Studies in 2 Thessalonians
Tom Bentley, Ballymena, N. Ireland
Chapter 3. 6 – 18
vv. 6 – 15 ABNORMALITIES
Verse 6. Paul now turns to prevalent internal problems that are clearly disturbing the testimony and indeed the harmony of the Thessalonian assembly. This composite directive of the apostle is confirming how the assembly should deal with the disorderly, rather than advising or addressing the disorderly themselves.
The word ‘command’ that is used by the apostle here is a military term, generally the means by which an order is issued to troops. The word occurs four times in this section, 3. 4, 6, 10, 12, and means, ‘to announce alongside of’, hence ‘to command’, ‘to order’. Paul uses this emphatic term with the assurance as in chapter 3 verse 4, that the saints will readily obey and conform to his directive.
Adding to the strength of the word employed, is the acknowledged authority of the Saviour, as Paul adds, ‘in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’. If ever we hesitate to judge any form of disobedience arising in the assembly it is really a disowning of the supreme authority of the Lord Himself and all the reverence and respect of which He is worthy, Isa. 57. 15.
The saints are now commanded to ‘keep away’ from any believer who refuses to obey the word of the apostle. The verb translated ‘to keep away from’ or ‘withdraw’ is stellesthai, which appears only once again in our New Testament in 2 Corinthians 8. 20. It means to ‘stand aloof’, or ‘avoid’. Alford suggests ‘taking in or shortening sail’. In two other passages the basic word occurs with an added prefix, Gal. 2. 12 and Heb. 10. 38, and conveys the same action as advanced by Paul here.
Is this an individual option or a corporate action? There is every possibility that Paul is directing a corporate action that would deprive the disobedient of his privilege of fellowship. I am rather aware that not many of my readers will agree. Others advance that the directive is for the saints in Thessalonica not to share in this person’s mode of life, seeing the apostle does not as yet contemplate excommunication. Whatever, clearly to obey implies they are not permitted under any circumstances to comply with his unbecoming behaviour. Paul deems it disorderly. Here again the word ‘tradition’ is used, which denotes in this context the apostolic instruction relative to the Christian life. The Revised Version margin has in the final stanza of this verse ‘which ye received of us’. This is preferable for it includes all the Thessalonians as having in their possession the authoritative teaching of the apostle.
Verse 7. Throughout these letters to the Thessalonians the writer, Paul, often reminds them of what they already know, see 1 Thess. 1. 5; 2. 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 11; 3. 3, 4 ; 4. 2; 5. 2; 2 Thess. 2. 5, 6. Here is a further reminder that they fully know how they are obliged to imitate the conduct of the servants of God relative to their daily work. The word that Paul uses to direct the saints is only used four times in the New Testament, and appears again in verse 9, which really means ‘to mimic’. It is the translation of the word ‘to imitate’. It indicates that the action is continuous, showing what the saints are to be for God, at any period of the testimony, is an everyday exercise, an ongoing responsibility in order to answer to His pleasure.
Paul then places before them how he and his associates behaved while in the city of Thessalonica. The words ‘behaved (not) ourselves disorderly’ is one word and appears only here. So neither Paul nor his associates in the work of the Lord, were seen to be out of rank in their manner of life while working out their service among the saints in Thessalonica.
Verse 8. Now Paul comes directly to the issue, ‘neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought’, cp. 1 Thess. 2. 1-12. It is likely that Paul did receive many an invitation to share in the cordial fellowship of the saints. One such home was doubtless the home of Jason, but the point he is making is that he did not misuse the privilege nor was he looking for neverending handouts free of charge. Note that the Revised Version makes it clearer, ‘neither did we eat bread for nought at any man’s hand’. The servants laboured night and day lest they should incur a charge of living idly at the expense of the saints, Acts 20. 34. On the other hand Paul did not expect that despite his industrious toil, he would earn enough to meet the needs of himself and his fellow-workers. He would tell us later that both in Thessalonica, Phil. 4. 16, and at Corinth, 2 Cor. 11. 9, he received pecuniary aid from the saints in Macedonia. After all, even as he was writing these lines, he was abiding with people of the same trade, the honoured Aquila and Priscilla, Acts 18. 3.
If Paul was wise enough to act independently, but wholly dependent upon God, what would his reaction be to societies that abound today that will regularly support those who subscribe to their dogmas? Such would surely have been a mighty resource in moments of extreme need. Yet, on such an examination of Paul’s modus operandi he would prefer trusting His God, working at his tent-making and providing a clear directive for all who would heed the call of God in adherence to the principles of the work of the Lord at all times.
Verse 9. ‘Not because we did not have power’, note that the word power here is ‘authority’, exousfla, for they did have authority, 2 Cor. 13. 10, Matt. 10. 9, 10, but Paul was careful to guard against any misunderstanding. He himself waives his claim in order to benefit by example the work he is seeking to establish for God. But the right surely belongs to the servant of the Lord to look for some measure of repayment, if he needs it, from those who benefit from his service, Gal. 6. 6; 1 Cor. 9. 6; 1 Pet. 4. 9, 10.
The word that is used here is tupos translated here ‘example’, which denotes a pattern, a model worth imitating, and its use is most instructive. The first use of the word in the New Testament is touching. In John chapter 20 verse 25 it is used twice, as John records the words of Thomas, ‘the print of the nails . . . into the print of the nails’. This affords us a marvellous concept of the word in that it simply conveys the idea of ‘an imprint’. Paul desired that above all things he would leave in the hearts and minds of the saints an imprint they would never forget nor neglect. Surely this is to be characteristic of all who serve in this capacity no matter where they may be. Paul would have us lead exemplary lives in both spiritual and material issues.
Verse. 10. How important it is for all the saints of God to adhere to what they have been taught under the authority of the word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Characteristics emerge that often restrain the operative power of the Word in our lives, so we must be responsive to the demands of it and obey it under all prevailing conditions and circumstances. Provision should be made in the exercise of the saints to cater for orphans, widows, or those physically incapable due to illness, chronic or temporary, Jas. 1. 27. In the closing words of this verse it would seem that Paul has in mind some of the characteristics of the sluggard as listed in Proverbs 13. 4; 20. 4; 24. 30-34. Paul therefore is not directing his condemnatory remarks to those unable to work, but to those who, ‘will not’, (Revised text) work. It is very likely that even by this time the assembly at Thessalonica had resources of a material nature that could be drawn upon in an emergency. Hence the advice ‘neither should he eat’, that is, he should not be allowed to be dependent upon material help from the saints either corporately or individually.
Verse 11. This is a sad report of there being those who are trading on the kindness of the saints and refusing to engage in toil. They are ready to eat at any table where food is available or resources provided. They are addressed in verses 11 and 12. There is a manifest play on words, in the original text of this verse. Those who are directly addressed by the apostle, are not prepared to work, but as JOWETT comments, ‘they are busy only with what is not their own business’. Another useful expositor has it, ‘not being businessmen but busybodies.’ Can it be that this restlessness is due to the false notions some have created or fabricated with regard to the coming of the Lord? If the advent were so near, they advanced, why work at all? The word ‘busybodies’ occurs only here and is taken from the word meaning ‘to work around,’ hence ‘to bustle about uselessly, to busy one’s self about trifling, needless, useless matters’. The Lord Jesus affords us much help on the subject of idleness, see Luke 19. 11-27.
Verse 12. Every problem has its answer and every difficulty has its solution in and from the word of God alone. This Paul confirms as he addresses the unfaithful with a command in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the third use of the word ‘command’ in the paragraph, verses 11-15, and now it is endorsed by the useful word ‘exhort’. It is delightful to see how close the word of God can come to any anomaly of human creation. In every extenuating circumstance where defiance or disobedience prevails, the word is right along side to advise, to correct and to encourage.
The command in its first requirement consists of simply being quiet as they work. The word is used four times and in the other occurrences is translated ‘silence’, Acts 22. 2; 1 Tim. 2. 11, 12. The command is as clear as it is comprehensive - let disorder give way to quietness, officious interference with others to honourable labour, idle independence to earning and eating their own bread. Wholesome words indeed, requiring a godly response, as do all of God’s commands wherever and whenever they are given. May we all be kept free from meddlesome curiosity, a pursuit that ends in confusion, confrontation and controversy. There is enough to keep us all profitably occupied in the service of the Lord and in sacrificial attendance to the necessities of many dear saints whose need and requirements must be met by devoted giving, daily help and decisive attendance.
Verse 13. We have seen how Paul confronts those who may prove disorderly by being unresponsive to his authoritative appeals to conform to the mind of the Lord. Now in verses 13 to 15 he counsels those who are obedient on how to treat those who refuse to obey his word of correction. Obviously, and presumably for the greater part as far as the assembly was concerned, there were those who duly regarded and received without hesitation the Spirit-given advice of the apostle. The word ‘weary’ means ‘to lose courage’, ‘to faint’. It is, however, preceded by the word ‘not’. The sense is clear, Paul is saying ‘be not weary’, and with the aorist subjunctive it means, ‘do not begin to lose courage’. Therefore, they were truly obeying but probably under pressure from incorrigible persons they were discouraged.
It has to be noticed that this is the seventh time in the epistle that Paul has addressed the saints as ‘brethren’. What a wholesome regard for the fellowship and a welcome respect for the saints in the fellowship is implied by the use of this worthy term. The closing term of the exhortation opens a rich area of exercise, ‘well doing’, which is taken from the word ‘good’ and ‘to do’, hence ‘to do good’, meaning ‘to live uprightly’. This extends their ongoing responsibility to the utmost degree to continue to live before God in conformity to His own character and conduct, for it can be surprisingly easy to be affected by the action and approach of others.
Verse 14. In chapter 1 verse 8 there are those who ‘obey not the gospel’ upon whom the consummate judgement ensues. Here the same word appears in relation to those who have obeyed the gospel. It must be assumed, that they are those who are reluctant to obey the word of the epistle. Regrettably there are many that come under this category. Were this epistle merely the words of the apostle then rejection of his authority and admonition may be understood, but it was much more than the words of a mere man, it is in essence the word of God.
This being so, the person who disobeys has first ‘to be noted’, a word used here only in the New Testament. It means, ‘to mark’ and is taken from the word meaning ‘to distinguish by marking’. The word being in the middle voice signifies that it is in the interest of the assembly that such an action should be taken. What does this entail? Paul adds, ‘have no company with him’. Later, Paul uses this word again twice, as seen in 1 Corinthians 5 verses 9 and 11, where the saints are called upon to disasociate from the erring in the exercise of corporate discipline. Is it any different here? Most commentators say yes; it is different as the judgement is not of the same nature as that of the above reference. The purpose of the action is that ‘he may be ashamed’. The word ‘ashamed’, denotes that he is ‘to be made ashamed’. The action of the assembly will turn him in on himself and he will ultimately sense the wrong of his refusal to obey the word of God. This action, the writer strongly avers, is that of excommunication, Matt. 18. 17. Paul is therefore implying more than merely casual or individual dissociation with the unbending. The action is corporate and public; else no recovery would be realized.
Verse 15. Any action and any act of discipline is calculated towards the recovery of the individual, so Paul’s touch is timely and lovingly expressed, ‘count him not as an enemy, but entreat him as a brother’. There is always a redemptive approach in the terms of the New Testament where discipline is administered and required, see Gal. 6. 1–3.
The word from which we derive the word ‘count’ is the present imperative of ‘to consider’, or ‘to account’, denoting the manner in which the erring one is to be treated, not as an enemy, but as a brother. He still belongs to the faith and has in him all the capacity, through grace, to respond and ultimately conform to the principle, path and practice the apostle has outlined. There is one word that must not be missed in this closing stage of the epistle and it is the word ‘to admonish’, ‘to put in mind’, ‘to warn’. Paul uses this word when speaking to the elders as recorded in Acts 20 verse 31. All of its further uses in the New Testament come from Paul, Rom.15. 14; 1 Cor. 4. 14; Col. 1. 28; 3. 16; 1 Thess. 5. 12, 14. Note with interest that it is in the imperative, ‘start admonishing and keep on admonishing’. Counselling of this nature is sadly an absent function among so many of the saints of God. Often there is a readiness to discipline but how many are given to a restorative ministry that will accomplish the purpose of such an exercise? However grievously the person has offended he still has to be treated as a brother.
Verse 16. Yet again the apostle engages in prayer for the saints whom he loves and in doing so he addresses the Lord Jesus who, in all His fulness and power, is alone able to meet the need and minister His abundant power and peace to all who are His. Himself is autos, which is used with emphasis as in chapter 2 verse 16, thus enhancing the glory and dignity of the One who is the source, supply and strength of peace. In the first epistle, 5. 23, Paul addresses a similar appeal to ‘the God of peace’, i.e, ‘to the Father’, which affords the simple reader the assured assumption of our Lord’s divinity. Peace is associated with the trinity. The Father is the Source of all peace, Phil. 4. 7, 9. The Son is our peace, Eph. 2. 14, and the Holy Spirit brings and produces peace, Gal. 5. 23.
With pressure from without and problems from within the saints certainly needed to be sustained and be constantly supplied with the peace only the Lord Himself can give. Nor has it changed today, so may we know experimentally the ministry of the Lord of peace, not just for a moment, but note the scope of Paul’s prayer, ‘always’. The word used by the apostle here means ‘under all circumstances’, added to which is the encouraging term, ‘by all means’, indicating that even if necessary by such a painful experience as the discipline upon the disorderly created. Often it is that when the pressure and pain is at its peak, peace pervades the soul. So like Mary, we can remain in the house, under the circumstances until the Lord calls us out from them. Notice how the great sections of this epistle close with prayer, 1. 11; 2. 17; 3. 16. Then Paul moves from His ‘peace’ to His ‘presence’ in these lovely words of intercession. ‘The Lord be with you all’. Surely this is inclusive of those who stood in defence of the truth as well as of those who were in apparent disorder.
Verses. 17 – 18 ASSURANCES
Verse 17. As is to be expected from every genuine servant of the Lord who aspires to convey the mind and will of God, Paul ends his epistle with clarity, honesty and sincerity. It is generally assumed that Paul employed an amanuensis, but now as the epistle closes he takes the pen into his own hand to greet the saints and to assure them of the genuineness of the letter. He is giving authentication to every detail of the correspondence that they will receive.
Verse 18. Typical of Paul’s writing, he closes with a benediction. The words with which he closes this epistle are comparable to those with which he ends the first epistle, except that here he adds the word ‘all’. If anything, this reveals the heart of the apostle for surely he is embracing both the willing and the wayward, the adherents and the antagonistic. Paul, who knew the longsuffering of His Lord, extends the same grace in prayer for all, irrespective of the circumstances of heart and habit. Possibly the most complete form of such benediction from the apostle is found in 2 Corinthians 13 verse 14.
WORDS THAT ARE UNIQUE TO THIS CHAPTER
V. 1 treko, ‘course’ (In its grammatical form) (5143)
VV. 2 and 11, ataktõs, ‘disorderly’ (814);
V. 11, periergazomenous, ‘busybodies’ (4020);
V. 13, kalopoiountes, ‘well doing’ (2569);
V. 14, sãmeíoumai, ‘note’ (4593);
V. 16, õ Kurios meta, ‘the Lord with’
This article concludes these studies in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians and we are grateful to brother Tom Bentley for all the articles on 1 and 2 Thessalonians we have published over the last couple of years. We are sure they have beeen a blessing to many. In the next issue of the magazine we shall be taking up Malcolm Horlock’s studies in 1 Corinthians again.