Also available as MP3: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7 – Commanding the Brethren
As the apostle of the Gentiles (Rom.11:13) Paul has the authority to command us (IIThes.3:6). But when he called those under his command his “fellowsoldiers” (Phil.2:25), we know he never looked down on the people he com-manded, for the word “fellow” means equal. Likewise, as the “masterbuilder” of the church (ICor.3;10), he consider-ed the builders under his command to be his “fellow-labourers” (Phile.1:24). All this means that as a good leader he’d never command us to do what he himself wouldn’t do (ITim.6:12 cf. IITim.4:7), as we’ll see later in this passage.
To command us “in the name of our Lord” means to say what the Lord said and shut up (cf. ISam.25:5-9). That’s important because commanding us to “withdraw” from a brother (IITh.3:6) doesn’t sound like something Jesus would do, it sounds like something Paul added to the instructions he received from the Lord.
But there are two Pauline reasons to “withdraw from a brother. First, if he isn’t teaching right (ITim.6:5; IITim.3:5-8). You’ll be accused of breaching the unity of the Body if you withdraw from false teachers, but those who teach other than Paul breach the unity (Rom.16:17). When we teach Pauline truth we are repairing the breaches they cause, like Israel’s priests (IIKi.12:5), something God will reward (cf.Isa.58:12).
But we are also to withdraw from those who aren’t living right (ICor.5:11-13), and we know that’s the context here since Paul says to withdraw from those “that walketh disorderly” (IITh.3:6). When Paul told them about the imminence of the Rapture, they got so excited they quit their jobs (IIThes.3:11). This impatience was why Paul prayed the Lord would direct them “into the patient waiting for Christ” (IITh.3:5).
This was a problem Paul had to address in the first epistle (ITh.4:11). Notice Paul warned those who had quit work before telling others to shun them, and then he also told the others to warn them as well (ITh.5:14). That word “unruly” is the same Greek word as “disorderly” (IITh.3:6). Only when these measures don’t work should we take the additional step of withdrawing from these brethren. Of course, those who are too “feebleminded” or “weak” to work are excluded from the instructions to withdraw from those who would not work (ITh.5:14).
Those who didn’t work weren’t following the “tradition” Paul delivered them (IITh.3:6 cf. ITh.2:9). This means in commanding them to work, he was showing himself to be a good leader who wouldn’t do anything he asked those serving under him to do, as we noted earlier.
In commanding them to follow him by working, we see a dispensational difference. While here on earth ministering to the Jews (Mt.15:24) the Lord told His followers to quit their jobs (Mt.4:18,19; Lu.5:27). This was because the Lord preached “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt.4:17), and He meant the kingdom in which Israel would be a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). And what do we know about priests? The priests, the Levites, had no inheritance in the promised land (Deut.18:1), no way of supporting them-selves other than the tithes of the other 11 tribes. But in the kingdom of heaven on earth, all Jews will be priests (Isa.66:20) and live off the support of the tithes of the Gen-tiles (Isa.61:6). This is why the Lord told His followers to quit their jobs, to be ready to be priests in the kingdom.
But Paul says that we are to follow the Lord as he followed Him (ICor.11:1). To follow the Lord today you have to keep working in order to have “lack of nothing” (ITh.4:11,12). This too is a dispensational difference. God has never wanted His children to lack for the basic necessities of food and clothing (ITi.6:8), but the means by which we obtain these things has changed. To have “lack of nothing” in Moses’ day, you had to collect manna (Ex.16:15-18; Deut.29:5). When the Lord sent the 12 out to preach without provisions, they didn’t lack (Lu.22:35), since the people they ministered to supported them as He said they would. At Pentecost they had no lack because they pooled their resources (Acts 4:34,35). But to have no lack in the dispensation of grace, you have to go to work!