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Bible Commentaries
2 Thessalonians 3

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

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Chapter 3. Final Thoughts and an Exhortation to Right Living.

Verses 1-2

‘Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also with you, and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men. For all have not the faith.’

Paul the seeks their prayers continually, not for himself and his needs, but for the effectiveness of the Gospel through his ministry. As with the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) the concentration is on the setting apart of God’s name through the establishing of His Kingly Rule and the doing of His will, not on ourselves.

‘That the word of the Lord may run and be glorified.’ The picture is of the word of the Lord going out with speed and vigour (Psalms 147:15), and being so effective that it receives the respect and honour due to it. We can compare Isaiah 55:11-13. It effectively brings about His purposes. ‘The word of the Lord’ may signify ‘the teaching and truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ’, or alternately ‘the teaching and truth that came from Him’, or indeed both. It would include the Scriptures for they were the inspired source of the truth about Him. Paul longs for it to be swiftly and powerfully successful everywhere, as it had been among the Thessalonians, ‘as also with you’.

‘And that we may be delivered from the unreasonable and evil men. For all have not the faith.’ His second prayer is for deliverance, not for his own sake but so that the word of God may go forward. ‘The unreasonable and evil men’ indicates those who seek to prevent the spread of the Gospel by underhand tactics. Every dirty trick was being played against him. Any method to hand was employed to get rid of him. The word for ‘unreasonable’ signifies something that is ‘out of place’.

‘For all have not the faith (or ‘do not have faith’). The ambiguity is not important as to have faith always meant holding the faith. They have not responded to the truth presented and therefore they are not believers. Instead they have believed the lie (2 Thessalonians 2:11), and reveal it in their behaviour. That it has within it the thought of faithfulness to God is suggested by the contrast with God’s faithfulness in 2 Thessalonians 3:3. He may thus have very much in mind the persecutions by the Jews that he was facing, as he had also faced them in Thessalonika. We must remember his method of going into the synagogues to preach as a Rabbi. This inevitably aroused conflict in those who would not respond to the truth and who thus rejected the new covenant.

Verse 3

‘But the Lord is faithful who will establish you and guard you from the Evil One (or ‘evil’).

The faithfulness to His own of God and the Lord is Paul’s constant theme ( 1Co 1:9 ; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Timothy 2:13 compare also Hebrews 2:17; Heb 10:23 ; 1 Peter 4:19; 1 John 1:9). Behind all uncertainty we find the faithfulness of God. It is He Who watches over the Christian’s life and will establish and protect us. To establish is to firmly found, to strengthen (compare 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). To build on the rock (Matthew 7:24-27).

Guarding from the ‘Evil One’, and in view of chapter 2 this is the most likely emphasis rather than ‘evil’ (compare the cry for deliverance in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:13), reminds us that God is over all and He protects His own from the machinations of Satan ( Joh 17:15 ; 1 John 5:18; Romans 16:20). They are sealed by God (Revelation 7:3-4 with Revelation 9:4). Thus the evil men of 2 Thessalonians 3:3 are now seen as spurred on by the Evil One of 2 Thessalonians 3:4. Compare how in Revelation John can speak of persecuting Jews as ‘the synagogue of Satan’ (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9), and Pergamos, with its persecuting authorities, as the place of Satan’s throne and where Satan dwells (Revelation 2:13). But the fact that we are guarded does not mean that we can be careless about the matter (Ephesians 6:10-19; 2 Corinthians 2:11). We must take heed to put on the armour of God.

Note the change from ‘us’ to ‘you’. The memory of what he and his companions had to face also reminded him of the tribulation and persecution the Thessalonians were facing, so as he asked for their prayers, he also prayed for them. They were in partnership together and were to share each other’s burdens.

Verse 4

‘And we have confidence in the Lord with regard to you that you both do and will do the things which we command.’

Confident that the Lord will establish and guard them he also has confidence that they are fulfilling and will fulfil what he and his companions ask of them. Whether ‘in the Lord’ refers to ‘having confidence in the Lord’ that He will be the source of their obedience, or is ‘with regard to you in the Lord’, referring to the sphere in which they will be obedient, is an open question but the general idea is the same, confidence in the Thessalonians because of the Lord’s activity. ‘The things which we command’ probably refers to the commands which are about to follow.

Verse 5

‘And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patient endurance of Christ.’

Once again he prays that their lives may be filled with love resulting from God’s activity within them, and may have patient endurance through Christ’s strengthening (compare 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4). It is possibly love and patient endurance worked in them by God and Jesus Christ, rather than God’s own love and Christ’s own patient endurance, that are in mind, although he may be thinking of Their love and patient endurance to be seen as examples which produce and encourage a similar response. Of course the one would be intended to beget the other. The reference to patient endurance again emphasises the continual persecution the Thessalonian church is facing.

Verse 6

‘Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother or sister who walks disorderly, and not after the tradition that they received from us.’

This final injunction is stern. Paul was so concerned for the reputation of the church that he commanded withdrawal from any who brought a stain upon it. And it was in the name of Christ that he commanded it, for it was that that would be sullied. He could have used no stronger words. To command in a name put all the authority of that name behind the command. The command was basically from Christ Himself. ‘Disorderly’ refers to a failure to keep in rank. They were behaving wildly and foolishly. They were not following the ways that Paul and his companions had laid down. The following verses show that the particular failure in mind was the way in which they failed to work for their own living, tending rather to take advantage of the generosity of others, so that they could act as busybodies in the church, snooping into things, engaging in carping open criticism, and generally being a nuisance.

Verses 7-9

‘For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, for we did not behave in a disorderly way among you, nor did we eat bread which cost us nothing at any man’s hand, but rather we worked in labour and travail night and day that we might not burden any of you, not because we have not the right, but to make ourselves an example to you that you should imitate us.’

It is interesting the great emphasis that Paul puts on people earning their own living, and to such an extent that he himself was not prepared to live on others’ hospitality, even though it meant that they had less time for the missionary work they were doing. They wanted all to recognise that being a Christian did not exempt anyone from honest toil. His policy, which he also carried out elsewhere, was in fact in line with what he had learned as a Pharisee, that a Rabbi should have a trade and not live off his study and teaching of the Law. His trade was connected with tent making and leather work (Acts 18:3).

And he calls on them to imitate him. Note that he accepts that it would have been his right to live on the hospitality of others. That had been Jesus Christ’s command to His first disciples (Matthew 10:9-11; Luke 10:3-7 compare 1 Corinthians 9:3-14; Galatians 6:6). Yet he would not, for he felt that it would give a bad example, as well as being a burden to them (see also 1 Thessalonians 2:9).

It had not been easy. The hardship is emphasised. They had ‘worked in travail and labour day and night’, working and then teaching and preaching. It had not been a soft option. We are probably to see from this that, among many Gentiles, preachers and teachers who lived off others were looked on with disdain. ‘An example.’ It may also be that there was a tendency to sponging off others among Macedonians. ‘Imitate us.’ Use us for an example of how you should behave.

Verse 10

‘For even when we were with you, we used to command you this, “if any will not work, let him not eat”.’

This might confirm a lazy tendency among Macedonians, for Paul had made it a particular emphasis in this church, repeating it continually. There is no evidence for such a statement elsewhere and it may be specifically Pauline. The principle was simple, no work, no food. This would, of course, only apply to those who could work. The fact that he had taught it to them from the start of his ministry is against the popular idea that the attitude arose later as a result of a wrong attitude to the second coming, although that may have given them a further excuse. It made not working seem spiritual.

The sin of idleness is widely recognised. 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.” All recognised that idleness leads to bad behaviour.

Verse 11

‘For we hear of some who walk among you disorderly, who do not work at all but are busybodies.’

What is signified here is described in 1 Timothy 5:13. ‘They learn to be idle, going abroad from house to house, and not only idle but tittle-tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.’ They were idle, they gossiped and passed on rumours, they talked of people behind their backs, they criticised those in authority and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

Verse 12

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

To such he brings a command from ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’. The use of the full title brings home the seriousness of the command. It is from ‘the Lord’. To ‘eat their own bread’ means bread that they have paid for themselves. The emphasis on working ‘with quietness’ suggests that the gossip and tittle-tattle had caused great harm. They were not to be chatterers and talebearers. Some, however, who relate their behaviour to second coming teaching, suggests that it means calmly and quietly rather than in their present over-excited state. But it is noteworthy that there is no suggestion anywhere that their idleness arose in this way, which seems rather strange if it is true.

Talebearing is condemned in the Old Testament. Leviticus 19:16 forbids being a talebearer, ‘revealing secrets’, breaking trust and being faithless to their friends (Proverbs 11:13). Such things should be kept between the two parties concerned (Proverbs 25:9).

Verse 13

‘But you, brothers and sisters, do not be weary in well doing.’

Those who did work would become weary, (and they worked longer hours, under more trying conditions, than most of us). Some may even have looked enviously at their idle brothers and sisters. So Paul exhorts them that although they grow weary, they should not grow weary in doing what is right. In Galatians 6:9 where there is a similar phrase he adds, ‘for in due season you will reap if you do not give up (faint)’.

Verses 14-15

‘And if any man does not obey our word by this letter, note that man, that you do not keep company with him, to the end that he might be ashamed. And yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.’

The word ‘obey’ means ‘hear and obey’. It is used of a doorkeeper who looks through the peep-hole and discovers a person’s business and then goes off to communicate it to his master. It means to hear, and then to act. The man who refuses to work or cease his tittle-tattle should be specifically taken note of and ‘sent to Coventry’ or boycotted. This would suggest that it is an official action by the church as a whole.

In order that he may learn to be ashamed of his behaviour, Christians should have nothing to do with him, so that he may recognise how deeply they feel about his behaviour. But notice that this is to be a loving action. He is not to be treated as an enemy but as a brother, and suitable gently admonished so that he comes to his senses. Sadly sometimes in the history of the church this sternness ‘with gentleness’ has been overlooked.

Verse 16

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

In closing Paul refers to Jesus as ‘the Lord of peace.’ We are reminded of Isaiah 9:6, of the royal son who was to be born, ‘His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace’. Then he goes on to describe how he will set up His ‘everlasting Kingdom’ with authority and peace in justice and righteousness (compare Psalms 72:7). The coming one, ‘the dayspring from on high’, was to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:79). Thus Paul may have had this passage in mind.

Furthermore of the One who was to come forth as ‘ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting’ Micah declares ‘this one shall be our peace’ (Micah 5:5).

Paul’s more regular phrase is ‘the God of peace’ (1 Thessalonians 5:23; Romans 15:33; Romans 16:20; 1Co 14:33 ; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 4:9 compare Hebrews 13:20). In view of the use of ‘Lord’ in the Greek Old Testament to signify the name of God, Yahweh, this is a clear indication of Godhood and co-equality.

‘Give you peace.’ The title sums up the reason for the coming of Christ. ‘He is our peace’ (Ephesians 2:14). He came to bring peace and to make peace and reconciliation with God for His own (Romans 5:1), including both Jew and Gentile, giving them access to the Father (Ephesians 2:13-18). And through His coming His people find peace in their hearts, the peace of God which passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), which is to rule in their hearts (Colossians 3:15), wrought by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

‘At all times and in all ways.’ The thought is comprehensive. Peace, perfect peace, is the lot of the Christian in ever circumstance and in every way because he knows the Lord of peace, and because the Lord is with him.

‘The Lord be with you all.’ This confirms, if it were needed, that the Lord of peace is Jesus Christ. Paul prays that they may enjoy His continual presence with them (see Galatians 2:20)

Verse 17

‘The salutation of me, Paul, with my own hand, which is the token in every letter. So I write.’

Many of Paul’s letters were written with the help of an amanuensis, a kind of secretary, who wrote to Paul’s dictation. He thus developed the habit of signing off at the end with a brief statement in his own handwriting, both as a gesture of love and friendship and to authenticate the letter. This is one example.

Verse 18

‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’

Not just a formal statement but a heartfelt wish and prayer that the unmerited, active favour and love of Jesus Christ, our Lord, might be with all of them bringing about His saving and sanctifying purposes in their lives.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/2-thessalonians-3.html. 2013.
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