Read 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18
This passage might be quite troubling for some people so I want to see if we can understand it.
The Aaron Smith saga is pretty sordid. It is shameful to even talk about such things but it provides a good example. Unfortunately, I guess we have all heard about his tryst with a woman in a toilet. That led to a one-match ban, a tearful apology and his return from South Africa to try to reconcile with his girlfriend.
But now, there are allegations that he lied to his coach and employer and that he tried to get the woman to sign a false affidavit. Consequently, the Rugby Union has re-opened the investigation.
- Why would Smith be disciplined? Initially there was the one-match ban and now the possibility that there will be further consequences. Why?
- What business is it of the NZRFU?
Sometimes players who turn up late for training are dropped from the team. Why?
Today’s passage says that lazy people should be rejected by the church. Is that what it says? And why?
In the NIV, the phrase “idle and disruptive” is used twice and “idle” used once. Plus, there are other words like “not willing to work”, “not busy” and it is contrasted with “earn the bread you eat” and “never tire of doing good”. There does seem to be a lot about laziness.
Twice – in vv.6 and 14 – it says, “Do not associate with idle people.” So, lazy people are to be shunned by the church. Have nothing to do with them. Are we OK with this? But this is the word of God. What are we going to do with it?
Church discipline is not a popular concept these days – the idea that the church should take action against people because of their lifestyle. But even if it was, wouldn’t we think it should be reserved for the worst of sins? Should the church really discipline lazy people?
Do you know what? In the original Greek, there is no word for idle or lazy!
So, how come it is in our translations? The word used in vv.6, 7, and 11 – where it is translated “idle” – is ataktos. Look it up; google it. It means disorderly, out of line. It means unruly, or refusing to obey God’s rules. Maybe we could say “rebellious” or “disobedient”.
It is very easy to see why the translators talk about idleness. Paul does talk about laziness – about people who refuse to work, etc. The context is about laziness; the word is about being unruly, so the translators have hedged their bets by saying both – idle and disruptive. Laziness is one aspect of an undisciplined life but the word is much more general. It is about any unruly – not following the rules – lifestyle.
v.11 talks about people who are “ataktos” but then says they are busybodies. Well, that doesn’t make sense. Busybodies are not idle; they are busy but they are busy meddling in other people’s business instead of getting on with their own. They were out of line but they weren’t idle. Paul said those people need to settle down. Lazy people do not need to settle down; they are already far too settled! So, ataktos doesn’t mean “idle”. It means out-of-line, disobedient, disruptive behaviour.
Aaron Smith’s wasn’t accused of being lazy but he was “out-of-line”. That required action.
Does that make the issue of church discipline any more understandable? Maybe not. Let’s pursue it further. Note that it is talking about Christians. V.6 says, “Keep away from any believer who is out of line.” He is not talking about the church condemning people in society but rather that Christians come under the discipline of the church. He is saying to the church, “You need to exercise that discipline.”
It is about maintaining discipline within the church but that is still a concept that will upset some people. Some people will bristle at any suggestion that the church has any authority over them. Let’s look at it.
In v.6, the church is commanded to dissociate from these disruptive people. It is not a piece of advice. It is a command. In fact, it is made even stronger: In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you… We are out-of-line if we reject a command.
What is this discipline to look like? V.6: “keep away from this person”. V.14: “do not associate with them.” It is not about public floggings or executions. It is about saying, “You cannot fellowship with us.”
Why? Why would a church do this? The passage gives us four reasons.
V.6 says, “keep away from this person”. V.7 gives us the reason: “For… because… you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.”
The Greek is quite strong. “It is necessary – it is compulsory – it is required – that you follow our example.” For Christians, Christian living is not optional. Christians are expected to live according to God’s rules. And the church is expected to require that of its members.
So, the first reason for disciplining the unruly person is that for the Christian, Christian living is not optional. Christians are expected to obey God and the church has a responsibility to make that clear.
The second reason is implied by the word “disruptive” which is used in the NIV. Disobedient people disrupt the church. For example, they disrupt relationships. Think of the person who causes division, maybe spreading rumours, spreading discontent, dividing one group of people from another. The church should say, “No, sorry, that is not who we are. That is not acceptable. You are out-of-line”.
To give you a biblical example…
Titus 3:10 Warn a divisive person once, and then a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him/her.
Discipline is not even the first step, but if a person receives two warning and carries on causing division, the church is commanded to take action – exactly the same action as in 2 Thessalonians: have nothing to do with him/her.
The unity of the church is important to God. The person who is disobedient and therefore disruptive, should not be tolerated by the church.
But it could be anything else that is disrupted. Maybe the work of the church is disrupted by people who oppose change all of the time, or the witness of the church is damaged when the wider community sees greed or domestic violence or immorality amongst Christians. When Christians are unruly, the credibility of the church and of the gospel suffers. Jesus’ name is brought into disrepute. The damage is too serious and so the church should not tolerate it.
The second reason is that out-of-order behaviour damages the church and its witness and brings dishonour to the name of Jesus.
The third reason is that, if the church tolerates bad behaviour, other members think that it is OK and the bad behaviour becomes the norm. The church should not allow a bad apple to spoil the whole barrel.
Notice how conscious Paul was of his example because it influenced others. He chose not to eat anybody’s food without paying for it. He was within his rights to expect support from those he was teaching but he chose not to receive that support. Instead, he worked night and day, labouring and toiling. He modelled hard work and not bludging off others. Why? Look at v.9. “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.” Paul disciplined himself in order to be an example. Example influences the next generation. It is required of us that we follow his example and that we also be examples.
The third reason is: Others will do what they see the church allowing.
The fourth reason is in v.14: Do not associate with them in order that they may feel ashamed. Naming and shaming is often seen as a way of punishing and humiliating. But not in the Bible. The motivation is not to hurt people. Biblically, the motivation is to bring someone to repentance. The hope is that strong action will bring the person to his/her senses and back to God. The purpose is always redemptive. It is tough love. We can see that in v.15: Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers. This is not a way of hating people or hurting people. It is a way of loving people. A warning is designed to bring about a change; to shock the person into facing reality and changing his/her behaviour. Being cut off from the fellowship of the church is intended to say, “This is unacceptable. Please take heed.”
The disobedient person is still to be seen as a fellow believer (not an enemy); someone we love and want to see restored to the family.
The fourth reason is to bring shame on the person in the hope that that leads to repentance and that that leads to incorporating that person in the fellowship of the church again.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul dealt with a man who was sleeping with his step-mother. Again, he said that the man should be put out of the fellowship. But Paul’s motivation is: “so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord” (v.5). The objective is always the person’s salvation.
Should the church have higher standards or lower standards than the NZRFU?
Why does the NZRFU discipline its players? Because it is concerned to protect its reputation and its internal culture. It is the same for the church. The mission of the church is far more important than rugby and the reputation of God’s name is far more important than the reputation of the NZRFU.
v.13 nicely summarises how we are to live. “As for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”
Paul mentions two ways to know what is good: Firstly, the teachings that have been handed down. In v.6 he talked about those who “do not live according to the teachings that you received from us”. Clearly for us that is primarily the Bible. The second way is through the example of godly Christians. We learn a lot about Christian living by watching Christians live. That is why it is so crucial for Christians to set a good example. Other people’s eternity is impacted by our example.
We have been looking at this letter under the heading of “Christians in a crazy world”. We live in a world where long-accepted standards are being jettisoned; where bizarre views seem to be main-stream; where everything is unpredictable and truth is hard to find. We wonder if the world has gone mad. In a crazy world, the church needs to be doubly sure that it is being the church; that we are being faithful to God. This is the time to be more focused on knowing what is right and doing it. When the world is ready to condemn, Christians are called to live to a higher standard and, corporately, we have a responsibility to uphold that standard.
- Christian living is not optional
- Out-of-line behaviour undermines the reputation of the church and the name of Jesus.
- Others will do what they see the church allowing.
- Tough love might lead to repentance whereas condoning bad behaviour never will.
“As for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”