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Last week we saw Paul’s confidence in the Lord concerning the Thessalonians. He knew the Lord would be the One to do the work in the hearts of these believers so they would keep on keeping on; that they would continue to keep the commandments of Paul. Paul moves from prayer to concern and he gives a seemingly harsh command.
2 Thes. 3:6 says, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.”
Paul says something new here. After asking for prayer for his companions and himself that the Gospel would run swiftly, Paul introduces a new topic that will close out this letter. In v. 4, Paul expressed his confidence that the Thessalonians would do what he commanded and now he puts them to a test of obedience. Paul says, “Now we command you, brethren.” 25 times in his letters to the Thessalonians he used the word brethren and in each instance he is talking to the group. He’s talking to the church. We’re going to see why that’s important in a moment.
The command comes, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now who in their right mind is going to argue with that? Well it happens all the time. People all over, including in the church, disregard the commands and principles of Scripture. When you become a brethren – a Christian – you are voluntarily aligning yourself with Christ. Remember Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Can you really be a Christ follower without following the commands of Scripture? James 1:22 says, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” I love that word delude. It means miscalculate or reason falsely. True disciples cannot be hearers only. James goes on in 3:13 and asks, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” If you want to call yourself a Christian then don’t be afraid to prove it. Paul speaks with the authority of Christ and expects prompt obedience.
Paul issues what seems like an extraordinarily harsh command. “Keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life.” Keep away comes from the word that means purposefully avoid contact with someone. It means to shun. Notice that Paul is specific when he says that. He doesn’t say keep away from those people who don’t look like you. He doesn’t say keep away from people who irritate you or hurt your feelings. He doesn’t say keep away from those people that go to different churches or have different beliefs than you. He says purposefully avoid those brothers that lead an unruly life. So you have to ask yourself, “Why does Paul say that?” What does lead and what does unruly mean? Good questions. Lead comes from the word that means customary behavior. Unruly means idle or out of step – a military term referring to someone who is out of ranks. When you combine this, you get the idea that Paul is talking about someone who is out of synch or out of place with the local church membership.
Paul doesn’t issue some vague command, look at the specificity of avoidance. The unruly brothers we are to avoid are the ones that live, “not according to the tradition you received from us.” Paul is talking about professing Christians or else he wouldn’t be calling them brothers. He had already provided this instruction. Notice, “received from us” is in the past tense. In 1 Thes. 5:14 Paul said, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” That instruction came just a few verses after 1 Thes. 4:11 where Paul said, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you.” Apparently the behavior that was going on by these unruly was not corrected so Paul is more forceful with this command. It didn’t matter how these instructions were received, they were to follow them. 2 Thes. 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” Those brothers were still being unruly and the instruction as to what to do with them was clear – “Keep away.”
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about what Paul is saying. There wasn’t rampant immorality in the church or a complete departure from sound doctrine, there was a group of people there who were out of line. It seems like there were some that lived a life of idleness; they were lazy. This wasn’t the case where someone took a “me” day, but this was a recurring theme. The driving factor from the context of these letters was that the Thessalonians had an inaccurate view of the Lord’s return. Remember they thought it was imminent. So a group of idle people were sitting around not working and that was contrary to what Paul has taught them while he was there and also in his first letter to them. It was the responsibility of the church to exercise discipline for these unruly brothers. If the church wasn’t unified in this action then the discipline would be ineffective. BUT: remember the goal of discipline is always for the unruly to repent and return to a Christ-like lifestyle and return to the fellowship of the church.
The instructions from Paul are abundantly clear, but they aren’t meant to be harsh or mean or unjust. Gal. 6:1 says, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” There is a reason we are exercise discipline. It’s so that we will walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ.