2 Thessalonians 3

1 God often waits until people pray before He releases His power into a situation. It is not explained why God does this, but it is clear that He wants us to cooperate with Him in missionary work. Prayer may be the indicator of the faith and readiness necessary to handle the tasks that God has for oneself or others. Prayer for another is often an indicator that one is ready to help or support that person. We must remember that we are conduits of God blessing. He allows us to share in this ministry by working through us.

Since Paul was a missionary, his primary concern was that the Gospel would be accepted by many to whom he preached. Apparently, he had a very fruitful ministry in Thessalonica, and would like to see the same kind of result everywhere he went. In order to do so, he needed the spiritual support of others and the power of God to encourage and strengthen him.

2 Paul had met with trouble nearly everywhere he went. It seems strange that people can react so hostilely to a message about God's love, but it is also difficult for most to accept the possibility that the ungodly beliefs they have held all their lives are wrong. What people believe defines their personalities, and to have those beliefs questioned can be considered as a threat to one's identity. People who feel threatened can become hostile. Paul needed specific prayers for protection from people who would not accept the Gospel.

This request should have put some things into perspective. The Thessalonians were suffering persecution, and it was a difficult situation. Paul was forced to flee from their situation, but that did not mean he had escaped persecution himself. He met up with it wherever he went. He could certainly sympathize with the Thessalonian church, and he hoped they would do so with him also.

3 Even though people fail God, He remains faithful to His word and us. Paul undoubtedly had felt God strengthen and protect him, and was confident that He would also help the Thessalonians. The persecution they were enduring was undoubtedly inspired by "the evil," implicating Satan.
4 Regardless of the trials, Paul was also confident that the Thessalonians were remaining faithful rather than abandoning their faith in the hope of relief from the pressures of the world. In his previous letters, and undoubtedly during his ministry there, he gave them several commands concerning how to live a good Christian life. Knowing that they wanted to be pleasing to God, he was certain they would continue to follow what he had taught them.
5 Paul prayed that Jesus would guide their hearts to experience the love of God and the stability of Christ. The word "direct" here means to make a road smooth and straight - a request that obstacles be removed.
6 Paul suspected that there would be those who would not follow the commands or traditions that he had given them. They would be unruly instead of disciplined. These people would be bad influences on those who were trying to live good Christian lives. Here and in other places, Paul strongly warns believers to stay away from (or excommunicate) those who claim to be Christians but habitually and unrepentantly live contrary to what Christ (and by extension, the apostles) taught.

Paul is talking to Christians here. It is interesting that we are encouraged to go out to nonbelievers in order to influence them, but we are to stay away from those who claim to be Christians, but live destructive lives. We are to avoid even the appearance of endorsing their hypocrisy.

7 They could not pretend not to know what Paul was writing about. He backed up his words by himself demonstrating proper behavior while he was with them. He encouraged the Thessalonians to follow his example because he knew he was setting a good one. Every Christian should live in a manner in which he can say, "Follow my example because I know I am behaving properly in Christ."
8 One example of how the missionaries acted in a disciplined manner was by working for their food. Paul emphasizes that they placed the burden on themselves so that it would not be on others.
9 Under most circumstances it would be expected that people would support their spiritual leaders so that they could focus on the important work of ministry without the worry of attaining daily needs. However, Paul sometimes sensed that some people would take advantage of the community sharing that Christianity fostered. If the missionaries had lived off of the charity of others, some might use this as an excuse to justify their laziness. Paul would accept support from those churches for which he was not concerned that people would take advantage of other's generosity, but for some, he specifically set the example by working.
10 Thus, Paul worked diligently and was very clear that everyone must do the same. Apparently, he had dealt with this issue while he was ministering among them and charged those who were lazy to work. He would not cater to lazy people, and would apparently not allow them to eat food if they had not contributed to the meal. Christians are to be practical people with an exemplary work ethic.
11 Despite the missionaries' good example, some people were taking advantage of others rather than working. They would look busy, but they would not really be doing anything productive. Instead, it appears they were stirring up trouble and being disruptive. Freeloaders, especially those who feel they are so entitled, can annoy even the most generous and patient of people. Furthermore, the Thessalonians' wonderful reputation as a model church would be diminished if this problem went unchecked.
12 The abundance of resources that were distributed to all as believers began to share their possessions may have appeared to be endless, but they would have eventually run out if people did not contribute. Paul speaks with the authority of Christ specifically to slackers. Christians are to work for their food, and they are not to draw attention to it as if they were "martyrs" because they "have" to work. It is something that is to be expected, not treated as optional or unusual.
13 To those who were already doing what was right, Paul encourages them to press on and not grow weary. Encouragement from the Spirit and other Christians, living a balanced life, and good relationships all nurture good works without leading to burnout. The persecution undoubtedly made it more difficult to keep a positive attitude. Yet, the glorious hope in Christ, the counsel of the Holy Spirit, and the love of fellow Christians all make it difficult to give up.
14 Paul was very serious about what he had written. He spoke on the authority of Christ, and the church would suffer if the people did not enforce the instructions he had given them. His recommended forms of corrective discipline were excommunication or shunning, which would require the agreement and cooperation of all the other church members. The idea was to use social pressure to bring a sense of shame on the violator in the hopes that he would reconsider his behavior.

This is not about enforcing conformity for its own sake, but staying in agreement on the core tenants and behaviors of the faith. Earlier, Paul wanted the Thessalonians to follow the traditions he had laid out for them. These were rules ordained by Christ and not merely set up by people (remember that both Jesus and Paul were highly critical of those who exalted manmade traditions to the level of God's commands).

15 The ultimate goal was to eventually bring that person back into good standing with the Christian community and God. Even though people must be disciplined from time to time, that does not mean they are any less a child of God. A saved person does not become unsaved when he makes a mistake, even if it is serious. It is very important to remember this so that we do not unnecessarily harm the one who did the wrong, nor embitter him against the church, nor cause him or the church to give up hope of reconciliation. We are to love and help those who are living below the standards of Christ.
16 The Thessalonians were suffering persecution, but they could find peace in God. Paul did not say that their circumstances would change, but they could have an inner peace, knowing that they had been reconciled to God, that He loved them and cared about them, and He will one day bring all Christian into His kingdom where there will be no more pain and suffering.

This is not a self-generated peace, but it is one of the fruits of the Spirit that develops as our relationship with God grows. When we each have peace with God, we will have peace with one another.

17 Paul probably had Silas and Timothy write the letter while he dictated, but Paul wrote the final greeting himself. He mentioned in 2 Th 2:2 that someone either had or might try to circulate a forged letter from him. He wanted people to recognize his writing so that they would not be fooled by a fake.
18 Finally, Paul wished them grace from God. His use of the word "all" indicates that he included the troublemakers in this blessing. When we all accept God's grace, we will be gracious towards one another.