Today, we are completing our three part exploration of Paul's Second to the Thessalonians. Chapter two was chock-full. Everything is important, of course, but today we are looking at chapter three. It is a bit simpler. It three breaks down into three portions. Verses 1-5 is Paul's confident plea that the Thessalonian church will be faithful. Verses 6-15 offer how the local church should address the problem of false teachers, busybodies, and distractors. Finally, verse 16-18 are the conclusion of Paul's letter and its authentication.
You Will Do what We Command
I like verse four here in the first section. Here we see Paul telling the Thessalonians that he is sure that God will do more than he has commanded. This is his way of encouraging them, sharing with them his anticipation that they will take every step he asks them to. He asks them to pray for their leaders, that the Word of God will speed onward, accomplishing God's will as it is received by His people.
We need this attitude. Too many Adventists are really distractventists; they have little commitment to the Third Angel's Message or stability in living and proclaming it. Instead, they are off on any one of a thousand tangents. They devote their energies to aberrations including feast keeping, lunar sabbath, or homosexual rights, or even the latest, the anti-Paul movement. That is a group who push for keeping the feasts and reject Ellen White because she accepts Paul. They reject Paul. The only books they are really interested in are Old Testament books and the Gospel of Matthew. And two years from now, who knows what next queer doctrinal aberration to find favor shall be?
There is nothing too weird, too implausable, too abstract or off the beaten path that it will not find some misguided person to latch on to it and try to add it to the Third Angel's Message. But the result is always the displacement of the message with the new emphasis taking center stage. Mission grinds to a standstill, and the energy of pastor, elders, and church must be spent trying to corral these offtrack people, which most often is unsuccessful anyway, because they do not accept that they are part of something larger than themselves, that they are accountable to God's church.
All this energy is spent, a business meeting is held at last, and many lament that the energy has been spent, only to stop short of taking needful action. Then the church may resist its leaders in order to "give them more time" to change their ways. And more energy is taken from our actual mission and spent on those who know the truth but who are rejecting it. Remember, most often these are persons who have embraced and committed themselves to the Third Angel's Message already. But they have listened to a DVD or gone to a "camp meeting" somewhere, where offtrack, sidetrack notions have been presented as "Present Truth," and now they are convinced that it is--even though their own church of which they are members and where they are have made a commitment to accountability to that church and its leaders, urges them to leave behind the false ideas.
Oh, and they claim, virtually all of them, at first, to be full believers in and in full acceptance of Ellen G. White. Well, they should hear what Mrs. White says when she writes concerning the local church in Thessalonica:
The Thessalonian believers were greatly annoyed by men coming among them with fanatical ideas and doctrines. Some were 'disorderly, working not at all, but . . . busybodies.' The church had been properly organized, and officers had been appointed to act as ministers and deacons. But there were some, self-willed and impetuous, who refused to be subordinate to those who held positions of authority in the church. They claimed not only the right of private judgment, but that of publically urging their views upon the church. In view of this, Paul called the attention of the Thessalonians to the respect and deference due to those who had been chosen to occupy positions of authority in the church. . . . He reproved those who had given themselves up to sloth and aimless excitement, and directed that 'with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.' He also enjoined upon the church to separate from their fellowship anyone who should persist in disregarding the instruction given by God's ministers (Acts of the Apostles, pp. 261, 267, 268).
Who, by the way, are the "ministers and deacons"? This means the pastor and elders of the church and the deacons. But those who are appointed to lead in matters of teaching and doctrine especially are pastor and elders. There is, there actually is, church order, a way in which the church is organized for service. God knows best and He has organized His church for success. There is a reason why a hospital is organized. There is a reason why the nurses are not permitted to lounge round in the basement playing pinochle while the patients in the hospital are upstairs expiring.
There are things to do. Why do they get done? Because the staff likes to receive their paychecks. And surely there are persons who are truly motivated by the Christian impulse to serve. In the same way, what about the church? Why do things get done in the church? Because the members believe in living and giving the Third Angel's Message. We do not gather to be strange or to invent sidetracks. We gather to worship and to be changed and to be used of God to change others who desire the kingdom.
The church is not a belief mall or a cafeteria. Members are disciples. They have made commitments to follow Jesus. This means that they have made commitments to seek out His truth and to be shaped by it. It means they are committed to working through the local church as His agency for changing the world. They are individualistic enough to be firm in living by the beliefs of the church but flexible enough to work side by side with fellow church members.
Here is the baseline in verse five: "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God." Are we--really--willing to be so directed? Because, the way that God does this, is through His Spirit, through His Word, through His representatives in His church. All these go together. When something is not in order here, then there is a problem. Claims are a dime a dozen; what do our lives say?
Withdraw from Those Who Walk Disorderly
Following Jesus has entailments and consequences. Failure to follow Him does as well. Therefore, we now look at this in verses 6-15.
Consider verse six. There we have nothing less than a command. The command is to withdraw yourself from every brother who walks out of order. "TAKTOS" means "in order or arranged." "ATAKTOS" means the opposite. Paul warns here about people who are behaving ATAKTOS.
What's more, is we have an opposite here. Disorderly is in contrast to walking in the tradition that they have received, literally, that which has been handed-over, transmitted, handed down from age to age. That is, this does not have reference merely to an idea that Paul himself cooked up, but to ageless truths.
Paul is preaching and teaching timeless truths for truthless times--just as we ourselves are to do. And where does this order and disorder especially matter? In the church. There are persons in the church who operate in order, and persons who are the very example of disorder. Another way to think about this would be functional and disfunctional. What kind of church members are we? Functional? Or dysfunctional?
Paul goes on to claim that his behavior was not dysfunctional and that that behavior is a pattern for the church (v. 7). Paul chose to do direct work in order to remove from his opponents any argument that he was preaching for personal gain. He says that his behavior was intentional and to set them an example.
Apparently this issue involving work was with the group from its beginning. And so, even before, Paul had commanded them that if they did not work they would not eat. In 3:11 he mentions that he has heard that there are those in the church who are ATAKTOS, out of order, busy workers, intense workers.
Working at what so busily? Remember, the main context for 1 and 2 Thessalonians is Paul's attempt to correct false teachings by false teachers in that church. And who, in your experience and mine, has the most time to play with strange doctrines? People who are retired, out of work, or able but not working. Could it be that there were some folks mixing in the church there spending their energies misunderstanding Paul, offering teachings they preferred instead? It appears that these people were receiving help from the church even in the form of free food as they continued to pitch their offtrack teachings!
Three times in the book comes the idea of "command" (3:6, 10, 12)--all right here in this section in chapter three. In 3:14, the call is to obey, literally, to hear. But this makes perfect sense. The disciple is one who is connected to a master, and he seeks to hear his master that he may obey his master. Jesus is the Christian's Master. We call Him "Lord." We are not Lord; He is Lord. We are to listen to Him. We do that by searching the Scriptures, receiving the teaching handed down, and working in harmony with the church and those chosen to exercise authority in it.
In verses 13-15 instructions are offered concerning how the church is to deal with the disobedient. But these disorderly ones are to work quietly and provide for themselves. The command to God's people in that local church comes again in verse 14--note that person, and not associate or comingle with him.
The result of this is to aid that person to experience shame for his behavior. Of course, none of us today is inclined to go out of our way to cause someone to experience shame. We would try to avoid doing that. And yet, in God's divine purpose, there is a place for a congregation to intentionally behave toward a person such that it might elicit shame.
Still, the person is not to be treated as an enemy but admonished as a brother. Here then is the right mixture. There is tough love in it, but it is necessary to preserve the church from disorder, false teaching, false witness.
Paul's Closing Words
The closing is quite similar to most other letter conclusions written by Paul. The interesting item is his insistence that he is signing his signature with his own hand. Remember, he has warned in both epistles of false teachings, and especially warned about the possibility that believers could receive teachings sent claiming to be from him which are false. To prevent this, he signs his signature with his own handwriting. There were definitely some difficulties in this church in terms of forgery and misrepresentation. False teachers will often go to great--and unethical--lengths in order to promote their very urgent, very necessary false teachings.
This reminds us of a problem we sometimes face. Most false teachers operate inwardly with reference to a congregation, that is, they are focused within. Not on mission outside its doors, bu ton making their own disciples from within the flock. That is where their social connections are; that is where they have a standing of some kind. It is where, in some measure, they know how their target persons relate to each other, interact with each other, and how their personalities combine. They tend to know and understand, in essence, what the "church politics" are. In an already formed congregation, these interrelationships can matter to people as much or even more than doctrine. This gives space for influences that can dangerous.
It is much harder to work in a congregation where the spiritual leadership is alert, where one has few social connections, and where your kooky ideas will have to stand on their own merits--if any. This is why, except for a very few random people, almost all offshoots and offtrack teachings rise at the edges of the church and become engaged in trying to remake disciples, that is, to wrest them away from the church and bend them to the new teaching. Their effective goal is to make them followers of different teachings and teachers. The way to guard against this is for the congregation to be alert and to bring alive this biblical injunction in the congregation--that they separate those who insist on being busybodies and false teachers from among them.
God's church is always stronger when it follows God's ways. It is always weaker when it thinks it knows better than God and moves heedlessly along on its own path refusing His instructions. Second Thessalonians is a particularly interesting and current book for Seventh-day Adventists. It deals with the local church setting, false teachings about prophecy, false teachers and disciple-makers, and tells the church exactly what to do in such cases. How can we effectively present Jesus if so many of our energies are engaged to put out tangents and random fires?
We are also, via this series, reminded that the Papacy does not suddenly become friendly, or change when it gets a new pope; it is as deadly dangerous as it has ever been. All in all, we can say that being God's church in the end time is dangerous business. But, praise God, He has given us serious guidance in His Word in terms of how we might approach the problems we know we shall face. May God help us to be faithful to Christ our Lord.
Clark Fork ID 2013-04-27