By Peter Amsterdam
June 20, 2023
Earlier in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, Paul made the point that he and his partners had the right to receive financial aid from the Thessalonian church, but chose not to accept such aid in order to be an example for the believers to imitate. Paul had reminded the Thessalonians that they should follow his and his partners’ example. He continued his instruction.
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.1
The necessity of working was part of the ethical tradition of the church. In other epistles, Paul states:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.2
Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.3
Later church writings said that if a traveler visits, the church may help him for a few days, but if he stays longer, he is to work for his bread.
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.4
Paul explains the problem which caused him to prescribe disciplinary action against those who were disorderly (v 6). Some members of the church were idle, even after Paul had sent his first letter to them. It’s likely that he got this information from someone who had come from Thessalonica. Paul responds to the situation by pointing out that some, not all, of the church members were idle. They were not living in accordance with Paul’s teaching regarding labor, and they did not work for their bread.
Paul refers to these people as busybodies. Other translations refer to them as those who walk irresponsibly, not working at all, but interfering with the work of others (CSB); leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies (NAS); they are not busy; they are busybodies (NIV); refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business (NLT). Clearly, Paul felt strongly that individuals should earn their own living. It has been suggested that Paul was referring to members of the church who were not working and earning their keep, but were rather depending on wealthier Christians to support them, while meddling in other people’s business. (See earlier article: 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4, Part 2.)
Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.5
Here Paul writes something almost identical to what he wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians: aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.6 He instructs the believers to earn the bread they eat. They should work with their hands and earn their own living.
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.7
At this point, Paul stops addressing the disorderly and speaks to the other believers about what they should do regarding the disobedient believers in their midst who had not obeyed Paul’s earlier instructions.
He begins in a positive vein. They should not become weary in well doing; they should not give up their efforts. Paul stressed this point elsewhere in his writings.
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.8
We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.9
Though Paul has said that anyone who was not willing to work should not expect to be fed by the labors of others (v 10), this didn’t mean that they should stop helping those who were in genuine need.
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.10
The disorderly had rejected Paul’s teaching when he was in Thessalonica and had also not responded well when he wrote them his first letter.11 Therefore, Paul took more drastic measures to cause them to conform, by giving further authoritative commands. The believers were not to associate with any members who were not obeying what he had written in his letter.
The believers were to take special note of any individual who didn’t obey. Then the next step the church was to take was to not associate with that person. The purpose of this disassociation was not to excommunicate the unruly from the church, but rather to help them repent and change. The separation meant that the members of the church shouldn’t meet with such a person, nor allow them to participate in the assembly, nor engage with them socially.
Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.12
While Paul had instructed the Thessalonian believers to have nothing to do with the disorderly person, he nevertheless also instructed them to refrain from seeing him as an enemy. They were not to express hostility toward them, nor should they attack them for their lack of conforming to the norms of the church. Though the person was to be excluded from the community, there was still some contact available which allowed members of the church further possibility to “admonish” him with the hopes that he would correct his conduct.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.13
This begins the closing of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. Unlike the prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, which is addressed to the God of peace, here the prayer is offered to Jesus, who is the Lord of peace. While the prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 asked God for the sanctification of the church, the appeal here is that Jesus will give you peace at all times in every way.
The peace Paul prays for is not an internal state of tranquility, but rather refers to a political or social reality. Peace could be the state of a nation that is not involved in war,14 but here it refers to the absence of discord and conflicts between citizens. It was a term used to describe public order or social harmony. The prayer ends with a blessing, The Lord be with you all, which reflects the belief of the early church that the Lord was always with them. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”15 “I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you.”16
I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.17
While Silvanus and Timothy in some way contributed to this letter, Paul was the principal author and therefore he added the final greeting. It’s likely that Silvanus, Timothy, or someone else acted as the secretary/amanuensis, who wrote what Paul dictated to them. Dictating a letter to a secretary was common in Paul’s time. In Romans 16 we find a comment from Tertius, the secretary who wrote down what Paul had dictated. I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.18 In similar fashion we see that Silvanus, who worked with the apostle Peter, wrote what Peter dictated. By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you.19
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.20
The second letter to the Thessalonians ends very similarly to 1 Thessalonians. The main difference is that this ending is directed to you all. This may be because Paul is including the disorderly, who are still considered brothers in the church. Because of the grace of Jesus Christ, the church can continue in the faith they have received from the apostles and can stand firm in the face of opposition. In the midst of their suffering and their struggle against false teaching, they couldn’t have gotten by without the grace of Jesus. This holds true for all Christians; we are always dependent on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This brings us to the end of 2 Thessalonians and therefore to the end of this series on the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. I hope that this series has in some way helped in your understanding of Paul’s letter to the believers in Thessalonica during his time. I pray that it also has been helpful in seeing how to apply Paul’s teaching in our lives today.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
2 Ephesians 4:28.
3 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.
4 2 Thessalonian 3:11.
5 2 Thessalonian 3:12.
6 1 Thessalonians 4:11.
7 2 Thessalonians 3:13.
8 Galatians 6:9.
92 Corinthians 4:16.
10 2 Thessalonians 3:14.
11 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.
12 2 Thessalonians 3:15.
13 2 Thessalonians 3:16.
14 Acts 24:2; Revelation 6:4.
15 Matthew 28:20.
16 Acts 18:10.
17 2 Thessalonians 3:17.
18 Romans 16:22.
19 1 Peter 5:12.
20 2 Thessalonians 3:18.