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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published: February 26, 2021
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Welcome to HBS.
Please open your Bible at 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18.
FYI: I anticipate finishing our study of Paul’s Thessalonian letters this week.
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of 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. Amen.”
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”
In these verses you’ll find the only instance (in either of the Thessalonian letters) of any cause for reproof from our Apostle Paul directed to these Believers. But the “disorderly” conduct referred to here is not the same as the disorderly conduct you’ll find on a police officers’ report today. The Greek word “disorderly” means a lack of order, so Paul’s saying some of these Believers ignored or disregarded the “tradition” (teaching) he had handed down to them and we’re acting “irresponsibly.”
On the flip-side of this issue, we find Paul commending the Grace Church at Colosse for their order and the stedfastness of their faith: “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ” (Colossians 2:5).
But he rebuked the carnal Corinthians when he wrote, “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Disorder, then, is the opposite of “order” is it not. I certainly hope y’all said “Yes.” So, the disorderly behavior at Thessalonica had resulted (in some cases) from a few among them who in anticipation of Lord’s return, gave up their jobs and went visiting from house to house. Undoubtedly, they soon found themselves discussing the Lord’s return or their “blessed hope.” It’s a reasonable assumption, therefore, that many or most of these folks whom they visited invited them to stay and eat a meal with them. The people who invited them into their homes were not behaving disorderly. Paul’s referring to the “unruly” Believers that quit working for a living and were sponging meals, and what not, from those who remained gainfully employed. This activity caused friction in the assembly, resulting in unrest and ill will amongst the brethren and this is why Paul issued his command “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” (3:6).
“For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.”
In this section of Scripture Paul contrasted their “disorderly walk” with the “tradition” they had taught and applied to themselves, so that their “orderly” conduct might be “an ensample” to all, “…for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.”
As the Lord’s “called” Apostle, Paul had the “power,” or the right, to expect to be paid for his labor among the Believers. Yet we find him “laboring with his own hands” as a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-4, 20:34), so that he might not be “chargeable” to anyone, so that no one could accuse Paul and his co-workers of making a good living off of them and have the “charge” stick (verse 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9).
Religious-minded teachers down through the centuries have known something in common, namely, that religion can be profitable, for them, at least. They have proved that you can make a good living in the religion business. It’s a sad fact that many evangelists and preachers live rather well today at their congregation’s expense, but express little sensitivity or gratitude over such expense. Paul avoided this touchy issue with great care and perseverance, opting to take no one’s bread “for nought,” not because his position as an apostle did not give him this right, but to make himself, “an ensample (example) to them” that they should follow. This unselfish act not only reveals consideration on Paul’s part, but also his generous heart; in other words, he would rather give then receive. Thus, we have the biblical account in Philippians 4:13-18 written while Paul was experiencing stress as a prisoner in chains or “in bonds.” The brethren in Philippi sent gifts to both sustain and encourage him. Paul referred to those gifts, as “an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”
Paul wasn’t able to remain in Thessalonica for very long, if you recall. Upon his arrival, he entered the Jewish synagogue and for three Sabbaths preached out of the O.T. to show the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They had to accept this truth before they’d be willing to listen to what he had to say about salvation by faith (alone) in the finished work of the cross, or the “tradition” Paul had received from the ascended and risen Lord by revelation (Galatians 1:11-12; Ephesians 2:8-9). While some folks believed, most of the Jews rejected both Paul and his gospel. They hired some of the town thugs, formed an angry mob, and provoked a riot in the city. They sought to capture Paul, but only succeeded in dragging a new convert named Jason before the officials. They accused him of troubling the city, but these officials did nothing more than make Jason post bond. Thus, the Jews in Thessalonica, essentially, imitated the behavior of Saul of Tarsus before he became known as Paul, God’s called Apostle to the gentiles (Acts 17:1–15).
So then, soon after he departed the city he became aware of an emerging problem within this assembly. Some of the saints had decided to quit working in anticipation of the Lord’s coming in the clouds above for them. Since these disorderly brethren were not working for a living one thing is certain they had a lot of extra time on their hands. It’s also true idle hands are the devil’s workshop (Proverbs 16:17-19). Paul has already revealed what they did with their time? He said they went about the city visiting other Believers in their homes, as “busybodies” (3:11). But it was an error in judgement on their part to use the “blessed hope” of the Rapture as justification for their “disorderly conduct,” for it could also be said that the Lord might, in grace, decide to tarry for an indefinite period of time (2 Thessalonians 2:1-8). Thus, Paul reminds them: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (3:10).
In verse 3:10 Paul’s saying these wrongdoers should be disciplined. How so? He said don’t invite such a person into your home, instead, “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received from us” (3:6). While it is charitable to invite those that “walketh disorderly” into your home, when you do so you’re actually encouraging their freeloading behavior. So, instead of doing that, Paul urged these saints to reserve their generosity for those who are truly in need and for the brethren in your assembly who “walk orderly” or according to the “tradition” they had taught them.
Regarding those who “walketh disorderly,” Paul goes on to say, “Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread” (3:12).
Paul asserts the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ when he commanded and encouraged
the disorderly and idle Believers to return to work “with quietness…
and eat their own bread.” Think this
through, Paul’s implying that this proper conduct would stave off the complaints
and criticism of the unbelievers in their community who would most likely, at
the first opportunity, wag the finger of shame at this Church saying, “What hypocrites! They do not practice what they preach.” We note that Paul had previously given this
command (1 Thessalonians 4:11), but apparently some of the Believers had
disregarded it or they did not take Paul seriously. Therefore, he issued the command again, but
this time he hammered the point home by citing the authority of the Lord Jesus
Christ for doing so.
Thus we learn every Believer should go about their work at a job or career in a diligent, industrious manner. Why? Realistically speaking, it’s possible your above reproach conduct might win an unbelieving boss or co-worker to the Lord. And then there’s Paul’s command to the saints at Colosse to consider: “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22–24). Paul obviously knew something that these disorderly walking Believers did not know, namely, a good work ethic not only meshes with their need to be spiritually active in their community (Hebrews 5:11-6:1), it provides them with a good reputation and a strong testimony to the world outside of Christ who are most certainly watching them (1 Peter 2:12).
So, this discipline, which was not only justified but necessary where indolents and “busybodies” were concerned, should not produce a hard, uncaring attitude among Believers. Paul suggests this danger when he wrote: “But ye, brethren, be not weary in doing good” (3:13). Here Paul acknowledged the fact that most of the Thessalonian Believers were doing the right thing, but they needed to maintain that effort, in spite of the fact that some of the brethren were falling well short of the goal. Paul exhorted them not to become burnt out or frustrated from “doing good,” which often results in becoming tired of “doing good.” I say this because it’s quite likely the Believers that continued working at their jobs in Thessalonica might have been tempted to walk away from those jobs and follow after those that were “walking disorderly.” For as long as we live in a cursed and fallen world (Genesis 3:1-19), we’ll be tempted to ask why we should do a lot of things, such as work for a living, while others sit back and take life easy. It’s worth mentioning, again, that like water and electricity it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance or “go with the flow.” But Paul said that should not be the case for those who have trusted in the Lord for their salvation for we now walk not by sight but by faith.
Paul had the same message for the bewitched and bothered assembly at Galatia. In Galatians 6:9-10 he wrote: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”
Paul’s implying that it is important in our service for the Lord that we do the right thing, regardless of what others around us are doing. We need to recognize that we are individually accountable to the Lord, knowing that the day is coming when we’ll stand before Him and receive a reward or suffer loss for those things we did or did not do. As Paul wrote to the church at Rome: “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 3:9-15). This temptation Paul spoke of is not reserved only for those who are new, or weak, in the faith, as were some of the Thessalonians. For it appears that Demas, one of Paul’s saved co-workers, spurned the missionary life and its hardships in favor of that aforementioned path of least resistance or the easy road for Paul wrote: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica;” (2 Timothy 4:10a)
“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”
Here Paul instructed the Thessalonian Believers about how they should treat a stubborn, disorderly walking, and idle member of their assembly. He referred to that person as someone who does “not obey” what he had written in his “epistles.” That being the case and because the content of those “epistles” was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16), Paul’s inferring they carried the full authority of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Paul, as the Lord’s apostle, commands the faithful Believers to clearly identify a disobedient walking individual, and withhold social contact from him or her until they heeded and obeyed his command to return to work. This clearly implies a less severe form of reproof than what Paul prescribed for profound sin in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5: “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, hat one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
Thus, disorderliness is irresponsibility, hence the importance of orderly thinking and conduct in the Believer’s life. It’s evident that Paul was very pleased with the order among the Colossian Believers and deeply concerned over the lack of order among the Corinthians. Bearing this in mind, it was then consistent of Paul to instruct the saints in Thessalonica to reject the company of those who persisted in their disorderly walk, so that they might be “ashamed.” That truth takes us to the next verse.
“Yet (here Paul again cautions the Believers against a cold, hard-hearted heart) count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (3:15).
Here Paul cautions these Believers against adopting a calloused attitude toward the “unruly” brethren in their assembly for they are called to fellowship with each other (Hebrews 10:25), and not ostracism. Disconnection from other Believers is not meant to be taken lightly. As in all such instructions in the N.T., the purpose of social separation is to spur the offender to recognize their disorderly conduct and to make the necessary change(s) in their life. This begins with a sense of shame. The disciplinary action was intended to be corrective seeking to heal rather than punitive which seeks to inflict pain. Parallel to this idea, Paul outlined the course of action they should take when a brother is caught in a transgression. The pattern is to "restore him in a spirit of gentleness," while keeping watch on themselves so they too would not be tempted (Galatians 6:1). This need for compassion is also reflected in the next section.
Paul’s Closing Salutation
“Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all. The salutation of 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. Amen.”
There’s a phrase in verse 3:18 that stands out and I wonder if y’all caught it. But I’m more than happy to point it out to you; it’s “…the Lord of peace himself.” At least six time in Paul’s epistles we find the phrase, “the God of peace,” but here it’s “the Lord of peace,” the One who is over all. He is on the proverbial throne; and He controls the tempest, and He can give you peace “always by all means” in spite of persecutions and sufferings. In both of these letters to the Thessalonians the word “himself” is used four times in this connection, and it always gives the impression of God’s, or Christ Jesus,’ personal concern for all the saints:
“Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you” 1 Thessalonians 3:11). “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). “Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17). And here: “Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means” (3:16).
This knowledge enriches the phrase that follows: “The Lord be with you all” and serves to make His presence with them (and us) all the more tangible.
“The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.”
In every one of Paul’s epistles, he added a personal touch by signing his name, always at the opening and three times at the close (See 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians). He learned to do this early on in his writing career, for it was at Thessalonica that someone had forged his name to a letter making it appear that he had written it.
And now we come to the closing words of this epistle so filled with God’s grace and His comfort, especially the solemn, precious comfort of our Lord’s coming for His own to snatch them away from this wicked world before He returns, “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:” (2 Thessalonians 1:8; Romans 2:15, 16:25-27; Ephesians 5:16).
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (3:18).
(To be Continued)
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