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2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

In the third chapter of the second letter to the Thessalonians, we see Abraham Smith’s third theme on display: God’s continuing justice.[1] Paul has praised the Thessalonians for their belief, implored them to stand firm, and now, he reminds them of God’s continued justice. Our God, says Paul, is permanently concerned with justice and setting all things to right. God is in control, we must remember, our God is and will be victorious. Our job is to wait. While we wait, we are to strengthen belief and care for those around us. Reminding the people about God’s continued commitment to justice, here, takes the form of a caution against idleness, which is actually another form of disorder. Paul’s description of life together (vs. 7-13) is one of order, simplicity, and generosity. Each works, each shares, each cares for one another, and all are provided for. This is the exact opposite of the “man of lawlessness” from Chapter 2. The reality of this contrast ought to be heeded. A just community is an orderly community and such a community is said to testify to faith in and obedience to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. An unjust community, on the other hand, is one that is characterized by disorder and inequality which all might be described as injustice. This type of community testifies to a very different Lord – the “man of lawlessness.”

Continue not only in right belief (orthodoxy), teaches Paul, standing firm in faith in the Lord, but also in right practice (orthopraxy). True faith, which as we have seen is central for Paul, is active faith. Paul’s understanding of faith is not mere mental or spiritual ascent, but it is embodied and lived out in community with fellow believers and even with strangers and enemies. True apocalyptic zeal, then, is living as if one is truly ready for the day of the Lord to come. Surely this is similar to the posture described by Jesus in many of his apocalyptic parables. We will not know the day or the hour, but we must be ready. How are we to be ready? Using this epistle as a template for our answer to this, it would seem that the proper answer is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, stand firm in our faith in his utter sovereignty over and against all rivals, and to persist in justice.

Finally, Paul knows that it will become tempting for the Thessalonians to turn away from the type of communal life described above, and to return to old ways. In particular, Paul describes these old ways as returning to the older clan or family-based justice that has dominated the world for so long.

Don’t turn to your previous ways and means of providing for yourselves (family networks) but trust that God will both vindicate their suffering and send God’s avenging agent, Jesus, on their behalf.[2]

The waters of baptism, teaches Paul, ought to be thicker than the bond of blood. This lesson is as appropriate and challenging today as it was back then. God’s business, the Missio Dei, is to bring about a new community in and for the world, through which to bring salvation and reconciliation. This new community is a just community characterized by truth-telling, sharing of goods and resources, non-violence, and love for the least of these. These are certainly not the “ways of the world,” but these certainly are the ways of God.

For the church at Thessaloniki to continue in their praiseworthy ways, it is clear they must continue in faith and in building up the faith of others, stand firm in light of the apocalyptic enthusiasm so popular at the time, and commit themselves to God’s ways – justice. As has been the case with the rest of the epistle, this third theme is just as relevant today as it was then. If the Church today is to be praised as Paul praised the Thessalonians, then we too must commit ourselves to justice. In doing so, we bear witness to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and not to the false, parasitic rule of the “man of lawlessness.”


[1] Smith, Abraham. The Second Letter to the Thessalonians. The New Interpreters Bible, v. XI. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 747-8.

[2] Smith, Abraham. The Second Letter to the Thessalonians. The New Interpreters Bible, v. XI. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 768.