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Bible Commentaries
2 Thessalonians 3

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

"Finally" introduces the last major section of the epistle. As was so often his custom, Paul first exhorted his readers to pray (1 Timothy 2:1-2; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:25; et al.). He realized that God will work in response to the requests of His people. To fail to pray is to fail to receive God’s blessings (James 4:2). Specifically, Paul asked the Thessalonians to ask God to facilitate the rapid and wide dissemination of the gospel and thus glorify His Word. Paul’s readers had seen God do this in their midst when Paul and his fellow missionaries first visited their city.

"Paul was a very great apostle. But his greatness consisted not so much in sheer native ability (though he had his share of that) as in his recognition of his dependence on God. It arises out of this that he so often requests the prayers of those to whom he ministers." [Note: Morris, The First . . ., p. 244.]

Verses 1-2

1. Prayer for the missionaries 3:1-2

Verses 1-5

A. Reciprocal prayer 3:1-5

Paul requested the prayers of his readers and assured them of his prayers for them to strengthen their mutual bonds in Christ and in the gospel.

Verses 1-15


Paul requested the Thessalonians’ prayers for him and assured them that he was praying for them. He also encouraged them to deal with problems that needed correction in their assembly. Obedience in these matters would result in continued growth toward maturity for these believers.

Verse 2

Also Paul desired that God would grant him and his colleagues deliverance from unreasonable and harmful unbelievers who sought to limit the spread of the gospel. This is the negative side of the former positive request. To oppose the spread of the gospel is unreasonable behavior since the gospel brings spiritual life to those who are dead in sin. These men were probably unbelieving Jews who were opposing Paul in Corinth (cf. Acts 18:5-6; Acts 18:12-13).

"There is something deeply moving in the thought of this giant among men asking for the prayers of the Thessalonians who so well recognized their own weakness. Nowhere is Paul’s humility more clear to see. And the fact that he, as it were, threw himself on their hearts, must have done much to bind even his opponents to him, because it is very difficult to dislike a man who asks you to pray for him." [Note: Barclay, p. 250.]

Verse 3

Paul was confident that God would provide strength and protection for the Thessalonians in view of His promises to provide for His own.

Verses 3-5

2. Prayer for the Thessalonians 3:3-5

Verse 4

He was also confident that his readers, strengthened by the Lord, would continue to follow apostolic instruction as they had in the past. Paul had confidence in these Christians. Note the chiastic structure of Paul’s thought in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-4.

Verse 5

He prayed that God would give these brothers and sisters a greater appreciation of God’s love for them and of Christ’s steadfastness in the midst of His earthly afflictions. [Note: Wanamaker, p. 279.] He wanted this so their love and patient endurance might increase (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:18; 2 Chronicles 12:14).

"Consistent Christian behavior can result only from genuine inward commitment." [Note: Martin, p. 269.]

Verse 6

Paul introduced the words that follow to help the readers realize that obedience was essential. This was a command given with the full authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. The faithful majority in the church was to separate, probably individually and socially, from the unruly to alert the offenders to the fact that their behavior was not acceptable. The desired result was that they would repent. Paul had earlier warned those who were idle (1 Thessalonians 5:14), but evidently they had not responded. Now firmer measures were necessary (cf. Matthew 18:15-17). The offenders constituted a minority who lived undisciplined lives contrary to the teaching and example of the missionaries.

"The tradition to which Paul refers has a twofold character, as 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12 indicate. In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 the apostle elaborates on his and his colleagues’ example as a guide for responsible behavior for their converts. The introductory words of 2 Thessalonians 3:7 reveal that his and his fellow missionaries’ behavior was intended to have the normative character of a received tradition. In addition, as a matter of course, Paul issued ethical instruction to new converts in order to regulate their behavior as Christians. In 2 Thessalonians 3:10 he cites the specific tradition involved with regard to work." [Note: Wanamaker, pp. 282-83.]

Verses 6-10

1. General principles respecting disorderly conduct 3:6-10

Verses 6-15

B. Church discipline 3:6-15

The false teaching that had entered the church had produced some inappropriate behavior in some. Paul wrote what to do about this situation to guide the Thessalonians in bringing their behavior, as well as their belief, back into conformity with God’s will.

"As important as it is to identify the cause and nature of the problem behavior addressed in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, we should not ignore the fact that our passage both begins (2 Thessalonians 3:6) and ends (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) with exhortations, not to the idle but to the rest of the church. The admonition addressed directly to those Christians who were living improperly (2 Thessalonians 3:12) is, in fact, rather brief." [Note: Ibid., p. 271.]

Verses 7-9

Evidently some in the church were not working to support themselves but were living off the charity of their brethren. In Thessalonica, as elsewhere, Paul and his companions sometimes supported themselves by "making tents" to give their converts an example of responsible Christian living (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:3-14; 1 Timothy 5:18). They had the right to receive monetary support in payment for their spiritual ministry (Galatians 6:6), but they often gave up this right for the greater needs of their converts.

Verse 10

Paul reminded his readers of his well-known instruction that he frequently repeated when he was with them. If anyone refused to work, his brothers and sisters in Christ should not provide for him. Paul may have been referring to a Jewish proverb based on Genesis 3:19 a: "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." [Note: Robertson, 4:59.] The idle in this case were not unable to work but unwilling to work.

Verse 11

The teaching that Christ could return at any moment had led some of the believers into idleness. They had quit their jobs and were simply waiting for the Lord to return. This interpretation seems justified and is certainly consistent with life. Clearly they believed in the imminent return of Christ for them. Such deductions have led other Christians to do the same thing at various other times throughout church history. When people are not busy with their own work they may tend to meddle in the business of others. They may become busybodies rather than busy, neglecting their own business to mind other people’s, even minding everybody’s business but their own.

Verses 11-13

2. Specific instructions concerning the idle 3:11-13

Verses 12-13

Paul commanded the idle to settle down and to support themselves (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:11; Genesis 3:19). The obedient majority he counseled to endure this added affliction patiently and to continue doing right.

"’With quietness,’ emphatic by its forward position [in the Greek text], points to the quality of mind that is to be associated with their working. It denotes a condition of inward peace and tranquillity reflecting itself in outward calmness; it is the opposite of their fussy activity as busybodies." [Note: Hiebert, p. 347.]

"Exemplary conduct serves as a constant reprimand to wrongdoers and is an incentive for them to turn from their delinquency." [Note: Thomas, "2 Thessalonians," p. 335.]

Why were these Thessalonians not working? The answer probably lies in the phrase "in quiet fashion."

"The root trouble apparently was their excitability. The thought of the nearness of the Parousia had thrown them into a flutter, and this had led to unwelcome consequences of which their idleness was the outstanding feature." [Note: Morris, The First . . ., p. 256.]

This clause, "in quietness," ". . . is to be understood as the opposite of . . . the feverish excitement of mind stimulated by the belief that the Parousia was at hand . . ." [Note: Frame, p. 307.]

"It seems apparent, then, that these idle Christians believed in the imminent coming of Christ; however, they had concluded wrongly that ’imminent’ equals ’soon.’ Thus, instead of believing that Christ could come soon, they were convinced that He definitely would come soon, and work was therefore no longer necessary for them.

"Why did the Thessalonian Christians believe in the imminent coming of Christ? It must have been because they had been taught the imminent coming of Christ by a person whose authority they trusted. It would appear that Paul is the one who taught them the imminent coming of Christ. His negative reaction to their actions, however, implies that their wrong conduct was the result of a perversion of his teaching (cp. 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Contrary to them, Paul did not equate ’imminent’ with ’soon’ and think, therefore, that work was unnecessary." [Note: Showers, Maranatha . . ., p. 134. See also Stanton’s discussion of imminency, pp. 108-37.]

Verse 14

Failure to abandon the idle lifestyle after having received the further warnings in this epistle should result in increased ostracism (cf. Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Titus 3:10-11). This discipline would, hopefully, embarrass the offender into changing his or her ways.

". . . allowing a believer to persist in blatantly unchristian, exploitive, and disruptive behavior is not a kindness-neither to the church nor to the errant believer nor to the watching non-Christian public." [Note: Martin, p. 285.]

Paul put social pressure to good use here. It is regrettable that in our day social pressure often has very little influence on erring brethren. Rather than submit to church discipline many Christians simply change churches. Strong measures may be necessary in some cases so the offender feels the need to repent and to live in harmony with the will of God.

"The treatment of such a man is to withdraw from close fellowship with him. . . . It [the Greek verb sunanamignusthai] literally means ’Don’t mix yourselves up with him’." [Note: Morris, The Epistles . . ., p. 149.]

Verses 14-15

3. Further discipline for the unrepentant 3:14-15

Verse 15

However, Paul warned against overreacting. The church should always treat the offender as a brother, not an enemy. We warn brothers, but we denounce and condemn enemies. The aim of all church discipline must be repentance followed by restoration. [Note: See J. Carl Laney, "The Biblical Practice of Church Discipline," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:572 (October-December 1986):353-64; and Ted G. Kitchens, "Perimeters of Corrective Church Discipline," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:590 (April-June 1991):201-13.]

"The situation is different from that envisaged at Corinth, where ’someone who is called a brother’ (ean tis adelphos onomazomenos . . .) lives and acts in such a way as to give the lie to his Christian profession; that person is to be treated as an unbeliever, with no entitlement to the privileges of Christian fellowship (1 Corinthians 5:11)." [Note: Bruce, p. 210.]

Verse 16

He concluded with two more prayers, his fourth and fifth (2 Thessalonians 3:18) in this epistle (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:5). He knew that without the Lord’s convicting work his instructions and exhortations would be ineffective. His main concern was for peace in the church that could only take place as all the Christians obeyed the truth. God is the source of peace that a church enjoys to the extent that all of its members relate submissively to the will of God. Peace is possible even in the midst of persecution (cf. John 16:33).

Verses 16-18


Paul concluded this epistle with an emphasis on unity in the church to motivate his readers to work out their problems and reestablish peaceful conditions that would glorify God.

Verse 17

In view of the letter claiming to have been Paul’s that the Thessalonians had received (2 Thessalonians 2:2), the apostle felt it necessary to prove that the present one really came from him. He added a word of greeting in his own hand, as he usually did, to authenticate his epistles for the benefit of recipients (cf. Galatians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18). An assistant evidently penned the rest of the letter (cf. Romans 16:22).

"It was no uncommon thing in ancient letter-writing for the sender, having dictated the bulk of the letter, to write the last sentence or two in his own hand. This is the best explanation of the change of script at the end of several papyrus letters which have been preserved. This practice would help to authenticate the letter (for readers who recognized the sender’s writing); a more general purpose would be to make the letter look more personal than one written entirely by an amanuensis." [Note: Ibid., pp. 215-16.]

Verse 18

The final benediction is the same as the one that ends 1 Thessalonians except for the addition of the word "all" here.

"If any theological point is to be made from the inclusion of ’all,’ it is perhaps that Paul asked for Christ’s grace even on those who were not holding to the Christian pattern of behavior regarding work." [Note: Wanamaker, p. 293.]

Paul’s concern for the peace and unity of all the church was his great passion in this epistle.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-thessalonians-3.html. 2012.
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