The Agora
Waiting For His Son - Thessalonians

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VI. Warnings Against Idleness (3:6-15)

A. Paul's Previous Example (3:6-10)

v. 6
"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
v. 7
"For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
v. 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 chareable to any of you:
v. 9
"not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
v. 10
"For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat."


v. 6 "Now we command you, brethren": Paul addresses the whole congregation as "brethren", and indicates as well that those who are particularly guilty in this matter are also brethren (ie "from every brother"). This is tenderness and concern. (Such characteristics are not nearly so evident, for example, in Paul's words in 1Co 5:11.) But nevertheless the word "command" ("parangello" -- cp vv 4,10,12) is a strong word: he does not advise or suggest, he orders!

"In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ": Paul officially states his authority by (1) giving Christ his full title, and (2) reminding them that he Paul speaks as Christ's representative. At the same time, Christ is "our" Lord "mine as well as yours." Paul is "a man set under authority" (Luke 7:8), as they are. This same urgent and solemn phrase introduces another exhortation concerning ecclesial discipline in 1Co 5:4.

"That ye withdraw yourselves": The Greek "stello" is a nautical term, used literally of the furling of a sail, and hence metaphorically of pulling back or shrinking away from a person or thing: translated "avoiding" (2Co 8:20), "withdraw" (Gal 2:12), and "draw back" (Heb 10:38). The word is used for gathering one's dress closely to oneself, expressing extreme disgust or displeasure. In view of v 15 ("Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother"), "withdraw" does not mean "excommunicate" but rather: "Keep away from, do not go along with those activities which are wrong."

"Walketh disorderly": "Ataktous" is a military term, signifying to be out of step, to break ranks, to desert one's post, to be insubordinate. The disorderly tendencies of the Thessalonians, hinted at by Paul in 1Th 5:14 (where the same word occurs), as well as 1Th 4:11,12, now receive much more serious consideration. We may assume the gentle hints of the first letter had been ineffective in checking their tendencies toward unruliness. The exact nature of this unruliness may only be inferred from the detailed wording of vv 7-13.

"And not after the tradition which he received of us": The same word ("paradosia") was used by Paul in 2Th 2:15. Paul had previously instructed them on just these points of working and idleness; this instruction is perhaps to be found in 1Th 4:11,12; 5:14 -- but certainly Paul also instructed them verbally in much more detail (2Th 3:10).

v. 7: "For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us": Paul is not giving them any new teaching, but simply directing their attention to what they knew quite well already.

"For we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you": The invitation of the apostles was not optional, it was imperative. Paul is not in the least reluctant to appeal to his own example; he has done so earlier:

"For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. Any ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1Th 1:5,6).
No preaching of the gospel will ever be truly effective if it is not accompanied by works consistent with the message preached -- works that demonstrate sincerity and power. Everything Paul claimed in his words could be observed in his works (cp 1Th 2:1; 3:3; 4:2; 5:2). He did not loaf or shrink his duties, nor depend on others to support him (v 8). The invitation of Paul is a recurring exhortation in his letters (1Co 4:16; 11:1; Phi 3:17; 4:9).

v. 8 "Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought": "To eat bread" is Hebrew idiom for "to get a living" (Gen 3:19; 2Sa 9:7; Amos 7:12; Psa 41:9). Paul does not mean that he had never accepted any man's hospitality, but instead that he had not depended on others for his livelihood.

"But wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you": Paul repeats the point he had made in his first letter to the Thessalonians:

"For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God" (1Th 2:9).
Compare also 1Co 4:12; 2Co 12:13; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:28. Paul's profession, at which he labored long hours -- and probably for very low pay -- was that of tentmaker (Acts 18:3).

v. 9: "Not because we have not power": "Power" is the Greek "exousia", better translated "authority" or "right" (RSV, NIV, NEB) or privilege. Paul did have the right to live from his preaching, as he discussed in some detail in 1Co 9:3-14, basing his words on the commission of Christ (Mat 10:9,10; Luke 10:7,8; cp Gal 6:6; Phi 4:10; 1Ti 5:17,18). But he chose not to exercise that right.

"But to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us": As he said in 1Co 9:15, Paul did not avail himself of this privilege as a personal policy, because of the effect it might have on other believers:

"Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (v 15).
It would have been difficult for the ecclesia to discipline its members who were lazy, if they could have pleaded that the apostles got by "without working." But if those who were entitled to the support of others chose rather to support themselves, along with performing their other tasks, how much more should they who lacked such entitlements earn their own living!

Furthermore, Paul by working to support himself sought to undermine the claims of those "pseudo-apostles" who had no scruples about extorting money from the flock of God (2Co 11:7-15; cp Rom 16:18; 2Pe 2:13-15; Jude 1:11).

v. 10 "If any would not work, neither should he eat": The saying of Paul emphasizes "will": He does not suggest that those who cannot work should not eat, but only that those who can but will not work should not eat. Also, the continuous tense gives the thought of habitual attitude. That man is intended for labor, and that he is intended to find satisfaction in his daily toil, is suggested by God's words to Adam:

"in the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground" (Gen 3:19).
This Bible teaching, true as it is, must be balanced by the teaching on the necessity of giving aid to those who are in need. Since it is unwillingness to work rather than lack of opportunity which is reprimanded, those who are unemployed through no fault of their own should be provided for by those who have the means. The example of the Jerusalem ecclesia at the very beginning (Acts 2:44,45; 4:32; 6:1-6) is one to be emulated (cp 2Co 8:14,15; James 1:5-12; Deu 15:8,10).


Although Paul makes no direct connection between the two themes, it appears that the Thessalonians' expectation of Christ's return and the prevailing attitude of laziness and unruliness were in fact related. The unwillingness of some to work -- attributable in part to the general Greek ethic of the time -- was further encouraged in this unhealthy direction by the belief that the "parousia" (the coming of Christ) was very near. Thus there seemed little or no need to provide for the future. Against this wrong philosophy Paul argued:

B. Additional Instruction (3:11-13)

v. 11
"For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
v. 12
"Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
v. 13
"But ye, brethren, be not weary in welldoing."


v. 11 "For we hear that there are some": Paul has not been simply speaking in general terms; rather, he has a definite situation in mind, and he writes to correct known errors (cp 1Co 11:18). Although he could name names, he chooses not to do so.

"Disorderly": See notes in v 6 and 1Th 5:14.

"Busybodies": There is a play on words here -- the words "work" and "busybodies'' have the same root. As Moffatt puts it, they are "busybodies instead of busy" (cp the NIV). Or, as Knox (and NEB), "minding everybody's business but their own." Paul explains in greater detail what he means by busybodies when writing to Timothy:

"And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not" (1Ti 5:13).
Peter exhorts similarly:

"let none of you suffer... as a busybody in other men's matters" (1Pe 4:15).

v. 12 "Command": "Parangello" -- the very authoritative term (vv 4,6,10).

"Exhort": "Parakaleo" (cp 1Th 2:11; 3:2,7; 4:1,10,18; 5:11,14; 2Th 2:17).

"By our Lord Jesus Christ": As in v 6, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his full apostolic authority.

"Quietness": Compare, again, the almost identical exhortation in Paul's first letter:

"and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing" (1Th 4:11).
"Eat their own bread": See the notes, v 8.

v. 13 "Be not weary in well doing": Cp Gal 6:9. It is surprisingly easy to become weary through doing nothing; in fact idleness appears to be more tiring than actually working. It is then through sheer boredom we are apt to take a more active interest in other people's business than we ought. So Paul warns the others as well ("But ye, brethren") of these matters. "Enkakesete" ("to tire") implies the possibility that the working majority might lose heart in observing their idle brothers. Even they (not beset with the minority's problem) need reminding that "well doing" includes generosity toward those in need, if not toward those who refuse to work (v 10).

C. Discipline (3:14,15)

v. 14
"And if any man obey not our word by this epistle note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
v. 15
"Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother."


v. 14 "Note that man": Literally, "Set a mark on this person." Mark him out, separate him -- not necessarily in the sense of excommunication, but certainly in the sense that a clear distinction is being made. Compare the sense of the exhortation of Paul in Rom 16:17:

"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them."
"And have no company with him": "Company = "sunan-amignumi", literally "to be mixed up together." Do not "mix" with such a person. Such a word should not be pressed beyond the idea of a limited social ostracism, since the people in question retain the status of "brethren" (v 15). Nevertheless, such minor discipline, if unsuccessful in its object, might be followed by formal excommunication (cp Mat 18:17; 1Co 5:11).

"That he may be ashamed": Always Paul has in mind repentance and reinstatement to full privileges and relationships. Punishment in and of itself is not the object. Compare Tit 2:8; 1Co 4:14.

v. 15 "Yet count him not as an enemy": do not consider him to be "as an heathen man and a publican" (Mat 18:17). It would seem that throughout this section Paul has in mind the words of Christ in Mat 18:15-20.

"But admonish him as a brother": "Admonish" = "nouthetes" (1Th 5:12, notes). Not "as though" he was a brother -- he is a brother. Admonish him, therefore, because he is a brother, the purpose being to gain him or win him over to better ways (Mat 18:13).


v. 16
"Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
v. 17
"The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.
v. 18
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."


v. 16 "Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace": The traditional priestly blessing (Num 6:26), echoed by Jesus in his promise of the Comforter (John 14:27; 16:33), is now adopted by Paul as well, in his last written prayer on behalf of his Thessalonian brethren. As we should know by now, "peace", Scripturally speaking, is not the absence of strife, but prosperity in the fullest sense, and oneness and joy of association in the family of God (1Th 1:1; 2Th 1:2).

This is the only New Testament instance of "Lord of peace." "God of peace" is the more common phrase (1Th 5:23; Rom 15:33; 16:20; Phi 4:9; 2Co 13:11). However, Paul does write elsewhere that the Lord Jesus Christ was "made peace" (Col 1:20), and that "he is our peace" (Eph 2:14).

"Always by all means": This "peace" does not come occasionally, but it is ever-present and unchanging. "By all means" should be "in every way" (NIV) or in every circumstance.

"The Lord be with you all": This prayer also is based on the words of Jesus: "Lo, I am with you alway" (Mat 28:20; cp 18:20). "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb 13:5).

v. 17: "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand": Quite probably all (or most) of Paul's letters were written by secretaries to whom he dictated (perhaps, in this case Silas or Timothy -- 2Th 1:1).

One such secretary was Tertius (Rom 16:22). But it is just as likely that Paul added final thoughts and signatures in most cases (see, for examples, Gal 6:11; 1Co 16:21; Col 4:18; Phm 1:19). This practice was customary in ancient times.

"Which is the token in every epistle": This, Paul says, is my "distinguishing mark" (NIV), my own peculiar handwriting, which you will recognize. Evidently, Paul is especially concerned in this case about forgeries, hence his stress on this sign of authenticity (cp 2Th 2:2).

"So I write": "As I do now, so I intend to do in the future."

v. 18 "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen": The second letter is concluded just as was the first (1Th 5:28), with the exception that the word "all" is added. This letter has been characterized by stern rebuke, especially toward the end; therefore Paul is careful to show the Thessalonians that they are all, equally, in his thoughts and prayers.

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