Author: Ron Graham


Christian Intolerance
—2Thessalonians 3:6-18

This fifth lesson in 2Thessalonians completes our study of chapter three and concludes our study series.

This section (2Thessalonians 3:6-18) is Paul's reaction to reports that some of the members of the church in Thessalonica were leading an undisciplined life "walking disorderly" (2Thessalonians 3:11) and not working for a living. Apparently the other members were tolerant of this behaviour. So Paul plainly and clearly tells them all that this won't do, and it has to be corrected.

This passage reminds us that Christianity is a religion with rules and discipline. It has a stern and intolerant side to it.

1 A Command to Withdraw

2Thessalonians 3:6,14 When people want fellowship in the church but also want to live an unruly life, the church should not permit them to do both. One Christian cannot rightly be tolerant of another Christian's willful disobedience to Christ. In extreme cases we must even stop keeping company with unruly persons until they mend their ways. Notice this is a "command" and not something optional that we can refuse or neglect to do. On the other hand, there is no command here to practice “shunning”, that nasty form of ostracism that some sects practice, and which does more harm than good because it is repaying evil with evil. Paul, by contrast, is simply telling us to treat the unruly member with the same caution as we would treat any unruly person of the world.

2 “Ought” and Discipline

2Thessalonians 3:7 There's a number of things in the gospel that we "ought" to do and "must" do. Some people don't like rules and discipline. They call it "legalism". However, Paul is not afraid to say "you ought" or "you must". After all, what is "disorderly" or "unruly" behaviour if not disobedience to some rule which Christ has appointed to be obeyed? He said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15, cf Luke 6:46).

3 Not to be a Burden

2Thessalonians 3:8,10 The unruly behaviour in Thessalonica was such that some people were becoming a "burden" to the church. Paul himself was determined "not to be a burden" and so he was "working night and day in labour and hardship" trying both to preach and to support himself. Of course, he had the right to be supported by the church, but he chose to support himself and thereby set an example in Thessalonica for those who didn't feel obliged to earn their keep. On that basis, Paul felt justified in issuing the stern command, "If a man will not work, neither let him eat" and telling people to "eat their own bread"(2Thessalonians 3:10,12).

4 Exemplary Leadership

2Thessalonians 3:9 We cannot help but notice Paul's own keen sense of "ought" in the way he behaved himself among the Thessalonians. He tried very hard to act "as a model" for them. He set a very high standard for his own leadership, not only in word but also in example. The church should be intolerant of bad behaviour in any of its members, but most of all in its leaders. James also understood this, and spoke of the "stricter judgment" of those who are teachers in the church (James 3:1).

5 Busy - Not Busybodies

2Thessalonians 3:11-12 Some things don't change in 2000 years. People who are unemployed and unruly get into mischief and make trouble. Apparently in Thessalonica some people were "not being busy but being busybodies". Paul's solution was that they should "work in a quiet manner and eat their own bread" (2Thessalonians 3:12). In his first letter he wrote, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, attend to your own business, and work with your hands just as we commanded you" (1Thessalonians 4:11).

6 Doing Our Jobs Well

2Thessalonians 3:13 Even those who were leading disciplined lives, and who were gainfully employed, did not escape exhortation, for it is so easy to grow tired of working hard, especially when we see others being rewarded for doing nothing. So Paul tells them, "Do not grow weary of doing good". They were working at an occupation, and doing a good job of it. Paul was encouraging them to keep up the good work. Daily work is honourable and being reliable and consistent in it is all part of the discipline of Christian life. Of course some people are unable to work, but it is a sign of their integrity that they find this very hard to accept.

7 Admonition Has Its Place

2Thessalonians 3:14-15 Paul's instruction to disassociate from the unruly is softened by his warning that we don't treat an unruly person as an enemy. He is still a brother and we admonish him as such. Obviously we do this not in a hateful manner, but in love. Nevertheless we do admonish when necessary. Admonition is never pleasant, but it has its place and we should not resile from it. Notice that the intent is to make the unruly person ashamed. Shame is unpleasant, but a very powerful means of correction. It often brings people to their senses where vengeance only embitters them.

2Thessalonians 3:16-18 —Benediction Paul signs off the letter and includes a little prayer for Christ’s providence and peace to be with the Thessalonians.