A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 3:4-15. 3). The word must be obeyed in the church (continued).
At each stage, whoever is being addressed, he uses the same language of command and obedience.
First, Paul expresses his general *confidence in the Lord* about the Thessalonians, that they *are doing and will continue to do the things we command* (4). Even if Paul is tacitly associating Silas and Timothy with him, the ‘we’ is surely a plural of authority and indicates that the church lives under the teaching authority of the apostles. Paul’s confidence in the Lord leads him to pray to the same Lord Jesus that he would *direct their hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance* (5). It does not seem natural to interpret these two genitives as either objective (our love for God and ‘patient waiting for Christ’, AV, cf.1 Thess.1:3, 10) or subjective (God’s love for us and Christ’s patience with us). This led Lightfoot to combine them. ‘The apostles themselves’ he wrote, ‘availed themselves, either consciously or unconsciously, of the vagueness or rather comprehensiveness of language, to express a great spiritual truth’, namely that God’s love for us arouses our love for him. Indeed, these two senses are so ‘combined and interwoven’ that it is seldom possible to separate them. It is better still, it seems to me, to understand these genitives as qualitative. Then Paul’s prayer is that the Lord will lead the Thessalonians into a love like God’s love and a patience or constancy like Christ’s. The context suggests that they will then express their love and patience in their obedience.
Secondly, Paul commands the loyal majority *In the name (i.e. with the authority) of the Lord Jesus Christ…to keep away(‘hold aloof’, REB) from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching (paradosis, ‘tradition’) you received from us* (6). This apostolic teaching he had given them when he was with them, both by word of mouth and by his personal example. They should, therefore, obey his instruction and *follow his example* (7a). As for the model he gave them, he mentions two negatives. On the one hand, he and his fellow missionaries *were not idle* (7b), and on the other they did not *eat anyone’s food without paying for it* (8a). They were evidently lodgers or paying guests in Jason’s home (Acts 17:5-9). And in order to be able to pay for their ‘board and lodging’ (NEB), *they worked night and day, labouring and toiling* (in Paul’s case at his tent-making). The Greek assonance *kopos kai mochthos*, here and in 1 Thessalonians 2:9, has been rendered into English as ‘toil and moil’ or ‘slaving and straining’ (JB).
Paul and his friends had two reasons for adding physical labour to their mission work. First, they did not want to *be a burden* on any of the Thessalonian Christians (8b), even though they knew they had *the right to such help* (9a). Paul gives no basis here for this right, although he had mentioned it in his first letter (1 Thess.2:6b). It went back ultimately to the saying of Jesus that ‘the worker is worth his keep’ (Mt.10:10; cf. Lk.10:7), and Paul was later to elaborate both his right and his renunciation of it (1 Cor.9:3-14; cf. 1 Tim.5:18). The missionaries’ second reason for earning their own living was in order to make themselves *a model* for the Thessalonians *to follow* (9b). In a word, their resolve was to be an example, not a burden.
Thirdly, Paul reminds them of the authoritative teaching which he had given them during his visit: *even when we were with you, we gave you this rule* (RSV, ‘this command’; it is the verb *parangello* again): ‘*If a man will not [i.e. refuses to] work, he shall not eat*’ (10). There seems no need to speculate that this is an otherwise unknown epigram of Jesus, or to look for its antecedents in Jewish or Greek literature. For all cultures are likely to have a similar proverb. As Deissmann put it, ‘St. Paul was probably borrowing a bit of good old workshop morality, a maxim applied no doubt hundreds of times by industrious workmen as they forbade a lazy apprentice to sit down to dinner.’ Whoever first uttered this sentiment, Paul adopted it and gave it his apostolic imprimatur. He apparently repeated it several times in Thessalonica (the imperfect tense of the verb ‘we gave you this rule’ suggests this), and now he reminds them of it again.
Fourthly, Paul directly addresses the disobedient minority, the idlers who (he had recently heard) were disregarding his teaching. *They are not busy*, he writes; *they are busybodies* (11). This pithy contrast neatly represents in English the play on words in the Greek sentence, not *ergazomenous* but *periergazomenous*. Having no work of their own to keep them occupied, they had become meddlesome in the affairs of others. In addressing them, Paul does not mince his words: *Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down* (RSV ‘to do their work in quietness’, cf. 1 Thess.4:11) and earn the bread they eat (12). He then addresses the rest of the *brothers*, who have not been infected with the virus of idleness, and exhorts them: *never tire of doing what is right* (13). Some have understood this as an appeal to them to be patient with the idlers. It seems more likely to be a plea that, in contrast to the idlers, they should persevere in doing good (cf. Gal.6:9).
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.