1 - 5 Pray For Us
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; 2 and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil [one]. 4 We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will [continue to] do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
V1. Paul has highlighted his main subject. Now he wants to address some other things. Those are actually additional remarks. You can derive that from the introductory word “finally”. That does not mean that these things are less important, as if you could read them if you have some time left or when you feel in the mood to do it. No, what he wants to add is a result of the ‘brotherly relationship’ that he has with them.
The first thing he mentions is prayer. He is asking for intercession. In that way he calls upon their bond with him. But it is not so much that he asks for intercession concerning himself, but for the sake of the advancement of “the word of the Lord”. That’s what his life was all about. The Word transforms lives. Whenever there is something which is pleasing to God, it is owed to the work of His Word. The world as a whole lies “in [the power of] the evil one” (1Jn 5:19). Wherever the Word does its work and is being accepted, the connection with the world is abandoned and something begins which is related to God.
A victory has been won there against the power of the world, sin and satan. The power of the Word is seen there. Whenever the power of the Word becomes visible in a human’s life, it is a glorification of the Word, a tribute to the Word (Acts 13:48). You may consider the word “glorified” here in the sense of ‘crowned’. The Word has completed its full course when it is accepted in faith and has its full effect in the recipient.
The thought that is embedded in the word “spread rapidly”, regards an athlete who runs over the racetrack and tries to be the first to cross the finish line (Psa 147:15). This way of spreading rapidly can be applied to areas where the gospel is being preached and also to the hearts where the Word has entered into. The Word is not static but dynamic.
The Thessalonians are a proof of that. In order to spread ‘the Word of the Lord’ rapidly, Paul could refer to themselves. As the Word is spreading rapidly among them and with them, they are to pray that it would happen everywhere. Their lives are so to say a promotion for the spreading the Word rapidly. Is your life also a promotion for this purpose? The message of the gospel is as attractive as your life is reflecting.
V2. After his request for intercession for the Word, he continues with requesting intercession for himself. He would like to be freed from people who are hindering the spreading of the Word (Rom 15:31; 2Tim 4:18). Those people behave themselves indecently, inappropriately towards the gospel. Don’t be surprised about that. That is the kind of response the gospel evokes. People who do not want to bow themselves to it, feel threatened in their position. Therefore they attack it by unreasonable means.
If they would think soberly, they will see that the gospel causes only profit. But they are not able to, because they are inwardly wrong. They have an evil mind. They do not want to surrender to God and the Lord Jesus.
If you are engaged with a service for the Lord you will meet adversaries on your way. Here you see that you can pray that those adversaries will not be able to go on with their work. These people are adversaries of the gospel because they are not faithful to the Word of God. They do not believe in it, they do not acknowledge its authority. They only accept those parts they agree with. In that way they make themselves judges of the Word, but they do not allow themselves to be judged by it.
V3. While unfaithfulness is the characteristic of those who do not take God’s Word seriously, the characteristic of the Lord is that He is always faithful. You can always trust Him, count on Him. He will not deny Himself (2Tim 2:13). At the end of the first letter is written that God is faithful (1Thes 5:24); here you read that the Lord is faithful. It doesn’t matter of course. Both Divine Persons are faithful. In the midst of all unfaithfulness the Lord is a mighty fortress. He is faithful as He was when He called us (1Cor 1:9). Because He is faithful He will protect us (1Thes 5:23-24) and will fulfill His promises (Heb 10:23). He is called “Faithful” (Rev 19:11).
Paul refers to the faithfulness of the Lord, in order to refer to what He does. He strengthens and protects against the evil. He grants power so that one is able to deal with the pressure. He will also stand beside you as a Guard to keep the evil away from you so that it will not harm you (2Tim 4:18; Mt 6:13). He cares about you and takes care of you. Power and protection goes out of Him. His capability is just as great as His care. In His hands you are safe and no enemy can come near you.
V4. Security doesn’t make one careless. Safety doesn’t make one inactive. On the one hand you may know that the Lord strengthens and preserves you. On the other hand it is asked here of you to keep the commandments of Paul, which means that you obey God’s Word. Paul trusts that the Thessalonians will obey his commandments. The reason of his confidence was due to the fact that they were living in fellowship with the Lord. If you have a relationship with the Lord, then others may trust that you will obey what He says in His Word.
V5. There is not a more wonderful motive to obey than to look at “the love of God”. There is not a more wonderful motive to endure suffering than to look at “the perseverance of Christ”. Paul desires that the Lord will focus their heart on that. The word ‘direct’ implies that the way is kept free from hindrances, so that the heart may concentrate unhinderedly. We again and again need to become more and more aware of ‘the love of God’. God’s love for us is unchangeable, but our consciousness of that is quite subject to fluctuations.
In his letter Jude appeals to the believers to keep themselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21). That is the same thought here. You may know that the love of God has been poured out in your heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5), but only if you are engaged with it, if it means to you that God loves you, your heart is focused on it. Circumstances or wrong deeds may easily slide in between God’s love for you and your awareness of it. How come that you find it difficult sometimes to obey God’s Word? Is it not often because you do not think about God’s love for you in that case?
If you live with the awareness in your heart of God’s love for you, then you will live a happy life. Then you will be in God’s presence. You experience the same as the Lord Jesus always experienced. Has there ever been a moment that His heart was not focused on the love of God? He was always aware of that. Due to that He went His way in perfect peace, how difficult that might have been. If you are continually conscious of the love of God, you will be lifted above the circumstances.
In situations of suffering and lack of recognition, because you are related to the Lord Jesus, it is an encouragement if your heart is focused on ‘the perseverance of Christ’. Look up to Him, just as He went His way on earth and look up to Him as He is now in heaven. On earth you see Him with His eye fixed on the joy that lay before Him. Therefore He endured the cross and despised the shame (Heb 12:2-3). He perseveringly went on, without allowing Himself to be drawn away from the way of obedience and suffering. Follow His example, His life on earth.
Also in heaven He is your example of perseverance. Don’t you think that He would love to make an end to all suffering of His own? And how much did the Father promise Him as a reward for His work? He waits for the moment that the Father will make His enemies a footstool for His feet (Heb 10:13). If your heart gets focused on His patience, you will also be able to persevere.
‘The love of God’ and ‘the perseverance of Christ’ are completely strange to the world wherein you live. The love of God is being rejected. Questions that start with ‘if God is love’, are often the beginning of a debate on God’s love. They are more a call to God to account. Also perseverance and patience in tests and sufferings are not accepted. There should be an outcome directly. The man of the world wants to have satisfaction of his needs immediately.
When your heart is focused on the love of God and the perseverance of Christ, it will, besides the fact that it makes you happy yourself, be a testimony to your environment. Not that it will deliver you applause, but then the Lord Jesus will become visible in your life. That means a blessing for your environment, like the life of the Lord Jesus was a blessing to everyone with whom He came into contact.
Now read 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 again.
Reflection: How could you apply Paul’s request for intercession in your life?
6 - 10 An Unruly Life
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. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 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; 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. 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.
V6. Paul still has something more to say. The issue that he now raises is not that flattering for the Thessalonians. Still it is necessary that he speaks to them on this issue. What is the matter? Among them there were believers who were living an unruly life. They ignored the traditions of the apostle concerning the normal life of a Christian. What could be the cause of that?
It may have something to do with his teaching on the coming of the Lord Jesus, to which they have listened carefully. It could be that they had drawn the wrong conclusion from that. They may have thought: ‘The Lord is coming soon, isn’t it? Well, then it is no use to rush for your daily bread.’ Therefore they stopped working and were sitting with their arms crossed staring at heaven. Anyway, with their attitude of unemployment they could not count on Paul’s approval.
They may have thought that they were spiritual, for the earthly things did not matter much to them anymore. They after all had to leave behind everything if the Lord would come. Heaven was the only thing that counted. That looked very godly, but it is still completely wrong. Paul calls their way of life “unruly”. He commands the Thessalonians to correct their conduct. And they absolutely should not think that this command is not that serious. He relates to it the full authority of the Name of the Lord Jesus.
It may have scared them a little bit when they heard this. Isn’t it loveless to withdraw yourself from a brother, not to be involved with him anymore? Did not Paul just talk about the love of God? And not to mention the way he does that. One would rather feel to be pressured by that!
That often is the (human) response whenever chastisement is needed. That’s what it is all about here. How could you show someone any kindness if you in that way, support his laziness? True love towards those who are erring, is not supporting their error, but rather remain faithful to the Lord Jesus.
There must be mention of discipline if there is evil in the church. Discipline always has the goal to get rid from the wrong so that the church becomes pure again and in that way the Lord will feel at home again. The evil that had entered Thessalonica was caused by some brothers who were a disgrace for the Christian testimony. Their walk was not like that of the most believers in Thessalonica who on the contrary had a good testimony.
The ‘unruly ones’ were consciously disobedient to an apostolic commandment. ‘Unruly’ is related to the marching out of step of a soldier in the midst of soldiers that are marching in a line. Such a soldier does not respect the set order of the battle. He behaves himself anti-socially towards his fellow soldiers and he is disobedient to his commander. Whoever walks unruly in the church, does the same towards his fellow believer and the Lord.
Such a person must be persuaded to comply with the rules again that apply to Christians. For, although the Christian is not under the law but under grace, it does not mean that he can do as he wants. He who loves the Lord will keep the commandments of the Lord (Jn 14:21). If you love the Lord, you will submit yourself to everything that He says. A Christian has obligations and a sense of responsibility. He who lacks of that, has to learn that.
The method that Paul prescribes here is that the church withdraws itself from such a person. By withdrawing herself from him the church makes clear to him that his behavior is inappropriate. In his first letter Paul already has given a general admonition with a view to the unruly ones (1Thes 5:14). Apparently they did not heed it and Paul therefore has to be more specific about that here and instruct them how to deal with the unruly ones.
‘To withdraw’ is to avoid, which causes such a person to end up in an isolated position. Misplaced hospitality would cause him to continue his undisciplined life of not working. By the way, such a person is allowed to take part in the Lord’s Supper. He is not a wicked man one who has to be removed from themselves.
V7. The deviation of the unruly ones becomes clear when you compare their behavior to that of Paul’s. He did not behave unruly. They themselves have observed that when he was with them. He showed them how he was supposed to be followed. His example does not imply a request but a command. They had the ability to act exactly in the same way like he had shown. They could as it were copy his behavior. The Thessalonians did not need any catalogue with prescriptions; they had an example before their eyes that lived like that. Paul does not say ‘do as I say’ (which he could as an apostle), but ‘do like I did.’
In paganism there is the thought that saints do not work. It is also a pagan thought that believers who have quitted their job in the society, in order to be involved with spiritual matters, are a higher kind of Christians. It is for purely practical reasons because there is so much to do on the spiritual field. One is allowed to do that only when the Lord makes that clear. Such Christians therefore do not stop working, but devote themselves with double diligence to the task that the Lord has ordered them to. He will therefore reward them.
V8. The normal situation for the Christian is that he has a job in society, in order to provide for himself by his own efforts. Paul is the great example of hard working, whereby he is often engaged with normal handiwork in order to provide for himself and his companions (Acts 18:3; 20:34). He wanted to prevent that there would be any suspicion that he was seeking financial profit (Act 20:34; 1Cor 9:12-19; 4:12). He was not looking for their goods, but he sought the good for them. Paul by the way, also knows how to value what the believers are sending for him for his livelihood (Phil 4:14-20).
V9. He knows that each servant that has been sent by the Lord, is entitled to support (1Cor 9:14). The Lord Himself has said that the laborer is worthy of his wages (Lk 10:7). But one is not supposed to make use of each right. It is an exercise in the presence of the Lord whether you accept or do not accept something. The servant will, regarding himself, have to examine whether he is not being led by greed. Regarding the giver, the servant will have to examine whether this person gives according to the instruction of the Lord and not for exerting power on him. He is not to be manipulated by money.
Paul’s motive is clear. He himself wanted to serve as an example, without this clarity of his example to become cloudy because of money. You see how much Paul makes his own interests subject to the well-being of the believers. He presents himself as an example because he knew that they would in reality follow the Lord Jesus when they follow him (1Cor 11:1). And it was all about His honor.
V10. Besides pointing them to the example that he had given when he was with them, he also reminds them of a command that he had given them when he was with them. He quotes for the forgetful ones: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” So it refers to somebody who is not willing to work. Everyone who is involuntarily unemployed must go on making effort to find a job. The stimulus to do that may quite disappear after many disappointing attempts. What also may happen is, that a job is being offered to which a reduction in income is related. Then the risk is great that this job is being refused.
When the determination has been made that a person is not willing to work, then such a person must not be helped with food. Such persons very easily make use of the kindness of others. They often go that far that they claim that others are obliged to provide them with food. He who morally has deviated in such a way, has really lost his way. He doesn’t want to take his own responsibilities, while he exaggerates the extent of other people’s responsibilities for his own benefit.
The quote is clear: if you don’t want to work, then you will not eat either. That is not a command to the undisciplined ones. Those ones will absolutely not care about that and will eat everything they are being offered. It is a command to the believers, not to let their charitable heart speak when such a person comes to them and wants to eat with them. When they refuse him, he will get hungry and get started to work in order to satisfy his hunger (Pro 16:26).
Now read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10 again.
Reflection: How do you think that the people in your environment know you: as a diligent person or as one who cuts the corners?
11 - 18 An Undisciplined Life and Greetings
11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. 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. 15 [Yet] do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all! 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. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
V11. The reason why Paul goes into this question of ‘working for a living’ in such detail, is because he has heard something. He again received from a reliable source that there were believers at Thessalonica, who did not want to work. As you have already seen, such believers are not a promotion for the Christian faith. Those ones who are guilty of that, must realize that. But not working was not the only point. People who do not work, have a lot of time to do other things. He who is not occupied according to the will of the Lord, will surely be occupied in a wrong way.
Such believers are a plague for the church. They themselves do not do anything and if they do something, it is keeping others from their work. They stick their noses into businesses which are not theirs. Meddlesomeness is a wrong thing against which the Scripture also in other places warns (1Tim 5:13; 1Pet 4:15). When you get a visit from busybodies, you may not easily get rid of them. They rob you from your time and energy and they also expect you to invite them for dinner. When they have finally left then you have to work twice as hard to catch up the delay you have suffered.
V12. Then Paul addresses the unruly ones. He has a command and exhortation for them “in the Lord Jesus Christ”. By commanding and exhorting them in this way he does not put himself above them, but beside them. He acknowledged them as brethren ‘in the Lord Jesus Christ’. That is his starting point for his command and exhortation. In that way his order to them does not sound demanding, but loving and at the same time full of power.
He orders them to eat their own bread, which means to take care of their own livelihood, instead of eating someone else’s bread. That is the reverse of verse 10. He adds to it “that they should work in quiet fashion”. A Christian is not restless, hectically seeking for more and more. The reputation of a workaholic (someone who is addicted to work) is therefore not a promotion. The life of a Christian radiates rest, while there is still a lot of activity (cf. 2Tim 2:2; 1Pet 3:4). He has a disciplined life full of meaning which is in huge contrast to the aimlessness of the unruly ones.
V13. Paul again addresses the whole church, but especially the ruly ones. There is the danger to stop with doing good. One may have invested, had thought to help someone else. Sometime later he notices that the slacker has misused his kindness. I have experienced that also. One would say to himself: ‘That will in no way happen to me again.’ Paul’s response to that is: Do not grow weary of doing good. Just continue with doing good, but then to those who really need it.’ It is very likely that one makes that mistake again, but still this word remains: continue to do good.
V14. In case someone still does not care about what Paul says, then ‘special note is to be taken of’ such a person. This measure implies that it must be openly announced in the church that such a person is refusing persistently to comply with the rules of the normal Christian life. Besides, the measure does not only apply in case a person does not want to work, but applies to all cases that consistently affects the Christian life and in that way the testimony of the church. The measure means that all social contacts with the person concerned should be broken. He who behaves himself ‘separately’, unruly, will get a ‘separate status’.
‘To take special note of’ means to give a personal mark, which makes identification possible. It is as it were, putting a brand on a person. Such a person is no longer allowed to feel the blessed fellowship of his brothers and sisters. By isolating him he ought to feel the wrong of his behavior. He does not belong to the world and the believers do not associate with him. The intention of this measure of discipline is that he “will be put to shame”, so that a change of the state of mind may take place.
V15. The normal brotherly association is not possible anymore and will strongly be cooled down. However, he is not to be regarded as an enemy (cf. Mt 18:17). He is not a ‘wicked man’. The discipline that should be exerted upon a wicked man goes much further. When there is mention of a wicked man, it is about someone of whom you should ask yourself whether he is indeed a brother. Such is not the case here, for he is to be admonished “as a brother”. In case of a wicked man there is nothing left to be admonished about. All attempts to win him, have failed. There is nothing left than to remove him (1Cor 5:13).
You may compare the difference between these disciplinary measures of the church with what can happen in a family with a child that is disobedient. The most serious disciplinary measure is that a child is refused to have access to the house. The parents surely have taken a lot of other measures before they proceed to do that.
When a child is disobedient, the parents will first talk with it. When the child appears to persist and continually causes disagreement or refuses to adjust itself, then it may be put separately for example. That measure is only effective when the rest of the family members have the same attitude as the parents. The family will also pray continually, that the Lord may let the child feel the missing of the family contact and in that way may come to repentance.
A person who has to be taken special note of is still allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper. He belongs to the church and is allowed to express that by the breaking of the bread. But for everything else he is isolated. And in case there is a contact, the believers will take that occasion to admonish him. It is important that we realize that every time when we exercise discipline, we ourselves also often fail. Admonition should in no way be applied arrogantly.
V16. After the admonition Paul focuses his eyes on “the Lord of peace” (Rom 15:33; Phil 4:9). That is urgent, because the exertion of discipline may easily arouse feelings of discontent. Discontent about the disciplinary measure, discontent about the way it is being dealt with. Paul wishes them that they may experience the peace of the Lord, of Him personally. That makes his wish, which is actually a prayer, more than a feeling. It becomes an experience of fellowship with the Lord. If it would depend on us, how much discontent would there be? Therefore it is so important to look upon Him Who rules and Who can work peace. He is the great Prince of peace.
He can make sure that peace will remain to be kept when sin wants to assert itself in the church. He will then make sure that it is being dealt with in the right way. That only happens when everyone is focused on Him for everything that happens in the church. But He is also the Lord of peace in every other area of life that lies outside the church. He is able to give peace “continually” and “in every circumstance”. ‘Continually’ means uninterrupted, always. ‘In every circumstance’ excludes that there may be panic in whatever way. His peace is uninterrupted with a view to time and indissoluble with a view to circumstances.
Whatever the situation in which you may find yourself, the Lord is able to give you peace. It is the calmness of the heart that trusts in God and in that way is lifted above the circumstances. The word for ‘peace’ is the wish that the whole man, which is the spirit, soul and body, will prosper. It is not a wish or prayer for liberation from the test, but for peace in the test.
He wishes them all the presence of the Lord. That also includes the brother who is living unruly. The moment that Paul is writing this, he himself has just experienced the presence of the Lord when he also faced difficulties (Acts 18:10). The Lord Himself is saying that to you too very personally: “And lo, I am with you” (Mt 28:20).
V17. Because the Thessalonians were upset about a letter which was allegedly written by Paul, he emphasizes that this letter really comes from him. They should in no way have any doubt about that. Most times Paul dictated his letters (Rom 16:22). In cases he himself wrote a letter, he mentions it (Gal 6:11; Phlm 1:19), which indicates that this concerned an exception. Among the dictated letters he put his ‘signature’ by writing some concluding lines with his own hand. That excluded every doubt with the recipients (cf. 1Cor 16:21; Col 4:18). They can derive from his handwriting that the letter is his.
V18. He concludes with wishing them all “the grace of our Lord Jesus”. This is again a wish which he speaks out to “all”. This fare-well greeting is therefore also applied to the unruly ones. He doesn’t want to exclude anyone from the grace of God. All are in need of that grace. You are too. It is wonderful to pray that for one another.
Now read 2 Thessalonians 3:12-18 again.
Reflection: What shows the care of Paul for the faithful believers and what shows his care for the unruly ones?