Dealing with the Unruly Within the Church
(2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)

© 2006 Steve Lewis -


The sequence of events regarding the unruly within the Church

  1. When the apostle was with them, he saw that there were people among them who were refusing to work, and he gave orders then that if they would not work, they should not eat (2 Th 3:10).
  2. While he was in Corinth Paul heard that such people were still refusing to support themselves, and in his first epistle he exhorted them to work with their own hands (1 Th 4:11-12). At that time he also told the Church to admonish the unruly (1 Th 5:14).
  3. After writing the first letter Paul continued to hear that these people still were not following his instructions. This is what causes him to deal strongly with this issue in this second epistle.

Paul's command to the Church regarding unruly brothers (2 Thess. 3:6)

What kind of unruliness merits this treatment?

The Reasons for Paul's Command (2 Thess. 3:7-11)

#1 They are obligated to imitate Paul's example (2 Th 3:7-9)

#2 Paul had already instructed them on this issue (2 Th 3:10)

#3 Specific brothers were disobeying his previous instructions (2 Th 3:11)

Paul's command to the unruly brothers themselves (2 Thess. 3:12)

Summary of Paul's teaching in this section:

What characterizes the behavior of the unruly ones?

  1. They were brothers, that is, fellow-Christians (2 Th 3:6).
  2. They were disobedient to the tradition that Paul had given them (2 Th 3:6).
  3. They were living off of others in the church and becoming a burden to others (2 Th 3:8).
  4. They were possibly claiming a right to the support of the church, similar to what Paul could have claimed (2 Th 3:9).
  5. They were not willing to work at their own business in order to earn their livelihood (2 Th 3:10, 11).
  6. However, they had not become inactive or lethargic -- they were very busy in other people's affairs (2 Th 3:11).
  7. They were out from under proper authority or acting on their own authority -- possibly asserting a self-proclaimed authority in order to claim support from the Church (2 Th 3:12).

Why were they unruly?

Paul does not tell us why they were unruly, but we can be sure that the Thessalonians knew exactly what he was talking about. Since Paul did not specify, then we cannot be dogmatic about the matter.

Possible Causes:

  1. Some of the Thessalonians had the inherent character weakness of laziness. This notion gains support from the fact that the Thessalonians were new believers - they had not had much time to be conformed to the character of Christ.
  2. The persecution they were suffering caused them to despair of their lives and also to give up their normal activities (including work). The fact that they were suffering severe affliction lends support to this idea (see 1 Th 2:14; 3:1-4; 2 Th 1:4-7).
  3. The nearness of Christ's return led them to the conclusion that they could gave up their normal activities. This is a common notion held by many commentators, but it has some drawbacks. The issue of "working with your own hands" (1 Th 4:11) is directly connected to the issue of brotherly love (1 Th 4:9-12), rather than that of their confusion over the resurrection of dead believers. This view is sometimes used by amillennialists as evidence for the destructiveness of the premillennial view of Christ's second coming.
  4. On their own authority they claimed the same right of support from the Church that Paul might have claimed (see 2 Th 3:9). They based this claim on their self-appointed spiritual "ministry" activities within the Church. This idea gains support from the fact that some among them were causing them to be disturbed and confused (see 1 Th 5:20-21; 2 Th 2:1-2). These people were, by implication, out from under proper authority or acting on their own authority. In 2 Th 3:12 Paul implies that they should submit to legitimate authority and not go off on their own.

What is Paul's solution to the problem?

Paul's solution was very straightforward:

In a very practical way this would tend to solve whatever problems might be arising from their fanaticism, their meddlesomeness, and their need of support.

Points of Application: