Work and Serve Responsibly
Sunday School Lesson for November 25, 2001
2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
Focal Teaching Passage: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
As we come to the final section of Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians we find the apostle providing one last challenge to his persecuted brethren. The exhortation contained in these verses is designed to motivate them to continue serving their Lord and Savior in a responsible manner. Such a final challenge would be appropriate for those who had faced severe opposition, both in terms of external persecution and false teaching from within their ranks. This passage, then, offers a clarion call to responsible and disciplined discipleship under all conditions and circumstances.
Serving Responsibly Involves the Avoidance of Certain People (3:6,11-15)
Paul, by means of an apostolic "command" given in the "name of our Lord Jesus Christ," challenges his spiritual "brethren" to avoid certain individuals. The phrase "keep aloof from" means to stay at a distance from certain "brothers" within the fellowship whose lifestyles are at odds with appropriate Christian conduct. This action would appear to be a first step towards excommunication and would be engaged in with the hope of repentance and restoration to full-fledge fellowship. Paul provides a two-fold characterization of these individuals:
The "unruly" brethren, apparently under the influence of false teaching regarding the Second Advent, are further described in this verse as those who:
In verses 12-13 Paul makes it clear that "such persons" are under a divinely authoritative "command and [exhortation]" to "work in quite fashion and eat their own bread." To conduct one’s life in quietness would mean experiencing an "inner tranquility in contrast to their present excited state" (Morris, 148). The reference to eating one’s "own bread" is synonymous with the idea of earning one’s own keep and not living irresponsibly in dependence upon others. Evidently, Paul and his companions thought it essential that those outside the church fellowship in Thessalonica should not "look at the idlers and conclude that their mode of behavior was characteristic of Christians in general" (Bruce, 208). To the faithful, hardworking disciples, Paul simply exhorts them to not "grow weary of doing good."
In addition to the avoidance of the "unruly" and idle, Paul commands his brethren to "take special note of," or in some way to identify and keep a watchful eye upon, those who "do not obey our instruction." Paul adds that such a one is to be brought under what may be referred to as an initial form of church discipline—"do not associate with him." That is, undisciplined believers whose behavior has brought disrepute to Christ and His church are to be shunned with the goal that "he might be put to shame." Clearly, the ultimate aim is to see that such a "brother" is brought to a place of repentance and restoration to responsible Christian living. F. F. Bruce states that while a brother in this situation is "not guilty of the kind of conduct which called for outright and formal excommunication, [he] must nevertheless be treated in a way that might bring him to his senses and teach him to live as a responsible member of the believing community" (211). Verse 15 makes it clear that the purpose for this action is ultimately redemptive in nature—"do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother."
Serving Responsibly Involves Following the Right Example (3:7-10)
Verses 7, 9b
While avoiding certain members who are unruly and undisciplined, the believers of Thessalonica are enjoined to follow closely the "example" of Christian discipleship provided by Paul and his fellow-missionaries. Paul places this burden upon them in terms of a serious Christian obligation—"you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example." They are summoned to imitate, or pattern themselves ("follow") after the mode of Christian conduct displayed by Paul who "did not act in an undisciplined manner among you." Note how this is repeated in verse 9b where Paul views himself as a "model" of Christian conduct that should be copied by his brethren.
Here the apostle points out the specific features of his conduct that proved to be exemplary:
Verses 9a, 10
While Paul had the "right" to be compensated by the churches he served (see 1 Corinthians 9:12-18), he chose not to exercise it for the sake of the gospel message. Here he places the good of his brethren and the advancement of the gospel above all personal considerations. His point becomes obvious: If those who were "entitled to be supported by others chose to rather to support themselves, how much more should those who had no such entitlement earn their own living!" (Bruce, 296). According to verse 10 the maxim the apostle lived by and taught others was that if one refused to "work," he should not be allowed to "eat." With this "order," Paul "provided the community with the justification for stopping support to those who preferred to rely upon the [generosity] of the wealthier members of the community rather than work themselves" (Wanamaker, 286).
Major Questions for Application and Discussion
One: That the apostle would call for action against an undisciplined member of the church implies a number of important things about church life. How many can you think of? Hint: Consider 1) the importance of maintaining the doctrinal and ethical integrity of the church, 2) the mutual responsibility members of the church have toward one another, 3) the need for spiritual accountability, 4) the concern for the church’s witness and ministry to the community.
Two: What are some practical ways to encourage believers in your class/church to stay faithfully engaged in serving the Lord rather than sitting idly as a spectator?
Three: In light of verse 10, how should we respond to believers who are in need of financial support? What about those who are chronically in need due to a lack of discipline?
Four: How does Paul’s call to follow his example relate to us? We do not have the privilege of personal experience with him, so how are we benefited by his example? Are there other examples for us to consider? Does this teaching have anything to do with mentoring? How can those in your church who are living disciplined lives be properly upheld as examples for others?