Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 330 - November 1883
2 Thessalonians 3:10-15
It is possible and even probable that these brethren who showed indisposition to work may have taken advantage of the love that flowed to such as were engaged in the ministry of the word. Selfishness could soon find place to look for that love in their own case where no such service was rendered. A simple eye to Christ preserves from any snare of this sort or any other, enabling one to detect and deal rightly with the evil where it appears. And the written word, coming from Rim who saw all that was needed from first to last, provides perfectly for every need that could arise, though not without the Holy Spirit, who alone can guide us according to scripture and thus manifests our state good or bad. For we are sanctified unto obedience—the obedience of Jesus.
"For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear of some walking among you disorderly, doing no business, but busy bodies. Now those that are such we command and exhort in [the] Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, faint not in well doing. And if any obeyeth not our word by the epistle, mark him to keep no company with him, that he may be ashamed; and count him [not as an enemy but admonish as a brother." (Vera 10- 15.)
It is a striking characteristic of Christianity that, as in it not one thing is too great or high for the saint, so neither is aught too little or low for God. He concerns Himself even with a duty so simple and small as a man's working day by day and not sponging on his brethren. Union with Christ is the key to all. If by grace I am one with His Son, no wonder that my Father should take pleasure in opening His heart and mind to me. But for the same reason it becomes a question practically not of mere right and wrong, but of pleasing Him as children, of representing not an honest man merely, nor yet Adam unfallen (were this possible), but Christ. And if we are in Christ on high, Christ is in us here below. Our responsibility flows from these exceeding privileges, which they ignorantly destroy who would reduce us to the footing of Jews, under the law as our rule of life, an error which looks the more fair because it claims to guard moral rights, but is in fact subversive of the gospel and of Christ's glory and so of all we boast.
Who on the other hand could have thought that pious christian men would be so inconsiderate, to say no more, as to live without working, so selfish as to expect support from those who did work or were living on the fruits of industry? Such was the fact at this time among the saints in Thessalonica, and the Apostle had even pre-warned them when he was there. It is a danger which might be anywhere and at any time, but at no time or place more likely than where saints are fresh and simple in the life of Christ: the very blessing exposes to the peril. Among decent men of the world such an expectation would be altogether exceptional if not impossible. The common interests of men all but exclude the thought; their selfishness would resent it as intolerable.
Thus the grace of Christ has its perils as well as its joys, perils on the side of exaggeration no less than of short-coming. The only security, the only wisdom, the only happiness, is in looking to Christ. who assuredly leads not to idleness but to earnest service in a lost world. None who looks to Christ could be a drone: if inclined to it, let him not forget the apostolic charge that whoever does not choose to work, neither let him eat. This would be an effectual cure, if faithfully carried out; and are not the saints bound to do so? It is a just and homely way of dealing, no doubt but the christian is surely equal to the occasion, not less than a Jew or a Gentile. If anything be contrary to Christ, it is the selfishness that would take advantage of grace; and we are called not to humour but to reprove and repress what is so unworthy of the Christian, because it misrepresents Christ.
This idleness was real disorder of walk. And it is an infectious disease which so much the more demands prompt treatment, "For we hear of some walking among you disorderly, doing no business, but busy bodies." Such never was the Master, never is a true servant. For love in a world of misery delights to serve, instead of demanding the service of others, as pride and sloth do. The Son of man came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister." And in this He is surely a pattern to us; and assuredly the great apostle proved his greatness in this as in all else. The idlers at Thessalonica had therefore the less excuse for their idleness. And there was danger of worse, for those who do no business are apt to be busybodies, as the apostle pungently warns them. Leisure from work is time for mischief, and occupation with the affairs of others without a duty is mischief.
But here, too, faith works by love; the truth builds up instead of destroying or scattering. Chastening has its measure, as the end is restoration. "Now those that are such we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work and eat their own bread." The meddlesome effect, as well as its cause—idleness, must be given up The name of the Lord was incompatible with both; but the apostle beseeches as well as commands. Thus even what nature might teach is bound up with our Lord and Saviour. It is a quesquestion of God's kingdom and not of mere morality as if we were only men.
But the saints generally are exhorted to go onwards in the path of all that suits and pleases Christ. They were neither to be indifferent on the one hand, nor to be stumbled on the other. Disgust at those who walk unworthily is neither grace nor righteousness. It was therefore with a caution to others. "But ye, brethren, faint not in well-doing, and if any obeyeth not our word by the Epistle, mark him to keep no company with him, that he may be ashamed, and count him not as an enemy, but. admonish as a brother." It is easy for excellent people to lose heart in doing what is comely and honourable. The dislike of selfishness in others soon produces reaction and repulsion in themselves. The apostle would not have it so, but rather an even and earnest perseverance in all that is fair in the Master's eyes, whilst dealing plainly with such erring brethren and dishonourable ways. Disobedience was not to be passed by. " Our word by the Epistle " was not a Word of men, but, as it is in truth, God's word (1 Thess. ii. 12), which also works in those that believe, as it leaves those who slight it worse than before. " We " are of God, the apostles could say; " he that knows God hears us, he that is not of God hears us not." "Ye are of God," say they to the saints; but let the saints see that they continue to overcome by faith, as they have overcome the power of evil that would have kept them slaves of the enemy. The faith which heeds God's word in the greatest thing will not despise it in the least, nor overlook the unbelief of that man who bears the Lord's name but obeys not the word. It will mark him and avoid his company that he may be ashamed of himself. Is he then put out from the saints, as a wicked person? Expressly the contrary: "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." He was grievously wrong, and his company refused, but brotherly admonition is the word, not excommunication as if he were an enemy and a wicked man.
It would be unnecessary to say, but for the misleading of great names, that neither the word καλοπιῦντες in itself nor its usage admits of the sense of doing good in acts of beneficence to others. This on the contrary might play into, the hands of those the apostle censures. We must, not confound τὸ ἀγαθόν with τὸ καλόν. Both occurs in the proper and distinctive sense of each in the same. context of Gal. vi. 9, 10. Honourable and upright practice is the point.
Further, it might seem incredible beforehand, if one did not know it as a fact, that Luther and Calvin, and from Grotius down to Winer, though the last hesitatingly and with modification as seeking to heed the article, join in the strange misinterpretation, opposed to ordinary grammar, of taking διὰ τῆς ἐπ. as "by an epistle [to me]! " Bengel with the Aethiopie of the Polygotts connects the words with σημ. in the sense of stigmatizing him by this letter. But this gives a quite unnatural emphasis to these words, which are thereby severed from the true and weighty connexion with "our word," and lend an unusual and (I think) undue force to σημ.
Again, Professor Jowett is not justified in taking καὶ here, instead of ἀλλά. Unaccountable it might seem that his nice and ripe scholarship should thus range itself with the alder slovenly school which ever imagined that the inspired men use one word for another. But it is mere ignorance; and to treat it as such is the best lesson for the self-exaltation of theologian critics. The copulative is the true expression; the adversative would have been a coarse weakening of the love, on which the apostle counted. They would know how to temper their correction of the evil-doer. Mr. Jowett would have dealt better with the language of Plato. His rationalism undermined his respect for Paul, and suggested the self-complacent thought that he knew what the apostle intended to say better than the apostle himself.