The message of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians has been how to endure trials by living in the light of eternity. These Christians in Thessalonica are suffering severely for their faith. Paul is encouraging them that their growing faith and continued love for one another shows God’s righteous judgment that they have been counted worthy of God’s kingdom (1:4-5). In the last paragraph Paul told these Christians to not be disturbed by false teachings regarding the second coming of Christ but to stand firm in what they had received from the apostles. So in the final section of this letter Paul is going to tell these Christians what they must do as they live in the light of eternity and face these trials because of their faith in Jesus.
Paul asks these Christians to pray. Why do we leave off prayer so quickly and frequently? How easy it is it seems to forget our need to pray! Prayer is one of our primary points of divine assistance and yet we can so easily discard it. What should we pray for? Paul asks for prayers in a number of areas.
First, Paul says to pray that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored (3:1-2). Pray for the message of Jesus to spread rapidly and to be delivered from wicked and evil men. Quite simply, we need more of these prayers. This is the simplest way for us to be evangelistic and reach out to the lost as a church and as individuals: pray for it. Pray for opportunities. Pray for God to send seekers of his truth through our doors. Pray to God for visitors. Pray for Bible study opportunities. Pray for open and honest hearts to hear the gospel. Pray for people in our neighborhoods and workplaces to give us a reason to share the gospel with them. There is so much we can pray for and must pray for. I am going to say something that I do not want to be misunderstood so I will say it carefully for clarity. It is good that we pray for our physically sick. We need to pray for each other regarding such things. We see examples for it in the scriptures. But we cannot neglect to pray for the spiritually sick! We cannot neglect to pray for the lost and the need for the gospel to spread and be received, especially in our culture today and especially in our area in south Florida. We cannot lose sight of our purpose. Our purpose is not to go to church or to keep ourselves happy and content. Our purpose is to be lights in the world just as Jesus is the light. We must pray for this to be the case. Our prayers reflect our hearts and our goals. One of our primary desires must be for souls to be saved. May we increasing our prayers for the word of the Lord to spread mightily and for the word of the Lord to be honored.
Second, pray for spiritual strength to trust in the Lord and remain steadfast (3:3-5). Not all are going to have faith (3:2) and we will suffer by the hands of the faithless. But God is faithful. We trust God to establish us and guard us against the evil one. We need to encouragement to remain steadfast and to pray for that strength. Notice that Paul does not merely tell these Christians to be steadfast. Paul is calling upon God to establish them and guard them. Paul prays that “the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ” (3:5). Paul’s confidence is that they will continue in the faith and be obedient to the commands of God (3:4). Pray for the help you need. If you are struggling in the faith, pray to God about that. If you need help, pray to God about that daily. If you are caught in sin and are struggling with temptations, do not go it alone, but pray to God about it constantly. God is faithful.
Watch Your Walk (3:6-12)
Next, Paul tells these Christians to watch their walk. They need to watch how they are living their lives. Paul is going to tell them to avoid certain people and tell them what they are to do. First, notice the people who claim to be Christians that they are to avoid. The instruction begins in verse 6.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6 ESV)
Anyone who claims to be a Christian but walks in idleness and not according to what the apostles have taught, they are to keep away from such ones. The command is stated again in verse 14.
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. (2 Thessalonians 3:14 ESV)
Paul says to take note of these people, keep away from them, and have nothing to do with them. Why? First, because they are spiritually dangerous. They are not truly following the Lord from the heart. They are disregarding God’s laws and are acting unruly. So you need to watch out for them. Second, keep away from them so that they are ashamed. We do not want to communicate to them that what they are doing is acceptable Christian behavior. What they are doing is wrong. They are not keeping what God said. Their behavior shows idleness and unrulinesses. The church needs to note them and keep away from them. This seems to be the same instruction as Jesus gave in Matthew 18 where a Christian is approached about their sin by one person and then by other witnesses if there is not repentance. Then, after the church tries to gain their repentance the person does not return to the Lord, then the church is to withdraw from the person. Please notice that Paul does not give this instruction for something that we would define as a “big” sin. These Christians are not working. They are not following what Paul told them to do in their lives. Unfortunately, these commands to note those who walk disorderly are not often kept. We try to make excuses for people rather than noting that their soul is in jeopardy and we want them to be ashamed of what they are doing. I cannot communicate to you the shame of what you are doing if I treat you the same way as I did before. What is being done is wrong and Paul says the person must be noted by the church.
But just as verse 14 is often neglected, so also is verse 15 neglected. Look at verse 15.
Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:15 ESV)
This is not about being mean to a person. We are not harsh to the person. But we are warning them as someone that we care about. We care about the person’s soul and so we warn them. So the motive behind our actions is just as important to God. We are not punishing. We are not vengeful. We are not angry in a selfish way. We are broken over their sin and the consequences of their fractured relationship with God. We want them to recognize their sin and to change.
So watching our walk means not being idle or unruly. What we are to do is stated in verse 7: imitate the apostles. Paul says that the reason they did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, worked day and night, and did not burden anyone, though they had the right to do so, was so that these Thessalonians would have an example to imitate. The apostles were not idle and these Christians are not to be idle. Then Paul reminds these Christians what he commanded when he was with them. Notice the command in verse 10:
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV)
This is God’s view of welfare. I want us to think about this. Being a Christian does not mean alleviating the consequences of people’s decisions. Are we to help each other? Yes. Do we work so that we have will have something to give others? Yes. But notice the other side of this coin. This is not a reason for people not to work. Hunger is God’s tool to get us to care for ourselves and work. If we take that away from people, then they will have no reason to work. A lack of money encourages work. We must not enable laziness but help those who truly are in need of help who cannot work or care for themselves. Therefore, Paul says our busyness should be at work and not being busybodies (3:11). Do not be busy at the wrong things in life! Do your work quietly and earn your own living (3:12). Get a job and keep yourself out of trouble.
Do Not Let Evil Get You Down (3:13-18)
But even after giving these instructions, listen to verse 13.
As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. (2 Thessalonians 3:13 ESV)
Here are Christians that are taking advantage of other Christians. They are not working. They are busybodies rather than working as they ought. They are walking in idleness. But even though these things are happening and these people need to be noted, do not change what you are supposed to do. Do not grow weary in doing good. Do not be frustrated by what appears to be ineffectiveness in the good you are doing. It is easy to be discouraged from doing good. Do not lose heart. Do not give up on doing good for people. It is common to be hurt because we invest our very lives into the lives others only to see that work be for nothing. The person turns away from you and/or turns away from God after all the good you have tried to do for the individual. When this happens it becomes so easy to want to quit doing good. We are tempted to no longer invest ourselves in the lives of others. We have all been burned by people. We have all been let down by people. We have all been taken advantage of. We must not forget the words Paul gave as he said farewell to the Ephesian elders.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35 ESV)
Paul ends his second letter to the Thessalonians, encouraging them to live in the light of eternity with three instructions. First, pray. Pray for the spreading of the gospel. Pray for deliverance from evil ones. Pray for steadfastness in adversity. Second, watch how you walk. Are we living a life that is approved by God? Work is a God-given responsibility. Being a busybody is a sin. Work quietly and earn your living. Do not take advantage of others. If you will not work, then you are going to go hungry. Finally, do not get tired of doing good.