The Latter Epistles – 2 Thessalonians 3

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.  And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith.  But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.  We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.  We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it.  On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.  We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive.  They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.  And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter.  Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.  Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters.  This is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 ‘pray for us’: “Paul frequently enlisted prayer support from the churches for his ministry (cf. Rom. 15:30-32; Eph. 6:18, 19; Col. 4:2, 3; 1 Thess. 5:25; Philem. 22).  In particular, he asked them to pray that the word of God would continue to spread rapidly as it had been already (cf. Acts 6:7; 12:24; 13:44-49), and be received with the honor it deserved.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 ‘pray for Paul’s ministry’: “Paul now concludes with a request that the Thessalonians pray for him ‘that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you’ (3:1).  He asks that they pray for his deliverance ‘from perverse and evil men’ (verse 2).  He then reminds the church that the Lord is faithful and ‘He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one’ (verse 3).  His confidence is that the Lord will continue His work with them and that they will follow Paul’s commands in their ministry.
“It is not certain in the Greek text whether
tou ponerou (‘the evil one’) is neuter or masculine.  If neuter, it would read ‘from the evil thing’ or simply ‘from the evil,’ but if masculine, it would read ‘from the evil one.’  The latter seems most likely because this is what Christ said in Matthew 13:38-39, where He is clearly speaking about the devil.  The evil one is also mentioned in other passages (Matthew 13:19; Ephesians 6:16; John 17:15; 1 John 2:13).  ‘When we also note that in 2:9 Satan is placed back of the apostasy and the Antichrist, it is not difficult to believe that here, too, Paul would put “the wicked [evil] one” back of [working behind] “the wicked [evil] men”’ (Lenski, I and II Thessalonians, p. 449).  As the Thessalonians labor for Christ, Paul’s hope is that they will not be defeated by Satan.  The unanimous opinion of Greek scholars takes ‘the evil one’ as referring to Satan (Milligan, Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 111).  Satan will work against the church right up to the rapture, when believers are removed from the earth before the Tribulation begins.”

  • Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Exploring Bible Prophecy from Genesis to Revelation (quoted Greek without bold/italics)

2 Thessalonians 3:5 ‘God’s love’: “Our Father loves each of his children as if he had no others.  We must peer into this abyss of love; plunge into this sea; dive into this depth unsearchable.  Oh that God might direct us into the immeasurable greatness of this love!
“… To be directed into the love of God is another thing from all that we can be told of it.  A beautiful garden is before us.  We look over the wall and are even allowed to stand at the door while one hands out to us baskets of golden apples.  This is delightful.  Who would not be glad to come so near as this to the garden of heavenly delights?  Yet it is something more to be shown the door, to have the latch lifted, to see the gateway opened, and to be gently directed into the paradise of God.  This is what is wanted – that we may be directed into the love of God.  Oh that we may feel something of it while we meditate on it.  We come, when we are taught of the Spirit of God, to enter into the love of God by seeing its central importance.  We see that the love of God is the source and center, fountain and foundation of all our salvation and of all else that we receive from God.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

2 Thessalonians 3:5 ‘God’s Love’: “The majority is not always right.  If the majority had ruled, the children of Israel never would have left Egypt.  They would have voted to stay in bondage.  If the majority had ruled, David never would have fought Goliath.  His brothers would have voted for him to stay with the sheep.  What’s the point?  You must listen to your heart.
“God says you’re on your way to becoming a disciple when you can keep a clear head and a pure heart.
“Do you ever wonder if everything will turn out right as long as you do everything right?  Do you ever try to do something right and yet nothing seems to turn out like you planned?  Take heart – when people do what is right, God remembers.”

  • Max Lucado, The Inspirational Study Bible

2 Thessalonians 3:11 ‘correction of the disorderly’: “Just how the rumor had come to Paul’s attention is not stated, but there was enough traffic between Corinth and Thessalonica to make this kind of communication possible.  The problem which Paul addresses was caused by a minority of the church (‘some among you’).  Certain people were living ataktos.  While the adverb can be understood in the wider sense of ‘disorderly,’ the principle explicating this adverb make it particularly clear that idleness is meant: ‘not busy, but busybodies’ – minding everyone else’s business but their own.  Refusing to work themselves, they meddled and interfered in other people’s lives.  Whereas some commentators think the Thessalonian problem stemmed from the expectation of Christ’s immediate return, others are of the opinion that the idlers had a false understanding of brotherly love, and were exploiting the generosity of their fellow believers.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

2 Thessalonians 3:13 ‘do not grow weary’: “The hard-working believers were tired of having to support the lazy, and were ready to stop all help to those in need, giving up all charity.  Paul reminded them that the truly needy still required help and that the Thessalonians must not be negligent toward them.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 ‘do not keep company’: “This means to ‘mix it up’ in the sense of social interaction.  Blatantly disobedient Christians were to be disciplined (v. 6) to produce shame and, hopefully, repentance if they refused to obey the Word of God.  See Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Galatians 6:1 for additional details on how to deal with those engaged in unrepentant and repeated sin.
“The purpose of this church discipline is not final rejection.  While an unrepentant pattern of sin is to be dealt with decisively, it is to be continually kept in mind that the one with whom one deals is a brother in the Lord, so all further warnings to him about his sin are done with a brotherly attitude.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

2 Thessalonians 3 ‘challenge’: “Also, every Christian, however he may be dedicated to the holy art of prayer and worship, must of necessity descend to work and eat and sleep and pay his taxes and get on somehow with the hard world around him.  And if he follows on to know the Lord he must serve in every useful way outlines for him in the Scriptures of truth.  To be a Christian it is necessary that he serve his generation as well as his God.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Price of Neglect

2 Thessalonians 3 ‘summary of the entire letter’: “Paul closes this practical, powerful, timely letter – timely even in our own day and age.  The practical application of this letter is this:  God’s people are called to be restrainers of lawlessness, but in order to do so, we must allow God to have complete reign in our lives.  If we operate in even the smallest degree by lawlessness, how can we restrain the lawlessness of the world?  The measure in which we have vanquished the lawlessness of our own heart will determine how effectively God can use us to restrain the lawlessness of this world.
“After all these years, the hope of the church has not grown dim.  Jesus is coming again, and our task is to patiently work, watch, wait, and hope until we hear the shout of triumph and see Him coming for us in the clouds.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

My Thoughts

We should always be praying for one another.  We should pray for every church program, even the ones that we sense are not working very well and should be dropped.  If when we make mistakes, we should learn to grow from the experience.  And we should always pray for other churches, those with more to offer and those who are struggling to stay alive.  Many churches are struggling so that their members can literally stay alive in the face of persecution.  Paul’s missionary work will never end as long as we are reading his letters and following in his footsteps.  Thus, like the Thessalonians of old, we should pray for that missionary work.

Then Paul spends the bulk, three paragraphs, of 2 Thessalonians 3 speaking of church discipline.  The first paragraph is in general terms, but the first two paragraphs primarily deal with idleness.  In Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life (Church), new people to the church are encouraged to find their mission within the church and then go after it.  Even if you manage the parking lot, do it to the best of your abilities.  The biggest thing is to see where there is a hole and fill it, rather than waiting to be asked.

For if you find yourself idle, the devil will find a way for you to find fault with those who are doing the job.  You know you could do a better job (or you think so), so why not tell your friends and then trouble begins to brew in the church.  If you truly could do better, you can humbly volunteer to help so that your skills will be seen, and you will be asked to take on more responsibilities.  Then the gossip mill does not destroy someone’s reputation and the church.

But the punishment that Paul suggests is hard to administer in most modern churches – have nothing to do with the people who sins unrepentantly.  If they are in charge of the pastor’s pet program, could that be done?  It does not have to be the pastor’s pet program.  The programs that are usually the least effective are the legacy programs.  “We are doing this whether it works or not, because we have done it this way for every year since the church was founded.  I am not about to be the one that blows the whistle on this legacy program.”

Some of that might seem to sound like I am a busybody, but a lot comes from Rick Warren’s books on the subject.

There are a variety of unrepentant sins that have been nearly celebrated in churches.  It causes you to wonder what that church teaches, what they believe to be true.

And when we start taking things out of the Bible, as humans, we do not know when to stop.  We end up creating a God that is not the God of the universe, but a God of our own creation.  A creation, not the Creator.

Although I do not have everything figured out, I cannot sacrifice what I read in God’s Holy Word to please people that are uncomfortable with what they read in the same book.

In the end, God is Love.  God is a God of peace, and only through His Son, Jesus, can we come to the Father.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. On a scale from 1 (‘blissfully peaceful) to 10 (‘high anxiety’), where would you rate your sense of God’s peace now?  Where in particular do you need group prayer and support?
“2. How are God’s love and Christ’s perseverance needed in your life now?
“3. What have you found helpful in encouraging you to pray for missionaries?  For whom do you regularly pray?  What types of pressures may he or she face in that part of the world?
“4. Are you idle, a busybody, a worrywart, or a workaholic?  What is God’s word to you here?

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

The first question is profoundly beautiful, in a probably mistaken way.  If we all had the same concept of interpreting the scale, then one person’s 3 would be another person’s 3, or they base their number on different input.  But for someone who is already calm, they might not give a rating higher than a two or three while the person who is a bundle of nerves under all circumstances will give the rating of eight or higher.  Blending the numbers together and averaging them gives you a near the middle answer if your group is diverse enough, but defending your number then becomes a challenge.  But the second half of the question begs the question: if you are studying this alone or with a group.  If you truly have something that needs to be addressed by “the group” and you do not have one, then you must pray that you find a group of other believers, even if the “meetings” are done remotely.

Question three could lead to an entire ministry of praying for missionaries.  If not missionaries by name (and some go under false names as they are travelling through countries where Christianity and spreading the Gospel are illegal), then you can stay informed on the countries of the world where Christians are being persecuted, including the missionaries to those communities.  There are many ways to start a ministry in prayer alone.

And question four brings my argument of not knowing ourselves very well (but others may know us better), but I have an alternate phrasing of the question.  4)  Of all the activities and programs of your church, in which of them are you idle (not helping, but maybe participating), a busybody (talking about how they might do it better – maybe if you were in charge), a worrywart (not helping, or even while helping, but thinking that the program is about to fall apart), or workaholic (You might say, “Whoever is in charge, call the emergency medical staff, because by the time this activity is done – all by me, all by me! All!! By!!! Me!!!!, for I see no one helping!!!!! – I am probably going to have a coronary right into the mashed potatoes in the middle of the church family dinner!!!!!!” – maybe a bit melodramatic, especially with the ever-increasing number of exclamation points, but I hope you get the idea)?  Do that with each and every activity / program in a moderately or heavily busy church and you might find yourself in each category for one or another – unless you are the classic “church lady or gentleman” who has their fingers in every pie of the church – whether the church likes it or not.

I hereby apologize to everyone.  For if you really took that last question as I have it rewritten and you do it honestly, you have just exposed things at my behest that you would rather keep hidden.

And in full disclosure, all of us, and that includes my wife and I, have activities at the church where we remain idle.  After organizing all the family dinners for a few years (thus, we can relate to the workaholic drama, even with ample helpers), it is great to just show up and eat and then leave (idle with a full belly).  So, yes, we have often been idle.  My wife and I have also been busybodies as people in the church (the busybodies) share their concerns about a new program, and my wife and I nod knowingly without adding fuel to the blazing fire, but on the way home, we have a nice conversation.  Okay, maybe not so nice.  My wife is a worrywart more than I am, but when my project management style is to plan for all known contingencies, knowing that they all will not happen, you could say that I have been more worrywart than prayer warrior – not that being prepared is a bad thing.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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