2 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 3.
Concluding Exhortations and Greeting. 2 Thess. 3, 1-18,
The apostle asks his readers to intercede for him with the faithful Lord: V.1. Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified even as it is with you, v.2. and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for all men have not faith. V.3. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil, V.4. And we have confidence in the Lord, touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. V.5. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patient waiting for Christ. The points of doctrine concerning which the apostle had felt uneasiness with regard to the Thessalonian Christians the apostle had now touched upon. But there still remained the necessity of speaking also of the daily life and conduct of his readers, since their false ideas had reacted upon their entire manner of living. Paul introduces this section with fine pastoral tact: As for the rest, pray, brethren, in our behalf, that the Word of the Lord may run and be glorified, as also with you. After the leading instruction on the topic of the last things the apostle might have turned abruptly to the admonitions which must of necessity accompany all doctrinal teaching. But, instead, he pleads with the Christians of Thessalonica to make intercession for him before the Lord. Without a trace of selfishness, however, he asks that their prayer be made in the interest of the Word of God, since all his anxiety was for its rapid propagation. As he expresses it, he wants the Word of the Lord to run, to be spread, without hindrance, as quickly as possible, everywhere. And that his plan did not include a mere external Christianizing, a mere veneer of Christianity, which so many of the modern schemes have in view, is shown by the fact that he also desires the glorifying of the Gospel, that he wants the Word of the Lord glorified by its fruit, by the actual demonstration of its divine power and truth. So much had been accomplished in the case of the Thessalonians, and so much the apostle desired to see accomplished throughout the world, for such was his zeal for the Master whom he was serving with such whole-souled eagerness.
To this most important petition Paul now adds a second, whose connection with the first is obvious: And that we may be delivered from the perverse and wicked men, for not all have faith. Paul wishes that he and his fellow laborers might be delivered, literally, torn from the grasp of perverse, ill-disposed, and wicked men, whose one object is to resist and hinder all divine and human order. Whether these men are false brethren, heretics, or enemies outside of the Church, their influence is always for evil; the harm which they do to the cause of Christ cannot be readily computed. It is a sad fact, and one that often causes sincere Christians much anxiety, that not all men have faith, that a great many of them will deliberately resist the glorious message of their redemption through the blood of Jesus and prefer the way of everlasting damnation to that of eternal joy and happiness.
This sad thought, however, leads, by contrast, to that other: But faithful is the Lord, who shall certainly confirm you and protect you from the evil (or, from the Wicked One). The fate of the adversaries of Christ is a sad one indeed, but Christians cannot afford to spend any time in brooding over their perversity. So far as the believers are concerned, they know that theirs is a faithful God, whose promises concerning their salvation are sure. There cannot be the slightest doubt in their minds that He most surely shall confirm and establish them in their faith and holy life until the end. This includes also that He will keep and protect them from all evil, so that the devil, the world, and their own flesh may not seduce them, nor lead them into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice. This powerful and constant help and protection belongs to the Christians by virtue of Godís promises and therefore cannot fail.
For that reason, Paul can write in all confidence: But we have confidence in the Lord about you that what we enjoin you are doing and will do. The apostleís confidence is in the Lord, since he knows that the Lordís strength is powerful enough to uphold His own at all times and to direct their feet into the paths of sanctification. He is sure that, with this power to inspire and to guide them, his readers will not only at the present time be found engaged in such works as are pleasing to the Lord, but will also in the future not disappoint the faithfulness of God and their great teacherís belief in them. To this end, then, he prays: But the Lord direct your hearts toward the love of God and toward the patience of Christ. Not only the beginning of a Christianís spiritual life, but also the progress and the end of it depends upon Godís power in the Word. And one of the strongest motives that may be urged upon Christians is that they consider the wonderful love of God toward them, in order to be filled with a similar love, that they ponder upon the patience of Christ under provocations which no other man could have endured, in order to pattern their own lives after His example. The Thessalonians particularly needed this admonition, though presented in the form of a prayer, because of their impatient desire for the speedy coming of the last day. But the value of Godís love and of Christís patience as examples to stimulate the love and the patience of the believers is just as great to-day as it ever was, and should find a marked reflection in their entire life.
A warning against disorderly conduct, with Paulís example of right living: V.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. 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 manís bread for naught, but wrought with labor and travail night and day that we might not be chargeable 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.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. The apostle has fully characterized the members of the Christian congregations as they should be. That he was not offering his own personal suggestions and opinions appears from the crisp sentence which he here inserts: But we charge you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to withdraw yourselves from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the instruction which you received from us. It is a serious matter which Paul has broached and one which his tone brings out very sharply. The name, the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself demand this form of procedure. If there is any brother, any person that has joined the congregation and wishes to be considered a member, but nevertheless conducts himself without any regard to the order established by the will of the Lord, ignoring the plain rules of conduct which the instruction of Paul had conveyed to them all, then the faithful members should withdraw from him, they should signify to him that fellowship with him must cease unless he returns to his senses and signifies his intention of observing the rules of life which obtain in the Christian Church by the will of God. Church discipline, as prescribed in Matt. 18, must be applied in all cases of deliberate disorderly conduct, of willful disregard of the plainly expressed will of God, especially in cases of flagrant sins and vices, 1 Cor. 5, 11. In this case the apostle had in mind chiefly the refusal to work, to perform the labor demanded by every manís temporal calling, as the context shows.
This thought is brought out by the apostleís reference to his own example: For yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, for we did not walk disorderly among you, nor did we eat bread with any one for nothing, but in toil and misery, working night and day, that we might not be burdensome to any of you; not that we did not have the power, but that we might present ourselves a pattern to you to imitate us. Paulís manner of life and conduct in the midst of the Thessalonians was a matter of common knowledge; he had hidden nothing from them, he had not loafed nor conducted himself disorderly in any manner. He had not sought free meals, he had not depended upon them for his subsistence. It was the special boast of St. Paul, for which he adduces a reason also in this instance, that he wanted to make his way, earn his own living, while preaching the Gospel in any city. He had therefore probably, in Thessalonica as he had done in other cities, practiced his trade as tent-maker, working at such times as he could not reach the people with preaching. It was a hard life, as he himself says, one full of hard toil and misery, a life which kept him busy practically night and day. But his object was attained, he was not a burden to a single member of the congregation. But here the apostle is careful to meet a probable misunderstanding which might harm the work of other teachers that could not possibly follow his method of double work. He did all this, not because he would not have had authority and power to demand the means of subsistence, a decent livelihood, from them, but because he felt that their circumstances required just such an example and pattern as he was setting them. He could and did frankly and unhesitatingly ask the Thessalonians to imitate him in this respect. His conduct could serve as a lesson to them, which they would do well to heed; he wanted to train them by his own example. Cp. 1 Cor. 9, 7-15.
This feature of the Thessalonian character had struck the attention of the apostle even when he was laboring in their midst: For even when we were with you, this charge we gave to you, that if any one does not want to work, neither shall he eat. For we hear of some of you walking disorderly, in no way busy with work, but busybodies. But to such we give the charge and exhort them in the Lord Jesus Christ that, working with quietness, they should eat their own bread. God wants no idleness, He commands every man to eat his bread in the sweat of his face, Gen. 3, 19. A man that is persistently idle, that refuses to work, should therefore also be excluded from the legitimate fruit of labor, the food necessary to sustain the body. In addition to this general principle, however, which the apostle had taught during his stay among them, the present situation, from the reports which reached him, made it necessary to repeat his charge with emphasis. The life of the idler, of the loafer, is disorderly. And let no man come with the feeble rejoinder that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; for at the present time the underproduction of the necessities of life is largely due to the steadily diminishing number of working-hours, a number altogether out of proportion to the hours devoted to relaxation and recuperation. There is to-day, as it was in Thessalonica, too much idleness, and the devil finds work for idle hands to do. A little more thought for the welfare of the country as a whole and a little less thought of supposed personal convenience is very necessary at this time. Instead of being busily engaged in the work of their calling and devoting the energy of their thoughts to producing the best that is in them, too many people are busybodies, officious meddlers, fussy interferers. The charge of St. Paul therefore rings out to-day with the same force which characterized his earnestness in the first century. He is still charging and exhorting all men, especially all believers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to attend to their work with all quietness and earn their maintenance honestly. Faithful and diligent labor, under the blessing of God, will always bring the necessities of life. Note: In our days also busybodies, impertinent meddlers with other peopleís business, newsmongers and telltales, are an abominable race, ďthe curse of every neighborhood where they live, and a pest to religious society.Ē The words of the apostle with regard to such may well be transcribed by stating that every person should keep two points in mind so far as temporal affairs are concerned: first, to mind his own business; secondly, not to interfere with that of the other person.
The apostle once more urges church discipline: V.13. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing. 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. Instead of condoning the tendency toward loafing, toward disorderly conduct, which was evident in the Thessalonian congregation, the apostle urges: You, however, brethren, do not become weary in well-doing. They should not become dispirited, fatigued, in performing such deeds, in living such a life as agreed with all demands of honesty and charity. Their conduct should be unblamable, steady, loving, earnest, with a proper practice of due beneficence toward those actually in need. Instead of becoming objects of charity and depending upon the liberality of others, Christians will at all times conduct themselves in their work so as to have enough for their own needs and to spare for those of others.
The apostle now returns to the thought of v.6: But if any one will not yield obedience to our word through this epistle, mark that man, do not associate with him, in order to make him feel ashamed; and still do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him, put him under discipline, as a brother. Though the apostle does not speak with the fire which he uses in the case of frightful vices, 1 Cor. 5, 1-5, yet he writes with an unmistakable seriousness, which permits no misconstruing of his words. The people in the congregation that still, after the sending of this second epistle, persisted in disobeying the apostle and in continuing their disorderly conduct, must be disciplined. Every transgressor should be marked, distinctly set a part from the rest, as such. Paulís command is that the members of the congregation do not mix themselves up with such a man, have no dealings with him, cultivate no fraternal intercourse with him. This course was intended to make the guilty one feel ashamed of himself, make him realize that his persistence in his transgression would eventually shut him out entirely from all brotherly intercourse with the members of the Christian congregation. At the same time they were not to treat him as an enemy of Christ and the Church as yet, but were still to use all power of persuasion and admonition. Their disapproval was therefore not to be tainted with personal hostility, which would make it lose its effect and object, but was to be directed against the sin for the purpose of gaining the sinner. The apostle therefore seems to be recommending a course, in itself a part of church discipline, which has in view this means of winning the erring brother before the final step must be taken, Matt. 18, 17. Or the apostle assumes the third step to have been taken, and warns against the introduction of personal hostility into the intercourse with such a person, as the members met him in a social or in a business way.
Concluding benediction and salutation: 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. This closing prayer is the fourth solemn wish of the apostle in this letter. He desires that the Lord of peace, Jesus Christ, the Prince and Dispenser of peace, Is. 9, 5. 6; John 14, 27; 20, 19, may grant to all his readers the true peace always, no matter what may happen, no matter in what circumstance they may find themselves. The believer, being assured of perfect reconciliation through the blood of Jesus, knows that he is the possessor of the peace with God, that he has perfect life and salvation. The enmity between God and man having been removed through the redemption of Christ, the believer no longer fears God with the constant dread of a sinner under sentence of everlasting punishment: he knows, rather, that God is with him, as the benediction of Paul here states, with the fullness of His mercy and goodness.
The close of the letter is very brief. Paul affixes his salutation with his own hand, the rest of the letter having been written at his dictation. This signature by the hand of Paul was added to authenticate the letter, and he indicates that he wanted to make this a rule for the future. His readers could therefore readily distinguish between true and spurious letters. His final salutation is: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ with you all! He expressly mentions all his readers; he wants none excluded from this glorious blessing of the full and free grace of the Savior. It was earned and prepared for all men; would that they all accepted the gracious offering and be blessed throughout eternity!
Summary. The apostle commends himself to the intercession of his readers, addressed to the faithful Lord; he warns them against disorderly conduct, reminding them of his own good example; he urges church discipline in the right spirit; he closes with the apostolic salutation.