2 Thessalonians


3. Appeals, commands and prayers, 3:1-15

ii] The discipline of work


In the final section of his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul gives some advice to the idle and disobedient. This section may rightly be titled "Godly Discipline." In his first letter, Paul raised the issue of those in the congregation who would not work, 4:11f., 5:14. It seems likely that this problem developed because some members had come to the view that the day of the Lord was now upon them. At any rate, Paul again addresses this problem, encouraging the idle to "settle down and earn the bread they eat."


i] Context: See 3:1-5.


ii] Structure: This passage, The discipline of work, presents as follows:

Proposition / command, v6:

"keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness ..."

Paul's own example, v7-9;

A reminder of previous teaching on this subject, v10:

"if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat."

A command to the "not busy ... busybodies", v11-12;

Instructions for the congregation, v13-15;

Proper treatment of the idlers:

"do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as a fellow believer."


iii] Interpretation:

Not all commentators are convinced that the problem Paul is addressing stems from a realized eschatology. Suggestion range from something as simple as laziness to identifying the ataktoi, "the idlers", as those who claim apostolic privileges from the Christian community.


The passage begins with a command to the Thessalonian congregation, namely that they abhor idlers, v6. Paul then sets out the reasons for the command: it is in accord with tradition, v6c; it is in accord with his own work-ethic, v7-9; and it is in accord with the earlier instructions he gave the congregation, namely that members of the congregation earn their own living, v10. Paul then explains why he is addressing this issue, referring to the report he has received about this problem in the Thessalonian church, v11. He then directly addresses the ataktoi, "the idlers", commanding that "they settle down and earn the bread they eat", v12, and then he addresses the brotherhood in general, encouraging them to "never tire of doing what is right", v13. Finally, Paul gives directions as to what should be done with those members who fail to heed the detailed instructions in this letter, v14-15.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 3:6

Paul's exhortation concerning the idlers - an exhortation toward "economic self-sufficency", Wanamaker. i] Paul now gives a firm direction on the issue of idleness. His direction is given "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ", ie. under Christ's authority. Those who are "idle", slothful, act against the teachings of Jesus. By refraining from employment they do not contribute to the support of their Christian community, but rather draw on its financial resources.

de "-" - but, and. Here obviously transitional and therefore not translated, as NIV, or "now, we command ...."

en + dat. "in [the name of the Lord Jesus Christ]" - Instrumental, "by", or local, space/sphere, "under". This is a very authoritative command indeed, for a command "in" the name means that the command is given "by" or "under" the authority of Jesus.

paraggellomen (paraggellw) pres. "we command" - we charge. "One further order we must give you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ", Phillips.

uJmin dat. pro. "you" - Dative of direct object after the verb paraggellw, "to command."

stellesqai (stellw) pres. mid. inf. "to keep away from" - to journey / mid. = to avoid, shun. The middle voice "keep oneself away from / shun / avoid / separate / withdraw" is probably the sense of this little-used word, although in the LXX it is used to parallel the word "fear / awestruck". The infinitive serves to form an object clause / dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing the content of the command; "we command .... that you keep away from." Because of their failure to submit to the teachings of the church in this matter, Paul directs that the brotherhood withdraws fellowship, or possibly better is wary of, takes note of, identifies (notes the sin more than the sinner, cf. v14). The church has a responsibility toward the offenders and must help them to again reflect the person they are in Christ.

peripatountoV (peripatew) gen. pres. part. "who is idle" - walking. The participle serves as an attributive adjective limiting "every brother", and genitive of agreement after apo, "from"; "from every brother who walks". "Walks" as in "conducts oneself". This is modified by the adverb ataktwV "idleness", so "idly conducts oneself / lives." The word "idle" can mean something like "disorderly", but idleness gives the best sense here. "Who is living a work-shy and indisciplined life", Barclay.

mh kata + acc. "does not live according to" - not according to. Expressing a standard; "in accordance with."

paradosin (iV ewV) "teaching" - tradition. The word "teaching" is better translated "tradition". The implication is that there is a body of teaching from Christ conveyed through the apostles and Christian prophets, which was accepted in the Christian church and which Paul and his ministry team had passed on to the Thessalonians. For us, this body of teaching/tradition is now found in the New Testament, but for them it consisted of oral tradition authenticated by the apostles. Those who are "idle" act against this tradition and therefore, Paul rightly confronts their idleness, cf. Eph.4:28.

parelabosan (paralambanw) "you received" - they received. The NIV follows the less reliable reading parelabete, "you received", rather than "they received". "And ignore the tradition we passed on to them", TNT.

par (para) + gen. "from [us]" - Here expressing source / origin; "from".


ii] Paul's own example, v7-9. Paul is able to point to his own example as someone who supports himself financially while performing his gospel ministry. He could rightly look for financial support from his converts, cf. 1Tim.5:17-18, yet for the sake of the gospel he pays his own way as a tent maker. By working for a living he sets an example for his mission churches to follow.

gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why they should keep away from idle brothers. .

oidate (ginwskw) perf. "you [yourselves] know" - you know. "You yourselves are well-aware", Barclay.

pwV "how" - how, in what way, by what means. Here introducing a dependent statement of perception, as with oJti, "that", but with pwV expressing manner. Ellicott suggests a brachylogy (an overly concise expression) here; "in what way it is necessary [to walk = to conduct your lives and] follow our example." "You yourselves know very well that you ought to follow our example", Bruce.

mimeisqai (mimeomai) pres. inf. "[you ought] to follow" - [it is necessary] to follow. The infinitive serves as the subject of the verb "is necessary"; "to follow our example is necessary."

oJti "-" - that. Although somewhat unclear it does seem that this conjunction is forming a causal clause here. The Thessalonians know that they should follow the example of Paul and his team (the "we" may mean "we apostles") and this because of their example, ie. the missionary team worked and paid their own way = they were not idle. "Because we were not idle when we were with you", ESV.

ouk htakthsamen (ataktew) aor. "were we not idle" - idle, lazy, a loafer / disorderly. Note the two possible meanings of the word: "we were not disorderly ("undisciplined", NJB) among you", Malherbe, or "we did not loaf in your midst", Moffatt, or a bit of both, "we did not live in an indisciplined idleness when we were among you", Barclay.

en + dat. "when we were with [you]" - in, on. Possibly forming a temporal clause with a local sense, as NIV; "when we were among you", Cassirer. Possibly just local; "we were not disorderly / loafing among you."


para + gen. "[we did not eat anyone's food]" - from [a certain person did we eat bread]. Here again expressing source / origin, "from", but possibly "at someone's house", Zerwick.

dwrean adv. "[without] paying for it" - [not] freely, gratis, without payment = "by way of gift", Morris. "We paid for all the food we were given", TNT.

all (alla) "on the contrary" - but. Strong adversative.

ergazomenoi (ergazomai) pres. part. "we worked" - working. The participle is probably adverbial, instrumental, modifying an assumed efagomen; "we do not eat ....... but [we eat] by working .."

nuktoV kai hJmeraV gen. "night and day" - The genitive is probably adverbial, temporal, modifying the participle "working"; "during the night and the day."

en + dat. "[laboring and toiling]" - in [weariness and hardship]. The preposition probably serves to form an adverbial clause of manner; "labouring with weariness and hardship." Paul toiled at his profession so that he might not eat the food that belonged to others without paying for it. He functioned this way so that others might imitate his behavior. He lived what he taught. He argues this point fully in 1 Corinthians chapter 9. He said he lived this way that he might share in the blessings of the gospel - the salvation of the lost and the building up of the Christian fellowship. In simple terms, the love of the brotherhood expresses itself in the building up of our brothers and sisters, not in feeding off them. By this love the reality of Christ's presence is displayed to a broken world. Of course, this passage touches on the issue of full-time paid clergy, particularly today with the move from "a living" (survival!) to a professional salary. The subject is a difficult one to work through and not disposed to simplistic answers.

proV to mh + inf. "so that we would not [be a burden]" - to not [to be a burden]. This construction, the preposition with the articular infinitive, usually forms a purpose / hypothetical result clause; "in order that / so that." The word expresses "to be a financial burden to someone by requiring too much support - to burden, to be a financial burden to."*


This verse is parenthetical, serving as a qualification; "Of course, we were entitled to receive your support, but we paid our way so as to give you an example to follow."

"We did this" - An obvious ellipsis exists in the first clause of the Gk., namely the verb to-be and an epexegetic infinitive explaining the "authority"; "[it is] not that we do not have authority [to eat bread from anyone as a gift]." Paul ate from the product of his own labor without being a burden on others, although it would not have been inappropriate for him to have received material support from the Thessalonian believers.

ouc oJti "not because" - not that. Possibly causal, as NIV, although it is more likely that oJti introduces a noun clause, subject of the supplied verb to-be; "that we do not have authority is not." "Not that we do not have the right to such support", Moffatt.

ouk ecomen (ecw) pres. "we do not have" - The two negative ouc and ouk, as in English, may be expressed as a positive; "granted we are entitled to ask you to support us", Bruce.

exousian (a) "the right" - authority, power, licence. Referring to the right to freely eat food that is given as a gift for the maintenance of Christian ministry. "It is not that we had no privilege to claim in this matter", Cassirer.

all (alla) "but" - Strong adversative. "But rather ....."

iJna + subj. "in order [to make]" - that [we might give]. Possibly forming a purpose clause, as NIV, but more likely forming a noun clause subject of a supplied verb to-be; "that we do not have the right [to freely receive such a gift] [is] not, but rather that we ourselves might offer to you a model of behavior in order to follow [is]."

eautouV "ourselves" - Emphatic by position.

tupon (oV) "a model" - a pattern, an example.

uJmin dat. pro. "for you" - Dative of interest, advantage.

eiV to mimeisqai (mimeomai) pres. inf. "to follow" - to imitate. This construction usually forms a purpose clause, here expressing the object of giving a pattern, "so that / in order that you might imitate us." "That we might offer ourselves to you as a pattern of behavior", TNT.


iii] A reminder of previous teaching on this subject, v10. Paul gives a summary of the work-ethic which is part of the tradition, or "sound teaching", which was taught the Thessalonians when he was first with them: "If a person refuses to work, then don't let him eat."

kai gar "for even" - and for. The gar is unlikely to be causal, but rather with kai is emphatic; "not only did we set you an example when we were with you, we even gave you a direct command: ....."

o{te "when [we were with you]" - Forming a temporal clause, as NIV.

parhggellomen (paraggellw) imperf. "we gave [you this] rule" - we charged. The durative nature of the imperfect may be present here, so "we continually charged you", but the imperfect is often used of speech which, by its very nature, involves words upon words. We have great difficulty in trying to identify the source of this work-ethic. Many scholars simply say "it belongs to the universal realm of common sense", Neil. Yet, it would be very dangerous for the church to adopt the ethic of the age and incorporate it in its traditio". Findlay argues it is more likely that the Old Testament is the source of the work-ethic of the early church. Yet, the ethic may well have originated from Jesus. We know Jesus worked as a carpenter/builder, Mk.4:3. Above all, he came to do the Father's work, cf. Jn.4:34, which work he finished at great cost to himself, Jn.15:24. The believer, saved on the basis of Christ's work, is fruitful in every good work, Col.1:10, cf. Gal.4:4, 2Thess.2:17, 2Tim.2:21; he is a steward of God's riches, cf. Matt.25:14-30, and a servant of his neighbor, Matt.15:40. Jesus establishes the Christian work ethic when he says, "the labourer is worthy of his hire", Luke.10:7.

uJmin dat. pro. "you" - [we commanded this] to you. Dative of indirect object.

oJti "-" - that. Here introducing a dependent statement, indirect speech / direct command; "namely that if anyone is not willing to work then let him not eat."

ei + ind. "if" - Forming a conditional clause, 1st class, where the condition is assumed to be true, for argument sake; "if, as is the case, ..... then ....."

ou qelei (qelw) "will not" - does not wish. The translation, "if a man will not work, he shall not eat", misses the point somewhat. A free translation might go something like this, "if a person refuses (does not want/wish) to work, then don't let him eat." This is not a "wise" saying like, "he who does not work does not eat", rather it is a command. If a brother is not willing to work, not willing to try to get a job, then don't give them anything to eat out of the common purse of the Christian fellowship. We are obliged to work for our living and not bludge off the generosity of others.

ergazesqai (ergazomai) pres. inf. "[will not] work" - [is not willing] to work. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the negated verb "is not willing."


iv] A word to the "busybodies" themselves, v11-12. Paul knows well that some of the Thessalonian believers are living workshy and indisciplined lives; they are "not busily employed, but busily busy." These members, who are living off the bounty of others, must from now on live off the fruit of their own labors. They must "settle down", in the sense of not going overboard with their second coming speculation, and start earning a living again.

gar "-" - for. Expressing cause/reason; introducing a causal clause explaining why Paul has given his command in v6, and reminded his readers of the example he has set and the direct command he gave them when he was with them, namely "because we hear that ....." We are best to follow the NIV given the difficulty of making the causal link.

peripatountaV (peripatew) pres. part. "that" - walking [idly]. The participle forms a dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul has heard, namely that tinaV "some" of the Thessalonian believers are "walking, conducting themselves, behaving" ataktwV adv. "idly, in an idle fashion." "News has reached us that in your fellowship there are some who are living workshy and indisciplined lives", cf. Barclay.

en + dat. "among [you]" - Local, expressing space / sphere, as NIV.

mhden ergazomenouV (ergazomai) pres. part. "they are not busy" - not working. This, and the following participle, is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their "walking idly"; "not busily employed, but busily busy."

alla "-" - but. Strong adversative.

periergazomenouV (periergazomai) "they are busybodies" - being busybodies, meddlers. Paul is obviously making a play on the previous Gk. word. "Busybodies" may be a little too specific since the word primarily means to do something that is useless, unnecessary.


de "-" - but, and. Transitional, "now".

toiV ... toioutoiV dat. "such people" - to such ones [we are commanding and exhorting]. Dative of direct object, emphatic by position.

en + dat. "in [the Lord Jesus Christ]" - See v6. The prepositional phrase "in the Lord Jesus Christ" serves to identify the authority by which Paul issues his command; "this is my admonition by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ", Bruce.

iJna + subj. "to ..... [eat]" - that [they may eat]. Forming an object clause / dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing what Paul commands and urges.

ergazomenoi (ergazomai) pres. part. "earn" - working. The participle is adverbial, instrumental, expressing the means by which they may eat, namely by working.

meta + gen. "-" - with [quietness]. Here forming an adverbial phrase, modal, expressing the manner of their working, namely, quietly. "That you support yourselves by settling down and earning a living."

eJautwn gen. reflex. pro. "-" - [the bread] of their own. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "to earn their own living", ESV.


v] Instructions for the congregation on the proper treatment of the idlers, v13-15. Addressing the majority of church members, Paul encourages them to act rightly. Most likely he is thinking of their behavior toward the idlers. The church should resist developing a handout mentality. In dealing with the idlers, those who refuse to work must face the shame of their behavior, while at the same time be encouraged to change their ways.

de "and" - Coordinative, as NIV.

adelfoi (oV) "brothers" - In apposition to "you"; "and as for you my fellow believers, ...."

mh egkakhshte (egkakew) aor. subj. "never tire" - do not lose heart, be discouraged, grow weary. Subjunctive of prohibition.

kalopoiounteV (kalopoiew) pres. part. "of doing what is right" - doing good. The participle is adverbial, instrumental, expressing the means by which a person may grow weary, namely by doing good. "Do the lovely thing without weakening", Berkeley.


de "-" - Transitional, "now ..."

ei + ind. "if" - if. Introducing a conditional clause 1st class where the condition is assumed to be true, "if, as is the case, ........ then ......."

tiV "anyone" - a certain person. This general identification may cover "all who embrace false doctrine or act irresponsibly", Furnish, but surely Paul (Furnish does not class the letter as Pauline) is still focused on those who sponge off the generosity of others rather than earn a living.

tw/ logw/ dat. "[our] instruction" - the word [of us]. Dative of direct object after the verb uJpakouw, "to obey"; what we have written in this letter", CEV.

dia + gen. "in [this letter]" - through, by means of [the letter]. Instrumental, expressing means.

shmeiousqe (shmeiow) pres. imp. "take special note of [him]" - mark, mark out, note [this one]. The literal English equivalent, "mark this man", "he is to be a marked man", Knox, is far too strong, given the "marked man" image in English. Identify this person, possibly "point out such a person", Peterson, although even this sounds a bit like making lists!!! An impersonal sense may be better "be on the lookout for disobedience", Furnish, cf. Rom.16:17.

mh sunanamignusqai (sunanamignumi) pres. inf. "do not associate with" - not to associate with. The infinitive serves to form a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing the content of Paul's direction to the Thessalonian believers with regard those they have "marked / identified", namely, that they not associate with them. On the other hand, the infinitive may form a final clause "stating the purpose for the marking", Malherbe, or possibly imperatival, Frame. It is unclear what breaking fellowship entails. We have all heard of individuals in puritanical congregations who have been singled out because of their beliefs or actions and publicly humiliated before the congregation and then shunned / excommunicated. It's hard to believe that Paul has this in mind. Peterson goes out on a limb with "refuse to subsidize his freeloading", and given the directive in v15 this must come close to the intended sense. It is rather difficult to break fellowship with someone, but then "warn/instruct" them as a brother.

autw/ dat. pro. "him" - Dative of direct object after a sun prefix verb.

iJna + subj. "in order that [he may feel ashamed]" - that [he may be put to shame]. Introducing a final clause expressing purpose, as NIV. "In the hope that that will make him ashamed of himself", Barclay. Within Mediterranean societies, to be dishonored in a community was a strong moral condemnation and thus a motivator for right action.


kai "yet" - and. Adversative, "and yet", "in spite of that", BAGD. "I do not mean treat him as an enemy", REB.

mh .... hJgeisqe (hJgeomai) pres. imp. "do not regard" - do not consider, regard, reckon.

wJV "as [an enemy]" - as if [an enemy]. Here adverbial, expressing manner; "as if". However the withdrawal of fellowship is to be applied, v14, it does not involve avoidance, but rather the continuation of a relationship. The wayward brother is no enemy.

alla "but" - but. Strong adversative, as NIV.

nouqeteite (nouqetew) pres. imp. "warn" - admonish, warn / give advice to, teach. Probably "warn" is intended, rather than "teach", so "reprimand", Phillips, or better "admonish", Wanamaker.

wJV "as [a brother]" - Again adverbial, as above. Probably with the sense "they are to admonish him in a brotherly fashion", Morris. "The action must be carried out in a way that is redemptive rather than punitive", Fee.


2 Thessalonians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]