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Bible Commentaries
2 Thessalonians 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Following the prayer which concluded the previous chapter, Paul, in this, urgently requested that the Thessalonians would continue to pray for him (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Various practical exhortations were then given (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), especially with regard to busybodies and idlers. Paul’s autographic attestation and benediction (2 Thessalonians 3:16-18) conclude the letter.

Verse 1

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you;

What a remarkable thing it is that the apostle Paul should continually have felt himself to be in need of the prayers of others. He was about to address his beloved converts regarding some of their shortcomings; and if there was ever a time when a gospel preacher needs the prayers of others on his own behalf, it is at such a time. Moreover, it appears that Paul constantly solicited the prayers of his Christian converts.

Finally … Many have pointed out the somewhat "catch-all" import of this word. "The Greek does not mean finally, but furthermore, to come to a conclusion, what remains is this, I shall only add — any of these phrases expresses the sense of the original.(F1)

Pray for us … Morris tells us that the words here are in an emphatic position in the original, thus giving an intensified meaning: "Pray continually, keep on praying (as you are doing); or he may mean, `Not only hold fast our teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:15), but also pray for us.’ "(F2)

That the word of the Lord may run and be glorified … This stresses the living, active and vital nature of the word of God, as well as the burning desire of its proponents to proclaim it.

And be glorified … does not mean merely "to obtain applause," as a successful runner; "It always implies the recognition or acknowledgment of inherent admirable qualities."(F3)

Paul was the most successful missionary who ever lived; and it could be that the inexhaustible fountain of his success was the sacred well of prayer. "How much of a Christian teacher’s power, increasing as time goes on, comes from the accumulation of intercession from his spiritual children!"(F4)

Verse 2

and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men; for all have not faith.

Unreasonable and evil men … Moffatt suggested "That the general aim of this passage is to widen the horizon of the Thessalonians, by enlisting their sympathy and interest on the part of others."(F5) They were not the only ones who needed encouragement and the prayers of fellow-Christians. The characters from whom Paul sought deliverance were doubtless those violent and fanatical opponents whom Gallio drove from his judgment seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12-17). Their unreasonableness was apparent in the fact of their beating the ruler of the synagogue, it not being clear whether or not he was a member of their own party!

For all have not faith … Adam Clarke told it like it is with this word ([Greek: pistis]). He said:

The word here is without doubt to be taken for fidelity, or trust worthiness, and not for faith (in the subjective sense); and this is agreeable to the meaning given to it in the very next verse: "But the Lord is faithful."(F6)

Furthermore, as George Howard of the University of Georgia affirmed in his treatise published in The Expository Times, April, 1974, "fidelity, or faithfulness is the usual sense of this word in the New Testament." See full discussion of this in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, under Galatians 2:16. One must deplore the efforts of many modern scholars to edit fidelity out of the meaning of this word, as used in the New Testament, an effort which could have only one design, that being the strengthening of the "faith only" madness which has dominated Christian theology since the days of Luther.

Verse 3

But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and guard you from the evil one.

James Moffatt also witnessed to the true meaning of "faith" in this passage, as follows:

Paul writes from Corinth that while everyone has the chance, not all have the desire to arrive at the faith ([@Pistis] here is the faith of the gospel, or Christianity). By a characteristic play upon the word, Paul, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, hurries on to add, "but the Lord is faithful."(F7)

The general idea of the verse is that a trustworthy God is more than a match for untrustworthy men.

Verse 4

And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command.

Confidence in the Lord … As Christians and fellow members of the body of Christ, the faithful should trust each other and have confidence in each other, the same being an essential element of the spiritual environment surrounding the redeemed.

The things which we command … It is considered deplorable that, following Hendriksen, many commentators have postulated plural authorship of 2 Thessalonians; Kelcy, for example, speaks repeatedly of "the writers" of this epistle. There was only one writer, the apostle Paul. The "we" in this place is editorial, or epistolary. Timothy and Silvanus had no right whatever to "command" the Thessalonians to do anything, except in the secondary sense of telling them the facts of the gospel. Paul, on the other hand, was endowed with plenary authority as an apostle commissioned to reveal the content of Christ’s message authoritatively. Silvanus and Timothy did not authenticate this epistle at the end of the chapter; Paul did so!

Verse 5

And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ.

The reference to the "love of God" is not to the love of God as manifested in the sending of Christ; nor in the love of God as an attitude toward men, but to the love men should have for God. Gloag’s comment is: "Not the love of God to men … but objectively our love to God."(F8)

The patience of Christ … One of the most hurtful tendencies of the current era is that toward impatience. The industrialization of the economy with its invariable emphasis upon speed and speedy results, and such things as the mad quest for a constant state of euphoria, have led even many Christians into a loss of patience. Jesus said, "In your patience possess ye your souls" (Luke 21:19 KJV); and, alas, there are many who, through a burning impatience, no longer possess their souls. The constant aching for diversion, novelty, excitement, euphoria, etc., is as destructive an influence as may be found in the world today. The Christian life is not one unending stroll down some shady, flower-festooned pathway; but it is a struggle against all the erosive elements of time, against sorrow, and temptation, and at times even against boredom; and patience is the only stabilizer powerful enough to enable an effective completion of the conflict. "Add to your faith virtue, knowledge … PATIENCE" (2 Peter 1:6).

Verse 6

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which they received of us.

See under 2 Thessalonians 3:4 regarding "we command."

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ … This is an appeal by the apostle to the authority of his commission and office as an apostle of Christ. It should be noted that he did not fail to mention "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," thus making it clear that his command carried the full weight and authority of Christ himself. As Mason pointed out:

To do anything in a person’s name seems to mean, in the first instance, the actual pronouncing of the name in the performance of the action, to do it "name on lip." Thus miracles were said to be performed "in the name of the Lord," that is, with audible repetition of the Lord’s name(F9)

The current widespread offerings of prayers without the "name on lip" mention of the Holy Saviour, in whose name alone any man has right of access to the Father, is a violation of the principle manifest in this verse. When Paul prayed or commanded "in the name of the Lord Jesus" he never forgot to make audible mention of it.

Although this verse has traditionally been appealed to as a basis of excommunicating disorderly members, there is no word in the text regarding the denial of holy communion to such offenders. The usual view of this is thus:

These he had ordered to study to be quiet and to mind their own business (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12); but it appears they had paid no attention to his order; and now he desires to exclude such from their communion.(F10)

There may be some question whether or not a formal excommunication is meant here, especially in the light of 2 Thessalonians 3:15, where the offender is still to be treated as a "brother." Ecclesiastics have been far too bold in turning this verse to their own purposes. Morris seems to have caught more accurately the spirit of Paul’s words in this place, thus:

"Withdraw from such …" It signifies the withdrawing into oneself, a holding oneself aloof from the offender in question. This is not to be done in a spirit of superiority. The appeal to brotherliness shows that it is part of a man’s duty to the brotherhood that he should not condone the deeds of any who, while claiming the name of brother, nevertheless denies by his actions what the brotherhood stands for.(F11)

And not after the tradition … This is not a reference to human tradition, but to apostolic teachings given orally before there was any such thing as a New Testament.

Verse 7

For yourselves know how ye ought to imitate us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;

For comment on imitating the apostle Paul, see under 1 Corinthians11:1 in my Commentary on 1 Corinthians, pp. 162-163.

Verse 8

neither did we eat bread for naught at any man’s hand, but in labor and travail, working night and day, that we might not burden any of you:

That part of the apostolic behavior which Paul particularly stressed as an example to the Thessalonians was that of his working for a living, rather than living off the labors of others. As an apostle Paul had the right to be supported by the brethren; but both in Corinth and in Thessalonica he renounced it in order to avoid any suspicion regarding his true motives in the preaching of the gospel. Furthermore, it was his way of emphasizing that all men should work to support themselves.


Man’s great happiness is served by work; even Eden was not a place of idleness, but of work (Genesis 2:15). All Scriptural glimpses of the invisible creations above invariably reveal them in a positive attitude of performance and creative activity. Even the angels on Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:12) were not posed in attitudes of fixed and static devotion, but were ascending and descending upon it. Christ declared that "My Father worketh even until now, and I work" (John 5:17). Children, therefore, of a working God and beneficiaries of the blood of a working Saviour should honor their calling by a life of diligent, faithful work.

The philosophy of doing less and less for more and more is a blight upon mankind. It is a delusion. Gross laziness will destroy any people foolish enough to indulge in it. Without depreciating any of the marvelous social gains of the current generation, one may truly say that America was not built by a forty-hour, five-day week; and the issue has not yet been determined whether or not such a work-week will be sufficient to preserve our nation and hand it down to posterity. If the slave states of communism outwork us, they shall, in the end, destroy and supersede us.

How deplorable it is that government has tipped the scales to the advantage of the loafer and freeloader who claim, as a right, the privilege of being supported in idleness. It is hard to decide which is the more reprehensible — the professional shirker, or the government which harbors and sustains him. In the words of James I. Vance, "God is on the side of the worker. The worker has rights; the willful idler has none."(F12) This basic ethic shines in a passage like this chapter.

Neither did we eat any man’s bread … "This is a Hebraism, for ’neither did we get our sustenance.’"(F13)

Verse 9

not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you, that ye should imitate us.

Paul was always careful to maintain his right of support, a right basically related to the right of all who labor in the gospel to live by the gospel. See 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Verses 10-11

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, If any will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear of some that walk among you disorderly, that work not at all, but are busybodies.

If any will not work, neither let him eat … This stern injunction may not be attributed to mere peevishness on Paul’s part. As Clarke said, "This is not an unjust maxim."(F14) The shameful and unwholesome results of a weak and foolish system of charity which ignores this principle were outlined thus by W. F. Adeney:

I. It injures the recipient. Idleness is a sin; and some of the worst trouble they had in Thessalonica came from that source. The indolent are tempted to many vices. The independence of the recipient is destroyed and he becomes something less than a man through habitual and constant dependence upon others for support.

II. It injures the giver. The encouragement of idleness is a sin that must be attributed to the thoughtless or foolish scatterer of God’s gifts upon the undeserving.

III. It injures those who are truly needy. It is a case of taking the children’s bread and giving it to the dogs. The idlers are the more insistent and clamorous for support in their idleness; and all that is given to them is no longer available for those who have just claims upon the charity of others.

IV. It injures the community. It destroys initiative, diminishes industry, and propagates the worst element in society. The idle part of the population of great cities are the canker of civilization, in which are bred and incubated every vice and crime. Some, alas, must be cared for by others; but, when they are able-bodied, "the state that gives bread should compel labor"!(F15)

The wisdom of Almighty God shines in this apostolic injunction. Of course, this law can be ignored for a time, as long as the stored-up capital of previous working generations remains to be passed out, dissipated, given away and wasted; but at last the poverty of a great nation will come as an armed man, and the entire society will pay the penalty in blood and tears.

A number of commentators have sought to find the source of this injunction in some Hebrew proverb, Roman law or Greek maxim; but the view here is that of Morris, who saw in it a Scripture first spoken by Paul himself.(F16)

Although it is not stated definitely in the text, one of the things that seems to have entered into the prevalence of gross idleness Paul sought to diminish and check was a notion on the part of the idlers that Christ was coming soon and that there was no further need to work. It is not, however, this or that motive for idleness that makes it a sin, sin being the proper name of it, no matter what the motive; and therefore Paul wisely left the motivation out of view.

Verse 12

Now them that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

We command … See under 2 Thessalonians 3:4 for discussion of this, "In the Lord Jesus Christ …" See under 2 Thessalonians 3:6.

That they with quietness work … Things were in a mess at Thessalonica. Moffatt analyzed the trouble thus:

The three causes of disquiet at Thessalonica are: (a) the tension produced by the thought of the advent of Christ; (b) the disturbing effect of persecution; and (c) irregularity and social disorganization in the community.(F17)

The antidote for all these ills was simple, direct and effective. "Shut up, and go to work!" There are a great many congregational "situations" in all ages that would have been healed and ameliorated by compliance with the apostle’s directive.

Verse 13

But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing. Lipscomb has a precious comment on this, thus:

While Paul who commands all who are able to eat their own bread, be quiet, and not to meddle, he cautions them not to cease to render assistance to the needy, to do good to all, as the opportunity affords. This is in perfect harmony with the foregoing instructions. Nothing discourages giving to the needy like having the lazy and meddlesome seeking support.(F18)

Verse 14

And if any man obeyeth not our words by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed.

This is a further word on what was meant above by "withdraw yourselves." It is all social intercourse, visitation, companioning with offenders that must be ceased. Christians are simply not to mix with persons living in open rebellion against the teachings of the Lord. The purpose of such an ostracism is that it might produce shame and repentance on the part of the offender and result in his restoration.

Verse 15

And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

As Kelcy said, "This shows that Paul does not expect the faithful Christians to refuse to have any sort of contact with the disorderly."(F19) He further said that this word "admonish" is a brotherly word, used in the New Testament only by Paul in Acts 20:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Romans 15:14, Colossians 3:16, and in this text.

Verse 16

Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with you all.

All times … all ways … and all the Christians … Paul included even the offenders in the terms of this loving benediction. "Peace here is to be taken in its widest sense, peace with God, complete salvation."(F20) The benediction may not be read therefore as a mere plea for God to quiet the disorders in Thessalonica, although of course that would be included in the perfect fulfillment of it.

Verses 17-18

The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

See under 2 Thessalonians 3:4 for pertinent comment on Paul’s attestation. Significantly, Paul here declared that all of his epistles were similarly authenticated; thus it is likely that the usual Pauline "grace and peace" at the end of his writings were always written by himself, whether or not it was so stated in the text of the letter, as here. It is not clear whether or not Paul meant by "every letter" those he had already written or those to be written in the future.

Thus concludes the shortest New Testament epistle addressed to a congregation. We are indebted to Hayes for the following observations:(F21)

1. The word "law" does not occur in either of the Thessalonian letters.

2. The cross is not mentioned in the epistle, and the death of Christ is mentioned but once.

3. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 is the first mention of church discipline in the New Testament.

4. The language of 2 Thessalonians 3:17, "every epistle," seems to indicate a number of genuine epistles; and as there are in the New Testament only one or two known prior epistles, the conclusion could be that Paul’s correspondence was much larger than that which we now possess.

Despite the brevity of this little jewel of a letter, however, it is freighted with some of the most interesting and instructive teaching in Holy Writ. Thanks be to God for the gift of his word!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-thessalonians-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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