Patience in Work That Waits/2 Thessalonians 5

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Although the church at Thessalonica was a remarkably healthy church, it could not be said that there were no disorders there. At the conclusion of this second letter, Paul turns to some practical matters concerning their lives together. Right at the center of that is the question of work, along with what to do with people who weren’t working.

The Text

“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you: And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command you. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ . . . ” (2 Thess. 3:1–18)

Summary of the Text

Paul concludes this letter to the Thessalonians by requesting prayer, as he often does. He prays that the word of the Lord might run freely, and be glorified, as is happening in Thessalonica (v. 1). In order for this to occur, he requests that prayers be offered up for him (v. 1). When the gospel runs freely, it does so through human agency. He requests that they might be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, the kind who do not have faith (v. 2). God is faithful, and will protect the Thessalonians (v. 3). Paul has confidence in the Thessalonians, that they will follow his instructions (v. 4). He asks God to direct them into the love of God and into a patient waiting for Christ (v. 5). So what does that look like?

They are to withdraw from any disorderly brothers (v. 6). Paul’s entourage had set the example in this for them (v. 7). The apostle Paul paid for his own food (v. 8). He could have required support, but preferred to set an example (v. 9). He set the standard for them when he was there—non-workers should be non-eaters (v. 10). The report comes that the church there did have some busybodies (v. 11), who lived in a disorderly way. He commands those people to get a job (v. 12). He then exhorts them all not to get tired of doing the right thing (v. 13). If any are uncooperative, then mark and shun them (v. 14)—doing it in a brotherly way (v. 15). Then comes the benediction. May the God of peace grant them His peace (v. 16). Paul signs off with his own hand, as was his custom (v. 17). May the grace of God bless all of you (v. 18), and amen.    

What Patient Waiting Looks Like

This chapter begins on a strong gospel note, and then takes a surprising turn. May the word of the Lord run free. Pray for gospel proclamation. Pray we be guarded against those who would persecute us for our preaching. May God guide you into a greater love for God and into a patient waiting for Christ to come.

But then note carefully what a patient waiting for the Final Coming looks like. It does not look like a complicated system of charts and graphs calculating when the end will come. Still less does it look like some poor sap sitting on his roof because he thinks those charts and graphs are his ultimate truth. No. What does patient waiting look like? It looks like working hard at your job, being dedicated to your vocation.

Everything Paul teaches here is aimed at this sort of Christian industry. Waiting for Christ looks like withdrawing from the disorderly (v. 6). Working hard is an apostolic tradition (v. 6). Paul set an example of hard work for them (vv. 7-8), an example he intended for them to follow (v. 9). Waiting for Christ follows the command not to feed certain people (v. 10). Waiting for Christ means that you learn to distinguish productive work from busy work (v. 11). The disorderly are often busybodies (v. 11), meaning that lazy people can scurry around. The Greek word for that indicates a man bustling around the edges of all the hard work, carrying a shovel, and wearing an official reflector vest (v. 11). We wait for Christ by working without a lot of fanfare or noise (v. 12). We wait for Christ by sustaining that work over time (v. 13), and not getting tired of it. And last, we wait for Christ by being willing to give brotherly admonitions to others about the quality of their work (vv. 14-15).   

Admonish as a Brother

A church that does not practice church discipline is a church with an immune system collapse. Not disciplining against heresy means there is no protection for the body from error, and not discipling against moral failure means there is no protection for the body from immorality. The two things that mark a true church are Word and sacrament, but without the fence of church discipline, such a garden will not last for long.

But there are gradations of this discipline. Sometimes the discipline is conducted by means of warnings from the pulpit. Sometimes it is conducted by a personal admonition. Other times, when a person’s life is disorderly and not disciplined rightly, it is conducted by avoiding them. That is what we see here. And then in severe cases, you would follow the process laid out in Matt. 18:15-20.

Notice that the end result of the Matt. 18 process is that the person is treated as a heathen or tax collector. In other words, this person is ejected from the church, excommunicated. There are other people, as here, who are avoided, but admonished as brothers (v. 15). This is why, incidentally, our church polity has the category of suspension, a point well shy of excommunication.

God Gives Himself

In v. 16, Paul prays that the God of peace give them peace. Reasoning by analogy, may the God of grace give us grace, may the God of love give us love, may the God of joy give us joy. In short, may the God of our salvation grant us salvation, which He does by giving us Himself.

God so loved the world that He gave . . . what? John 3:16 tells us that He gave us His Son. And what did His Son give us after He returned to Heaven? He gave us His Spirit. What does God do for His people? He gives us Himself.

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