2 Thessalonians 3
1: Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you;
- Paul is beginning to conclude his letter, and we see him here beginning to make prayer requests for his companions and himself. What has he asked for of these young believers? He has asked that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly. Now he is asking about the gospel to be sure, but he is asking for a good deal more.
- Paul ask that the logos, the Divine Expression, will spread rapidly and be glorified. Yes, that’s the Gospel. But it is also the good word that will help these young Christians in Thessalonica grow, “just as it also did with you.”
- Yes, Paul is speaking to young believers. The church here is maybe 9 months old! And yet they have grown to such a maturity level that they can stand under what has been described as intense persecution. Paul is asking that these clear works of the Lord continue to expand and flourish.
2: and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.
- Paul is now asking for something that he had regularly encountered – “perverse and evil men” that stood in opposition to this Way of Christ that Paul and his companions followed. You can read about this, starting in Acts 13. On the Island of Salamis in the city of Paphos, they encountered Simon Bar-Jesus (also known as Elymas the magician), who attempted to oppose them and their message when invited to preach to Sergius Paulus, the region’s proconsul. At Pisidian Antioch, the Jews incited a persecution against Paul and His companions. In Iconium, those Jews followed Paul and did the same thing, inciting the mob to kill them, but they got wind of it and fled to Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe. At Lystra, they had to prevent the Priests of the Greek pantheon from offering sacrifices to them because of a very public healing Paul performed…and those same Jews which had followed them again incited the crowd to stone Paul and leave him for dead. And that was only the first missionary journey. The second one where Paul actually came to Thessalonica was just as eventful. After preaching the gospel and seeing many converts, the Jews there jealously stirred up a mob and attacked one of the new church leader’s (Jason’s) home, causing Paul to flee to Berea, from which Paul had to flee to Athens, which led to the sermon on Mars Hill, and ultimately where he rejoined Timothy and silas in Corinth.
- My point isn’t to rehearse the first two missionary journeys of Paul or even to add his third. It is to demonstrate that wherever they went, there were people that stood in opposition to Paul and the message of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel. In every instance, Paul “got away,” so to speak. Sometimes, it cost him beatings, stoning, scars, slanders, and other ignoble activities. We should NOT be surprised when this happens to us. Why? Paull tells us here, “…for not all men have [the] faith,” literally.
- We’ve just been through chapter two with its eschatological description of the man of sin and his world system of lawlessness. What Paul and all the other authors in the New Testament tell us is that those who are NOT believers in Jesus are ruled and energized by that world system. Such individuals do not share our persuasion or opinion held that Jesus paid the price of our redemption! They are offended by that message BY DEFAULT! And yet, we are to share it with them, patiently, humbly, gently, never retaliating for wrongs done or injuries suffered, in the hope that perhaps they will come to faith in Christ.
3: But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.
- And all that nasty stuff? The beatings? Being Stoned and left for dead? The constant flights to safety? The hostility in word and action? It simply says that the Lord is faithful. That Greek word is the adjectival pistos, and can also be translated as RELIABLE. He said it, and you can depend on it. What it says is that He (the Lord) will strengthen [sterizo, to make fast, establish, confirm] you (in the event that the Lord is calling you to go through some of the described rough stuff) and protect [phulasso, guard, preserve, protect] you in the event that you are NOT to go through the aforementioned rough stuff.
- “from the evil one” – the word “one” is in italics, and thus does not occur in the original. The word here is actually poneros, which means toilsome, or burdensome, in a bad sense. I believe because of the Greek grammatical construction that it is referring to the previously described “rough stuff,” as opposed to, say, the “man of lawlessness” of the previous chapter. If had been talking about him there would likely have been more substantive reference, knowing Paul.
4: We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command.
- Paul’s confidence was not betrayed, either. I know I have mentioned it before, but Thessalonica is one of the cities where Paul planted a church that still survives to this day. The modern name of this city is Salonici, Greece, and I have even met (and toured around Ottawa with) a brother that fellowships in that gathering. He and the other believers there are testament to the fact that they did and continue to to what Paul charged them with there in the first century.
5: May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
- That is the well-wishing that we do for each other, right there. It should be our desire that the Lord “make straight” our hearts into the love [agape] of God and into the steadfastness [hupomone, a remaining behind, or a patient enduring] of Christ.
- Why the Love of God? That is how we are able to fulfill the Royal Law of Leviticus 19 – to love your neighbour as yourself.
- Why the steadfastness, the patient enduring, of Christ? Because that is how we fulfil the Royal Law of Leviticus 19 – to love our neighbour as yourself.
6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
- Please note, this is a paraggello of God, His transmitted message or order to us through Paul – done so in the name of Kurios Iesus Christos. This is important by the language that surrounds the message itself, according to Paul. It is given in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Stay away from brothers [adelphos, same womb] that lead an unruly [ataktos, undisciplined] life. This is a rather specific thing – it is a brother, a Christian, that does not keep the tradition taught by Paul and his companions. This isn’t, “who doesn’t clean his room” or “who watches too much hockey” or “who goes to football on Sunday.” This is specifically a Christian that does not take care in walking in the Spirit, something that Paul stresses over and over in every letter to every church. One that does not “walk in a worthy manner.” And not YOUR definition of worthy, GOD’S definition given through Paul.
- This lack of discipline would include but not be limited to not keeping the unity, not practicing holiness of life, not practicing hospitality toward others, gossip, drunkenness…I’m pretty sure you get the picture now. We are not to hang around with this kind of an individual. Bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor. 15:33).
7: For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you,
- Here is Paul’s reference to walk in a worthy fashion – “follow our example.” It has some very specific meaning to the saints in Thessalonica, too. We’ll see that in the next few verses.
- First, Paul says that they did not behave in an UNDISPILINED fashion. So they preached a message of personal holiness and being set apart (see the first 12 verses of chapter 4 of the first letter). Another way of saying this is that they did not walk in an UNWORTHY fashion.
8: 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 would not be a burden to any of you;
- This is an interesting thought. They did not eat ANYONE’S bread WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT.
- I used to live downtown near a home for people with mental issues, and as you might expect, I befriended a fellow there I’ll call Tim, which is not his real name. Tim still claims to be a Christian, though I think he has had a rough time of life. I’ve never been able to sort out his testimony completely because of his proclivity for making up details. I think he’s caught up in this “word of faith” nonsense you hear me preach against occasionally, you know, the name it and claim it crowd. Well, he lived literally less than a block from me, and in hospitality, I and the other Christian guys I lived with would invite him over for a meal occasionally. Now you have to understand, we were 4 guys with pretty healthy appetites, so there was a LOT of food. But we overdid it on quantity so there would be leftovers for lunches for a few days, and it was a known and conscious thing we were doing. And I mean, we could EAT, okay? We all grew up on farms and had a hollow leg to store the extra. 😉 I once walked into a KFC that had stupidly put up an “all you can eat” sign in the window with these three guys and we ran them out of food. I WISH I was making that up. Well, we knew how to cook a LOT of food. And this guy came over for dinner, and we had no leftovers, plus we all held back to make sure our guest had enough to eat. I guess it’s a testimony to our cooking that “Tim” began to invite himself over every Saturday. I finally had to share some principles with him, and one of those principles was from this verse. “Look,” I said, “we like you, and we like that you like our food to come by every week for supper. But our food costs us money to make, and it should last us a couple of days in terms of leftovers.” At that point, our brother Tim decided to try to guilt me into being a good Christian brother and feeding his gluttony. He was a little less than pleased when I read him this verse, and then gently suggested that he was becoming a financial burden on our grocery budget. But he took the point, albeit a little less than graciously at first.
- My point here is not to talk you out of hospitality, or even to keep you from being taken advantage of – Paul speaks about that in other letters – but to show you what Paul did not want to be like. He rather endured hardship by working day and night than to cause a burden on anyone, and if anyone could have stood on rights as an apostle, Paul could have. Others (Like Peter, James, and John for example) did, and there was nothing wrong with it. Paul could not, and so he did not.
9: not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.
- Paul rather wanted to model for people what their behaviour should be like. Don’t be burdensome to others.
- Remember also that I said Paul had an apostolic right to this? He knew he had that right, and says as much right here. However, Paul was always mindful of the kind of example he was, and modeled the correct and worthy walk for us. This has been one practical example of that.
10: For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.
- Now think about this. As Christians, we should be all over the opportunity to show radical and extravagant hospitality. But not if someone is going to take very specific advantage of that hospitality. Think about this – the opposite of what Paul did is essentially the thinking of the welfare state. The thinking goes, “Well, I don’t have any, so YOU have to SHARE YOURS with ME.” There is nothing wrong with feeding the poor! This is not what Paul is talking about here. It is the mindset that would become a burden.
- Has anyone in the crowd ever heard of the Protestant Work Ethic? You earn your own living? In a disciplined fashion, you get out of bed every day, and you don’t stop working until you have provided for your situation. And if you have more, maybe you put some away against misfortune, but you share it with those who are NOT ABLE (for whatever reasons, be that disability, lack of opportunity, personal misfortune, or such like that) to earn their own. This is one of the places that the Protestant work ethic comes from.
- Hungry? Got ability to earn a living? Go and do it – or don’t eat.
- I mentioned earlier, and think it is important enough to mention again, that this is speaking of those with ability and opportunity. For those that may lack ability, it should be up to the rest to provide. For those that lack opportunity, usually the more temporary, we should be the ones that provide. This passage should never be used as justification to get rid of people that we don’t want to deal with, and that wasn’t what I was doing with Tim. I was trying to disciple him a little, to show him that we weren’t able to sustain our charity, and that he shouldn’t expect us to. He did get the point, though it took him a couple of weeks to see what we were saying. Students are another example of people that ARE working but don’t earn from their opportunities. We should be reasonable and provide for their needs as far as possible.
11: For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.
- Paul was actually addressing his comments to a pretty specific group of people. This group was characterized by what Paul referred to as UNDISCIPLINED. They did no work at all, he says. This might be the group that spends their entire day over by the water cooler talking about how the favoured local sports team did last night and breaking down the latest office gossip, talking politics, or even religion in the better-used sense of James. It’s their work to interfere with yours, it seems. This is who Paul is speaking of specifically.
12: Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
- Paul’s very specific message to this very specific group of people was a command [paraggelo]. It was also an exhortation [parakaleo]. This is from God, not Paul. WORK. QUIETLY. And eat your OWN bread.
- Now, after we have looked at the issue from the perspective of what Paul said and to whom, we need to look at the why. Why was this even necessary? What had happened to make this group of people in the first place? It had to have been that false apostle, with the false letter from Paul, energized by the false spirit from the enemy. Think about it – people hear and believe that they are about to enter into the Day of the Lord judgement. Work? Why would we do that? Maybe we should go and evangelize! Go on missions! Well, I can’t afford to go that far, but if we go over to brother Gerry’s house, he’ll feed us! Maybe we can talk about this with him and “encourage” him in his ministry! Um, speaking for brother Gerry, whom I know very well, he’s already encouraged enough by the trials that he’s going through as he becomes a pastor. He’s covered. If you want my advice, go get a job and work. Somewhere other than my house. And pack your own lunch if you’re coming my way unless you want last week’s pork chili, which we are still “eating.” And bring your tools, you can help fix my leaking plumbing from the upstairs toilet, or get the washer and dryer that both broke at the same time last week fixed so my family of five can once again wash their own clothes.
- My point here is not so much that Gerry has issues, but rather that Gerry in his issues may not need the kind of “encouragement” you are intending on providing. But don’t shy away from help if you can.
13: But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
- It should be our pleasure to help and not be a burden with our presence. You know, God saved us to be His messengers to a dying world. God SAVED us from some pretty awful circumstances to do just that sometimes. Shouldn’t we try to bless people with our presence and not be a burden on them? Or perhaps try to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them, because it is WHAT saved us? As we find opportunity (and I never have to look very hard), we should do these very things.
14: If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.
- In fact, Paul is saying that this concept is important enough to make it a matter of church discipline. If one of these busybodies isn’t listening to you, you are to make a special note of that person and not associate with them. This was a step like Paul had taken in Corinth when it became known that a man was having sexual relations with his stepmother. That man was to be isolated and shunned, to use another word. Why? So that the gravity of the person’s sin might begin to sink in for them, for one thing. “Look brother; look sister, I know that we’re all sinners, and I’ve got some moments myself that I am not proud of, but you can’t continue like this. If you do, I just don’t want anything to do with you, and I’m going to ask you to leave.
- This is hopefully a temporary scenario. They should be embarrassed by this. It should cause the gravitas of their sin to weigh on them. And it should leave room for the Holy Spirit to do His work of convincing and convicting them of their sin. This will bring them to a point of shame, and hopefully of repentance. Where this is different from the situation in Corinth is in the next verse.
15: Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
- In Corinth, the brother was “delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” or made an enemy for a period of time so that the enemy, who is a servant of the Sovereign God, could be used to accomplish God’s work in that one’s life. We read in 2 Corinthians that it worked too, and that brother was restored to fellowship.
- Here, it is to make the person realize that they are indeed out of order. In Corinth, the brother was made as a tax collector – here, they could still be admonished as a brother. Do you see the difference? I know it has some subtleties, but it is different.
16: Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!
- Paul now begins to wrap up with his customary blessings and doxology, in this case wishing on those at Thessalonica the shalom of God Himself in every circumstance, and His presence with them.
17: I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.
We’ve talked about this before. This was the incident that provoked it. Even in the days of Paul, there were perpetrators of identity theft or fraud. Here is where Paul began to sign his own letters personally. And this is something that had far-reaching effects, in the sense that this is something that we all still do – validate identity by our signatures. Your driver’s license in pretty much any state or province in North America at least, and in most places where they are given in the world now bear your signature AND your photo. Back in the days before this was a thing, a signature was enough. This way, Paul could keep a little quality control on the things he wrote.
18: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And that’s how I will conclude this study and this book – by wishing you all, and praying for you in this way – that if you are within the sound of my voice (or if you are reading this article), I wish that same grace of my Lord Jesus Christ be with you. It is the grace that saves us, it is the grace that calls us with a holy calling, it is the grace that will bring us safe to Him for eternity. May THAT grace of my Lord Jesus Christ be with YOU.