2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 & Conclusion

Paul seeks God’s empowerment to sustain him and the church in Thessalonica to carry out church discipline and to continue in the faith.

1 Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you,

  • Pray for us. Paul is requesting prayer for himself and his fellow workers. This request is by no means unique to this letter.
    • Ro 15:30-31. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.
    • Eph 6:18-20. …praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
    • Col 4:2-4. Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
    • 1Th 5:25. Brothers, pray for us.
    • Phm 22. Prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
  • Paul knows that no work of ministry can possibly succeed without the enablement and the constant assistance of God, so he is seeking prayer support from the churches.
    • We, in our ministries, should also be seeking the prayer support of others.
    • We should also be in regular prayer for local and global missions work in general, and for individual ministries that we know of specifically.
  • The word of the Lord is a technical expression in OT literature, often referring to a divine prophetic utterance. In the NT it occurs 15 times. As in the OT, this phrase focuses on the prophetic nature and divine origin of what has been said.
    • Cf Ge 15:1. The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.
    • Isa 1:10. Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
    • Jon 1:1. The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai.
  • Speed ahead and be honored does not apply to isolated victories or a single great triumph but to a continuing progress—i.e., the word conveys the meaning “keep on speeding ahead” and “keep on being honored.”
  • As happened among you recalls the amazing success of the message in Thessalonica. Paul wants this repeated on other communities where he preaches the Gospel message.

2 and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.

  • Paul is not only seeking prayer support for the unhindered spread of the Gospel; he’s also asking for prayers of protection from the opponents of the Gospel message.
    • We should be praying for this as well, for ourselves in our ministry efforts and for the efforts of those ministries we support and pray for.
  • There have been several suggestions as to whom Paul is referring here, but it most likely refers to the specific opposition he’s encountering in Corinth even as he’s writing this letter (see Ac 18).
  • For not all have faith. Most of the time the gospel is not embraced with faith by those who hear it. What are some of the responses, other than embracing it with faith, have you seen to the presentation of the Gospel message?
    • It is usually ignored or laughed off as foolishness.
    • Some people respond with ridicule.
    • Some people feel angered, offended, or threatened by it.
    • It sometimes provokes violent hostility, especially in other religious contexts.

3 But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.

  • In Greek, the last word of v2 is “faith” (Gk. pistis) and the first word of v3 is “faithful” (Gk. pistos)—the unbelievers’ lack of faith stands in stark contrast with Christ’s faithfulness.
  • Jesus can be relied on to establish us (give us strength) and guard us (protect us) against the evil one. This is assurance of inner security and an outward protection from Satan and his works.
  • Guard you against the evil one. Satan has been seeking to destroy the Thessalonians’ young faith. But God’s faithfulness assures Paul that the evil one will not succeed: the Thessalonians will overcome him by responding appropriately to Paul’s two letters (v4).

4 And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command.

  • Paul has confidence that they already are doing and, when they get this letter, will do the things that we command.
  • Paul may have in mind his instruction to discipline those within their community who are idle (v6–15) or his command to hold to the traditions about the day of the Lord (2:15).
    • 2:15. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

5 May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

  • Paul prays that the Thessalonians will be directed toward the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ, by which he means either Christ’s endurance as a model for Christians or the perseverance imparted by Christ. Either view is legitimate.
  • Paul realizes that his compliment in v4 does not imply that they are self-sufficient. Therefore he requests the Lord’s direction and assistance.
  • To comply with Paul’s command to discipline the idle (in the section immediately following) will be difficult. So the strongest possible motivation—recalling God’s love and Christ’s endurance of suffering—will undergird the disciplining of unruly believers.

Note on v6-15

The Problem of the Idlers. In these verses, Paul instructs the Thessalonian community to exercise church discipline on those refusing to work. Although there is nothing in 1 or 2 Thessalonians that explicitly links the idleness with the confusion about the end times, many think that the Thessalonians stopped working to await and proclaim the Lord’s coming. Others believe that the problem was merely one of lazy Christians exploiting the charity of wealthier Christians, and using their free time to meddle in others’ affairs. Paul makes it clear that, regardless of their motives, such idleness and meddling was not to be tolerated within the community of faith.

6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

  • Walking in idleness. Grk “walking in an undisciplined way” (walking is a common NT idiom for one’s way of life or conduct).
    • This refers to living a life that is undisciplined, unruly, or out of line. The particular violation Paul has in mind is idleness as described in v8-11.
    • Cf NET. But we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us.
  • Those walking in idleness are shirking their obligation to work. This behavior was not in accord with the tradition passed on by the missionaries regarding the necessity of working for one’s keep.
  • Paul strongly commands the community as a whole to discipline by disassociation those who are not working but are depending on others for a living. The community is to keep away from these idlers, which probably means excommunicating them.
  • Paul takes the sin of these people seriously, but at this point he still regards them as brothers.

7-8 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.

  • Idle. This is the verbal form of the words occurring in v6 and v11, meaning “to act out of line, in an unruly way.”
    • Cf NET (v7). For you know yourselves how you must imitate us, because we did not behave without discipline among you.
  • Nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it. Grk “we did not eat bread freely from anyone.”
    • Eat bread was a Semitic idiom for eating any kind of food.
  • Paul refused to depend on others for his living, but not out of a sense of pride. Indeed he took on a workload of toil and labor in addition to his ministry commitments in order to avoid being a financial burden to any Thessalonian Christian.

9-10 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

  • Paul took on manual labor even though (in contrast to the idle Thessalonians) it was his God-given right to be supported. He wanted to provide his converts with an example to imitate.
    • 1Co 9:13-14 (see all of 1Co 9:3-15). Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
    • 2Co 11:7-9. Did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way.
    • 1Th 2:9. You remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
  • If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. From a very early time in the church, denying food to the lazy was a traditional form of discipline in the church. As you can imagine, it would be a particularly effective disciplinary measure; hunger will force a man to work.

11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.

  • Walk in idleness. Grk “walk in an undisciplined way
    • Cf NET. For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others.
  • Not busy at work, but busybodies. There is a play on words in the Greek: “working at nothing, but working around.”
  • Those who refused to work were exploiting their free time to meddle in others’ affairs.
    • 1Ti 5:13 [irreligious prying flows from idleness]. Young widows learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

  • In the Lord Jesus Christ. This phrase differs from in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in v6. The emphasis in this verse is not on authority, as in v6, but on union with Christ. This sets a tone of gentleness here. Had Paul wanted to convey authority, he would have reused the formula “in the name of…”.
    • By virtue of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ we as fellow members of Christ command and encourage such persons to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
  • So, Paul uses the common union of believers with Christ as ground for his appeal.
  • Work quietly. The opposite of being nuisances or busybodies.
  • Earn their own living. Grk “eat their own bread.”

13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.

  • The community as a whole, particularly wealthier members exploited by the idle, might grow weary in doing good, but Paul calls on them to continue being charitable, albeit only to those who are deserving.
  • Exemplary conduct serves as a constant reprimand to wrongdoers and is an incentive for them to turn from their delinquency.

14-15 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

  • Paul believes it is very possible that some will ignore his warning and continue in their idle ways, so he instructs the community as a whole to take note of such people and have nothing to do with them (cf. v6).
  • The purpose of this disassociation is so that the stubbornly insubordinate brothers will be ashamed, repent, and be restored to the community.
  • Do not regard him as an enemy. Disciplining a fellow Christian can easily degenerate into the community treating him as an enemy, so Paul says not to do that, but to warn him as a brother.
  • Church discipline must always aim at renewing discipleship.
  • How does this compare with the offense addressed by Paul in 1Co 5?
    • This is a very different situation from that described in 1Co 5. In Corinth, the offense was so flagrant that it brought disrepute on the whole church. In Thessalonica, however, the lapse was not yet so aggravated as to bring the reproach of the pagans on the church.
    • Here, the erring brother may be allowed to continue attending church meetings but is probably denied participation in such things as fellowship feasts and the Lord’s Supper. Certainly he is not to be given food, because that would condone his offense.

16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

  • As we’ve seen in both letters to the church in Thessalonica, the believers there were suffering persecution for their faith. They were also suffering fears and worries over the day of the Lord and the events of the end times, so Paul prays for peace for them in every way.
  • The Lord of peace is Jesus!
  • Jesus has reconciled the Thessalonian Christians to God and is at peace with them, able to replace their disturbed fear (2:2) with an experience of inner peace.
  • In every way. Especially peace as opposed to consternation regarding the end times (2:1–3:5) and peace amid ongoing persecution (1:5–10).

17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.

  • Grk “The greeting in my hand, Paul, which is a sign in every letter, thus I write.”
  • Up to 3:17 the letter was dictated by Paul and written down by a secretary or amanuensis; this would have been obvious to the original readers based on the difference in handwriting. But Paul took up the pen and wrote v17-18 personally to authenticate that it was his (the way I write), which served as a mark of authenticity, much like signatures at the end of modern letters.
    • Cf Ro 16:22. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
    • 1Co 16:21. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
    • Gal 6:11. See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.
    • Col 4:18. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.
    • Phm 19. I, Paul, write this with my own hand.
  • Paul’s highlighting of this fact may reflect a suspicion that a forgery in his name was in existence, which may have been the source of the idea that the day of the Lord had already come.
    • 2:1-2. Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
  • This affirmation of genuineness also shows that writing in another person’s name was condemned among early Christians.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

  • Most witnesses, including some early and important ones, conclude this letter with ἀμήν (amhn, “amen”). Such a conclusion is routinely added by scribes to NT books because a few of these books originally had such an ending.
    • Cf Ro 16:27. To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
    • Cf Gal 6:18. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
    • Cf Jude 25. To the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
  • A majority of Greek witnesses have the concluding ἀμήν in every NT book except Acts, James, and 3 John (and even in these books, ἀμήν is found in some witnesses). It is thus a predictable variant. Further, the witnesses for the omission are among the best manuscripts, giving sufficient base to prefer the shorter reading.

 

Note on ministry:

Though not all of us are in vocational ministry, as Christians we are all to be involved in ministry. Whether or not we make our living from ministry, we must be involved. When Jesus gave his final mandate that we should go everywhere and make disciples, he did not mean that we should do that only if we can make our living from it. We need to be about that task everywhere we go and in everything we do.

Part of that also includes the support of others in their ministries, again, vocationally or not. As your friends, co-workers, and family members are going about their daily lives and engaging in whatever ministry opportunities our God has granted them, we should be praying for them and seeking to help them as we are able. This may include:

  • Asking God to guide and bless their efforts.
  • Asking God to open the hearts of those they are sharing with.
  • Encouraging them with participation in Bible study and lay theological education.
  • Helping them financially, if that’s appropriate.
  • Encouraging them to press on despite difficulties.

As the body of Christ, we need to be working together to fulfill our Lord’s command to us.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

Jesus also said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Ac 1:8)

 

Final notes on 2 Thessalonians:

We discussed as we introduced this letter that, like 1 Thessalonians, this is another letter of encouragement and admonishment.

Paul wrote this letter very soon after his first letter to the same church for three primary reasons.

  • It seems that the persecution of the Christians in Thessalonica (and probably in many other places) had continued or grown worse. Some were apparently at the point of despair. Paul provided the Thessalonians incentive to persevere by describing the coming judgment on those who are afflicting them, and the coming glory for all the saints. (1:3-10)
  • The Thessalonians had probably received another letter, supposedly from Paul, claiming that the events of the Day of the Lord had already come. Paul wanted to give them assurance that these claims were false and to also give them a clear way to determine the authenticity of Paul’s genuine letters. (2:1-12; 3:17)
  • The problem described in his first letter of those who were refusing to work and sponging off the good will of wealthier believers had continued despite his earlier warnings. Paul more forcefully addresses that issue in his second letter to include disciplinary actions to be taken against them. (3:6-15)

 

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2 thoughts on “2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 & Conclusion

  1. Pingback: By the way… A Quick Note on Ministry Support and Involvement | By the way...

  2. Pingback: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18 & Conclusion | Solid Food Ministries

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