A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 3:4-15. 3). The word must be obeyed in the church.
The apostle moves from the need to spread the word in the world to the need to obey the word in the church, from evangelism to obedience, and so from an affirmation of the Lord’s faithfulness to his word to an affirmation of his authority in and through it. There is something fundamentally anomalous about Christians who share the word with others while disregarding it in their own lives.
The particular issue in relation to which Paul demanded obedience concerned the *ataktoi*, the idle. These ‘loafers’ were the third group disturbing the Thessalonian church, after the persecutors (2 Thess. 1) and the false teachers (2 Thess 2). We met them in Paul’s first letter (1 Thess.5:14, where the adjective *ataktos* occurs). In this chapter he uses the adverb *ataktos* twice (verses 6 and 11) and the verb *atakteo* once (7, ‘to live in idleness’). As we saw earlier, they were playing truant from work. Although some commentators have held that they were temperamentally lazy and sponging on the generous members of the church, and others that they had imbibed the Greek disdain for manual labour, a majority consider that it was their belief in the imminence of the Parousia which had led them to give up their job. Paul had told them in his first letter to return to work, but evidently his directions had not been heeded.
What is striking now is not so much the instructions which Paul issues about them as the authority with which he does so. Nothing is more impressive in this chapter than the repetition of the verbs ‘command’ and ‘obey’. ‘There is a military ring’ about these verses, Leon Morris writes. For the words *parangello* and *parangelia* were the usual terms for ‘the commands given by the officer to his men’. Five times Paul uses this language: ‘We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we *command*’ (4). ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we *command* you, brothers…’ (6). ‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this *command*…’ (10, RSV). ‘Such people we *command* and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ…’ (12). ‘If anyone does not *obey* our instruction in this letter, take special note of him’ (14).
It should be noted that there are five stages in Paul’s handling of the problem posed by the *ataktoi*, and that in these he gradually narrows his focus from the church itself, through the loyal majority and the disloyal minority, to any individuals who (even after admonition) may persist in their disobedience:
1). He expresses his confidence in the church as a whole (4-5).
2). He tells the faithful majority to keep aloof from the idlers (6-9).
3). He reminds them of the principle he laid down during his visit (10).
4). He directly addresses the unfaithful minority, the idlers themselves (11-13).
5). He gives instructions about those individuals who may stubbornly reject his teaching (14-15).
At each stage, whoever is being addressed, he uses the same language of command and obedience.
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 3:4-15. 3). The word must be obeyed in the church (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.