What to do when Christians behave badly: shun or reconcile? – 2 Thessalonians 3, Part 2

Editor’s Note: Once again I welcome David Hundert as guest blogger this week! Thanks David, for filling in for me. In this four-part series, David concludes our Advent 2021 series, Ready for the Return, in which we studied 2 Thessalonians.

As we continue studying 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul makes what may be a surprising statement: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Take note that he is talking about “believers” because it isn’t those that don’t know the Lord that are doing these things, it is believers!

It is important to recognize that we Christians can’t and shouldn’t expect those that don’t know the Lord, to live as Christians are called to live. But in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, Paul is calling out people that have professed a faith in the Lord, and he is calling them out because they are disruptive, idle, busybodies! Do you know anyone like that? How do Christians keep away from other Christians who are behaving badly?

But notice a potential contradiction. In verse 6 Paul says, “Keep away from those people.” The throughout the rest of the passage he urges the Christians to help their fellow Christians to correct their mistakes and turn back to the Lord. What is Paul saying? Stay away or help them?

This is the same concern that the global church has had for years about various types of sin. The Lord Himself, tells us in Matthew 18:15-17,

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

The end goal for Jesus and for Paul is reconciliation. So going back to those that are idle, disruptive, and busybodies, you can easily tell them that you can’t be around them while they are acting in that manner and walk away. When they come to their senses, you can return. Again, the idea is reconciliation.

We don’t know why, the people in Thessalonica were behaving this way. Was it contempt for work itself, because they were people of God’s kingdom and therefore they were above needing to work? Was it pressing the gospel of the kingdom a bit too far, expecting/demanding the rich to care for the poor? Was it related to their understanding of end times? Was it an attempt on Paul’s part to break up dependencies created by supporter-user relationships? Or was it just plain laziness? We simply don’t know. All we know for sure is what Paul actually says, “We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive”, meaning unwilling to work and therefore disrupting the shalom, the peace, of the believing community.

We know very little about the specifics as to what caused Paul to address these issues. The only hint we get as to why Paul chose to work with his own hands while among them comes in a secondary way in verse 8, “so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” Paul is making his point, for the sake of the well-being of the community as a whole.

Paul’s response to the issue comes in three parts. He begins by addressing the whole community in verses 6-10, who are being urged to “shun” those who are unwilling to work. In so doing, the larger part of the passage, verses 7-9, has to do with Paul and his companions’ example regarding work. I was taught as a young man in the Marine Corps, that a leader never asks his people to do something that they themselves wouldn’t do. In other words, lead by example. That is what Paul is telling them. He gave them an example to follow. That is one practical step to helping restore people, give them an example to follow.

Check back in to the next post, as Paul will teach more about how help to restore people.

Photo by Casper Nichols on Unsplash

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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