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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
2 Thessalonians 3

 

 


Verse 1-2

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . Have free course and be glorified.—Probably St. Paul took this image from the Old Testament. In Psa 147:15 the word of the Lord is said to "run very swiftly."

2Th . Unreasonable and wicked men.—The word for "unreasonable" only occurs twice beside in the New Testament: once, the malefactor on the cross says, "This man has done nothing amiss," or out of place; and again the barbarians "beheld nothing amiss" come to Paul when the viper had fastened on his hand. The thief is a good commentator here. Men who by their vagaries hold even their friends in painful suspense, and especially such as are indifferent to morality, seem to be meant.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

Prayer for Ministers.

Prayer should not be all on one side. It is a mutual obligation and privilege. The Thessalonians are reminded how often they were the subject of anxious prayer, and they are how asked to remember their own ministers at the throne of grace. Mutual prayer intensifies mutual sympathy and affection, and deepens the interest of both parties in promoting the success of the gospel. Note:—

I. That prayer for ministers is apostolically enjoined.—"Brethren, pray for us" (2Th ). True prayer is spontaneous. It does not wait to be formally authorised. A loving heart loves to pray. Nevertheless, there are laggards in this duty, and they may be prompted to the exercise by employing all the weight of apostolic authority and example. If apostles felt the need of prayer, how much more should we! Ministers are but men; but by the use of the word "brethren" the writer indicates that ministers and people have common privileges, common wants, and common dangers. The ministerial office has also its special responsibilities and perils, and nothing helps more vitally the efficient discharge of its duties than the constant prayers of an appreciative and devoted people.

II. That prayer for ministers should have special reference to the success of the gospel.—

1. The gospel is divine. "The word of the Lord" (2Th ). The gospel is a message to man, but it is more than a human message. It is the voice of God speaking to man through man. If it had been simply of human origin, it would have been forgotten and superseded by the changing theories ever teeming from the fertile brain of man. Every human institution is liable to be supplanted by another. There is nothing permanent in philosophy, government, or morals that is not based on eternal truth. The gospel is abiding, because it rests on unchanging truth. It is the "word of the Lord."

2. The spread of the gospel is beset with difficulties.—"That the word of the Lord may have free course" (2Th ). The pioneers of the gospel in Thessalonica had to contend with the malignant hatred of the unbelieving Jews, with the seductive theories of the Grecian philosophy, and with the jealous opposition of the Roman power. All hindrances to the gospel have a common root in the depravity of the human heart—hence the difficulties occasioned by the inconsistencies of half-hearted professors, the paralysing influence of scepticism, and the violence of external persecution. The chief difficulty is spiritual, and the weapon to contend against it must be spiritual—the weapon of all-prayer. Savonarola once said, "If there be no enemy, no fight; if no fight, no victory; if no victory, no crown." We are to pray that the gospel "may have free course"—may run, not simply creep, or loiter haltingly on the way, but speed along as a swift-footed messenger. "Take courage from thy cause: thou fightest for thy God, and against His enemy. Is thy enemy too potent? fear not. Art thou besieged? faint not. Art thou routed? fly not. Call aid, and thou shalt be strengthened; petition, and thou shalt be relieved; pray, and thou shalt be recruited."

3. The glory of the gospel is to change men's hearts and ennoble men's lives.—"And be glorified, even as it is with you" (2Th ). You Thessalonians, notwithstanding your imperfect views and defective conduct, are samples of what the gospel can do in changing the heart and giving a lofty purpose to the life. Pray that its triumph may be more complete in you, and that its uplifting influence may be realised by others. "That which Plato was unable to effect," says Pascal, "even in the case of a few select and learned persons, a secret power, by the help only of a few words, is now wrought upon thousands of uneducated men."

III. That prayer for ministers should be offered that their lives may be preserved from the violence of cruel and unbelieving enemies.—"And that ye may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith" (2Th ). Not all have faith, even among those who profess to have it, and it is certainly true of all those who scout and reject the gospel. The unbelieving are perverse and wicked, and it is from this class that the minister is met by the most unreasonable and malicious opposition. Perhaps the most dangerous foes with which a minister has to contend are those who make some profession of religion, but in heart and practice deny it. "Men will write for religion, fight for it, die for it—anything but live for it." The minister, girdled with the prayers of his people, is screened from the plots and attacks of the wicked.

Lessons.—

1. The success of the gospel is a signal demonstration of its divine authorship.

2. Ministers of the gospel have need of sympathy and help in their work.

3. The grandest spiritual results are brought about by prayer.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . The Ministerial Request.

I. The request presented.—

1. That the power of religion may be eminently experienced in our own souls.

2. That we may be preserved from the official dangers to which we are exposed.

3. That we may be able ministers of the New Testament.

4. That prudence and fidelity may distinguish our labours.

II. The grounds on which it rests.—

1. It rests on the mutual connection which subsists between ministers and people.

2. On the law of love.

3. On its advantages to yourselves.

4. On the prevalency of fervent prayer.

5. On its connection with the salvation of souls.—Sketches.

2Th . Unbelief—

I. Abandons the guide of reason.

II. Leads to a vicious life and causes trouble to others.

III. We should pray to be delivered from its evil results.


Verse 3-4

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . And keep you from evil.—"Keep" here is a military word reminding of the psalmist's name for his God—"Shield." The Revisers add "one" after "evil," as in the Lord's Prayer.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

The Faithfulness of God.

From the want of faith in man, referred to in the preceding verse, the writer, as if to show the contrast, naturally glides into the subject of the divine faithfulness. Unbelief may abound, but God can be relied on; man may be fickle and unreasonable, but the fidelity of God is inviolate.

I. The faithfulness of God is a fact established by abundant testimonies.—"But the Lord is faithful" (2Th ). He is faithful to His own nature. He cannot deny Himself. He is faithful to His purpose, to His word, to every promise, and every threatening too. The whole history of God's dealings with the Jewish people is a suggestive and impressive commentary on His inflexible faithfulness. The fact that the Church of God exists to-day, notwithstanding defection within and persecution without, is an unanswerable testimony to His fidelity. "You may be faint and weary, but my God cannot. I may fluctuate and alter as to my frames and feelings; but my Redeemer is unchangeably the same. I might utterly fail and come to nothing, if left to myself. But I cannot be so left to myself. He is rich to relieve and succour me in all my wants. He is faithful to perform and perfect all His promises" (Ambrose Serle).

II. The faithfulness of God is practically manifested in establishing His people in all good and in keeping them safe from all evil.—"Who shall stablish you and keep you from evil" (2Th ). The people of God do not perpetuate themselves. He perpetuates. His faithful guardianship gives persistency to His people, so that in every age and in the darkest times there has been a bright succession of living witnesses of His unchanging character. He preserves them, not because of any inherent grace or self-deserving, but because He is faithful. "Janet," said a Scottish minister to a Christian woman of great faith, whom he was visiting, "suppose, after all, God were to let you drop into hell!" "Even as He will," was her reply; "but if He does, He will lose mair than I'll do." A single flaw in the divine fidelity would shatter the faith of the universe.

III. The faithfulness of God inspires confidence in the fidelity of the obedient.—"And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do, and will do the things which we command you" (2Th ). Because God is faithful, we know that you can be kept faithful, if you are willing and seeking to be so kept. Moreover, you will assuredly be kept faithful, while you observe in the future, as you have done in the past, "the things which we command you," and in commanding which we have the divine authority. Consider these things, let them sink into your hearts; then act accordingly. Let obedience follow conviction, and we have no fear about the result. Von Moltke, the great German strategist and general, chose for his motto, "Erst wagen, dann wagen"—"First weigh, then venture"; and it was to this he owed his great victories and successes. Slow, cautious, careful in planning, but bold, daring, even seemingly reckless in execution, the moment his resolve was made. Vows thus ripen into deeds, decision must go on to performance. The final perseverance of the saint depends on the divine perseverance; his faithfulness on the divine faithfulness. If we had no living Saviour to pilot our ship, no promise on which to rely, we might have cause to fear. The divine faithfulness is unquestionable; our faithfulness is maintained only by obedience.

Lessons.—

1. The faithfulness of God is the guarantee of the believer's safety.

2. The faithfulness of God should encourage the exercise of implicit faith in Him.

3. The faithfulness of God demands undeviating obedience to His laws.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . The Divine Faithfulness—

I. An incontrovertible fact.

II. A guarantee of personal establishment in the truth.

III. An invulnerable protection from evil and all its works.

2Th . Christian Obedience—

I. Is a voluntary and constant activity.

II. Is based on well-understood and authoritative precepts.

III. Is the pathway of blessing.

IV. Inspires confidence in others.


Verse 5

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . Direct your hearts.—The same word for "direct" again occurs only in 1Th 3:11 and Luk 1:79. A similar phrase in the LXX. of 1Ch 29:18 (R.V. "prepare"). Into the patient waiting for Christ.—A.V. margin and R.V. text, "into the patience of Christ." "The Thessalonians were eagerly awaiting His return: let them wait for it in His patient spirit" (Findlay).

MAIN HOMILETICS OF 2Th

Divine Love and Patience.

Again the apostle is on his knees. How beautifully the habitual devoutness of the apostle's spirit comes out in the side-lights thrown from passages in his writings like this verse! He lives and breathes in the electric atmosphere of prayer. All the time he is reasoning, expounding, warning, and persuading he is also praying. Prayer is a powerful aid to the preacher. It keeps his soul in sympathy with the realm of spiritual realities, gives him clearer insight into truth, and intensifies his experience of the divine. We learn from this verse:—

I. That divine love and patience are conspicuous elements in man's redemption.—"The love of God and the patient waiting for Christ"—the patience of Christ (R.V.). The love of God devised and the patience of Christ carried out the great plan of human salvation. The gospel is a grand revelation of the divine love and patience in Christ Jesus; and the history of the gospel in its world-wide progress is a many-sided illustration of these two conspicuous virtues in the divine character and operations. After the last French war the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris was imprisoned. His cell had a window shaped like a cross, and with a pencil he wrote upon the arms of the cross that they denoted the height, length, breadth, and depth of God's love. That man knew something of the love of God. The patience of Christ in suffering for mankind was sustained and sublimated by the love of God, and was an object-lesson to the world, teaching, in a way that appealed to the most callous, the power and universality of that love.

II. That divine love and patience are the distinguished privilege of human experience.—"Direct your hearts into the love of God and patience of Christ." The love we are to enjoy is no mere human passion, fickle and evanescent; the patience, no mere grim stoical endurance. We are admitted into the sacred adoption of the divine mysteries; we share in their spiritual ecstasy and unruffled calm, the very love and patience of God! The divine in us becomes more growingly evident to ourselves and to others. Love gives staying-power to and teaches us how to suffer without murmuring, to endure without retaliating. "Sire," said Beza in his reply to the king of Navarre, "it belongs to God's Church rather to suffer blows than to strike them; but let it be your pleasure to remember that the Church is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer." With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes satin.

III. That divine love and patience are more fully enjoyed by the soul that prays.—"And the Lord direct your hearts." The prayerful apostle had realised the blessedness of a personal participation in the love and patience of God. But for the love of God he would never have ventured upon his evangelistic mission, and but for the patience of Christ he would not have continued in it. Now he prays that the hearts of the Thessalonians may enjoy the same grace, or be set in the direct way of attaining it. It is of vital consequence that the current of the heart's outgoings should be set in the right direction. This brief petition shows what we ought to ask for ourselves. The best way to secure a larger degree of love and patience is to ardently pray for them.

"What grace, O Lord, and beauty shone

Around Thy steps below!

What patient love was seen in all

Thy life and death of woe!

"Oh! give us hearts to love like Thee—

Like Thee, O Lord, to grieve

Far more for others' sins, than all

The wrongs that we receive."

Lessons.—

1. The Christian life is a sublime participation in the nature of God.

2. Love and patience reveal the God-like character.

3. Prayer is at its best when engaged with the loftiest themes.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE

2Th . Waiting for the Second Advent.

I. The love of God a preparation for the Redeemer's coming.—

1. The love of God is the love of goodness.

2. The love of God is the love of man expanded and purified. The love of man expanded into the love of Him, of whom all that we have seen of gentle and lovely, of true and tender, of honourable and bright in human character, are but the shadows and the broken, imperfect lights.

II. Patient waiting another preparation for the Redeemer's coming.—

1. The Christian attitude of soul is an attitude of expectation.—Every gift of noble origin is breathed upon by hope's perfect breath.

2. It is patient waiting.—Every one who has ardently longed for any spiritual blessing knows the temptation to impatience in expecting it.—F. W. Robertson.


Verse 6-7

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . Walketh disorderly.—Falling out of the ranks and desertion of the post of duty are grave faults, which if the esprit de corps do not prevent it must be punished by treating the defaulter as one who has discredited his comrades in arms.

2Th . We behaved not ourselves disorderly among you.—"We never lived an undisciplined life among you." Men will bear the sharp rebukes of a martinet, even when they observe that he is as much under discipline as he would have the youngest recruit, as the lives of men like Havelock and Gordon testify.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

Christian Consistency.

The apostle commended with a warm-hearted eulogy whatever was good in the Thessalonians, but he was not less faithful in administering rebuke when it was needed. A number of the converts, not sufficiently pondering the words of the writer, were carried away with the delusion that the second advent of Christ would take place immediately, and they abandoned all interest in the practical duties of life—an error that has been often repeated since, with similar results. Fearing the mischief would spread, and seeing that all previous warnings were disregarded, the apostle in these verses treats the mistaken enthusiasts with unsparing condemnation. Disorder must be crushed and consistency preserved.

I. Christian consistency is in harmony with the highest teaching.—"After the tradition which he [or they] received of us" (2Th ). The rules of Christian consistency were clearly laid down in the traditions or doctrines taught by the apostles, and were enforced with all the weight and sanction of divine authority. To violate these rules is to "walk disorderly"—to break the ranks, to fall out of line. The value of the individual soldier is the degree in which he keeps in order and acts in perfect harmony and precision with the rest of the regiment. A breach of military rule creates disaster. Let the believer keep the divine law, and the law will keep him.

"The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre,

Observe degree, priority, and place,

Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,

Office and custom, in all line of order."

Shakespeare.

II. Christian consistency is enforced by apostolic example.—"For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you" (2Th ). The apostles illustrated what they taught, by a rigid observance of the rules they imposed on others. Precept was enforced by practice. While the preachers laboured among the Thessalonians, the influence of their upright examples kept the Church in order. Much depends upon the conduct of a leader in Church or State. It is said of a certain military commander on taking charge of an army that had been somewhat lax in discipline: "The presence of a master-mind was quickly visible in the changed condition of the camp. Perfect order now reigned. He was a rigid disciplinarian, and yet as gentle and kind as a woman. He was the easiest man in our army to get along with pleasantly, so long as one did his duty, but as inexorable as fate in exacting its performance. He was as courteous to the humblest private who sought an interview for any purpose as to the highest officer under his command."

III. Christian consistency is to be maintained by separation from the lawless.—"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" (2Th ). If all efforts to recover the recalcitrant fail, then the Church has the highest authority for separating completely from the society and fellowship of such. Continued communion with them would not only seem to condone their offence, but destroy discipline, and put an end to all moral consistency. Such a separation from the unruly would be more marked in the early Church, when there was only one Christian community, and when the brethren were noted for their affectionate attachment to each other.

Lessons.—Christian consistency—

1. Is defined by the highest law.

2. Avoids association with evil.

3. Is a reproof and pattern to the unbelieving.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . The Disorderly in Church Life—

I. Violate the rules that give compactness and strength to all Church organisation.

II. Ignore the highest examples of moral consistency.

III. Should be faithfully warned and counselled.

IV. If incorrigible, should be excluded from the privileges of Christian fellowship.


Verse 8-9

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

Self-denying Labour.

Pioneer work involves hard toil and much patience and self-denial. The character and surroundings of the people whose highest good is sought must be studied. The apostle took his measure of the Thessalonian converts, and, perhaps foreseeing the extravagances to which they would yield, he and his co-labourers determined to set them an example of unselfish industry, even to the extent of surrendering their just rights.

I. Here we see self-denying labour carried on amidst weariness and suffering.—"Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day" (2Th ). Work is a pleasurable exercise to the strong and healthy, but it becomes a hardship when carried to excess. The devoted missionaries worked when they were weary—worked when they should have been resting. After a hard day's toil in teaching and visiting, they laboured far on into the night, so as to maintain themselves independent of help from their converts. Much as we hear of the dignity of labour, the toiler, whether by hand or brain, in the weariness and pain that overtake him, feels that some portion of the original curse still clings to his handiwork. The best work is often accomplished in the midst of acute suffering. The unique histories of England were written by J. R. Green while the shadow of death was consciously hovering over his desk; and the exquisite Christian lyrics of H. F. Lyte were penned while he felt that every moment his heart was throbbing "funeral marches to the grave."

II. Here we see self-denying labour declining the maintenance that might be legitimately claimed.—"That we might not be chargeable to any of you: not because we have not power" (2Th )—right, authority. While the apostle forbears to urge their just right to ministerial support by the people, he gives them clearly to understand it is their right. Their self-denial in this instance was for a special purpose, and was only intended to be temporary, and not to establish a universal rule. In other places, St. Paul insists upon the duty of the Church to maintain its ministers (1Co 9:4-14; Gal 6:6). All honour to the self-denying zeal and suffering toil of the unaided Christian worker; but what shall we say of the parsimony and injustice of the people who allow such a state of things to continue?

III. Here we see self-denying labour set forth as an example and reproof to those who are most benefited by it.—"To make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us" (2Th ). Here the purpose of their disinterested conduct is plainly stated—to set an example of industry to the idlers. St. Paul acted in a similar manner towards the Corinthians, but with a different design. In the latter case he wished to manifest a better spirit than that of the false teachers who were greedy of filthy lucre (2Co 11:8-13). The earnest evangelist is ever anxious to clear his work from the taint of self-seeking. Let the heart of man be changed and sanctified, and it will inspire and regulate the practical exercise of every Christian virtue. How little does the world appreciate its greatest benefactors! And yet no unselfish act is without its recompense. The actor is not unblessed. To exchange, as Christ did, the temple for Nazareth, the Father's house for the carpenter's shop, the joy of preaching for irksome toil, is a great advance in spiritual obedience and nobility of character.

Lessons.—

1. The essence of the Christian spirit is unselfishness.

2. The earnest Christian pioneer labours ungrudgingly for the good of others.

3. The self-denial of the preacher does not exonerate the people from the duty of his legitimate maintenance.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . Industry the Secret of Success.—When Sir Isaac Newton was asked by what means he had been able to make that successful progress in the sciences which struck mankind with wonder, he modestly replied, that it was not so much owing to any superior strength of genius as to a habit of patient thinking, laborious attention, and close application.

2Th . Ministerial Maintenance.

I. Is a claim based on scriptural and apostolic authority.

II. The temporary waiving of the right is a noble example of self-denial and unselfish devotion.

III. No personal waiving of the right releases the Church from its obligation.


Verses 10-12

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . If any would not work, neither should he eat.—"A stern, but necessary and merciful rule, the neglect of which makes charity demoralising" (Ibid.). It is parasitism which is condemned.

2Th . Working not at all, but are busybodies.—"Not working, but working round people," as we might represent St. Paul's play on the words. "Their only business is to be busybodies."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

Christianity and Work.

Christianity is the gospel of work. Its clarion-call thrills along the nerves of human life and summons the world to labour. It gives to work meaning, purpose, dignity, and exalts drudgery into a blessedness. While full of sympathy for the feeble and maimed, it has no pity for the indolent. Its Founder and first apostles were giants in labour, and their example animates the world to-day with a spirit of noblest activity. It is not the drone, but the worker, who blesses the world. "Be no longer a chaos," writes Carlyle, "but a world, or even a worldkin. Produce! produce! were it but the pitifullest, infinitesimal fraction of a product, produce it, in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou hast in thee; out with it, then. Up, up! whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might."

I. Christianity recognises the duty of every man to work for his own support.—"For even when we were with you, this we commanded, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2Th ). The necessity of food involves the necessity of work. As every one must eat, so every one must work. The wife of a certain chieftain, who had fallen upon idle habits, one day lifted the dish-cover at dinner and revealed a pair of spurs, a sign that he must ride and hunt for his next meal. It is said that in the Californian bee-pastures, on the sun-days of summer, one may readily infer the time of day from the comparative energy of bee-movements alone; drowsy and moderate in the cool of the morning, increasing in energy with the ascending sun, and at high noon thrilling and quivering in wild ecstasy, then gradually declining again to the stillness of night. Is not this a picture of our life? Work is necessary for sustenance, for health, for moral development; and rest is all the sweeter after genuine toil.

II. Christianity is intolerant of an ignoble indolence.—"For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies" (2Th ). The disorderly are the idle tatlers, who make a pretence of work by busying themselves with all kinds of things but their own duty. They are triflers, wasting their own time and other people's; and they do serious mischief. In certain foreign parts, where insects abound in such swarms as to be a pest to the people and destructive enemies to young growing plants, an electric apparatus has been constructed to destroy the brood wholesale. The appliance consists of a strong electric light attracting the moths and insects, a suction-fan drawing them into a shaft as they approach the light, and a small mill in the shaft where the victims are ground up and mixed with flour, thus converting them into poultry-food. Cannot some genius contrive a means of putting an end—short of grinding them into chicken-food: let us be merciful, even to our enemies!—to those social pests who go buzzing about our homes and Churches, worrying with their idle gossip and stinging with their spiteful venom the innocent and inoffensive? If these busybodies would devote, in doing their duty, the energy they waste, they would be able to produce quite a respectable amount of honest work. But they find it easier to sponge on the generosity and simplicity of others. They are parasites; and all parasites are the paupers of nature. Parasitism is a crime—a breach of the law of evolution.

III. Christianity enforces the necessity of a steady and independent industry.—"We command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread" (2Th ). The apostle, having the authority of Christ for what he counsels, commands; and as a man addressing his fellow-men, he exhorts and persuades. The law of Christianity is both stern and gentle: unbending in principle, and flexible only in manifold persuasions to translate the principle into actual living practice. It rouses man from yielding to a sinful listlessness and helps him to develop a robust Christian manhood. When an Indian candidate for the ministry was asked the question, "What is original sin?" he frankly replied, "He did not know what other people's might be, but he rather thought that his was laziness." Idleness is the prolific source of many evils: work is at once a remedy and a safeguard. A clergyman once said, "A Christian should never plead spirituality for being a sloven; if he be but a shoe-cleaner, he should be the best in the parish." We are honouring Christianity most when we are doing our best to observe its precepts, "Working with quietness and eating our own bread." An American preacher once said, "You sit here and sing yourselves away to everlasting bliss; but I tell you that you are wanted a great deal more out in Illinois than you are in heaven."

Lessons.—

1. Christianity encourages and honours honest toil.

2. Fearlessly denounces unprincipled idlers.

3. Is an inspiration to the highest kind of work.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . Industry the True Charity.—When the palace and church buildings of Caprarolo were completed, Borromeo, the great patron of idle almsgiving, came to see it, and complained that so much money had not been given to the poor instead. "I have let them have it all little by little," said Alexandro Farnese; "but I have made them earn it by the sweat of their brow."

2Th . Idleness and Death.—Ælian mentions a witticism of Alcibiades when some one was vaunting to him about the contempt the Lacedæmonians had for death. "It is no wonder," said he, "since it relieves them from the heavy burden of an idle and stupid life."

2Th . The Way to Value Quietness.—"How dull and quiet everything is. There isn't a leaf stirring," said a young sparrow perched on the bough of a willow tree. "How delicious a puff of wind would be!" "We shall have one before long," croaked an old raven; "more than you want, I fancy." Before many hours a tempest swept over the country, and in the morning the fields were strewn with its ravages. "What a comfort the storm is over," said the sparrow, as he trimmed his wet feathers. "Ah!" croaked the raven, "you've altered your mind since last night. Take my word for it, there's nothing like a storm to teach you to value a calm."—G. Eliot.


Verse 13

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . Be not weary in well-doing.—Such bad behaviour under cover of the Christian name is abhorrent to St. Paul. "The loveliness of perfect deeds" must be worthily sustained. Well-doing here points to that which is admirable in conduct rather than that which is beneficent.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF 2Th

A Call to do the Best Work.

The apostle has shown the necessity and duty of work—that honest industry is a law of Christianity. Now he inculcates unwearied diligence in accomplishing the best work, designated by the comprehensive and suggestive phrase "well-doing." Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. No man has done his best till he has done all he can. A man's highest work is the outcome of his best endeavours. Observe:—

I. Doing the best work is well-doing.—"Be not weary in well-doing." We may define to ourselves this duty of well-doing by seeking answers to two questions:—

1. How can I get the most good?—The ancient philosophers discussed the question of the supreme good with amazing subtlety of logic; but they started their investigations with the erroneous assumption that the supreme good must be a human product. The question is not how to get good, but the most good—the highest, the best. We get the most good by bringing the soul into complete submission to the highest law of its being—voluntary and full surrender to the will of God. Call it getting saved, getting converted; call it what you like, so long as you get the thing itself—the love of God in the soul through faith in the Lord Jesus.

2. How can I do the most good?—These two questions are closely linked together, and are mutually interpretative of each other—the one being the qualification and motive for the other. It may be asserted we get the most good by doing the most good. The rose cannot diffuse the fragrance it does not possess, however much like a rose it may look. The question here, again, is not how I can do good, but the most, the highest, and best. We do the most good by beginning with the duty that lies nearest to us, and doing it at once. The earnest worker never lacks opportunity: there is the home, the Church, the perishing multitude, ever within easy reach. "He that winneth souls is wise." The highest plaudit of heaven is, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

II. The best work is not done without encountering difficulties.—"Be not weary." The exhortation implies there are difficulties. These arise:—

1. From vague and imperfect views of duty.—We have no sympathy with the rhapsody of the mystic who said, "Man is never so holy and exalted as when he does not know where he is going." We must know clearly what we would be at, what is within the compass of our power and opportunity, where our efforts must necessarily end, and room left for the play of other influences. We must be practical and methodical. Clearness is power. Confusion of ideas creates difficulties.

2. From unrealised ideals.—We have formed lofty conceptions of what is to be done, and what we must do. We have elaborated extensive organisations, and worked them with unflagging zeal. But the result has been disappointing. Because we have not accomplished all we wished, we are discouraged; our success has not been commensurate with our ambition, and we are tempted to slacken our endeavours. "Be not weary." We are not the best judges of what constitutes success. If it does not come in the form we expected, we must not hastily conclude our work is vain.

3. From the loss of spiritual power.—We have neglected prayer and the cultivation of personal piety. We have been so absorbed in the external details of our work as to overlook the duty of keeping up spiritual communion with the highest. We begin to frame excuses—a sure sign of moral decadence. "We have no talents." Then we should seek them. We have more talents that we suspect, and resolute working will develop them. "Our adversaries are numerous and fierce." If we keep at our work, they will not trouble us long.

III. The best work demands incessant diligence.—"But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing." The best state of preparedness for the coming of the Lord is to be busily employed in the duty of the hour. Every moment has its duty. Opportunity has hair in front; behind she is bald. If you seize her by the forelock, you may hold her; but if suffered to escape, not Jupiter himself can catch her again. Arnauld, the Port Royalist, when hunted from place to place, wished his friend Nicolle to assist him in a new work, when the latter observed, "We are old; is it not time to rest?" "Rest!" returned Arnauld. "Have we not all eternity to rest in?" A man's work does not ennoble him, but he ennobles it.

Lessons.—The text is a spiritual motto to be adopted—

1. By ministers and Sabbath-school teachers.

2. By parents seeking the spiritual good of their children.

3. By all discouraged Christian workers.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSE

Weary in Well-doing.

I. The text by implication brings before us a state of mind to which believers are liable.—"Weary in well-doing."

1. From a lamentable want of fitness for spiritual duties and employments.

2. From the opposition of the world.

3. From the hostile agency of spiritual wickedness.

4. From the dimness of our conceptions of the things which should especially influence us.

5. From failing to lay hold on the divine strength.

II. The text an exhortation suited to those in the state referred to.—"Be not weary."

1. Because you are engaged in well-doing.

2. Because the time is short.

3. Because your associates are glorious.

4. Because the issue is certain.

5. Because sufficient strength is provided.—Stewart.


Verse 14-15

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . Have no company with him.—The difference between this treatment of a delinquent and excommunication may be more in idea than fact. He would feel himself tabooed in either case. But this agrees better with the notion of Christians as being separated. "Come out from among them." Cf. Tit 2:10. That he may be ashamed.—Not, of course, that he may become a laughing-stock, but that, feeling abashed, he may quickly put himself right with the community.

2Th . Yet count him not as an enemy.—When Christ says the impenitent brother is to be regarded as a Gentile, He gives no sanction to the way in which the Jew too often regarded the Gentile. Admonish him as a brother.—Who, though in error, has not sacrificed his claim to gentle treatment and consideration.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

Treatment of the Refractory.

After all the warnings of the apostle against erroneous views and his exhortations to Christian diligence, he foresees there may be some refractory members of the Church who still persist in their extravagances, reject all counsel, and defy all rule and order. In these verses he gives explicit directions how to deal with such. The inveterately lazy are often something worse than lazy, and are not easily reclaimed. When disobedience settles into a habit, stringent measures are necessary to arouse the victim to a sense of duty; and the efforts of restoration must be both resolute and kind.

I. It should be made evident that his conduct is an obstinate defiance of authority.—"And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man" (2Th ). Not only note that his disorderly behaviour is a scandal to Christianity and an example to be avoided, but let it be brought home to him, by direct and faithful dealing, that it is a grave breach of the highest law. We can make nothing of a fool till he is first convinced of his folly. The first step in the process of reformation is conviction of the need of reformation. It is said of Thoreau, the author, that "he was by nature of the opposition; there was a constitutional ‘No' in him that could not be tortured into ‘Yes.'" There are many like him, even in the Christian Church. It may seem a difficult, almost an impossible task, to convince the refractory of his error; but it is the first thing to be done, and persevered in. When the hearers of Austin resented his reproofs, he used to say, "Change your conduct, and I will change my conversation."

II. With the view of bringing him to repentance he is to be excluded from Christian fellowship.—"And have no company with him, that he may be ashamed" (2Th ). The refractory practically excludes himself from every circle that loves order, harmony, and peace; for who can bear the rasping chatter of an irresponsible gossip who is constantly raking up and turning over everybody's faults but his own? But the Church must take action unitedly in dealing with the contumacious. He must be deliberately and pointedly shunned, and, when compelled to be in his company, the members must show, by the reserve of their bearing towards him, how deeply he is grieving the hearts of the brethren and sinning against God. In the days when there was only one Church, and exclusion from it was regarded as the greatest calamity and disgrace, the fear of utter excommunication could not fail to have some effect upon those thus threatened with it. Few people can bear the test of being left severely alone. It gives them the opportunity for reflection, remorse, and reform.

III. Efforts should be made in the spirit of Christian brotherhood to effect his recovery.—"Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2Th ). Though shunned and threatened with exclusion from Church fellowship, he is not to be passed by with contemptuous silence. He is not a heretic or a blasphemer, nor is he guilty of any monstrous crime. He is sinning against the good order of society and the peace of the Church. He is still a brother, troublesome and unreasonable though he be; and while there is the least hope of his restoration, he should be faithfully admonished. He is not to be accused and slandered to outsiders; this will only aggravate his riotousness and make him more defiant. He must be seen privately and spoken to faithfully, but with the utmost tenderness. The Christian spirit teaches us to be discreet in all things, and especially in administering reproof. Virtue ceases to be virtuous when it lacks discretion, the queen of ethics. "To be plain," writes Felltham, "argues honesty; but to be pleasing argues discretion. Sores are not to be anguished with rustic pressure, but gently stroked with a ladied hand. Physicians fire not their eyes at patients, but minister to their diseases. Let reproof be so as the offender may see affection, without arrogancy."

Lessons.—

1. It is an important part of Church discipline to control the unruly.

2. It is in the power of one discontented person to work much mischief.

3. Church discipline must be administered with fidelity and Christian tenderness.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . The Disobedient—

I. Should be specially noted.

II. Should not be admitted to intimate friendship without repentance.

III. Should be kindly but faithfully admonished.

2Th . Obedience should be prompt.—When a large passenger steamer was sinking, the question whether scores of her passengers and crew would be saved or drowned was settled within fifteen minutes. And millions have decided the momentous question of their eternal salvation or perdition in even less time than that. It seems to have been short work with Simon Peter when Jesus bade him quit the nets and follow Him. Peter obeyed at once. Prompt obedience honours God. It puts the soul immediately within the Almighty's hold; and when Jesus has His omnipotent grasp of love upon me, none shall be able to pluck me out of His hands. Prompt obedience saves.—Cuyler.


Verses 16-18

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

2Th . Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always.—The Church at Thessalonica had been passing through stormy waters. The apostle prays that God may give them to

"Feel His halcyon rest within

Calming the storms of dread and sin."

2Th . The salutation … the token.—As though he said, "This that I am about to write is my sign-manual."

2Th . The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.—Whatever St. Paul's handwriting may have been, it could not well be more characteristic than this word "grace," as certainly he could not have chosen a more beautiful word to engrave on his seal.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—2Th

Apostolic Courtesy.

The epistle is coming to a close, and the Christian courtesy of the apostle comes out in the spirit in which he expresses his farewell. If he has spoken out plainly and even severely, it has not been in vindictiveness and anger. All that he has said and written is in the interests of peace. His sharpest reproofs and most faithful admonitions have been suffused with an undercurrent of loving-kindness; and his concluding words drop with the gentleness of refreshing dew.

I. Apostolic courtesy supplicates the blessing of the divine peace and presence.—"Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all" (2Th ). Prayer was the life-breath of the apostle, as we have frequently pointed out in the study of these epistles. Considering the dissensions that disturbed the harmony of the Thessalonian Church, this epistle appropriately closes with a prayer for peace. First, and most important of all, peace with God and the individual conscience; then mutual peace and concord one with another—peace, such as keeps the mind in an even and heavenly frame, as a sentinel that guards a door, lest foes should get in and make havoc where God hath commanded peace. Where God's presence is manifested, there is peace; hence the apostle adds, "The Lord be with you all." Peace is a divine gift, and a divine experience in man; it is the peace of "the Lord of peace" that we share.

II. Apostolic courtesy is expressed in an emphatic Christian salutation.—"The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write" (2Th ). This epistle was written by an amanuensis, probably Silas or Timothy, at the dictation of Paul; and the apostle wrote his own signature, adding the salutation and benediction. This act not only stamped the genuineness of the epistle, but indicated in a most unmistakable manner the anxiety of the apostle to thoroughly identify himself with all that was expressed in the epistle, and to assure the Thessalonians of his personal interest in and love towards them. Christianity is the soul of courtesy. Bolingbroke once said, "Supposing Christianity to be a mere human invention, it is the most amiable and successful invention that ever was imposed on mankind." When the courtiers of Henry IV. of France expressed their surprise that he returned the salutation of a poor man, who bowed down before him at the entrance of a village, the king replied, "Would you have your king exceeded in politeness by one of the lowest of his subjects?" As he is the best Christian who is most humble, so is he the truest gentleman that is most courteous.

III. Apostolic courtesy is indicated in the solemn invocation of the abiding grace of God.—"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen" (2Th ). A farewell full of pathos, full of solemnity, full of peace, full of admiration and love for the people—all good wishes condensed into a single phrase. Even an apostle can desire for the Church, or any of its members, no richer benediction than that comprehended in "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Lessons.—

1. Peace is a prime essential in Church prosperity.

2. The Christian spirit is the essence of true courtesy.

3. We can invoke no higher blessing on others than to be kept in the enjoyment of divine grace.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Th . The Omnipresent God—

I. In history.—Shaping the course and destiny of nations.

II. In providence.—

1. Guarding.

2. Guiding His people.

III. In grace.—

1. Manifesting His goodness in Christ.

2. Giving inclination and power to do His will.

3. Demanding and bestowing personal holiness.

4. Ensuring constant peace.

Peace in Danger.—During the great earthquake in London, when thousands were running about and crying in terror, when buildings were falling and the ground rocking like the ocean in a storm, Wesley gathered a few of his followers in one of their little chapels, and calmly read to them the forty-sixth psalm, "God is our refuge and strength."

2Th . Christian Courtesy—

I. Takes pains to make itself evident.—"So I write."

II. Is a hearty expression of personal regard.—"The salutation of Paul with mine own hand."

III. Invokes the blessing of divine grace on all (2Th ).

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 3:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/2-thessalonians-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Monday, November 30th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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