Analysis Of The Chapter
2 Thessalonians 3 is made up of exhortations and directions in regard to the performance of various Christian duties.
(1)The apostle asks for their prayers; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2. He desires them to pray particularly that the true religion might be prospered, and that, in preaching the gospel, he might be delivered from the opposition of unreasonable and wicked men.
(2)He expresses confidence that God would incline them to do what was right, and prays that he would keep their hearts in his love, and in patient waiting for the Saviour; 2 Thessalonians 3:3-5.
(3)He commands them to remove from their number those who were disorderly, and especially those who were idle, and addresses an earnest exhortation to this class, that they would be diligently engaged in the prosecution of the business of their appropriate callings; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12.
(4)He exhorts them not to be weary in doing well; 2 Thessalonians 3:13.
(5)He directs that if any one should not obey the commands given in this Epistle, he should be noted, and they were to separate themselves from him. Yet they were not to regard him as an enemy, but to admonish him as a brother; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15.
Finally, brethren, pray for us - That is, for Paul, Silas, and Timothy, then engaged in arduous labors at Corinth. This request for the prayers of Christians is one which Paul often makes; see the notes, 1 Thessalonians 5:25.
That the word of the Lord may have free course - That is, the gospel. The margin is “run.” So also the Greek. The idea is, that it might meet with no obstruction, but that it might be carried abroad with the rapidity of a racer out of whose way every hindrance was removed. The gospel would spread rapidly in the earth if all the obstructions which men have put in its way were removed; and that they may be removed should be one of the constant subjects of prayer.
And be glorified - Be honored; or appear to be glorious.
As it is with you - It is evident from this that Paul met with some obstructions in preaching the gospel where he was then laboring. What they were, he mentions in the next verse. He was then at Corinth (see the introduction), and the history in the Acts of the Apostles informs us of the difficulties which he had to encounter there; see Acts 18.
And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men - That is, from opposition in their endeavors to spread the gospel. Paul encountered such men everywhere, as all do who labor to diffuse the knowledge of the truth, but it is probable that there is particular reference here to the opposition which he encountered when in Corinth. This opposition arose mainly from the Jews; see Acts 18:5-6, Acts 18:12-13. The word “unreasonable” is rendered in the margin as “absurd.” The Greek word (ἀτόπος atopos) means, properly, “out of place;” then “absurd, unusual, strange; then improper, unreasonable, wicked.” It is rendered in Luke 23:41 as “amiss;” in Acts 28:6 as “harm.” It does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It refers here to people who acted amiss or improperly; people who were not found in the right place, or who did not have the right views of things; and probably does not refer so much to their being positively wicked or malicious, as “to their putting things out of their proper place.”
They gave an undue prominence to certain things, and less importance to others than they deserved. They had a distorted vision of the value of objects, and in tenacious adherence to their own views, and prosecuting their own objects to the exclusion of all others, they presented a constant obstruction to the true gospel. This word would apply, and probably was designed to be applied, to Jewish teachers (see Acts 18:5-6), who gave an undue prominence to the laws of Moses; but it will apply well to all who entertain distorted views of the relative importance of objects, and who put things out of their place. People often have a hobby. They give more importance to some object than it deserves. They, therefore, undervalue other objects; press their own with improper zeal; denounce others who do not feel the same interest in them which they do; withdraw from those who will not go with them in their views; form separate parties, and thus throw themselves in the way of all who are endeavoring to do good in some other method. It was from people who thus put themselves out of place, that the apostle prayed to be delivered.
And wicked men - Men with bad aims and purposes. It is not always true that those who would come under the appellation of what the apostle here calls “unreasonable,” are wicked. They are sometimes well-meaning, but misguided people. But in this case, it seems, they were men of bad character, who were at heart opposed to what was good, as well as inclined to put things out of their place.
For all men have not faith - Of the truth of this, no one can doubt. The only question is, as to its bearing on the case before us. Some suppose it means, “there are few men whom we can safely trust;” others, that it means that they have not that “upright and candid disposition which would engage men to receive the testimony of the apostles” (Doddridge); others, that “all men do not embrace the Christian faith, but many oppose it” (Benson); and others, that “all men do not believe, but the worthy only” - Bloomfield. The connection seems to require us to understand it as meaning that all people are not prepared to embrace the gospel. Hence, they set themselves against it, and from such people Paul prayed that he might be delivered; compare 2 Timothy 3:8. The state of mind in which the apostle was when he wrote this, seems to have been this: He recollected the readiness with which the Thessalonians had embraced the gospel, and the firmness with which they held it, and seems to suppose that they would imagine the same thing must be found true everywhere. But he says all people have not the same faith; all were not prepared cordially and fully to embrace the gospel. There were unreasonable and wicked people whom he had encountered, from whom he prayed that he might be delivered.
But the Lord is faithful - - Though human beings cannot be trusted, God is faithful to his promises and his purposes. He may always be confided in; and when people are unbelieving, perverse, unkind, and disposed to do us wrong, we may go to him, and we shall always find in him one in whom we may confide. This is an exceedingly interesting declaration, and is a beautiful illustration of the resource which a truly pious mind will feel that it has. We often have occasion to know, to our sorrow, that “all men have not faith.” We witness their infidelity. We see how they turn away from the truth. We see many who once gave some evidence that they had “faith,” abandon it all; and we see many in the church who seem to have no true faith, and who refuse to lend their aid in promoting the cause of religion. In such circumstances, the heart is disposed to despond, and to ask whether religion can be advanced in the midst of so much indifference and opposition? At such times, how consoling is it to be able to turn, as Paul did, to one who is faithful; who never fails us; and who will certainly accomplish his benevolent purposes. Men may be faithless and false, but God never is. They may refuse to embrace the gospel, and set themselves against it, but God will not abandon His great purposes. Many who are in the church may forget their solemn and sacred vows, and may show no fidelity to the cause of their Saviour, but God himself will never abandon that cause. To a pious mind it affords unspeakably more consolation to reflect that a faithful God is the friend of the cause which we love, than it would were all men, in and out of the church, its friends.
Who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil - see the notes on John 17:5; compare the notes on Ephesians 6:16. The allusion is to the Evil One, or Satan, and the meaning is, that God would keep them from his wiles.
And we have confidence in the Lord - Not primarily in you, for you have hearts like others, but in the Lord. It is remarkable that when Paul expresses the utmost confidence in Christians that they will live and act as becomes their profession, his reliance is not on anything in themselves, but wholly on the faithfulness of God. He must be a stranger to the human heart who puts much confidence in it even in its best state; see Philippians 1:6; Philippians 4:7; 2 Timothy 1:12; compare Jude 1:24; Revelation 3:10; Proverbs 28:26.
And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God - So direct your hearts that you may love God. “And into the patient waiting for Christ.” Margin, “patience of Christ.” The marginal reading is in accordance with the Greek, and seems best to express the apostle’s meaning. The prayer of the apostle was, that they might have the love of God in their hearts, and “the patience of Christ;” that is, the same patience which Christ evinced in his trials. They were then suffering affliction and persecution. They needed patience, that they might endure their trials in a proper manner. It was natural for the apostle to refer them to the Saviour, the great example of patience, and to pray that they might have the same which he had. That it does not mean that they were to wait patiently for the appearing of Christ, as our translation seems to imply, is quite clear, because the apostle had just been showing them that he would not appear until after a long series of events had occurred.
Now we command you, brethren - The apostle now 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 turns to an important subject - the proper method of treating those who were idle and disorderly in the church. In the previous Epistle he had adverted to this subject, but in the mild language of exhortation. When he wrote that Epistle he was aware that there were some among them who were disposed to be idle, and he had tenderly exhorted them “to be quiet, and to mind their own business, and to work with their own hands;” 1 Thessalonians 4:11. But it seems the exhortation, and the example of Paul himself when there 1 Thessalonians 2:9, had not been effectual in inducing them to be industrious. It became, therefore, necessary to use the strong language of command, as he does here, and to require that if they would not work, the church should withdraw from them. What was the original cause of their idleness, is not known. There seems no reason, however, to doubt that it was much increased by their expectation that the Saviour would soon appear, and that the world would soon come to an end. If this was to be so, of what use would it be to labor? Why strive to accumulate property with reference to the wants of a family, or to a day of sickness, or old age? Why should a man build a house that was soon to be burnt up, or why buy a farm which he was soon to leave? The effect of the expectation of the speedy appearing of the Lord Jesus has always been to induce men to neglect their worldly affairs, and to lead idle lives. Man, naturally disposed to be idle, wants the stimulus of hope that he is laboring for the future welfare of himself, for his family, or for society, nor will he labor if he believes that the Saviour is about to appear.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ - see the notes on 1 Corinthians 5:4. “That ye withdraw yourselves;” see the notes on 1 Timothy 6:5. This is the true notion of Christian discipline. It is not primarily that of cutting a man off, or denouncing him, or excommunicating him; it is that of withdrawing from him. We cease to have fellowship with him. We do not regard him any longer as a Christian brother. We separate from him. We do not seek to affect him in any other respect; we do not injure his name or standing as a man, or hold him up to reprobation; we do not follow him with denunciation or a spirit of revenge; we simply cease to recognise him as a Christian brother, when he shows that he is no longer worthy to be regarded as such. We do not deliver him over to the civil arm; we do not inflict any positive punishment on him; we leave him unmolested in all his rights as a citizen, a man, a neighbor, a husband, a father, and simply say that he is no longer one of us as a Christian. How different is this from excommunication, as it has been commonly understood! How different from the anathemas fulminated by the papacy, and the delivering of the heretic over to the civil power!
From every brother that walketh disorderly - compare the notes, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13. A “disorderly walk” denotes conduct that is in any way contrary to the rules of Christ. The proper idea of the word used here (ἀτάκτως ataktōs), is that of soldiers who do not keep the ranks; who are regardless of order; and then who are irregular in any way. The word would include any violation of the rules of Christ on any subject.
And not after the tradition which ye received of us - According to the doctrine which we delivered to you; see the notes on 2 Thessalonians 2:15. This shows that by the word “tradition” the apostle did not mean unwritten doctrines handed down from one to another, for he evidently alludes to what he had himself taught them, and his direction is not that that should be handed down by them, but that they should obey it.
For even when we were with you, this we commanded you - It would seem from this that the evil of which the apostle here complains had begun to operate even when he was with them. There were those who were disposed to be idle, and who needed the solemn command of an apostle to induce them to labor.
That if any would not work, neither should he eat - That is, at the public expense. They should not be supported by the church. This was a maxim among the Jews (see Wetstein, in loc.), and the same sentiment may be found in Homer, Demosthenes, and Pythagoras; see Grotius, in loc. The maxim is founded in obvious justice, and is in accordance with the great law under which our Creator has placed us; Genesis 3:19. That law, in the circumstances, was benevolent, and it should be our aim to carry it out in reference to ourselves and to others. The law here laid down by the apostle extends to all who are able to work for a living, and who will not do it, and binds us not to contribute to their support if they will not labor for it. It should be regarded as extending:
(1)To the members of a church - who, though poor, should not be supported by their brethren, unless they are willing to work in any way they can for their own maintenance.
(2)To those who beg from door to door, who should never be assisted unless they are willing to do all they can do for their own support. No one can be justified in assisting a lazy man. In no possible circumstances are we to contribute to foster indolence. A man might as properly help to maintain open vice.
For we hear - It is not known in what way this was made known to Paul, whether by Timothy, or by some other one. He had no doubt of its truth, and he seems to have been prepared to believe it the more readily from what he saw when he was among them.
Which walk disorderly - See the notes, 2 Thessalonians 3:6.
But are busy-bodies - Compare the 1 Timothy 5:13 note; 1 Peter 4:15 note. That is, they meddled with the affairs of others - a thing which they who have nothing of their own to busy themselves about will be very likely to do. The apostle had seen that there was a tendency to his when he was in Thessalonica, and hence he had commanded them to “do their own business;” 1 Thessalonians 4:11. The injunction, it seems, had availed little, for there is no class of persons who will heed good counsel so little as those who have a propensity to intermeddle with the affairs of others. One of the indispensable things to check this is, that each one should have enough to do himself; and one of the most pestiferous of all persons is he who has nothing to do but to look after the affairs of his neighbors. In times of affliction and want, we should be ready to lend our aid. At other times, we should feel that he can manage his own affairs as well as we can do it for him; or if he cannot, it is his business, not ours. The Greek word used occurs only here, and in 1 Timothy 5:13; compare the notes on Philippians 2:4.
But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing - Margin, “faint not.” The Greek means, properly, to turn out a coward; then to be faint-hearted, to despond. The idea is, that they were not to be discouraged from doing good to the truly worthy and deserving by the idleness and improper conduct of some who asked their assistance. They were, indeed, shiftless and worthless. They would not labor; they spent their time in intermeddling with the concerns of their neighbors, and they depended for their support on the charity of others. The tendency of this, as all persons feel who have ever been applied to by such persons for aid, is, to indispose us to do good to any. We almost insensibly feel that all who ask for aid are of the same character; or, not being able to discriminate, we close our hands alike against all. Against this the apostle would guard us, and he says that though there may be many such persons, and though we may find it difficult to distinguish the worthy from the unworthy, we should not become so disheartened as not to give at all. Nor should we be weary though the applications for assistance are frequent. They are indeed frequent. God designs that they should be. But the effect should not be to dishearten us, or to make us weary in well-doing, but to fill us with gratitude - for it is a privilege to be permitted to do good. It is the great distinguishing characteristic of God that he always does good. It was that which marked the character of the Redeemer, that he “went about doing good;” and whenever God gives us the opportunity and the means of doing good, it should be to us an occasion of special thanksgiving. A man ought to become “weary” of everything else sooner than of evincing benevolence; compare the notes on Galatians 6:10.
And if any man obey not our word by this epistle - Margin, “or signify that man by an epistle.” According to the marginal reading this would mean “signify, mark out, or designate that man to me by an epistle.” The difference is merely whether we unite the words “by the epistle” with what goes before, or what follows. The Greek would admit of either construction (Winer, p. 93), but it seems to me that the construction in the text is the correct one, because:
(1)The requirement was to proceed to discipline such a man by withdrawing from him;
(2)In order to do this it was not necessary that the case should be made known to Paul, for there was no supposable difficulty in it, and the effect would be only needless delay;
- Paul regarded the right of discipline as residing in the church itself, and did not require that cases should be referred to him to determine; see the notes on 1 Corinthians 5:2-4.
(4)Though the Greek will admit of either construction, yet it rather favors this; see Oldhhausen, in loc. Note that man. The word here used, means to mark; to sign; to note with marks; and the idea is, set such a mark upon him that he shall be shunned; that is, withdraw all Christian fellowship from him.
And have no company with him - The Greek word here means, to mix up together; then to mingle together with; to have contact with. The idea is that they were not to mingle with him as a Christian brother, or as one of their own number. They were not to show that they regarded him as a worthy member of the church, or as having a claim to its privileges. The extent of their discipline was, that they were to withdraw from him; see the 2 Thessalonians 3:6 note, and Matthew 18:17 note; compare 2 John 1:10-11.
Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother - This shows the true spirit in which discipline is to be administered in the Christian church. We are not to deal with a man as an adversary over whom we are to seek to gain a victory, but as an erring brother - a brother still, though he errs. There was necessity for this caution. There is great danger that when we undertake the work of discipline we shall forget that he who is the subject of it is a brother, and that we shall regard and treat him as an enemy. Such is human nature. We set ourselves in array against him. We cut him off as one who is unworthy to walk with us. We triumph over him, and consider him at once as an enemy of the church, and as having lost all claim to its sympathies. We abandon him to the tender mercies of a cold and unfeeling world, and let him take his course. Perhaps we follow him with anathemas, and hold him up as unworthy the confidence of mankind. Now all this is entirely unlike the method and aim of discipline as the New Testament requires. There all is kind, and gentle, though firm; the offender is a man and a brother still; he is to be followed with tender sympathy and prayer, and the hearts and the arms of the Christian brotherhood are to be open to receive him again when he gives any evidence of repenting.
The salutation of Paul with mine own hand; - See the notes, 1 Corinthians 16:21. “Which is the token in every epistle.” Greek: “sign.” That is, this signature is a sign or proof of the genuineness of the epistle; compare the notes on Galatians 6:11.
So I write - Referring, probably, to some mark or method which Paul had of signing his name, which was well known, and which would easily be recognized by them.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all; - See the notes, Romans 16:20.
From the subscription to this Epistle, it purports to have been “written from Athens.” This is probably incorrect, as there is reason to think that it was written from Corinth. See the introduction. At all events, this subscription is of no authority. See the notes at the end of the Epistles to the Romans and 1 Corinthians.