Unit: 1 & 2 Thessalonians
Theme: Walk Worthy
Lesson Text: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15
Supplemental Text: Proverbs 6:6-11; 31:10-31; 1 Timothy 5:13
Aim: Never tire of doing what is right.
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By Mark Scott
Stephen Langton (1150–1228) was an English cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Later he became the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is credited with dividing the Bible into chapters. His judgments concerning the divisions of thought often make sense. Other times, not so much.
The reader of 2 Thessalonians will have to decide whether a break makes sense when coming to chapter 3. As for other matters sounds like a new subject and therefore the chapter division. But the Greek Bible simply has “Finally” or “The remaining ones.” That might just as well connect back to the former paragraph of 2:13-17 where Paul encouraged the church to stand firm in their faith. Maybe instructions related to prayer and the Lord’s faithfulness fit with the former teachings best. But prayer can also keep us industrious. So, 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 might well be a bridge from 2:13-17 to 3:6-15.
Prayer Is a Good Use of Time
2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
Prayer is always a good move. Paul made two prayer requests. He asked the Thessalonians to pray that the gospel (message of the Lord) would spread rapidly (run and have free course) and be honored (glorified). Since the gospel made a difference in the lives of the Thessalonians, he desired that it do the same work for others. Paul also asked God to deliver him and his team from wicked and evil people who have no faith.
These two prayer requests are undergirded by three strong statements about the Lord: (1) The Lord is faithful; (2) the Lord will strengthen them and protect them from the devil; and (3) the Lord will direct (to guard straight through) their hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. Since eschatology was the main problem with the Thessalonian church, perhaps they would need to remember to pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
Sloth Is a Lousy Use of Time
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
It is hard to know exactly what tempted the believers in Thessalonica to be lazy. (Was it the view that since Christ was returning, work made no sense at all?) Regardless of the genesis of that thinking, Paul felt compelled to address it in a major way. His language was strong. The Thessalonians needed to learn from the ant (Proverbs 6:6-11) and the virtuous woman (Proverbs 31:10-31), and they needed to avoid the path of some of the widows in Ephesus (1 Timothy 5:13).
Paul underlined his command about sloth in the name of the Lord Jesus (i.e., in his authority). The believers were to avoid a brother or sister who was idle (living disorderly or irregularly) and disruptive (mentioned twice in the text), and who did not live according to the teaching Paul gave them.
Paul added to that command in verses 11-15, but for the moment he bared his heart (and the hearts of his fellow church planters) and used his own life and ministry as a personal example. Paul wanted them to follow his example (mimic him). He and his missionary team did not presume on people. They were not idle during his short time in Thessalonica. They paid for whatever food they ate. They worked night and day. They labored and toiled in such a way so as not to be a burden. Paul admitted having certain rights (authority) as an apostle, but he did not want to overstep that privilege. Rather, he wanted to be a model (someone over which others could trace their lives).
Bottom line? “No work; no eat.” In the words of at least one Bible commentator, “Stop fussing; stop idling; stop sponging.”
Word had come to Paul (most likely through Timothy’s report—1 Thessalonians 3:6) that idle and disruptive people were just being busybodies (to bustle about). Paul again called on the authority of Jesus to urge them to settle down (be quiet) and earn the food they eat. If they would just not tire of doing what is good (Galatians 6:9-10), they would avoid the sin of sloth.
Lest someone think this sin is not as bad as something like immorality, Paul puts sloth into a church discipline offense. If someone is lazy, church fellowship is to be withdrawn. “Do not associate with them” could not be clearer. The goal, as always in the case of church discipline, was restoration. Any shame brought on this brother or sister was intended to bring about repentance. That is why Paul did not want the church to regard such a one as an enemy but as a fellow believer who is living in error.
Work (not workaholism) is a big deal. It was ordained in creation before the fall of humankind (Genesis 2:15). When Jesus comes again, the commended will be those who are working (Luke 12:38).