed … but he says ‘the Lord of peace himself give you peace,’ as if he alone in his own person could give peace, and as if his presence were the sole means of such a divine peace as he desires.” (Spurgeon)
b. The salutation of Paul with my own hand: As was his custom, Paul himself wrote the final words of the epistle with his own hand. This was both a personal demonstration of affection, and proof that the letter was authentic (a sign in every epistle).
c. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all: For Paul, God’s grace was the beginning and the end of the Christian life. It was appropriate that this letter – and most – of his letters began and ended with a mention of grace.
i. “There is the addition of one little word in this final benediction as compared with its form in the first Epistle. It is the word ‘all.’ Thus the apostle takes those whom he had been rebuking and correcting, and so reveals the greatness of his heart and his love.” (Morgan)
ii. “Thus he poureth out his affection, by prayer upon prayer for them. A sweet closing up!” (Trapp)
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