Grace For The Journey
We will conclude our journey through first and second Thessalonians today. In these final verses Paul wraps his instructions on how to deal with idleness and busybodies. The Bible says in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15, “For we hear that some among you are living an undisciplined life, not doing their own work but meddling in the work of others. Now such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and so provide their own food to eat. But you, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing what is right. But if anyone does not obey our message through this epistle, take note of him and do not associate closely with him, to put him to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
The Needed Exhortation To The Church
In verse 11, the apostle first mentions the reports he had received regarding those who were leading an undisciplined (idle) life. Two things characterized their behavior: (1) doing no work at all and as a further result, (2) meddling in the affairs of others; they became busybodies rather than busy self-supporting workers engaged in a productive occupation.
By working they would become
A blessing to themselves
And benefit to others.
But their idleness had
Led to the opposite.
The Greek word for “meddling” is made up of two words: “peri,” “around,” and “ergazomai,” “to work, labor.” It literally means “to work around or in a circle.” It came to mean “to do something useless, to be busy, but accomplishing nothing.” You have heard people say or perhaps said this yourself, “I feel like I have been going in circles.” What we mean is obvious. We mean that, though busy, we feel like we have not been getting anything done. 1 Timothy 5:13 describes the results of such behavior, “And besides that, going around from house to house they learn to be lazy; and they are not only lazy, but also gossips and busybodies.”
Almost every culture has its sayings about idleness.
- The Romans said, “By doing nothing, men learn to do evil.”
- Isaac Watts wrote: “For Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do.”
- The Jewish rabbis taught, “He who does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to be a thief.”
- My mother and grandmother use to say to me, “Idleness is the devil’s workshop.”
Based on the reports mentioned in verse 11, the rule of verse 10 is reinforced in verses 12-15 with three more instructions.
First, in verse 12 and with the words, “in or by the authority of the Lord Jesus,” Paul specifically addressed the idle meddlers who are commanded and urged “to work quietly and to provide for their own food to eat.” This instruction gives us further insight into the behavior of these idlers: (1) their false views about the return of Christ had evidently led them into a kind of feverish excitement which they were seeking to spread from person to person as they went about from household to household; (2) They eventually ran out of money and food and began to expect others to support them. Thus, Paul commands and urges them to settle down and then to go back to work.
But what if these idlers again refuse to follow these instructions (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 5:14)? With this possibility in view, the apostle gives instructions to the rest of the Thessalonian Christians to show them how they should deal with idlers who might not obey these instructions (3:13-15):
Second, they are urged to “not grow weary in doing what is right.” “Grow weary” means “to become tired; to loose heart; despair.” One is often the result of the other. In struggling with a matter, some might lose heart in struggling with their idle brothers.
Doing what is right
Would include remaining
Examples themselves by working,
By reprimanding the disorderly
Idlers of verse 10, and
By refusing to support those
Who refused to work.
To continue to support those who refuse to work is wrong for all concerned.
Third, the apostle speaks to the matter of church discipline (verse 14). This is a subject that is too often avoided today, but not without serious consequences to the body of Christ. It is applied here to those who refused to obey their instruction, which clearly illustrated a rebellious spirit and a wrong relationship to the Savior Himself. Thus, specific and tough measures were needed. First, they were to take special note of such people. “Take note” literally means “to mark.” It is in the plural and in the middle voice which suggests “note for oneself,” with the implication that all the members of the congregation were to take responsibility for following these instructions. Church discipline will have little effect if not followed by the whole body. Second, they were not to associate closely with one who refused to work. The verb here is a triple compound word meaning “to mix up together,” and then “to associate closely with.”
There is a difference between acquaintanceship, friendship, and fellowship. For obedient saints to treat disobedient Christians with the same friendship they show to other dedicated saints is to give approval to their sins.
In essence, those who refused to obey were to be ostracized from intimate fellowship with the believers of the assembly as a means of shaming them into repentance and change. This should not be confused with formal excommunication as in Matthew 18. Rather, it appears to be more a matter of group disapproval and social ostracism. In our country today, Christians will often just change churches to avoid such discipline, but this was a serious thing for believers at that time in a heathen society and the same would apply to many countries today where believers are faced with serious persecution for their faith.
They are not to be regarded as enemies, but to be admonished as brothers. That this was not total excommunication is suggested by the third instruction given in verse 15, “Yet do not regard (“to think of, consider, regard”) him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” “Not as an enemy” means “not as one who is opposed to Christ.” “But as a brother” could be taken to mean “as though he were a brother,” but the idea is “because he is a brother (i.e., a fellow member of the body of Christ).”
This draws our attention to a couple of important principles in church discipline: First is the fact that the goal of church discipline is never punishment, but tough actions of love done with a view to reformation and restoration to fellowship with Christ and the body of Christ. Second is the issue of extremes. Rather than being balanced as with the Lord Jesus who was full of “grace and truth,” people tend to go to extremes – they are either too lenient or too harsh. Thus, Paul stresses they were not to be treated as enemies, but admonished as brethren, as fellow believers.
“Admonish” means “to warn, instruct.” The fundamental idea is to put sense or biblical wisdom into the mind so that it changes behavior. “ It includes an admonishment to change through instruction, consequences of sin, and godly aims, etc. The idler was not to be cut off from all contact, but was allowed to continue in a brotherly status. So, lines of communication were kept open for continued warnings about his behavior.
- The Necessary Enablement Of The Lord
Verses 16-18 say, “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with you all. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, which is how I write in every letter. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
The Prayer for Peace and the Lord’s Presence.
With these words the apostle not only brings the epistle to a close, but reminds us that . . .
Spiritual change in the lives of men,
Or ministry to people of any kind
That effectively brings peace
At all times and in all circumstances
Is not something we can do
Or experience alone.
It requires the supernatural
And gracious hand of the Lord Himself.
“Himself” is emphatic and stresses this very point. Here the Lord – a reference to the Lord Jesus (cf. verse 18) – is called “the Lord of peace.” They, as all believers, had come to have peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus (Romans 5:1); their faith in Christ also meant the capacity for peace with one another (Philippians 4:9; Colossians 3:15); and their faith in Christ allowed them, in their own hearts to have a vital relationship with the Savior, the Prince of Peace, the Peacemaker (Ephesians 2:14-17; Philippians 1:7). The Lord Jesus is called “the Lord of peace” because He is the author and source of peace. If they or we are to know real peace, we must walk in intimate fellowship with the Savior and be in obedience to His commands (John 14:27). Interestingly, in Paul’s concluding remarks in the first epistle he used the phrase, “the God of Peace” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) and now he concludes with “the Lord of Peace,” which certainly demonstrates his estimation of Christ as being Himself God.
The closing emphasis or focus here on “peace” and “at all times and in every way” reminds us that life is loaded with trouble and circumstances that can unsettle us, as it had occurred in the church at Thessalonica. But . . .
Whether it is trouble
Brought about from
False doctrine or
From undisciplined believers,
It is the Lord Himself
Who gives us peace
And such will only occur
When we allow Him
To have the place of Lord
And reign in our lives.
In the statement “the Lord be with you all,” Paul was praying that they might experience the power and blessing of the Lord on their lives for spiritual growth and well-being. The Lord he promised that He is always with us and will never leave nor forsake us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5), but we may ignore His presence and fail to experience it. So, the apostle prays that this might not be the case.
The Personalized Petition.
With verse 17, the apostle picked up the pen of the one writing the letter as Paul dictated it to him and closed with this personal greeting and sign of authority and authenticity.
Paul had been dictating this letter, but when he gets to these final words beginning in verse 17, he took the pen into his own hand to add a closing greeting. Though he undoubtedly did this quite frequently he has called attention to it only here and in Romans 16:22; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Colossians 4:18). The greeting in his own hand, “which is the distinguishing mark” in all his letters (verse 17), includes also the benediction of verse 18.
Apparently, Paul followed this practice consistently, expecting churches where he had served to recall his distinctive handwriting. It was particularly needed in this Epistle as a deterrent against any future attempt to forge a letter in his name (cf. 2:2). The practice was customary in ancient times. When Paul says “in all my letters” (verse 17), he does not mean just the letters previous to this, for he was also to follow this procedure later. Neither is the expression to be limited only to books found in the New Testament, because he is known to have written other Epistles besides these (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9). The handwriting furnished a key by which his Thessalonian readers could recognize a spurious Epistle bearing his name.
With the phrase in verse 18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,” we are reminded of (1) the necessity of the grace of the Lord Jesus for the Christian life, and (2) with the word “all,” God’s desire that all Christians experience this in life.
He had commended some
And he had censured others,
But his final benediction was upon all.
There is here a final appeal
For unity, obedience, and blessing
Including, of course, the idlers.
Both 1 and 2 Thessalonians have stressed the return of the Savior and shown us how this should and should not impact our daily lives. The fact that the Savior is coming again and could come today should promote godly living and give great peace, comfort, joy, and encouragement to endure the trials of life. Such stability is one of the key purposes of prophecy. By contrast, it should never lead to the kind of idleness or to a kind of idle feverishness as had occurred with some at Thessalonica. When this occurs, it hurts the cause of Christ by causing ridicule from the world and unrest within the body of Christ.
When believers act like the idlers at Thessalonica, they become disobedient soldiers who are out of rank and a poor testimony for the Savior. It shows they are indifferent, if not walking in direct rebellion against the specific instructions of the Word and the commands of their Savior. As disorderly Christians, they are a cause of disorder in the church, but church problems are always individual problems and can only be solved when Christians start listening to and living by the instructions of the Word of God.
The Lord is coming again and He is coming for His church, the bride of Christ. May we live properly in the light of His any moment return, which means obediently to Scripture. Come quickly Lord Jesus.
This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”