The apostle having commended their obedience for the time past, and mentioned his confidence in their obedience for the time to come, proceeds to give them commands and directions to some who were faulty, correcting some things that were amiss among them. Observe, The best society of Christians may have some faulty persons among them, and some things that ought to be reformed. Perfection is not to be found on this side heaven: but evil manners beget good laws; the disorders that Paul heard of as existing among the Thessalonians occasioned the good laws we find in these verses, which are of constant use to us, and all others whom they may concern. Observe,
I. That which was amiss among the Thessalonians, which is expressed,
1. More generally. There were some who walked disorderly, not after the tradition they received from the apostle, 2 Thess. 3:6. Some of the brethren were guilty of this disorderly walking; they did not live regularly, nor govern themselves according to the rules of Christianity, nor agreeably to their profession of religion; not according to the precepts delivered by the apostle, which they had received, and pretended to pay a regard to. Note, It is required of those who have received the gospel, and who profess a subjection to it, that they live according to the gospel. If they do not, they are to be counted disorderly persons.
2. In particular, there were among them some idle persons and busy-bodies, 2 Thess. 3:11. This the apostle was so credibly informed of that he had sufficient reason to give commands and directions with relation to such persons, how they ought to behave, and how the church should act towards them. (1.) There were some among them who were idle, not working at all, or doing nothing. It does not appear that they were gluttons or drunkards, but idle, and therefore disorderly people. It is not enough for any to say they do no hurt; for it is required of all persons that they do good in the places and relations in which Providence has placed them. It is probable that these persons had a notion (by misunderstanding some passages in the former epistle) concerning the near approach of the coming of Christ, which served them for a pretence to leave off the work of their callings, and live in idleness. Note, It is a great error, or abuse of religion, to make it a cloak for idleness or any other sin. If we were sure that the day of judgment were ever so near, we must, notwithstanding, do the work of the day in its day, that when our Lord comes he may find us doing. The servant who waits for the coming of his Lord aright must be working as his Lord has commanded, that all may be ready when he comes. Or, it may be, these disorderly persons pretended that the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free discharged them from the services and business of their particular callings and employments in the world: where as they were to abide in the same calling wherein they were called of God, and therein abide with God, 1 Cor. 7:20, 24. Industry in our particular callings as men is a duty required of us by our general calling as Christians. Or perhaps the general charity there was then among Christians to their poor brethren encouraged some to live in idleness, as knowing the church would maintain them: whatever was the cause, they were much to blame. (2.) There were busy-bodies among them: and it should seem, by the connection, that the same persons who were idle were busy-bodies also. This may seem to be a contradiction; but so it is, that most commonly those persons who have no business of their own to do, or who neglect it, busy themselves in other men’s matters. If we are idle, the devil and a corrupt heart will soon find us something to do. The mind of man is a busy thing; if it be not employed in doing good, it will be doing evil. Note, Busy-bodies are disorderly walkers, such as are guilty of vain curiosity, and impertinent meddling with things that do not concern them, and troubling themselves and others with other men’s matters. The apostle warns Timothy (1 Tim. 5:13) to beware of such as learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and are not only idle, but tatlers also, and busy-bodies, speaking things which they ought not.
II. The good laws which were occasioned by these evil manners, concerning which we may take notice,
1. Whose laws they are: they are commands of the apostles of our Lord, given in the name of their Lord and ours, that is, the commands of our Lord himself. We command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thess. 3:6. Again, We command and exhort you by our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thess. 3:12. The apostle uses words of authority and entreaty: and, where disorders are to be rectified or prevented, there is need of both. The authority of Christ should awe our minds to obedience, and his grace and goodness should allure us.
2. What the good laws and rules are. The apostle gives directions to the whole church, commands to those disorderly persons, and an exhortation to those in particular who did well among them.
(1.) His commands and directions to the whole church regard, [1.] Their behaviour towards the disorderly persons who were among them, which is thus expressed (2 Thess. 3:6), to withdraw themselves from such, and afterwards to mark that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed; yet not to count him as an enemy, but to admonish him as a brother. The directions of the apostle are carefully to be observed in our conduct towards disorderly persons. We must be very cautious in church-censures and church-discipline. We must, First, Note that man who is suspected or charged with not obeying the word of God, or walking contrary thereto, that is, we must have sufficient proof of his fault before we proceed further. We must, Secondly, Admonish him in a friendly manner; we must put him in mind of his sin, and of his duty; and this should be done privately (Matt. 18:15); then, if he will not hear, we must, Thirdly, Withdraw from him, and not keep company with him, that is, we must avoid familiar converse and society with such, for two reasons, namely, that we may not learn his evil ways; for he who follows vain and idle persons, and keeps company with such, is in danger of becoming like them. Another reason is for the shaming, and so the reforming, of those that offend, that when idle and disorderly persons see how their loose practices are disliked by all wise and good people they may be ashamed of them, and walk more orderly. Love therefore to the persons of our offending brethren, even when we hate their vices, should be the motive of our withdrawing from them; and even those who are under the censures of the church must not be accounted as enemies (2 Thess. 3:15); for, if they be reclaimed and reformed by these censures, they will recover their credit and comfort, and right to church-privileges as brethren. [2.] Their general conduct and behaviour ought to be according to the good example the apostle and those who were with him had given them: Yourselves know how you ought to follow us, 2 Thess. 3:7. Those who planted religion among them had set a good example before them; and the ministers of the gospel should be ensamples to the flock. It is the duty of Christians not only to walk according to the traditions of the apostles, and the doctrines they preached, but also according to the good example they set before them, to be followers of them so far as they were followers of Christ. The particular good example the apostle mentions was their diligence, which was so different from what was found in the disorderly walkers he takes notice of: “We behaved not ourselves disorderly among you (2 Thess. 3:7), we did not spend our time idly, in idle visits, idle talk, idle sports.” They took pains in their ministry, in preaching the gospel, and in getting their own living. Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought, 2 Thess. 3:8. Though he might justly have demanded a maintenance, because those who preach the gospel may of right expect to live by the gospel. This is a just debt that people owe to their ministers, and the apostle had power or authority to have demanded this (2 Thess. 3:9); but he waived his right from affection to them, and for the sake of the gospel, and that he might be an example for them to follow (2 Thess. 3:9), that they might learn how to fill up time, and always be employed in something that would turn to good account.
(2.) He commands and directs those that live idle lives to reform, and set themselves to their business. He had given commandments to this purport, as well as a good example of this, when he was among them: Even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any man would not work neither should he eat, 2 Thess. 3:10. It was a proverbial speech among the Jews, He who does not labour does not deserve to eat. The labourer is worthy of his meat; but what is the loiterer worthy of? It is the will of God that every man should have a calling, and mind his calling, and make a business of it, and that none should live like useless drones in the world. Such persons do what in them lies to defeat the sentence, In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread. It was not the mere humour of the apostle, who was an active stirring man himself and therefore would have every body else to be so too, but it was the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness we work, and eat our own bread, 2 Thess. 3:12. Men ought some way or other to earn their own living, otherwise they do not eat their own bread. Observe, There must be work or labour, in opposition to idleness; and there must be quietness, in opposition to being busy-bodies in other men’s matters. We must study to be quiet, and do our own business. This is an excellent but rare composition, to be of an active yet quiet spirit, active in our own business and yet quiet as to other people’s.
(3.) He exhorts those that did well not to be weary in well-doing (2 Thess. 3:13); as if he had said, “Go on and prosper. The Lord is with you while you are with him. See that whatever you do, that is good, you persevere therein. Hold on your way, and hold out to the end. You must never give over, nor tire in your work. It will be time enough to rest when you come to heaven, that everlasting rest which remains for the people of God.”