The seventh Sunday of the Epiphany season – Feb 27, 2022
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Exegesis of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
- What’s the problem here? Some people in the church were sponging off of others. What was causing this? Two main theories: 1.) They were banking all their future on Christ’s imminent second coming: why bother working? 2.) They were part of the well-established Roman patronage system, whereby rich “patrons” would sponsor “clients.”
- Are there contemporary parallels in America? There are private patronage arrangements in government, business, the arts and higher education. But the clearest parallel is with government sponsored public assistance programs.
- Excursus: The problem of homelessness. The problem is not principally about people lacking homes. It is primarily a people problem when certain individuals get disconnected from larger family units and churches and become isolated. Yet many groups working on the problem focus almost exclusively on building housing. “The Homeless” are not a homogeneous group but a confederation of different, intersecting sub-groups. 1.) Sudden hardship, 2.) Mental illness (25%), 3.) Substance abuse (38% addicted to alcohol, 26% to drugs), 3.) Preference for a transient lifestyle, 4.) Criminal behavior. The vast majority of individuals fit two or more of these categories.
- The policy of the early church concerning the “idle” was twofold: 1.) To encourage everyone to work hard to care for themselves and have enough to help others. Cf. Eph 4:28. 2.) To help those who were truly in need for a period of time. Cf. 1 Tim 5:3-16; Acts 6:1. The general rule of thumb is stated in v.10: “the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” Cf. Gen 3:17-19; Ps 128:2; Prov 10:4; 12:11; 19:15; 1 Thess 4:11-12; Eph 4:28.
(Vv. 13-15) And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
- Sounds harsh to modern ears but is actually merciful. People who are never corrected are destined to remain the same. What is our goal for each other? As Christians, we want every person to experience God’s rich blessing, love and peace.
- Paul didn’t shy away from church discipline when it was called for. The NT presents handful of occasions when it is called for: heretical teaching (Gal 5:9), divisiveness (Titus 3:10-11), disobedience to apostolic directives (2 Thess 3:13), and unrepentant immorality (1 Cor 5:1-5).
- What was the goal of church discipline? 1.) To redeem the person caught in sin: 1 Cor 5:5; Gal 6:1-2. 2.) To protect the lives of the other members: 1 Cor 5:6-13; 15:33. 3.) To guard the reputation of Christ and his Church: cf. 1 Cor 6:1; Rom 2:23-24.
- How did the church practice discipline? Jesus taught the early church to follow a relationship intensive process involving gradually escalating levels of discipline:
- Lovingly confront the person alone, then with witnesses. Cf. Matt 5:15-18.
- Temporarily disassociate from the person. Cf. 1 Cor 5:9, 11.
- “Excommunicate” (disfellowship) the person. Cf. Mt 18:17; Rom 16:17-19; 1 Cor 5:9-11; Titus 3:10-11; 2 Jn 10-11.
- (In extreme cases: Deliver the person to Satan for the destruction of the flesh and preservation of the soul: 1 Cor 5:4-5; cf. 1 Tim 1:19-20).
(Vv. 16-18) Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
- Paul’s personal written greeting. At this point in the original letter, Paul took the pen from his amanuensis and writes a personal greeting with own hand (see Gal 6:11).
- Benediction: “Grace” and “peace.” Grace, charis, is favor, blessing, the shining face or smile of God on us (Num 6:24-26). Peace, eirene or Heb. shalom, is the result of his grace: flourishing, abundance.
Some helpful resources
- Good commentary on 2 Thessalonians: Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 2002).
- Various statistics on homelessness in the US (PolicyAdvice) https://policyadvice.net/insurance/insights/homelessness-statistics/
- What do we do about the homeless? (Chris Rufo, PragerU) https://www.prageru.com/video/what-do-we-do-about-the-homeless
- America’s Promise (Jason Whitlock, PragerU) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtBuE7WW4A4