COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 3:6-10 “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. 7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thess 3:6-10)
There are very practical results yielded by the belief of the Gospel. Some of them are declared in this text. On the surface, they may appear to be difficult and without mercy. However, to the contrary, they show us the true reaction of faith, and how life is lived by faith. The background to this text is the persuasion of the Thessalonians that the Lord was going to come at any moment. Because of this, it appears that some, who already tended to be idle, had withdrawn from the normalities of life altogether. They reasoned that if the Lord was going to return at any moment, there was no further need to be industrious. Their view of Christ tended to the dominance of their flesh – something of a most serious nature. While it is true that Jesus may, indeed, appear at any moment, we are not to conduct our lives as though there was no tomorrow. We are to “wait” for Christ from heaven, but waiting and idleness are not synonymous. In fact, they are contrary to each other. Faith does not relieve us of eating our bread by the “sweat of our face,” or arduous activity (Gen 3:19). However, this text is not to be viewed as a harsh and unreasonable law. Rather, it unveils to us the culture in which faith becomes effectual, and waiting for the Lord dominant.
WITHDRAWING FROM THE DISORDERLY
“ 3:6 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 Scriptures make quite clear to us that the assembly of the righteous is never to condone improper living, or life that is out of harmony with faith. Believers are close to one another, but that closeness is not in the flesh. We are never to be so friendly with our brethren that we cannot obey the word of the Lord concerning them. A perfect example of this is found in the passage before us.
WE COMMAND YOU. Nearly every translation reads the same: “command you.” Some exceptions include “charge you,” DOUAY “enjoin you,” DARBY “give you orders,” BBE and “instruct you.” NAB A commandment is a directive – something concerning which there are no options but to obey. This word calls for immediate action. Faith will never move you beyond the need for heeding commandments. Jesus never makes us so free that He will no longer demand certain things of us. There is a sense in which “keeping the commandments” is a considerable portion of living unto the Lord (1 Cor 7:19; Rev 12:18; 14:12).
IN THE NAME. Something that is “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” is through His authority and power. It not only comes with His sanction, but is mandated by Him. The nature of His salvation demands it. His own Divine nature requires it. His commission includes it. The many uses of this phrase confirms this is the case (Acts 8:16; 9:29; 1 Cor 6:11). This word is not to be considered as coming from Paul alone. It did not originate with him. In this matter, he is a messenger from the Lord Himself. Elsewhere Paul besought people “in the name of Jesus” (1 Cor 1:10). Here, he gave a commandment in that name.
WITHDRAW FROM EVERY BROTHER. Other versions read, “keep aloof from,” NASB “keep away from,” NIV “shun,” NAB and “stay away from.” NLT The word “withdraw” is strong, and its meaning is unquestionable: “hold oneself aloof, keep away from, avoid, steer clear of, and be on guard against.”This refers to a category of people, and not just a single individual. Further, this refers to members of the household of faith: “every brother that . . . ” There are brethren who are to be avoided. They are real brethren, and they are really to be avoided. This should not surprise us, for the same type of instruction is given in First Corinthians. “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (5:11). Our text is a little more specific. It does not refer to someone who merely wears the name of Christ (“called a brother”), but to someone who is a brother. In both of these cases, the recovery of the person is the point. In First Corinthians, withdrawal is in order that the persons “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (5:5). In our text, withdrawal is in order that the brother may “be ashamed” (verse 14).
Here is a little-known application of knowing no man “after the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16). Our affiliation with our brethren is not upon the basis of bare earthly friendship. We do not receive one another merely because we belong to the same group. Our association is in Christ Jesus, and what He does not allow, we cannot allow. I will tell you that obeying this commandment will incur the indignation and judgment of many professed believers. However, not withstanding such reactions, it is a commandment to be obeyed.
WALKING DISORDERLY. Other translations read, “who leads an unruly life,” NASB “every brother who is idle,” NIV “who are living in idleness,” NRSV and “whose behavior is not well ordered.” BBE There is an orderly, or well-ordered, manner in which believers are to live. That manner includes the zealous avoidance of idleness, or not working, which the text will later confirm is the particular point of reference (verse 11). In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, they were exhorted to “study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you” (2 Thess 3:6). Those who do not so conduct their lives must “learn to be idle” (1 Tim 5:13), for there is nothing about nature or grace that encourages such conduct. Those who refuse to work have departed from “the path of the just” (Prov 4:18). They have put themselves in an arena in which grace and power are not found. That is why their condition tends to more and more misery. The judgment passed upon man because of sin included, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen 3:9). Those who reject this word are walking “disorderly,” and it impacts on how they will be treated by the body of Christ. Such are out of the ranks, and have stepped off of the path leading to life.
NOT AFTER THE TRADITION. The word “tradition” does not refer to the opinions of men, as in Matthew 15:2-3,6 and Colossians 2:6. This is teaching that pertains to our manner of life – the application of the truth of God. This is explained in the next verses.
AN EXAMPLE LIVED OUT BEFORE MEN
“ 7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.” The Apostle now states something that is obvious: “yourselves know.” Notwithstanding, he does not rely upon their intellectual knowledge of these things, but, like Peter, stirs up their “pure minds by way of remembrance” (2 Pet 3:1). Godly teachers do not depend upon things always being obvious to the hearers. This was not a mere routine way of teaching. The circumstances in Thessalonica demanded this word. There is no virtue in repetition itself. There are times in which certain matters are to be reaffirmed. It is our business to know them.
OUGHT TO FOLLOW US. Those who have faith can be followed: “whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Heb 13:7). Paul repeats the words “follow us” in verse nine. Elsewhere he said, “be ye followers of me” (1 Cor 4:16), “Be ye followers of me” (1 Cor 11:1), “be followers together of me” (Phil 3:17), and “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do” (Phil 4:9). These are not the words of a dictator, but of one who is, through personal faith, living consistent with the Gospel. There are people within the body of Christ who are driven by a quest for glory. They are pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling in Christ (Phil 3:14). They are not to be viewed as radicals, or as superior persons who merely demand our respect. They are to be “followed.” They are to be viewed as worthy companions, not spiritual icons You will find that this is a most unusual response. That is precisely why Paul gives this admonition.
BEHAVED NOT DISORDERLY. Other versions read, “we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you” NASB “We were not idle when we were with you” NIV “because our life among you was ruled by order,” BBE and “We were never lazy when we were with you.” NLT The idea here is not that of living by lifeless routine, or a rigorous schedule. Remember, “the just shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38), and faith is neither lifeless nor mere routine. Paul did not live as though there was nothing to do. He did not live in an easy chair, waiting for his needs to drop down to him out of heaven. His life was not characterized by inactivity, or a lack or productive action. This is not how faith affects an individual. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), presumes activity and focused living. Such a love cannot be developed in an idle, stagnate, or undemanding state.
WE WORKED. “Nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day.” NKJV Other versions read, “nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day,” NIV “We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night.” NLT Paul said the same thing in his first Epistle to the Thessalonians: “for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you” (1 Thess 2:9). He diligently worked in order that he might not be “a burden” to any of them. NKJV This was not something Paul did consistently. Phebe ministered to him (Rom 16:2). Onesiphorous did the same (2 Tim 1:18). Onesimus also ministered to Paul in his bonds (Philemon 13). The Philippians sent gifts to Paul through Epaphroditus (Phil 4:18). He took wages from other churches, while Corinth withheld them from him (2 Cor 11:8). During his ministry, when he left Macedonia, no church gave to him except the brethren in Philippi, and they were commended for doing so (Phil 4:15). Thus we see that there is no inherent virtue in the preacher of the Gospel earning his own living. God has “commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” NASB (1 Cor 9:14). Yet, while with the Thessalonians, he provided his own living. He now tells us why.
NOT BECAUSE WE HAVE NO RIGHTS, BUT TO PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE. “Not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.” NKJV Another version reads, “not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.” NIV The circumstances in Thessalonica required an adjustment in the way Paul lived. He had a right to receive from their earthly substance, because he had ministered spiritual things to them (Rom 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11). However, this was not a proper course of action under the circumstances. It is apparent that some there had difficulty with being industrious, minding their own business (1 Thess 4:11). Also, they received the Word of God with persecution (1 Thess 1:6), and it was not appropriate to place greater burdens upon them. His example showed them how to live normally and under strong opposition as well. Faith does not separate people from the standard requirements of life. These brethren needed to have that lived out before them.
A DIFFICULT BUT REASONABLE COMMANDMENT
“ 10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Other versions read, “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat,” NASB “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” NIV and “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” NRSV In Scripture, we have examples of people who were not able to work because of blindness, being paralyzed, or having a debilitating disease. However, even these people begged, extending themselves to obtain means (Mark 10:46; John 9:8; Acts 3:2). Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that such people were granted unusual mercy form the Lord.
The teaching before us was a consistent one. Paul preached it when He was “with” the Thessalonians at the first. He did not proclaim a Gospel that sanctioned slothfulness in the saints, or that encouraged them to wander about unproductively. This is a Kingdom rule, or pattern of living: “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” NAU This is the individual who is walking “disorderly,” from which the brethren are to “withdraw” themselves. The emphasis here is not on mere inactivity, but upon an unwillingness to work. The words “would not” mean “was not willing to.” Such people deliberately reject the mandate of God Almighty: “By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground” NASB (Gen 3:19).
BEHIND THE COMMANDMENT. Behind this commandment is the reality that God will direct the steps of a good man into the path He Himself requires (Prov 3:6). Joseph could tell you that even in prison, you can evidence a willingness to work, and thus be promoted to the head of the other prisoners (Gen 39:22). Living by faith touches this aspect of life. When Paul was in prison, he was productive in converting people (Onesimus, Phile1:10), and writing letters to the churches (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, Timothy’s). Even when directing believers to give “double honor” to certain leaders, it was because they “work hard at preaching and teaching” NASB (1 Tim 5:17).
WHY IS THIS NECESSARY? There is a reason why work was imposed upon men after sin entered into the world. Of course, even before that, Adam and Eve were not idle. In the Garden, their responsibility was to “cultivate it and keep it,” NASB or to “work it and take care of it” NIV (Gen 2:15). We are not told the details of what was involved in this work. The earth is not said to have produced “thorns and thistles” toward men until after the fall (Gen 3:18). However, from the very beginning, what was growing in the ground required some form of cultivation and care. Man was not made to be idle! Following transgression, however, work became even more necessary. It was not merely a curse, but was also therapeutic. By that I mean it assisted man in keeping himself from profound involvement in sin. From the New Covenant point of view, the judgment of work is actually an area where we serve the Lord. As it is written, “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord” (Rom 12:11). And again, “And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24). The person who refuses to work has actually robbed God of glory. He has revealed an unthankful, as well as a disobedient, spirit. He has, by being unwilling to work, opened a gigantic door for the devil, for man was not made to be idle. Idleness is contrary to nature as well as to life in Christ Jesus.
DOES NOT GOD PROVIDE? The sloth may respond, “Why should I have to work? God will provide my needs.” Such a thought fails to take into account HOW the Lord provides. We are reminded that God gives to creeping things, small and large beasts, and even the mighty leviathan who plays in the sea. Yet, what He gives “they gather” (Psa 104:28). If they do not look for what God gives them, and gather it up, they will not live.
In both nature and grace, the blessings of the Lord are experienced in sanctified activity. Idleness is not sanctified. Nor, indeed, is theft, where men take things for which others have labored. In connection with this verse, it is written, “When you eat the labor of your hands, You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (Psa 128:2). And again, “it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion” (Eccl 5:18).
There are modifying factors, such as widows, who can no longer meet their needs through their labors. Such may be supported the church. But even then, they must have a background of hearty labor in the name of the Lord, “well reported of for good works . . . brought up children . . . lodged strangers . . . washed the saints feet . . . relieved the afflicted . . . diligently followed every good work” (1 Tim 5:9-10). Laziness has no place in the Kingdom of God. God is not slothful. Jesus is not slothful. It is unacceptable for man to be slothful.