The Agora
Bible Commentary
2 Thessalonians

1 2 3

1 Thessalonians 3

2Th 3:1

Vv 1-5: Prayer preparation for work: Undoubtedly Paul is preparing the ground for what will be a difficult reprimand in the section that follows (2Th 3:6-15). He does not intend to ignore the problem, and he will speak quite bluntly when the times comes. But first he carefully reminds his readers of God's love and Christ's faithfulness. Here there is common ground for all believers. Men who truly know and remember such exalted concepts will not be resentful or angry at faithful and searching exhortations. Neither will they respond, "We cannot do what you ask", when they have just been reminded that it is only in the Lord's grace and not their own will and strength that they can succeed.

Vv 1,2: Paul's request for prayer.

FINALLY, BROTHERS, PRAY FOR US: Paul had previously requested their prayers (1Th 5:25n), but here he is more specific as to objects. Elsewhere also he has requested prayers for the progress of the gospel (Eph 6:19,20; Col 4:3,4).

THAT THE MESSAGE OF THE LORD MAY SPREAD RAPIDLY: By "the message of the Lord" Paul means his own preaching of it (1Th 2:13). He wants the word of the Lord to "run" (AV mg) as he preaches it, a figure of speech perhaps borrowed from the Greek games (cp 1Co 9:24; Rom 9:16, Gal 2:2; 5:7; Phi 2:16), but also reminiscent of Psa 147:15 ("His word runneth very swiftly") and Psa 19:5 ("a strong man running a race"). In other words, Paul hopes for many rapid conversions. Paul sometimes speaks of his apostolic endeavors as "running" (1Co 9:24; Gal 2:2; Phi 2:16). "Running" is also a Heb idiom for a prophet eager to communicate his message from God (Jer 23:21; Eze 1:18,20; 1Ki 18:46; 2Ch 16:9; Hab 2:2; Amos 8:12; Zec 4:10; Dan 12:4).

AND BE HONORED: Men are led to honor the Word of the Lord when they see what it can do, and especially when they see it having speedy effect on its hearers. The word had also been translated "triumph" (RSV) to carry forward the figure of running in a contest.

JUST AS IT WAS WITH YOU: Their fame had spread abroad throughout Macedonia and Achaia, so that everywhere he went the apostle heard of their spiritual progress and firmness in the faith (1Th 1:5-9). Since Paul had left Thessalonica, he had had nowhere near the same sort of success in Berea or Athens -- and he was bound to remember fondly how his preaching had produced swift and solid results among the Thessalonians.

2Th 3:2

AND PRAY THAT WE MAY BE DELIVERED FROM WICKED AND EVIL MEN: The first of the two adjectives ("atopos") signifies that which is out of place, and is used more often of objects than of men. It is variously rendered "unreasonable" (AV) "wrong-headed", "perverse", "truculent", and "monstrous." These wicked men were probably unbelieving Jews in Corinth, where Paul was encountering opposition even as he wrote (Acts 18:5,6,12,13; cp 1Th 2;14-16).

FOR NOT EVERYONE HAS FAITH: "The faith", with the definite article here, refers to the body of doctrines believed by Christians. While some who hear the faith expounded react positively, and develop faith of their own, others react only with hostility and (sometimes) violence. They "receive not the love of the truth", but are deluded into believing lies (2Th 2:10,11), and act accordingly.

2Th 3:3

Vv 3-5: Paul's confidence in Christ.

BUT THE LORD IS FAITHFUL: The last phrase of v 2 suggests the transition: "Not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful." A similar contrast is evoked from the same word again in 2Ti 2:13: "If we believe not (ie, have not faith), yet he (Christ) abideth faithful."

As God is faithful (1Co 1:9; 10:13; 2Co 1:18; 1Th 5:24), so the Lord Jesus Christ is faithful.

AND HE WILL STRENGTHEN... YOU: This is "sterizo" again, as in 1Th 3:2,13; 2Th 2:17.

AND PROTECT YOU FROM THE EVIL ONE: An echo of the Lord's prayer (Mat 6:13). This also echoes the words of Jesus (John 17:15) when he prayed for his disciples.

The word "keep" or "guard" ("phulasso") -- which signifies military protection against a violent attack, is used of God guarding Noah through the flood (2Pe 2:5), and Jesus guarding his disciples in the days of his flesh (John 17:12). It is uncertain as to whether the last expression signifies "evil" as a general principle (as AV translates), or "the evil one" (RV, NIV, RSV mg); if the latter, then Paul may have in mind unbelieving Jews, the Roman authorities, or perhaps -- more specifically -- the "man of sin" (2Th 2:9).

2Th 3:4

WE HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE LORD: Therefore believers need not rely on their own strength or abilities, since the Lord Jesus Christ is a sufficient and active force on their behalf. Our pride in our natural talents will lead inevitably to failure. But our faith will call forth his faithfulness to strengthen and protect us. Cp similar expressions in Gal 5:10 and Phm 1:21.

THAT YOU ARE DOING AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO THE THINGS WE COMMAND: Though it may appear outwardly that believers are solely responsible for what they do, in the divine perspective this is far from the complete picture. Thus to exhort believers to do that which is entirely against natural inclinations is not a pointless exercise, because with God nothing is impossible! For believers, their union with Christ counteracts the weakness of human nature.

COMMAND: Gr "parangello" = to announce, to give a message or an order, especially from a higher military rank down to a lower. A very strong and authoritative word, used five times in the Thessalonian letters (1Th 4:11; 2Th 3:4,6,10,12) and elsewhere in 1Ti 6:13; 1Co 7:10; 11:17.

2Th 3:5

MAY THE LORD DIRECT YOUR HEARTS INTO GOD'S LOVE: As Paul had been "directed" (sw) to them (1Th 3:11), so they would be "directed" into the love of God -- so long as they remained in the faith. The Lord's help is indispensable: the fact that Paul has complimented them (v 4) does not imply that they are self-sufficient.

GOD'S LOVE: This could mean three different things, all possible, and probably to be considered inclusively: (1) That they might learn to love God. (2) That they might know fully that God loved them. (3) That they might truly love one another, and all men after the pattern of God's love for them (John 3:16; 1Jo 3:16-18; etc).

AND CHRIST'S PERSEVERANCE: "And into the patient waiting for Christ" (AV). Paul encourages them to learn patience or endurance (1Th 1:3n) in their trials of faith, as they wait for the return of Christ. The faithful endurance of Christ himself is to be their example (Heb 12:2,3; 1Pe 2:21-23).

" 'The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ' (AV). How patient are we? Do we equate patience with do-nothingness? Is the patient man the one who just sits in his chair and rocks occasionally? This is not God's idea of patience. Jesus commended those who had 'an honest and good heart, who heard the word, kept it and brought forth fruit with patience.' That's the idea. To bring forth fruit with patience. James picks up this theme and likens us to the farmer who 'waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the earIy and the Iatter rain. Be ye also patient; stabIish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.' Yes, the farmer must be patient. He cannot hurry the harvest, but he has to plant the seed or there will be no harvest. We must do our part. God will surely do His.

"Patience involves doing. Patience means planting and watering and waiting. God will give the increase. Are we patiently continuing in well doing as Paul taught us to do? Are we 'taking the prophets who have spoken in the name of the Lord as an example of suffering affliction and of patience?' James says we should learn from their example and then he singles out Job in particular. 'Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy' " (MM).

2Th 3:6

Vv 6-15: Warnings against idleness.

Vv 6-10: Paul's previous example.

See Lesson, "Walking disorderly" (2Th 3).

IN THE NAME OF THE 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. 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.

WE COMMAND YOU, BROTHERS: Paul addresses the whole congregation as "brothers", and indicates as well that those who are particularly guilty in this matter are also brothers (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!

TO KEEP AWAY FROM EVERY BROTHER: The AV has "withdraw". The Gr "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."

WHO IS IDLE: Or "walketh disorderly" (AV). "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 DOES NOT LIVE ACCORDING TO THE TEACHING YOU RECEIVED FROM US: The sw ("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).

2Th 3:7

FOR YOU YOURSELVES KNOW HOW YOU OUGHT TO FOLLOW OUR EXAMPLE: Paul is not giving them any new teaching, but simply directing their attention to what they knew quite well already.

WE WERE NOT IDLE WHEN WE WERE WITH YOU: Again, the AV has "we behaved not ourselves DISORDERLY". 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).

2Th 3:8

NOR DID WE EAT ANYONE'S FOOD WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT: "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.

ON THE CONTRARY, WE WORKED NIGHT AND DAY, LABORING AND TOILING SO THAT WE WOULD NOT BE A BURDEN 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).

Cp 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).

2Th 3:9

NOT BECAUSE WE DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT: "Right" is the Greek "exousia", which signifies -- not "power" (as AV) -- but "authority" (cp RSV and 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 IN ORDER TO MAKE OURSELVES A MODEL FOR YOU TO FOLLOW: 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).

2Th 3:10

IF A MAN WILL NOT WORK, HE SHALL NOT 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: (1) that Christ's return was not necessarily quite so near as they supposed -- since certain events must happen first, and (2) that the Christian is required to work if possible, to support himself and not to be a burden upon his brethren.

2Th 3:11

Vv 11-13: Additional instructions.

WE HEAR THAT SOME AMONG YOU...: 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.

IDLE: "Disorderly" (AV): See v 6n and 1Th 5:14n.

THEY ARE NOT BUSY; THEY ARE 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". 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: "Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to" (1Ti 5:13). Peter exhorts similarly: "If you suffer, it should not be... as a meddler [or 'a busybody in other men's matters': AV]" (1Pe 4:15).

2Th 3:12

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

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

IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST: As in v 6, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his full apostolic authority.

TO SETTLE DOWN: The AV has "quietness": cp, again, the almost identical exhortation in Paul's first letter: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you" (1Th 4:11).


2Th 3:13

NEVER TIRE OF DOING WHAT IS RIGHT: 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).

2Th 3:14

Vv 14,15: Discipline.

IF ANYONE DOES NOT OBEY OUR INSTRUCTION IN THIS LETTER, TAKE SPECIAL NOTE OF HIM: 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. Cp 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."

DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH HIM: The verb is "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).

IN ORDER THAT THEY MAY FEEL 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.

2Th 3:15

YET DO NOT REGARD HIM 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 WARN HIM AS A BROTHER: "Warn" = "nouthetes" (1Th 5:12n). Not "as though" he was a brother -- he IS a brother. Warn or "admonish" (AV) him, therefore, because he IS a brother, the purpose being to gain him or win him over to better ways (Mat 18:13).

2Th 3:16

NOW MAY 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. "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 NT 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).

AT ALL TIMES AND IN EVERY WAY: This "peace" does not come occasionally, but it is ever-present and unchanging.

THE LORD BE WITH ALL OF YOU: This prayer also is based on the words of Jesus: "Behold, I am with you always" (Mat 28:20; cp 18:20). "I will never leave you, nor forsake you" (Heb 13:5).

2Th 3:17

I, PAUL, WRITE THIS GREETING IN MY 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 MY DISTINGUISHING MARK IN ALL MY LETTERS: This, Paul says, is his own peculiar handwriting, which they will recognize. Evidently, Paul is especially concerned in this case about forgeries, hence his stress on this sign of authenticity (cp 2Th 2:2).

THIS IS HOW I WRITE: "As I do now, so I intend to do in the future."

2Th 3:18

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BE WITH YOU ALL: 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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