Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 329 - October 1883
2 Thessalonians 3:6-9
It remains to direct the saints how to deal, not with wickedness as at Corinth, but with the disorderly ways of any in fellowship No sin is to be ignored or passed by in God's habitation; and His dwelling there is the measure of judgment for His children. What is offensive to Him, what grieves His Spirit, what dishonours the Lord who made Him known and embodied His will livingly, cannot be indifferent to those who are called to bear witness to His nature, grace, and glory. But one of the ways in which He exercises the hearts of His children is in representing Him aright when they have to face and judge the delinquencies of one another. On the one hand they are responsible never to wink at evil, now that they have all beheld God's unsparing judgment of it, as well as its demonstrated hatefulness in the cross. On the other they are not set to legislate, as if they enjoyed continual inspiration by apostolic succession, or that God had not already revealed His mind completely in the Scriptures by chosen instruments "from the beginning." The church is here to obey; the Lord directs with a wisdom and righteousness worthy of Himself, as we learn best in the spirit of dependence, and by real exercises of obedience. The Spirit of God works in the assembly, as well as ill each individual, to apply the written word with a divinely given intelligence. For there are dangers owing to nature on either side: the easy-going gentleness which shrinks from duly probing and justly estimating evil; the Draconic severity which visits lesser faults with such rigour that there is no sterner dealing left for what is far worse. Scripture meets all by giving us both precept and example, that principle from God and not man may cover all, and direct conscience in each, with an unforced conviction of His will.
As yet there had been in the Thessalonian assembly no such case of scandalous wickedness as 1 Cor. v. afterwards dealt with. Yet in the first epistle the apostle saw reason under the inspiration of God to warn the saints against personal impurity as well as to caution each not to wrong his brother in the matter. It is an offence which especially affronts the Holy Spirit given to us; and the Lord is the avenger in all these things. And in urging what is wholly different, brotherly love, even as the saints are taught of God to love one another, .he had exhorted them earnestly to seek to be quiet and mind their own affairs, and work with their own hands.
But, as the bright hope (we have seen) had somewhat waned for their hearts, when he wrote his second epistle, he had to feel also that some had heeded too lightly his call to walk honourably toward those without, so as to have need of nothing or of no one. It was not, in my judgment, too enthusiastic absorption with the Lord's coaling which induced any to neglect their daily duty; it may have rather been that excited apprehension of the day of the Lord as if already set in which indisposed some to honest labour and gave rise to the gossiping communication of their fears which would naturally flow from such an error, as it has often done since. Be the motive as it may, the sorrowful fact was then patent, that some in their midst were now walking in the disorderly way already denounced; and the apostle accordingly adopts still more solemn language in directing the saints how to meet the dishonour thus done to the Lord. With that name he binds up his injunction that they should withdraw, or keep themselves, from "every brother" walking so unworthily. The disorderly are not described as wicked persons, but still spoken of as brethren; but it was a course which even moral men would feel to be disreputable, and this aggravated by their indifference to, if not defiance of, the previous exhortation of the apostle already here referred to.
Thus they were inexcusable if the christian is saved to glorify the Lord. And what were their brethren to do, if that name swayed their hearts supremely? Never was a greater fallacy than to imagine the assembly left to spiritual instinct under the plea of the Lord's authority. Net so: " if any man thinketh himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge (or, take knowledge of) the things that I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord." " From the beginning," it was se; and it is assuredly quite as necessary now. The church is called to obey even in the exercise of its most serious functions. There is the most frequent temptation to assume discretionary power; and Christendom has everywhere fallen into the snare. But such an assumption is really a departure front the one invariable duty of obedience, the sole path of honour to the Lord, and of blessing to the saints themselves. It ought not to be irksome for any who love His name; it is certainly safe for those who are not merely incompetent for a task beyond man, but are here simply as witnesses of Him. And it is recorded for our admonition that in the only council of which Scripture speaks, on an occasion of the utmost moment for the truth and liberty of the gospel, with all the apostles present, not to speak of other chief men among the brethren, there was much discussion before all in Jerusalem as there had been previously through Judaisers among the Gentiles, till the decisive judgment agreeably to "the words of the prophets" was given by James, and decrees framed accordingly were sent to be kept among the assemblies. Even they, the apostles and the elders with the whole church, needed, and had, the Scripture as the end of controversy.
So here, though the occasion was most ordinary, the apostle enjoins the brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. All are bound to walk according to apostolic teaching.
But smaller offences are no more left out of the Scriptures than the great. Nor will a love for Christ allow any stain be it ever so slight among those who bear His name. The assembly must never be the shelter of evil: what does not suit Him does not suit those who represent Him on earth. But to put away is not His will for all that is offensive to Him. Even of old He could say He hated putting away in the earthly and natural. In the spiritual domain it is only right when according to His word it is imperatively due to His glory. Levity in what is so grave one can understand in a petty sect governed by selfwill; it is unworthy of those who know what the church is to Him who gave Himself for it. But in things great or small it is the Lord who regulates all by His word, which His servants are responsible to apply truly in the Spirit. Hence have we the apostle here enjoining His will on the disorderly walk of some in Thessalonica. To pass it by would be not merely their loss but His shame. To leave it vague would open the door for the self-importance of man ready enough to define and exact. The apostle was given to treat the offence gravely but with measure. This was righteous, and man (as he was ever bound) ought to be in the place of obedience.
But, even in calling the saints to mark their reproof of disorder, the apostle deigns to plead with the hearts and consciences of all. "For yourselves know (says ho) how ye ought to imitate us; because we were not disorderly among you, nor did we eat bread for nought from any one, but in toil and travail, working night and day,3 that we might not burden any of you: not because we have not title, but to make ourselves an example to you that ye should imitate us" (Ver. 7-9). How blessedly he can exhort them to follow, conscious of his own following the Master: an incomparably truer "imitation of Christ" than the monastic one so popular in christendom. Yet he who could say with a good conscience " we were not disorderly among you" was not behind the very chiefest apostles. Nor did he claim aught from the saints he had left behind, nor from the Thessalonian converts who were learning from him the ways of Christ; but he set a pattern of unselfish grace at great cost to himself. How had some of those begotten by the gospel he preached learnt the lesson? How had Christendom which would deny the least title in the ministry of Christ to one in this important way following the wake of the great apostle of the Gentiles? Does memory fail, or does not the prohibition of any such toil or travail in a minister of the word figure prominently in the ecclesiastical canon-book? But those who invent tests and rules are not afraid to contradict Scripture and in effect to censure the apostle. Their imitation of Christ is more sentimental and pretentious; his was as deep and real as it was very homely and of no account, save indeed to be shunned and despised by the least and lowest of sects, as well as by those who more openly seek the world which their hearts value. The apostle (filled with the love which is of God, and not of the world as Christ is not) sought, not theirs but them, and i could point to his own daily ways, when among them at the beginning of the gospel in witness, of a self-denial which of itself rebuked in the strongest yet most gracious way the disorderly brethren who were working neither day nor night, and were not ashamed to eat the bread of every one who would supply them for nought.
It is to be noticed that this too is not the first time the apostle recalls his labours for his own support while evangelising among them in Thessalonica and teaching the young converts; for he speaks of it in similar terms in the second chapter of his earlier epistle. It was heavenly devotedness, and the mention of it no less single-hearted. He would not be burdensome to any of them. To me, he could say, at a later day, to live is Christ. Without doubt this showed itself primarily in dependence on and delight in Christ, in the Spirit's lifting the heart above all that attracts and seduces into habitual rest and joy in the Lord, and consequent victory over the wiles and power of Satan. But the outer life corresponds with the inner, and the power and grace of Christ are not only in the spiritual affections but issue also in love to God by the outward ways which have the divine impress and savour of Christ. If he exhorted his son Timothy in his last epistle to be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, he knew long before what it was to be strengthened himself; and this cannot but disclose itself in giving a fresh colour to the ordinary things of this life, so that they become in truth the most extraordinary.
But the apostle is careful to assert the labourers' title, though he speaks as he worked in a total self-surrender: "not because we have not title, but to make ourselves an example to you that ye should, imitate us" (Ver. 9). It is one thing to assert the right that the Lord confers on His service, quite another where it might be misinterpreted or misapplied. Here, as at Corinth, he foregoes that which he carefully explains to be a divinely given title of much moment to maintain both for the givers and the receivers, to say nothing of His wisdom who so laid down His will. An overflowing charity which thought only of the blessing of others and above all of Christ's glory filled his spirit and accounts for all, whether it may be maintaining a principle perfectly right in itself and of importance to others, or abandoning at this time his own just claims in honour of Christ and the gospel.
Nor did it cost him nothing. A man of means may preach and teach publicly and privately; but then he escapes necessarily the pressure of manual labour by day or by night. When wearied by his spiritual exertions, he has not to think of filling up with other work every available minute that he can fittingly abstract for the supply of his bodily wants. The apostle, in an energy of devoted, love which has never been equalled among the sons of men, tells us in a few words the simple truth of his ordinary life, while enjoining the saints how to mark their sense of the disorder in Thessalonica. And he faithfully lets them know that he was giving them this truly Christian zeal as an example for their imitation. How it acted on the Thessalonians in general we know not; but we may be sure that such a gracious abandonment of fleshly ease and of worldly etiquette was eminently suited to inflict the most withering rebuke en the idlers who, liking to talk rather than work, imposed on the kindness of the brethren and dishonoured the Lord. How blessed when the fault of others turns to cur learning afresh the grace of Christ as it applies in a world of sin, selfishness, and misery! Still more so, when he who so teaches walked from first to last in the grace he commends to others; and this, not only as now to the saints generally but to the elders in particular, as we read in his parting address at a later day to the Ephesian elders at Miletus. " Ye yourselves know that these hands ministered to my wants and to those that were with me. I showed you all things that so labouring ye ought to help the weak and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how that he himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive."
What an immeasurable gap between this truehearted disinterestedness, and the base begging of the mendicant friars, Franciscan or Dominican, which appealed in a natural way to the feelings of mankind by a shew of austerity beyond Scripture, and thereby amassed vast wealth in the end, and what men value yet more, inculculable influence and power from the' highest to the lowest, save among those who saw through their pretentious to spirituality, or were jealous of a reputation which eclipsed their own. To say with Rabban Gamaliel that one thus working was like a vineyard that is fenced is far beneath the apostle; lowly love was active there. It was to live Christ every day without the bondage of a vow in a liberty that could accept the offering of his dear and poor children at Philippi. For there is no doubt on the one hand of the right to support, and of the duty on the other hand of the saints to render it ungrudgingly. But grace knows how and when on the labourers' part to dispense with it, if the glory of Christ or a special lesson to souls so calls for it as here. And how real and faithful is the guidance of the Spirit! For who can suppose that, when the apostle thus wrought with his own hands by midnight lamp in the tent-making of his early days and native land, he foresaw the need of reminding the Thessalonian saints of his habitual and incessant labours in this kind during his brief visit to their city? But what believer can doubt that the Spirit of God led the blessed man, both in thus labouring when there, and in now laying it upon the saints to give his exhortation a weight with which nothing else could compare?
1) 2) There is a little good authority (B D L &c.) for omitting "our" Lord Jesus. There is, perhaps, more ground of doubt whether it be "they," "ye," or "he," received; but "they" has unquestionably the best evidence in its favour, "he" of the Received Text, the least.
3) It does seem strange that Alford, Ellicott, Griesbach, Scholz, and Wordsworth should cleave to the received reading, which exaggerates, contrary to Th. ii. 9. Lachmann, Tregelles, Weatcott, and Herb rightly (in my opinion) accept the text of H B F G, &c., against the majority.