As we enter chapter three we see once again that Paul expresses prayers for the saints who meet in Thessalonica, which is something he has done time and time again through these letters.
He requested that they might increase and abound in love, 1 Thessalonians 3:11, that the Lord might establish their hearts blameless in holiness, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, that God might sanctify them completely, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, that God might count them worthy of His calling, 2 Thessalonians 2:11, that the name of the Lord might be glorified in them, and they in Him, 2 Thessalonians 2:12, that Jesus and the Father might comfort their hearts and establish them in every good word and work, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. And so not do we need the prayers of those who lead us but we too must be praying for them.
The word ‘pray’ in verse one is present tense in Greek, and it signifies a continuous action. Paul desires that they will continue to pray that ‘the message of the Lord may be spread rapidly and be honoured’.
We know there is power in the Word of God, Romans 1:16 / Ephesians 6:17 / Hebrews 4:12 and we know God’s word converts people, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart and so much more. We also know that God’s word must be honoured, Acts 13:48 and must be treated with a certain great respect, Psalm 119:97.
The Thessalonian saints were doing just that, 2 Thessalonians 3:1. The word of God had changed their lives and everyone knew about it, people saw it in their lives and heard it from their lips, they practised what they preached, the word of God had truly been planted in their hearts and they were producing fruit. 1 Thessalonians 1:8 / 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Paul continues to be specific concerning his prayer request, 2 Thessalonians 3:2. We need to understand that there will always be those who oppose truth, it comes from the world and it also comes from within our congregations, 2 Corinthians 11:26.
Remember the persecution that followed the conversion of these brethren, Acts 17:5-10, but there was also opposition from within the church. But despite all this opposition Paul reminds them that ‘the Lord is faithful’, 2 Thessalonians 3:3.
The Christians back then needed to learn the same lesson that Christians today need to learn and that is any promises made by our God are promises are which we can have complete confidence. He will deliver the righteous, He will punish the wicked. Deuteronomy 7:9. He will strengthen us, He will protect us from the evil one.
Time and time again Paul has been saying to the church in Thessalonica, be strong because it is God who gives you the strength. It’s God who will protect us from the evil one but we must pray for these things to happen. Matthew 6:13 / Ephesians 6:13 / 1 Peter 5:8 / 2 Peter 2:9.
2 Thessalonians 3:4 is another amazing compliment for this young church, Paul’s confidence wasn’t just in the brethren who were doing what the apostles taught them, 2 Thessalonians 1:3+4, but in the Lord who would help them to do and continue to do what was right, Matthew 10:22 / Galatians 6:9 / 2 Thessalonians 3:13 and do to and continue to do what the apostles had commanded, Matthew 7:21 / John 14:15 / James 1:22-22.
What a beautiful prayer 2 Thessalonians 3:5 is, ‘May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance’. But how was the Lord going to do this?
Simply by revelation, in the first century, God revealed Himself in Jesus through the various miracles, wonders and signs, Acts 2:22, but when the time of miracles, wonders and signs had ceased, He revealed it and continues to reveal His heart’s desire for us through His word. Romans 10:17 / James 2:18. Jesus has revealed the way to the Father because He is the Way, John 14:6, and what we call the Bible is God’s complete revelation of Himself to mankind.
It’s not enough just to simply seek the Lord to guide our hearts, we need to ask Him to and allow Him to direct our lives out of love for Him, just like David of old did when he prayed for Israel and Solomon, 1 Chronicles 29:18-19, just like Solomon of old did when he prayed for himself and Israel, 1 Kings 8:57-58 and we as Christians today absolutely need God’s help when we are desiring to do what is right and good, Philippians 2:13.
What kind of love has God shown the church in Thessalonica?
1 Thessalonians 4:9 / 2 Thessalonians 1:4. The kind of love that God demonstrated through Jesus, 1 John 4:9-11 / 1 John 3:16-19. The kind of love that Jesus demonstrated to the world, Hebrews 12:1-3 / 1 Peter 2:21-23.
Not only was Paul’s prayer for the Lord to direct their hearts into God’s love, but he also wanted the Lord to direct their hearts into the patience of Christ. When we read the Old Testament, we read time and time again that the Christ is coming, Matthew through to John declares that the Christ is here, Acts through to Revelation declares that Christ is coming again. We have already established that no one knows when the Lord will return but we do know that He will but in the meantime, we need to be patient. Philippians 3:20.
What the apostle Paul is about to write about next is a topic that many churches like to stay away from as much as possible, the topic of church discipline. He introduces this topic by telling the church in Thessalonica that what he’s about to write isn’t by his own authority but by the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself. Matthew 28:18 / Colossians 3:17.
There is no getting away from the strong language which is used here which again tells us that Paul isn’t giving them a suggestion but a command.
He says the Lord commands them, ‘to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.’
The King James Version says, ‘Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.’
The Greek word for withdraw is the word στέλλω ‘stello’ basically means ‘do not associate with’. The word disorderly is the Greek word ἀτάκτως ‘ataktos’ and it carries with it the meaning of ‘being out of rank’, as a military term.
The apostles had shown them the proper example for them to follow whilst they were amongst them, an example which was pleasing to God. They weren’t ‘out of rank’ but lived how they were supposed to live according to their calling. Philippians 1:27 / Ephesians 4:1. When they were with the saints in Thessalonica they supported themselves by working, why?
In order that they wouldn’t be open to a charge of being lazy, the apostles wanted to show them a good example. They didn’t have to do this because as preachers of the Gospel it was proper for them to receive some support from their brethren to further the Gospel, Deuteronomy 25:4 / 1 Corinthians 9:1-15 / 1 Timothy 5:18 but they chose not to burden the church at this point because the lesson in working needed to be learned by some brethren in Thessalonica.
When the apostles were among them they gave the church this rule, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Genesis 3:19 / Ephesians 4:28 / Romans 12:11
The apostles heard that some brethren were ‘out of rank’, now remember that Paul has already written to them about this in his first letter, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, and so it seems that there were some who didn’t listen to him and so here he adds it a deeper authority to it. Some were disruptive and not working at all, not busy but busybodies, 2 Thessalonians 3:11.
Although it doesn’t come across very well in our English translations of the Bible, the apostle Paul seems to be making a play on words here. ἐργάζομαι ‘ergazomai’ is the Greek word for working and περιεργάζομαι ‘periergazomai’ is the Greek word for a busybody.
Paul is saying that some brethren are going around the work as if they were actually dodging doing any work at all. They are working but working at being busy in things which are useless and almost pointless, interfering with other people’s affairs etc., today we would say they would be busy ‘majoring in the minors’, 1 Timothy 5:13.
These people are commanded and encouraged by the Lord to work quietly, be satisfied and earn their food. 1 Thessalonians 4:11. The church is commanded not to become tired of doing what is good, Galatians 6:9 / Matthew 10:22.
Notice again the strong tone of 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, obedience to the Word of God is always of the utmost importance, if someone doesn’t listen to what has been said, the church was to ‘take special note of them’ 2 Thessalonians 3:6, and notice of the purpose in not associating with anyone who won’t listen to these commands, ‘that he may feel ashamed’, Jeremiah 3:25
However and this is an important point, they were not to be seen as an enemy but to be warned as they would a fellow believer. And with what attitude was this to be done? Leviticus 19:17 / Galatians 6:1 / 1 Peter 4:8 / James 5:19-20 / Revelation 3:19.
In summary, as Paul nears the end of his second letter he gives the church in Thessalonica a series charge, to withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition received from Paul, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 / 2 Thessalonians 3:14.
The seriousness of the charge is seen in that Paul invokes the name of Jesus, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 which is something he rarely does, 1 Corinthians 1:10. The circumstances at Thessalonica that prompted such a serious charge were simply, some Christians had quit working, and had become busybodies, 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 which was the opposite of the apostle’s own example and previous commands, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10.
It is possible that some Christians were so excited about the Lord’s return and they thought it was more or less coming that day that they didn’t see the need to work anymore. Nonetheless, they are commanded to work and if they refused to work to earn their own keep they were to have fellowship withdrawn from them. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 / 2 Thessalonians 3:14.
I mentioned at the start of this section that many churches like to stay away from church discipline and this could be for several reasons but I believe it would be useful to spend a few moments discussing the topic at this point.
I’ve heard of people being dis-fellowshipped because they never get to worship on time. I’ve heard of people being dis-fellowshipped because they didn’t agree with the preacher. Dis-fellowshipping is all about preserving the purity of the church. The Hebrew writer reminds us that Christians must follow after holiness in Hebrews 12:14. 1 John 4:6-13 reminds us that Christians must love one another.
Ephesians 4:3 reminds us that Christians must live in the bond of peace with each other. And so the church must strive for these things and be on our guard against anything which will influence our goals. And so if we’re going to preserve the purity of the church, we need to be on our guard against things like false doctrine, division, strive and impurity.
Because the ultimate goal of the church is the salvation of souls, Philippians 2:12-13, yes dis-fellowshipping someone is never a pleasant experience but there are times when it needs to be done because their soul is at stake. But what would constitute reasons for being dis-fellowshipped?
There are at least six examples within the New Testament but that doesn’t mean they are the only reasons, sometimes there are principles set out within those six examples.
The first example we find within the New Testament is a passage that everyone is pretty familiar with. Matthew 18:15-17, here Jesus gives the example that a person may end up being disfellowshipped if they have malice against a fellow Christian which doesn’t get solved.
The second example is found in Romans 16:17, here Paul tells us that a person who causes division and doesn’t stop, may end up being disfellowshipped.
The third example is found in 1 Corinthians 5 which deals with the topic of immorality. We see a man who was living immorally, basically, he was having sexual relations with his father’s wife and so he had to be disfellowshipped from the church in Corinth.
The fourth example is found in 2 Thessalonians 2:6, walking in rebellion basically means walking out of step and if we keep it in its context we see that it is applied to those who are lazy gossips.
The fifth example is found in 1 Timothy 1:20, here the apostle Paul tells us that Hymenaeus and Alexander were disfellowshipped for blasphemy.
And finally, the sixth example is found in Acts 20:30, and so anyone who teaches false doctrine may eventually be disfellowshipped. Now those are just six examples but please don’t think they are the only reasons for someone being dis-fellowshipped, like I said, there are principles within those examples.
Now how we go about the process of dis-fellowshipping someone must be Scriptural because the manner of carrying out a matter often determines its effect. And so very often Scriptural discipline becomes unscriptural because it’s carried out in an unscriptural manner. We need to have the right motives for carrying out our actions, for example, in personal grievances the object should be to gain a brother back, as Matthew 18:15 tells us.
The motive should be to restore the Christian gently, Galatians 6:1 / James 5:19-20. But in all cases, the motive should be edification not destruction, Luke 9:51-56. And so disfellowshipping must be carried out with the right motives but also in a spirit of love, Colossians 3:13.
Now when I said that it needs to be carried out Scripturally, I mean it needs to be carried out strictly according to the teachings we find within the New Testament. Again, in public grievances, Paul says that the offender should be properly warned first in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. And according to Titus 3:10, the offender must be rebuked at least twice.
If the offender thinks they have committed an offence against another, they must go and rectify it, according to Matthew 5:23-24. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus reminds us that the offended one must go to the offender, if he will not listen, he is to take witnesses, if this is not effective, he must take it to the church.
In other words, it then becomes a public matter and if the offender does not listen to the church, then they must be Disfellowshipped, 1 Corinthians 5:4-5. Everything needs to be carried out scripturally, with the right motives but the whole church must be involved with this decision.
Think about the effects of disfellowshipping someone, because they are far-reaching. Matthew 18:17 tells us that they are to be treated as a heathen man and a publican. Romans 16:17 tells us that they are to be avoided. 1 Corinthians 5:2 tells us that they are to be taken out of the assembly. 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14 tell us that we can’t keep company or even eat with them. 2 John 9-11 tells us that we shouldn’t assist them in any way. But every member of the church has to treat them the same way, why?
Because the Bible says so and we cannot and must not give them any hint that we are approving their actions.
But what’s the point of dis-fellowshipping, someone? I know people who have received letters informing them that they have been disfellowshipped from the church and they haven’t even been in a meeting of the Lord’s church for five years. There is a huge difference between someone living sinfully, causing strife in the church and someone who just simply doesn’t come anymore.
We cannot treat them with some sort of self-righteousness or malice, the motive behind it is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “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”.
Paul says the motivation behind disfellowshipping someone is simply to make the offender ashamed but with the hope of bringing them more rapidly to repentance. But at all times, and notice this, Paul says, we have to remember they are not your enemy.
Disciplining someone through means of disfellowshipping is not the end goal, restoration is the end goal. And what a joyous occasion that is when someone who has been disfellowshipped returns to the fold. Don’t the angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents?
When the apostle Paul writes his second letter to the church in Corinth about the man who was disfellowshipped, we get an insight into the church’s reaction when someone returns.
He says in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”
When a person returns to the fold, there are to be no grudges or self-righteousness, just simply forgiveness and love.
Because if we don’t, then Satan will have a field day, not only with those who have returned but also with the church as a whole. Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 “Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven— if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
A person is not dis-fellowshipped forever, it’s not an eternal sentence, they need to go and realise what they have done as being wrong. And when they come to that realisation, they can repent and return and they will be saved.
As we come to the apostle’s final remarks, we need to remind ourselves that this second letter to the Thessalonian saints was designed to encourage them amid the persecution they were facing, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12.
To give them enlightenment concerning the Lord’s return, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and also to urge them to live right for Christ, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15. And as was the custom of Paul he ends this letter with a blessing and a prayer for the church.
One can only imagine amid persecution the need for peace, but this is not the kind of peace which the world thinks of in terms of everyone getting along great together or no more wars, but the kind of inner peace we can have with God, Romans 5:1 and our fellow man, 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
This is the kind of peace which was prophesied and that Jesus would guide us into, Luke 1:78-79 / Luke 2:14, the same peace with Christ came preaching, Acts 10:36, the kind of peace that the world cannot offer or give, John 14:27. A peace that wins despite tribulation, John 16:33 and peace which rules the Lord’s kingdom, Romans 14:17 in which everyone can be a part of, Ephesians 2:14-18.
And how was this peace made possible?
Through the death of Jesus on the cross, Ephesians 2:15-16 / Colossians 1:20-22. But it must be pursued by all Christians, Romans 14:19 / 2 Timothy 2:22 / Hebrews 12:14 / 1 Peter 3:10-11.
In 2 Thessalonians 3:17, we find that Paul makes a brief reference to writing in his own hand.
G. K. Beale makes the following comments on this verse, ‘when we write letters, we typically conclude with a standard “sincerely” or “best wishes”, then sign our names without thinking. Not so with Paul. Just as the concluding “peace” in 3:16 is not an unconscious part of a standard farewell, so it is with the closing greeting.’
Paul does not merely greet but points out the usual manner of his greeting: I, Paul write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. There is something unusual in the way Paul writes his name. His signature may be atypical because of the uncommonly “large letters” (Galatians 6:11).
Some say that Paul draws attention to his signature because a secretary has written the letter and Paul wants to make sure that the recipients clearly understand that the epistle is from him and not the secretary.
But there seems to be more significance attached to his comment in 3:17 than merely his use of secretarial assistance. Paul has already used the word “epistle” three times, once to refer to his genuine first letter to the Thessalonians as a correction to the earlier mentioned spurious letter (2:15), and once to refer to his genuine second letter also as a correction of false teaching and its correlate disorderly lifestyle (3:14).
Plausibly, this final occurrence of “epistle” and Paul’s distinguishing signature on it has similar significance. He signs his letters in order to authenticate them and their teaching in contrast to fraudulent letters attributed to him, including the pseudo letter mentioned in 2:2. This suggests further that he still has the false teaching of 2:2-12 in mind, not only in 3:17 but throughout the entire chapter.
The only other epistles where he expressly mentions his signature are ones where he is writing in opposition to false teachers (1 Corinthians 16:21 / Galatians 6:11 / Colossians 4:18).
His qualification that the distinguishing mark of his signature is attached to all his letters and that he always writes in this manner indicates that the danger of circulating spurious Pauline epistles and the attendant false teaching was more widespread than merely these instances. (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. 1-2 Thessalonians. G. K. Beale. Pages 268 and 269)
The apostle ends his second letter with a prayer blessing of grace, that unmerited favour from the Lord Himself. Just like peace, grace was also prophesied concerning this would be coming with Jesus, 1 Peter 1:10-11, we know that Jesus came full of grace, John 1:14 / John 1:16-17.
We also know that His apostles preached the Gospel of grace, Acts 20:24 / Acts 20:32. As Christians we stand in God’s grace, Romans 5:2 / 1 Peter 5:12 and like we saw earlier in this study, Christians have everlasting comfort and hope through God’s grace, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17.
But how did we receive that grace in the first place?
Simply by obeying the Gospel of grace, Hebrews 5:9. We received that grace at our baptism, Titus 3:4-7 / Mark 16:15-16 / Acts 2:36 / Acts 22:16 and by continuing to obey the doctrine which was given to us which sets us free from sin, Romans 6:17.
We are commanded to grow in that grace, 2 Peter 3:18 and this same grace is multiplied as we grow in the knowledge of Jesus, 2 Peter 1:2 / 2 Peter 1:5-8. God will continue to give us grace when we ask for it, Hebrews 4:14-16 / James 4:6 / 1 Peter 5:5. But remember as Christians we can lose that grace, we can fall from grace, 2 Peter 2:20-22.
The Apostle Paul’s love for his brothers and sisters in Christ in Thessalonica was very evident. He wanted the Lord Himself to give them peace always and in every way. He wanted the grace of the Lord to be with them all always and in every way. And so just like he began this second letter to the church in Thessalonica, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, he closes the letter with the same blessings and prayer of peace and grace.