Bible reading: 2 Thessalonians 3

In the final section of the letter, Paul moves from doctrine to conduct, dealing with the undisciplined among them, after requesting prayer and expressing his confidence in their obedience.

3:1-5. Request for Prayer. As in the first letter, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for them, that the Lord’s message may spread quickly. Paul was ever concerned that the gospel reach more and more people (2 Corinthians 4:15; 10:15-16). All his efforts were devoted to the Great Commission as an extension of the Lord’s work in the world. Even though he is an apostle, the reciprocal nature of the faith applies equally. Prayer is the great leveler and feeds the solidarity among God’s family. Likely Paul uses athletic language here, of running, and winning the applause of the bleachers. For the message to be honored would mean received by the hearers and finding a place in the heart for the truth (see 2:10), as it was among the Thessalonians. Those who have honored the gospel can pray for it to be honored by others. The second part of Paul’s prayer request reflects that the gospel advances in the midst of opposition: that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people (v. 2). He asks not for the removal of persecutors, but that their efforts may have no effect on the progress of the gospel (see Philippians 1:12ff).

The comfort and strength of Christians lie in the truth that the Lord is faithful, that he will do as promised, which means that he will strengthen them and protect them from the evil one. Satan can do nothing against what is essential in their lives, because God prevents his harm. Paul next expresses his confidence about them in the Lord, because it is he who guarantees the success of man’s faithfulness, that they are both doing – and will do – what Paul is commanding. Distance from the new converts could cause doubt, but knowing that God is with them generates confidence. Another prayer, that they would love God more and continue persevering as did Christ. As God loves, they should love; as Christ endured and overcame, so should they.

3:6-15. Dealing with the Undisciplined. Paul leaves his strongest words for last, for a problem that apparently began earlier, mentioned in the first letter (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). He charges in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, by his authority, to keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life. Error in both doctrine and lifestyle are motives to separate in order to maintain purity in the body of Christ. It appears that both idleness, a refusal to work, and meddling in the work of others constitute specific problems in the undisciplined life. Paul cites both the tradition that they had received from him, mentioning the previously given command not to feed those unwilling to work, and his example which they all must imitate. He mentions that he had the right to eat another’s food without paying, as in 1 Corinthians 9, to help his readers understand the motives behind his actions. For the rest, he urges, do not grow weary in doing what is right, in this case, working quietly and providing for their own food to eat.

As he began the section telling them to keep away from the undisciplined, now he develops that thought as he concludes it, that the readers should take note of the disobedient and not associate closely with him. Perhaps this will make him ashamed and lead to repentance. Though physically they must separate, emotionally they should not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. Love should be evident in their actions, and their desire to restore him rather than punish ought to be clear to him.

3:16-18. Conclusion. Instead of the trouble caused by meddlers, Paul prays for peace from him who is its source, the Lord of peace. As is his custom in every letter, Paul writes a greeting with his own hand, taking the pen from his scribe. The letter ends with what will become a standarized prayer that Christ’s grace may be with them all.

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