2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
The apostle Paul had heard that some at Thessalonica were walking disorderly, working not at all, but were busybodies (2 Thes. 3:11). In the first epistle, Paul mentioned what manner of men he and his companions had been among them and commended them for following their example. The Thessalonians had “received the word in much affliction” and had become an example to all believers in the whole region (2 Thes. 1:5-7; 2:14). They had received much persecution and affliction from their countrymen and some brethren had abused the hospitality of others by “working not at all” and in their familiarity and surplus of time had become “busy-bodies.” Apparently, they were eating the food of others, but were not working to provide it.
The apostle Paul by inspiration said,
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly working not at all, but are busybodies.
Paul commanded the Thessalonians to “withdraw” from the disorderly.
In the context, the disorder was said to be contrary to the tradition or example of Paul and his companions. They did not behave disorderly in that they did not eat any man’s bread for nought but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that they might not be chargeable to any of the Thessalonians, and to make themselves an ensample unto them to follow. Therefore, the tradition (v-6), received from Paul and his companions, was described as their diligent work ethics and the disorder was not after Paul’s tradition. The disorder was specifically their working not at all, and being busybodies (v-11).
If the apostle Paul meant to include every kind of disorder in this text, he would be commanding the Thessalonian Christians to withdraw from their Christian brethren for the slightest thing that was deemed a disorder. Without a specific description of the disorder, there would be no biblical basis for any distinction, whatsoever. In practice, church leaders, who include other disorders, make their own distinctions and enforce them upon the congregation, leaving a trail of inconsistencies. Other Christians cannot respond accordingly without knowing the judgment of the leaders, because such conclusions cannot be found in the Scriptures.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread,
Paul’s inspired commandment and exhortation was first, to the “disorderly” persons, saying, “That with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” If someone had another kind of disorder, Paul’s instruction would not correct it or be applicable at all. Paul left no doubt but that the specific disorder was committed by the persons that did not work.
If Any Man Obey Not
In verse 13 and 14, Paul continues with his exhortation, saying,
13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
If the disorder meant any and every kind of disorder, they would have been required to have no company with a brother who became weary in well doing; because they also did not obey Paul’s words. Think of it! Paul was not speaking of every kind of failure or disobedience, but of the very specific disorder named in this epistle. Paul first exhorted the disorderly persons to work and eat their own bread, but if any such man would not obey that word, they should not company with him. By so doing, they would limit his liberty to practice his disorder. Paul was not addressing those which became weary in well doing, even if they did not obey the instruction in verse 13. This is too elementary to miss. In the text, only the persons, who would not work, were to be avoided. The text did not instruct the Thessalonians to withdraw from anyone for any disorder other than “not working and being busybodies;” neither did it instruct them to withdraw from anyone in a domino type marking, who continued to company with him.
If this text was applied only to the disorder in its context, there would, most likely, be no problem for Christians to accept the instructions. But when Church leaders have misapplied the withdrawal to other disorders, not mentioned in the text and to extreme degrees, problems have come. Families have been torn asunder, heart-aches have abounded, and the Christian testimony has been severely damaged.
Yet Count Him Not as an Enemy
After the Thessalonians had withdrawn from any person that would not work, Paul specifically instructed them in unmistakable language, saying,
15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Doubtless, the instructions to the Thessalonians included such communication as, to admonish him in a constructive way, to do his own work, to not to be a moocher, but to work and support himself in a respectable manner. They were not to hinder his ability to work or to try to destroy him with punishment. Their admonishments could be done while refusing to company with him or to promote his failure. They were to help restore him to usefulness and respectability and that was precisely what they were instructed to do. There is nothing in the text that suggests that the declaration or act of avoidance was the last admonition to be given to him, or that there should be no further admonition or communication with him. The leaders, that teach this ridiculous view, use it to isolate him in extreme rejection and to forbid everyone in the flock from any communication that would admonish him.
They hold an absolutely absurd interpretation of verse 15, saying, “The Thessalonians could company with their enemies, but could not further admonish their brother.” Thus, they give a diabolical lie to the meaning of the verse and teach that they must withdraw from their brother in total avoidance, but need not take such action toward their enemies. Therefore, they reverse the meaning of the verse to teach the opposite of what it says. The Apostle Paul’s words, “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother,” instructed them to communicate and to admonish their brother, but not to cut-off communications as if he was their enemy, not to totally reject him as an enemy, not to pretend he was dead, and not to withhold beneficial and constructive admonition. He was their brother and their actions should reassure him of their Christian love for him in an effort to restore him, even in their limited communications.
The Epistle Written to the Thessalonians
The epistle to the Thessalonians was not written exclusively to church leaders, neither were they the authority for the instructions given. God was the authority through the inspired apostle Paul and the instructions were given to each individual. There were no instructions, directing church leaders to enforce the instructions upon the congregation under the penalty of further withdrawal in a “domino marking.” There were no instructions to further penalize the person, who did not properly withdraw his company. Each individual was responsible to serve the Lord and to obey God. There were no instructions for the Thessalonians to get a formal decree from local church leaders before obeying the epistle. The formal decree was already presented by the apostle Paul. The instructions to “withdraw” from a slothful brother were just as individual as the instructions to “be not weary in well doing.” Their decision and ability to obey was their individual response toward God. The failure of anyone to obey this truth could contribute to the slothful man’s sin and could allow the moocher to continue to eat his food for nought. The effects of this sin are very much like the effects of any other sin in his life. The obedience or disobedience of the Thessalonians was determined by their response to God’s word, not to the dictates of the leading churchmen.
In Paul’s first epistle, he had admonished them, saying, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” (1 Thes. 5:21) and they assuredly knew that Paul had not changed his message and would not nullify those word in his second epistle. In subsequent cases, their individual privilege and primary responsibility under God, was to “prove all things” and to “hold fast that which is good,” whether the local leaders agreed with it or not. The individuals should have first determined that someone would not work, then act accordingly based upon proven fact and with personal conscience toward God. If they simply followed the coercion of domineering leaders without proof of the conditions, they would be serving men instead of God and would not be walking by faith toward God. The “domino marking,” is a cultic manipulation of the flock.
Domineering leaders, who think it is their responsibility to make all such judgments for the flock and punish those that fail to obey them, have assumed an unbiblical authority. They claim the “disorder” of 2 Thes. 3, includes any and all kinds of disorders, not mentioned in the text, including the failure to submit to them and to obey them in such discipline matters. In this manner they have claimed biblical authority to charge those, who have opposed their broad application and their extreme manner of avoidance, with “disorder.” Thus, they have punished those, who did not agree with their judgments, with the same extreme avoidance as the accused.
Erroneously, they teach that the admonition, in verse 15, is the “withdrawal,” thus the leaders judge their pronouncement of avoidance to be the last admonition. Therefore, they judge anyone, giving a further admonishment, worthy of “withdrawal” also. The leaders, on occasions, violate their own rules, but are very intolerant toward the flock, who violates them or objects to their unbiblical demands. The decisions of these, so called, “rulers,” proclaimed to be the “judgments of God,” effectively, bind all in their fellowship without regard for personal conviction of the individual. This is nothing short of clerical tyranny and it demands “unreserved submission” to these “leaders.” The judgments rendered for the various disorders are sometimes very inconsistent and without specific biblical support. In such cases, the “disorders” thus judged and the “penalties” imposed are solely determined by the judgment of the leaders.
The misuse of the subject text and other verses of scripture have been used to support great abuse and confusion in the congregations of Robert A. Grove Ministries, Inc. and have divided asunder both Christian homes and Christian brethren. The text has been used primarily and extensively to substantiate and inflect the “domino marking.”
Error in Interpretation
About the early 1970’s, there was a meeting in the state of Virginia, in which some of these church leaders used verse 14, “If any man OBEY NOT our word by this epistle,” saying, it was any person, who did not withdraw, instead of any person who was slothful. Further, they applied the disorder in verse 6, to general disorders, not included in the text; thus broadening the application to withdraw from any brother, whom the leaders deem disorderly, and from anyone having company with a person, whom they judged “disorderly” for any reason. The judgment resulted in a break of fellowship from five families with far-reaching effects. These brethren were avoided because they would not honor a previous marking. None of them were avoided for “not working.” Verse 14, was specifically used for authority to avoid these men for the first time to my knowledge and at tremendous cost and devastation to Christian lives.
This interpretation effectively gave church leaders the responsibility and authority to police all of the flock, enforcing the avoidance decision upon them. If this ridiculous interpretation was taken to its logical conclusion, it would direct Christians to avoid the brethren who “became weary in well doing” (v. 13), because they, too, “obeyed not Paul’s word by this epistle” (v. 14). If the words, “walketh disorderly,” as recorded in verse 6, included every disorderly walk (not mentioned in the text), would it include over eating, smoking, wearing makeup, too much jewelry, too short hair, too long hair, revealing clothes, attending certain weddings and funerals, etc? The leaders teach these things are disorder for Christians, but treat them without the same consistency. “God is not the author of confusion.” (1 Cor. 14:33).
As time transpired with some embarrassing discussions, they partially refrained from using verse 14 but used verse 6 to preserve the same conclusion. Again, they expanded the application of the statement, “that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received of us,” to include any disorder which they judged to be disorderly. By this interpretation, anyone judged guilty of any disorder could be “withdrawn from,” and anyone, who did not “withdraw” from the first person, was considered “walking disorderly” also. A third person (or more), who did not “withdraw” from a previously marked person, was considered “walking disorderly” and worthy of excommunication also. Therefore, devout Christians, who had no previous disorder on their record, but did not “withdraw” from a previously avoided person, were “marked to be avoided” and excommunicated like the previous ones in a domino type marking.
Such “withdrawals” often called, “markings” normally required family members to “withdraw” from their parents or from their children in an extreme rejection of their relatives. Homes were wrecked, families were torn asunder, and close relationships were made shipwreck.
The domino marking was the product of domineering church leaders, who use it to force compliance with their, so called, “church discipline.” The individual was not allowed the liberty to weigh the evidence and judge for himself or to walk as he believed under God. The threats of excommunication from chastening leaders were ever present, demanding him to obey the leaders, who claim to be “church rulers.”
The withdrawal, proposed in 2 Thes. 3, was not “to deliver him to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” and is not the same judgment or penalty as portrayed in 1 Cor. 5:5, the arguments of the leaders to the contrary notwithstanding. There is little comparison between a man that took his father’s wife and a father who continued to company with his son, whom the leaders have judged to be avoided, yet the discipline may be the same. Ultimately, all avoided persons are given the same sentence, fully expecting disaster to strike by the providence of God. Often the original failure gets lost, being overshadowed by his refusal to submit to the leaders which may become the primary issue to cause him to be charged as a “railer,” a “heretic,” “one sowing discord,” “independent,” “unruly,” “rebellious,” etc. Generally, insubordination is inexcusable and unforgivable by these leaders.
“The meek will He guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.” Psa. 25:9.
“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” -1 Pet. 4: 11
Of the scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat, Christ said, “... do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” (Matt. 23:3-4) Christ further described the Pharisees as doing all their works “to be seen of men.” They love “the uppermost rooms at feasts,” “the chief seats in the synagogues,” and to be greeted as “Rabbi,” “Master,” or “Father.” Also, Jesus said, “Be ye not called Rabbi: for ONE is your MASTER, even CHRIST; and ALL ye are brethren.” - (Matt. 23:5-8)
Christian brother or sister, consider well the MASTER’S voice. Christ ALONE is your Rabbi or Master, and your brethren are your equals. The unmistakable message contained in the words of our Lord is that we must not submit to any man as our Rabbi or Father, neither shall we occupy that place of authority over others. (Matt. 23:5-12)
Again, the Lord Jesus Christ said, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it NOT be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister (one who serves): And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant (bond servant) of all.” (Mk. 10:42-44)
The Lord’s words “minister” and “servant” were not said to grant them positions of authority or rulership but rather an humble place to serve. Jesus gave his disciples this truth as the result of two of them asking to sit, one on His right hand, and the other on His left hand, in His glory. Doubtless, they had not asked to sit next to Him in order to better serve the Lord, but to better exercise authority or to rule over others.
Diotrephes was the only church leader of record to practice the “domino marking” and he was soundly rebuked of the Lord for his abusive and divisive evil. (3 John vv 9-11).
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