Disciplining the Disorderly
2 Thessalonians 3:6–18
A church is like a family. All members need love, and sometimes someone needs discipline. This fact was especially true when the church was young, so God provided guidelines on how to handle disorderly conduct.
Discipline is never easy, and many churches failed to correct disorderly people. The apostle Paul knew that if church leaders neglected correction, problems would spread throughout the body of Christ. In the final section of his second epistle to the Thessalonian church, Paul addressed the issue.
Problem of Disorderliness
Paul said, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Th. 3:6). The word but (or “now”) draws attention to the extreme importance of this subject within the young church (cf. 1 Th. 4:11–12; 5:14). This “command” (decree) bears the full authority “of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th. 3:6).Yet Paul tempered its extreme seriousness with love by addressing the Thessalonians as “brothers.”
The phrase withdraw from (v. 6) means to remove oneself continuously without being told to do so. Notice, these “brothers” within the church were to discontinue fellowshiping
with disorderly members until the offenders changed their behavior (cf. 1 Cor. 5:4–5, 9–11). The separation was intended to motivate them to ask the church for forgiveness or to draw away in rebellious indifference.
The command is addressed to “every brother” (2 Th. 3:6)—no exemption, no exception, no playing favorites. The offender was not excommunicated; he was still called a brother in the hope that he would see his error and change his ways.
The disorderly here were idle or lazy, expecting others to provide for them financially or supply their needs. They were able to care for themselves but deliberately and continually
neglected their responsibility to do so. Thus, they were walking (conducting themselves) in a disorderly manner that defied “tradition” (v. 6), meaning the guidelines of God’s Word.
Not many in the church manifested this problem, but there were enough for Paul to voice strong disapproval and implement disciplinary action. Not only were these people not working a daily job, but they were active “busybodies” (v. 11), meddling in other people’s affairs.
Practice of the Disciples
Paul used himself and his ministry team as examples to emulate:
For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us (vv. 7–9).
The Thessalonians saw that Paul, Silas, and Timothy worked hard and were not disorderly or idle. Nor did they freeload off the Thessalonians by eating someone else’s “bread free of charge” (v. 8). They didn’t depend on or demand that the church or other Christians provide for them. They paid their own way with the sweat of their brows while ministering in Thessalonica. In fact, they “worked with labor and toil night and day” (v. 8; cf. 1 Th. 2:8–9).
Paul explained why: “to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us” (2 Th. 3:9). He refused support in order to demonstrate the lifestyle and ministry the church should follow. He had taught churches to conduct themselves in a manner that always glorified Jesus Christ, so as not to bring reproach on His name. Paul also wanted to dispel any notion inside or outside the church that he and his team were ministering for personal gain or to obtain wealth or prestige or position. Thus, they did not charge for their services or profit from sharing the gospel.
The apostle quickly added, “not because we do not have authority” (v. 9). Paul, along with all qualified workers for the Lord, did indeed have the right to be paid (cf. 1 Cor. 9:3–14;
1 Tim. 5:18). But they voluntarily waived their rights in order to set an example for others to follow.
Pronouncement to the Disorderly
Paul reminded the Thessalonians what he taught them on his first visit to Thessalonica:
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread (2 Th. 3:10–12).
Paul obviously felt he needed to repeat the command, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (v. 10). Naturally, disabled people were exempt from this exhortation. But he told the church that able-bodied people who behaved like lazy sloths were to go hungry!
Even though only “some” were idle, the problem left uncorrected could spread throughout the church. Not only were the disorderly not working a daily job, but they also were “busybodies” (v. 11). They were intruding in other people’s affairs—minding everyone’s business but their own.
Paul’s final instruction about work is a command and exhortation (admonishment) that bears the authority of “our Lord Jesus Christ” and is binding on all Christians. Believers are to “work in quietness and eat their own bread” (v. 12). We are to:
1. Be industrious. Work and not be idle.
2. Be inconspicuous. “Work in quietness.” That is, we are to settle down, be tranquil and peaceful and not be busybodies (cf. 1 Th. 4:11).
3. Be independent. “Eat [our] own bread” (2 Th. 3:12). We must never freeload off others. If we follow these admonitions, we will not be nuisances, irritations, or reproaches to church members.
Procedure for Discipline
Paul told the church how to handle the disorderly:
But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother (vv. 13–15).
“Do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13) is a general appeal but specifically applies to dealing with the disorderly. Paul reminded the Thessalonians that the truly needy should never be neglected. Then he outlined the steps for disciplining the disorderly:
→ Note the individual’s conduct. If he/she failed to obey Paul’s instruction, church leaders were to identify the offender as officially disorderly (v. 14).
→ “Do not keep company with him” (v. 14). A disorderly individual was to be removed from the congregation, and members were not to associate with him spiritually or socially so that he “may be ashamed.” In other words, the rejection was intended to force the offender to recognize his rebellion, turn in repentance to God, and request restoration to the church.
→ Do not “count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (v. 15). The word but sets up a contrast between one’s attitude and one’s action. Believers stray and stumble, but they are still our family in Christ. We are not to be hateful or hostile to them because the goal is restoration, not punishment. Correction must be handled with compassion and love and must be explained clearly.
Paul concluded his letter with a short message comprised of three components: a petition for peace, proof that Paul penned the epistle himself, and prayer for God’s blessing. “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all” (v. 16).
Paul asked Christ to bestow His peace “always” to everyone in the church, without discrimination. People cannot produce peace; it comes solely from the personal presence of the Lord, who bestows it on “all”— those receiving discipline, as well as those applying it.
“The salutation of Paul with my own hand, which is a sign in every epistle; so I write” (v. 17). The apostle provided proof of his authorship by placing his name in the salutation. This fact is extremely important because (1) false teachers were circulating forged epistles they claimed were written by Paul; (2) this is one of Paul’s first letters, full of doctrinal teaching that he authenticated himself; and (3) Paul often dictated to an amanuensis (competent scribe or copyist), but here he clearly stated that he wrote the letter himself.
Paul ended the epistle as he started it: by praying that God’s grace (unmerited favor) would be with everyone in the Thessalonian church (v. 18).
Today, this epistle is as relevant as the day Paul penned it. He comforted those being persecuted; warned believers about false teachers; straightened out confusion about the Day of the Lord; discussed apostasy, the restrainer of evil, and the Antichrist; taught how to discipline the disorderly; and explained the future hope of believers in Christ.
Let’s take Paul’s teaching to heart and live with grace, love, and an attitude of peace.