Sermon Notes & References

Idleness or Industry?

2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

May 27, 2018

A. Work

    1. Eye-Service 1


    2. “Protestant Work Ethic”


B. Church Discipline

    1. A Recurring Problem (10-11) 2


    2. What to Do about It (6, 14-15) 3


C. Personal Discipline

    1. Paul’s Example (vv 7-9) 4


    2. How (vv 12-13)


D. Concluding Blessing (vv 16-18)

1 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18. . . . . . . . . . . .  Idleness or Industry?


A. Work

    1. Eye-Service

        a. Colossians 3:22 says, “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

            (A)    about 30-40% of those living in Italy were slaves

            (B)    many held very responsible positions

            (C)   an owner mostly provided all their needs and sometimes money (so that a slave could eventually purchase his freedom)

        b. Rev. Ray Stedman tells this story 2

            (A)    Years ago, a missionary to Africa was responsible for getting the nationals in his area to do certain jobs. He discovered that they were all rather lazy and would only perform while he was actually watching them. When he left they would stop work and do nothing until he returned.

            (B)    This man had a glass eye, and one day when his eye was irritating him, he took it out and put it on a stump. When he returned he found that everybody was still working because the “eye,” as they thought, was watching them the whole time he was away. That is what the apostle means here: eye-service! Working only when the boss is watching.

            (C)   This man thought he had found a great way to free himself, until one day he returned to discover that one of the workers had sneaked around from behind and put his hat over the eye. Everyone was lounging around, enjoying themselves. That is eye-service!

        c. we’re more sophisticated in this country, aren’t we? In one factory a suggestion box was installed for people to contribute ideas designed to improve working conditions. The first suggestion requested that the foreman no longer wear rubber heels on his shoes. They wanted to hear him coming. 3


    2. Protestant Work Ethic

        a. you may have heard of this term

        b. but really it should be called the apostle Paul’s work ethic!


    3. Scripture Reading                                  2 Thessalonians 3:6-18

        a. make comment on note in small letters at end, “written from Athens”


B. Church Discipline

    1. A Recurring Problem

        a. the problem in question is described in a word repeated throughout what we have just read – it can be translated in different ways:

            (A)    leading an unruly life, being undisciplined or disorderly

            (B)    it describes a person who does not carry out the normal duties of life: of work and employment

            (C)   the word and its relatives were used in a military context of one who failed to be in the proper battle order, at his post, acting in an irregular way rather than in the proper discipline as a soldier 4

            (D)   this was a recurring problem with the Christians at Thessalonica

            (E)    they were not walking or acting in a way worthy of bearing the name of Jesus Christ – of claiming to be Christ’s followers

        b. Paul write here in verse 10, “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.”

            (A)    so, even in those few weeks that Paul was in Thessalonica, after being thrust out of Philippi, he had noted this tendency among the people living in that city

            (B)    we are not told whether this was cultural – confined to the Gentiles alone – or endemic, including Jewish converts as well

            (C)   but even in those very early days he had to lay down this command

            (D)   some think that this was a Jewish saying, based in turn upon Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”

        c. But that did not end Paul’s concern for them on this subject

            (A)    in first letter to them, probably written within several month of leaving Thessalonica and after Timothy had returned from there, he brought up this subject,

            (B)    1 Thessalonians 2:10-12, “10 You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, 12 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”

            (C)   so that in closing that first letter he wrote this reminder, “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

        d. Now, in writing this second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul has received further questions and information from them

            (A)    the long and short of it is this: this concern still exists

            (B)    so that in verse 11 he writes, “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.”

            (C)   literally, “doing nothing but doing around”

            (D)   J. B. Philips paraphrases it as “never doing a stroke of work, and busy only in other people’s affairs”

            (E)    the force of the verse is perhaps best capture by the rendering, “in everybody’s business but your own”

        e. why were some of these new Christians in Thessalonica acting this way?

            (A)    while the specific reasons are not given, there were a number of factors present that contributed to this

            (B)    first, Thessalonica was the capital city of that province

                 (1)    it was the local headquarters of Roman administration

                 (2)    it was situated on the Via Egnatia, a trade route from Rome to the source of luxury goods from the Asia and the Middle East

                 (3)    as such, it would charge for goods passing through it – what we today call “tariffs”

                 (4)    as such, the citizens of this city felt a sense of entitlement – a feature of our welfare state today – and manual work was something to be looked down upon

            (C)   second, there was the knowledge that came with the gospel of the early church in Jerusalem

                 (1)    you will recall from the early chapters of Acts that they shared their possessions and all things were owned in common

                 (2)    the reason for that was easily lost by Gentiles who were not aware of the situation of the early church in Jerusalem

                 (3)    those who followed Christ in those early days, were put out of their families and out of the synagogue, which meant that some, especially women, had no legitimate means of living

                 (4)    this was not communism, as some have proposed, not was it a general welfare to all the poor, as some people who come today to the church expecting handouts, but no desire to work

            (D)   third, and perhaps the most pertinent reason, was the emphasis on the immediate expectation of Christ’s return

                 (1)    chapter 2 of this letter was written to put that expectation into is proper priority

                 (2)    for if we were to expect Christ to return in the next week or month, what is the need to work? ... we will then be rulers in His kingdom! ... there will plenty of food & all needs supplied.

        f.  this problem was not unique to Thessalonica, nor did it quickly go away, for some years later Paul wrote to Timothy on the very subject of the support of the needy, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)


    2. What to Do about It

        a. the matter of disciplining of Christians whose way of life if detrimental to the testimony of Jesus Christ and of the gospel is a hard one

            (A)    in these days when people will start lawsuits at the drop of a hat, it can be especially tricky

            (B)    many people in joining a church fail to recognise, or be told, that in doing so, they are committing themselves

                 (1)    to the Lordship of Jesus Christ

                 (2)    to the authority of the holy Scriptures

                 (3)    to the rule of those whom God has appointed as leaders

            (C)   on the other hand, those who enact church discipline may do so with partiality, sparing the rich (the book of James has something to say about that), or, on the other hand doing it with a heavy hand and a hard heart

            (D)   but it is a principle found in the Bible and in today’s passage

        b. the action to be taken with those whose way of life is damaging the reputation of Jesus Christ and His church is made clear:

            (A)    in verse 6: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.”

            (B)    note that this is a command; not a suggestion

                 (1)    it is made in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ: His full title

                 (2)    Paul is exercising His apostolic authority

                 (3)    but, more than that, He is stating that this is in accordance with the will of the One who is the Head of the church and thus it is consistent with the love of Christ, for their good

            (C)   Keep aloof” – otherwise translated as “withdraw”, “keep away

                 (1)    the idea is restricting oneself from such people and their actions

                 (2)    shrink away” for them and their actions – although on a human level you may want to be, and enjoy being, with them

                 (3)    so in this discipline there is a cost, both to those who receive it, and to those who mete it out.

            (D)   in verse 14 what to do is expressed differently: “And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame.”

                 (1)    mark out those who refuse to obey this matter: identify them

                 (2)    make it clear to both those inside and outside of the church that their behaviour is unacceptable for a Christian

                     (a)    that believers may model their lives appropriately

                     (b)    that unbelievers may respect the truth of the gospel

        c. but there is also a proper attitude to be found in those who exercise church discipline

            (A)    verse 15 gives it: “And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

                 (1)    the root idea behind the word “enemy” is that of hatred

                 (2)    all too often church discipline has been handed out filled with anger, seeking to injure and destroy the person involved

                 (3)    or, “ the Christian army shooting their wounded

            (B)    but this misses that phrase, “as a brother

                 (1)    one commentator, I read, misses this point entirely, saying, “We do not regard him any longer as a Christian brother.”

                 (2)    but that misses entirely the purposes of church discipline

                     (a)    it is to restore the wandering brother to a walk that is worthy of one who is a child of God

                     (b)    it is to encourage others to avoid falling in the same way

                     (c)    it is to strengthen the body of Christ

                 (3)    and this is consistent with the words of Jesus on ths subject as well as what Paul writes elsewhere: “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

        d. but there is a better solution than church discipline, which is …


C. Personal Discipline

    1. Paul’s Example (3:7-9)

        a. in the first letter, in similar circumstances, Paul made a reference to his own example, “For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

        b. here, in verses 7 to 9, he repeats that reminder with application,”7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example.”

            (A)    Paul, as in other places, makes it clear that as a preacher of the gospel, he, just as the other apostles as well as those who are pastor-teachers, missionaries, and so on, has the right to be supported by those to whom he ministers

                 (1)    the principle was found in the OT, where one tribe, Levi, was appointed to be the spiritual ministers to God on behalf of the other eleven tribes.

                 (2)    it was also a point that the ministry of God’s word is honest labour just as is any other vocation in which God may place you

            (B)    but, though Paul, and those who accompanied him, Timothy and Silvanus, had this right, they imposed a discipline upon themselves, a self-control, not to make an issue of that right

                 (1)    when we accept the Lord Jesus Christ we give up our rights

                 (2)    we undergo a transfer of ownership, from being slaves to sin, to being slaves to righteousness

                 (3)    and Jesus is our righteousness

            (C)   what is it then to live in a way opposite to being undisciplined, unruly, and so on?

                 (1)    Paul says, “look at me!”

                 (2)    Paul is never shy about setting himself and others as examples: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Philippians 3:17)

            (D)   let us therefore redeem the time because these are evil days


    2. How (3:12-13)

        a. “12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.”

        b. the norm in Christian life is not living on charity

            (A)    of course there are situations and times, such as was the case in Jerusalem in the early days, when that may be necessary

            (B)    ill health and many other things may reduce or remove one’s own ability to earn a living for him or herself

        c. and, for those instances where his inability exists, the church is exhorted: “do not grow weary of doing good”

        d. that the world may see how these Christians love one another.


D. Concluding Prayer & Blessing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3:16-18

    1. Paul’s Signature Conclusion

        a. here, Paul takes the pen from the one who has been writing this letter under his dictation, and in his own distinctive script writes his prayer

        b. a prayer that is on behalf of the entire church in Thessalonica

        c. the mature and the babes; those who are leading exemplary lives, those who are having some problems in that respect

        d. for the church of Jesus Christ, though imperfect, is still His church

        e. “16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all! 17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”




© 2018 by Garth Hutchinson, Faith Fellowship Baptist Church of Aurora (Ontario): may be distributed or quoted freely, only let this be done to the glory “of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus ii.13). Except as noted otherwise, quotations are from the New American Standard version, used by permission. Various other English versions of the Holy Bible may be used in this sermon. Explanatory additions to the Bible text are shown in [braces]. Version identifiers are:


              AV          Authorized (King James) Version of 1769

              NAS        New American Standard version © 1960, 1995 The Lockman Foundation (usually the 1995 edition)

              IGNT              Interlinear Greek New Testament, Zondervan Publishing, 1956; as well as other Greek Texts as W&H, Nestle, etc.

              NIV         New International Version © 1984 by the International Bible Society

              NKJV              New King James Version © 1979 Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers

              Philips     The New Testament in Modern Englis, J. B. Phillips, Geoffrey Bles Ltd

              RSV        Revised Standard Version © 1946, 1952 National Council of Churches of Christ; Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd

              WEY               The New Testament in Modern Speech © 1902, 1912 R. F. Weymouth

Some of the commentaries and resources used in the preparation of this message are identified as follow:

              BM       Biblical Museum, Editor James Comper Gray, ca 1870

              EBC             The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, © 1986 Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 49530, MI:

                             1, 2 Thessalonians: Robert L. Thomas

              EGT             The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Hodder & Stoughton; 1903

                             1 & II Thessalonians, by James Moffatt

              JFB  -      Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Jamieson, Fausset & Brown; S. S. Scranton & Co. 1872

              Gill       Exposition of the Old Testament, Exposition of the New Testament, by John Gill, D.D.

              Kerux –   The sermon & illustration data base compiled by Rev. David Holwick at the web-site,

              NCBC –    The New Century Bible Commentary, Eerdmans, © Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1983

                             1 and 2 Thessalonians by I. Howard Marshall;

              RWP             Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament, by Dr. A. T. Robertson

              TTB      Thinking Through the Bible, Rev’d John McNicol, D.D., © 1944 by the author; The Upper Canada Tract & Book Society.


‘Not Just When His Eye Is On You’, by Ray C. Stedman, Kerux illustration #17944


By Rev. Bruce Goettsche in the same illustration.


See Liddell & Scott, Oxford, 1925, revised 1996; on the verb atakteo and its cognates.