2 Thessalonians 3:6-13


Morris: In the First Epistle Paul had mentioned some who would not work, but were disorderly, 4:11ff, 5:14, but it is evident that his brief exhortations had not produced the desired effect. He felt strongly on the matter as we see from the fact that in this Epistle he devotes so much space to this problem. Next to the section on the coming of the Lord this is the longest section in the Epistle. Paul is most anxious that these friends should come to their senses. It is noteworthy that he continues to treat them as friends.

Although "the idlers" posed a peculiar and particular problem at Thessalonica, this section says much to modern man.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.

In verses 6-10 the Apostle addresses the entire congregation. In verse 11 he introduces "the idlers." In verse 12 he addresses the idlers. And, in verse 13 he again addresses the whole congregation. Note that he begins and ends the section by calling the "brothers." Furthermore, he speaks of the erring as "every brother."

Paul is acting by the authority of Jesus and also in the manner in which Jesus Himself would treat the matter. "To keep away" means "to withdraw." In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul had told the people to admonish the disorderly and idle ones. He had also told them to live quietly, to mind their own business and work with their hands, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. But the minority of idlers had not listened. The problem had evidently gotten worse. And so Paul orders the members of the congregation to withdraw from "every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition, the teaching, which they had received from us."

Morris: It shows us that the same people are in mind as in the former passage, and, as we saw there, that their offence was idleness. In view of the nearness of the Parousia, as they thought, they were refraining from doing any work.

Is Paul speaking of church discipline? Kretzmann thinks so.

Kretzmann: Church discipline, as prescribed in Matthew 18, must be applied in all cases of deliberate disorderly conduct, or willful disregard of the plainly expressed will of God, especially in cases of flagrant sins and vices, 1 Corinthians 5:3-5.

But Lenski does not think so.

Lenski: They also were not grave, for the writers still retain the world 'brother' and point only to withdrawal, not to expulsion and excommunication as in 1 Corinthians 5:3-5. . . . This man will be refused participation in the agape of the congregation, thus also in the Lord's Supper.

These two thoughts, side by side, are confusing. The commentators bring out the thought that in verses 14-15, which follow our text, withdrawal is defined. The purpose of the withdrawal was to make the idler aware of his sin and to forsake it.

"Teaching" or "tradition" refers to the authoritative teaching of the apostle.

2 Thessalonians 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you,

The verse begins with an emphatic "you yourselves." They already know without being given further information. Paul now gives his first reason why he tells the readers to withhold themselves from the idle brothers. It is a moral necessity, a moral obligation.

The "our" indicates that all three, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, had made a point of working while they were in Thessalonica. They had done it for a definite purpose, to be models to the congregation. "We were not idle when we were with you." At that time already the Thessalonians were fully aware of why Paul, Silvanus and Timothy were working. They were making themselves models for the whole congregation.

Morris: This is a classical understatement in view of what we know of Paul's life among the Thessalonians. As the succeeding verse make plain he had toiled hard among them, both at his trade and in preaching. His life had been highly disciplined.
Kretzmann: He had, therefore probably, in Thessalonica as he had done in other cities, practiced his trade at tent-maker, working at such times as he could not reach the people with preaching.

2 Thessalonians 3:8 nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.

This surely does not mean that the three never accepted an invitation of hospitality but it does stress Paul's rule that he paid for his food.

On the contrary, Paul and the others, as models, worked "with toil and hardship" to supply their own needs, so as not to burden any of the people.

Kretzmann: It was a hard life, as he himself says, one full of hard toil and misery, a life which kept him busy practically night and day.
Lenski: This example is the more effective, because the writers had the calling and the work to preach the Gospel, which alone was enough to require the full strength of any man . . . But these disorderly members in Thessalonica just stopped work altogether . . . here is the place to recall 2:2, the plea that the Lord's day is already here . . . On this basis the disorderly Thessalonians justified their stopping of work . . . The writers had taught and acted to the very contrary.
Morris: 'To eat bread' is evidently a Semitism. It means 'get a living.'

2 Thessalonians 3:9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.

We add, as does the RSV: "It was not because we have not that right." The KJV is wrong in translating "right" with "power." Though 1 Corinthians 9:13-14 was written later, it clearly states what Paul is here talking about.

"But we worked, waiving our rights, in order that we might give ourselves as an example to you with a view to your imitating us."

Morris: Just as it is characteristic of Paul to assert that he had full rights, so is it for him to waive those rights whenever he judged that to do so would forward the cause of Christ.

Kretzmann: He did all this because he felt that their circumstances required just such an example and pattern as he was setting them. He could and did frankly and unhesitatingly ask the Thessalonians to imitate him in this respect.
Morris: They gave not only a message, but themselves. They did not only what was required, but more. They went the second mile.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

There are five verbs forms in this verse and all of them, in one way or another, denote continued action.

Paul is quoting himself. No one is excluded. The Greeks felt that work was for slaves, a menial task. The Church of Rome taught that certain so-called holy people could live a better Christian life by not working. The wealthy of all ages of history think that they are above work. But they are not. Jesus was not. Paul was not. No one is.

Bengel explains "will not work" with the Latin words: Nolle vitium est. That means "to refuse is a vice." Paul is not just speaking about not working. The old and infirm cannot work. Small infants cannot work. Paul is speaking about the utter refusal of people of a working age to work.

Deissmann: Paul was probably borrowing a bit of good old workshop morality, a maxim coined perhaps by some industrious workman as he forbade his lazy apprentice to sit down to dinner.

It is not very likely that Paul had this in mind as his source. Very likely, Paul, under God, coined this moral principle.

Morris: The Christian man and woman cannot be drones. It is obligatory on them to be workers.
Kretzmann: He commands every person to eat their bread in the sweat of their face. Genesis 3:19

2 Thessalonians 3:11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.

This is an explanation. We know not the source of Paul's information, but he probably heard it over and over again. Evidently the offenders were in the minority, "some among you." But note that it is "among you" not "of you." They were not "of" the true Christians.

The offenders were living an undisciplined life, a lazy life, idling their time away. They were "busybodies instead of busy."

Rienecker: These people were not simply idle, they were meddling in their affairs of others.
Lenski: They gave up their employment, spent their time in idleness, and occupied their idle time by running around and agitating and bothering other people. 'Being busybodies,' agitating the claim that the Lord's day is already here.
Morris: The impression that Greek leaves is that he (Paul) knows quite well their identity. He just prefers not to give their names.

2 Thessalonians 3:12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.

This is the only verse which is addressed directly to the busybodies. The previous verses, of course, include the offenders, but are not addressed particularly to them. Paul was very tactful and pastoral. He says clearly what he means but he says it briefly. Paul speaks euphemistically. He does not say: "to the offenders" or "to the busybodies" but "to such." They know who he means. Paul is firm but gentle.

"We order and encourage," "We command and warn," "We command and exhort" are some of the translations. In any case, Paul is pleading with them. This is similar to verse 6 where we said that Paul is acting by the authority of Jesus and also in the manner in which Jesus Himself would treat the matter.

Lenski: These members are to work -- they are to stop running around, agitating, and spreading their false ideas.
Morris: The root trouble apparently was their excitability. The thought of the nearness of the Parousia had thrown them into a flutter.

2 Thessalonians 3:13 And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.

The commentators quote 1 Thessalonians 4:11 at this point. Paul begins this verse with an emphatic "But you." He is distinguishing the stable Christians from the unstable. He implies that they had not yet grown weary.

Rienecker: The word 'right' carries with it the thought not only of what is right in itself, but of what is perceived to be right and consequently exercises an attractive power.
Lenski: Undisturbed they are to go on in their excellent way, undiscouraged by what others may do.
Morris: It is broad enough to cover the whole of life, but probably there is meant particularly the obligation to do everything possible to bring back the erring brethren.
Frame: The words may imply that in warning the idlers, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the brethren had become impatient and tactless.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 127-130. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index