The Lord Be with You All
Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 3:13–18
13 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14 If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
We’ve spent 20 weeks studying the letters of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. As we bring this study to a close, let’s not forget that Paul wrote these letters out of a deep pastoral concern for the new believers in Thessalonica. In these letters we see his pastoral heart as clear as anywhere else. Verse 16 is perhaps the best summary of his pastoral heart: “The Lord be with you all.” Paul cannot always be with them, but he wants them to know that God is. God’s presence with his people encourages them to keep on doing what is good and right.
Good and right. This is what Christians should pursue, confident that God is with us in our endeavors. Or, as we might summarize these verses that conclude 2 Thessalonians, we are to do good, correct wrong, and aim for peace.
First, Paul encourages the believers in Thessalonica to “not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). This might sound like a fairly general exhortation, but we might ask if there is something more specific in view. What is the “good” that the Thessalonians should keep on doing?
The subject of discussion both before and after verse 13 has to do with correcting those who are idle or disorderly in the community. We saw last week that the Christian way often runs counter to the social conventions of the day. For the Thessalonians, this meant that they were not to be dependent on the support of a patron but were to “do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (v. 12).
But in verse 13, Paul writes to make sure that no one overinterprets his instructions. The rule “if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” in verse 10 is not to become a cover for Christians to show less compassion toward those who are in need. And this sets up a principle that Christians should always live by. It is easy to see the wrong in our world. We can feel enraged by the disorderly conduct not only in society but also in our own churches. But even as we must respond to such things, even as it is right to do so, let us guard against the temptation that will inevitably come for us. Let us guard against overinterpretation that gives us an out from doing good. Let us remember the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk, “in wrath remember mercy” (Hab 3:2).
So when it comes to responding to wrong, the Christian must also “not grow weary in doing good.” Perhaps you remember another passage in the Bible that is similar to this one. In Galatians 6:9, we are also told to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Our passage this morning has a lot in common with Galatians 6, so we can compare the two as we think about what it means for Christians to do good.
In Galatians 6, we are told to “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (v. 10). The church of Jesus ought to be a factory of good deeds, a community of people who are a blessing first to each other but also to the community in which the church exists. The world cannot only here what we are against; they must see what we are for. After all, the church is an outpost of the kingdom of God. Those who come into contact with the church ought to find the blessing of grace that permeates God’s kingdom. These good deeds are manifestations of God’s new creation. Just as in Genesis 1, speaks of a world that God made that is “good,” so Christian good deeds are evidences of a new creation that has come and is also good.
So the good deeds of Christians and their churches are not to be motivated by belief in karma but by belief in the kingdom. We are followers of king Jesus, whose own life is summarized in Acts 10:38 as going “about doing good.” He was a good-deed doer, but it’s important to understand how and why he did these good deeds. He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, we are told, and “God was with him.” And so it is with his followers, upon whom the Holy Spirit has been poured out. Do not grow weary in doing good, brothers and sisters, for the Lord is with you.
The good works of Christians are no small thing, however small they may seem. Even a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name is significant (Matt 10:42). In Galatians 6 we are told that those who sow to the Spirit will reap from the Spirit eternal life (Gal 6:8). The good deeds of Christians, motivated and empowered by the Spirit, are manifestations of eternal life, of God’s kingdom, of new creation.
That’s why we can be sure that God is with us as we carry them out. These good deeds are not irrelevant to the gospel message but are meant to accompany and adorn the message of good news. They did for Jesus; they should for us as well. The Lord Jesus promised to be with us as we go into the world and make disciples (Matt 28:20). His presence with us as we persist in doing good means that these good deeds are crucial to good Christian discipleship, to the mission of making disciples of Jesus.
So, brothers and sisters, do not grow weary in doing good. The Lord is with you.
But now we must deal with the reality that not all is good here in the church. We know why that is so. It is because while the kingdom of God has truly come with the advent of king Jesus, it is not yet fully here until he comes again. Until then, we will encounter the frustrations of life outside of Eden. We fall into disorder in various ways. We fall into sin and we cease doing good. We need help. We need instruction. We need discipline. We must not only do good, but we must also correct what is wrong.
Verses 6 and 14 are numbered with several other Scriptures that discuss the corrective nature of church discipline. This is a subject that is subject to misuse and abuse, but no biblically sound church can ignore it. If we understand what the church is and the privilege we have to live in this new community, then we should treasure and value the discipline of that community. We of all people should know how little we should trust ourselves, to be left to ourselves to figure things out for ourselves. We need each other. We need the discipline that comes from being together.
So how do we properly correct wrong?
Note the Offender
First, we have to “take note” of the offender. The offense in view in this context is the idleness we discussed last week. It had to do with not working, but it wasn’t laziness. We said that it was living by a political and economic culture that has no place in the kingdom of God. And while we don’t have the exact kind of culture in the place we live, we have similar issues related to the temptation to give honor to those we think will benefit us. This puts Christians in a place where they are complicit with the idolatry of the age and weakens our witness to the kingdom of God.
Other passages give us other specific sins for which the corrective discipline of the church is necessary. But it would be incorrect to think there is a definitive list. Because church discipline is about helping us grow into Christ, every sin, since all sin threatens to hinder that growth, is subject to discipline. But not every sin demands the kind of formal response that Paul outlines in verses 6 and 14. If every act of disobedience called for disfellowship, there wouldn’t be a fellowship!
I think it is helpful to summarize the biblical teaching on formal church discipline by saying that it is to be employed wherever there is outward, serious, and unrepentant sin in its membership. Outward means it is sin that can be seen or heard, not just something suspected in the heart. Serious means there should be plenty of space for people to stumble and fall without fearing disfellowship from brothers and sisters. We are called to show love and “cover a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8), remembering that pursuing Christ is like learning to walk for the first time—falls should be expected. That’s why we say that a sin must be outward, serious, and unrepentant in order to enact formal church discipline. A person must be confronted with their sin but refuse to let the sin go. It cannot be a sin with which a believer is seriously wrestling to overcome, but one that they are simply refusing to fight. We can best see unrepentance where there are clear steps of repentance outlined, but a person refuses to submit to those steps.
Having noted the person who is engaged in outward, serious, and unrepentant sin, Paul says we are to “have nothing to do with him.” Recall that in verse 6 he says, “keep away from” such a person. That may sound straightforward, but questions abound. Does this mean we are to literally run away from the person every time we see them? What if the person is related to you in other ways: a family member or a co-worker? What if they call you or text you? Should you “de-friend” them on your social media platforms?
Paul seems to know that his call for disfellowship can be mishandled. So he says this in verse 15. “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” The addendum clearly shows that the disfellowship cannot be properly called a “shunning.” We are not to regard those placed under this kind of formal discipline as an enemy, someone we must stay away from at all times.
The verb Paul uses means “to mingle” or to “associate with.” Clearly there is to be some kind of change in how we interact with a person under formal church discipline. Things are not to remain the same in our relationship with them. What is to change?
When Jesus describes the process, he says at this point that the person is to be treated as we would treat someone outside the family of God, as an unbeliever (Matt 18:17). Now Christians are to be kind to all, so this may not sound like much of anything different is to define the relationship. But that’s true only if we’ve not taken church membership seriously. What is to happen at this point is that the church is to remove the person from membership and prohibit the person from receiving the Lord’s Supper or any other privileges that come with church membership. The church is thereby stating that they cannot consider the person a Christian any longer. Their behavior tells otherwise.
No church wants to have to take this kind of action, and, when it does, it often isn’t taken that seriously. But the world did get to see it recently when Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, announced it was excommunicating its member after he murdered 8 people on March 16. Calling his actions “antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church.” They wrote that they “have started the process of church discipline to remove him from membership since we can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ.”
I appreciate this church’s clear, biblical statement and response to the horrific sin of one of its members. There are plenty looking to place blame on the church or on their Christian beliefs, but the church did not shy away from taking the right action.
At the same time, a church’s act to disfellowship from one of its members could also be criticized by the world were the sin something that unbelievers do not find all that appalling. It is important to keep in mind the purpose of the excommunication. Verse 14 says, “that he may be ashamed.” The verb means not merely “to shame.” It is a redemptive shame in view here, an action taken to show that a behavior is not tolerated in hopes that the person will turn away from it. Restoration is always the hope of church discipline. Again, the Crabapple Church wrote, “We are thankful for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that offers forgiveness and new life to all who truly repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ alone for salvation.”
Thus, the person in sin is not to be treated as an enemy but warned “as a brother.” By disfellowshiping with the sinner, the church is not to treat him as a brother, extending fellowship to him. But they are to admonish him as they would a brother. Thus love continues to be the attitude behind the action of excommunication, and the purpose of the disfellowship is the hope that they will come to their senses and repent and be restored to Christ and to his community.
Again we see in Galatians 6 a parallel. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6:1). That’s how we are to correct wrong, in a spirit of gentleness not hostility.
This is how the Lord deals with us, and we can be sure the Lord is with us as we correct wrong and carry out discipline in the church according to his commands.
Aim for Peace
Finally, it is in light of all this that the closing words of 2 Thessalonians take on added meaning. The Lord is with us as we do good, as we correct wrong, and ultimately as we aim for peace. “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way.”
Paul referred to God as “the God of peace” at the end of his first letter as well (1 Thess 5:23). And he did so, right after urging the church to hold on to good and to reject what is evil. In other words, the context is similar to what we see here. It is the God of peace who will sanctify us completely, Paul said in the first letter. How does the God of peace bring about peace in the church? Through sanctification. Through discipline. Through the conflict that comes as we wrestle with our beliefs and how those beliefs are to be carried out in our actions and lifestyles, in our behavior.
Again we notice similarities in Galatians 6, where Paul pronounces peace and mercy upon “the Israel of God,” upon all “who walk by this rule,” the rule of new creation (Gal 6:15-16). Here we find so much meaning encapsulated in so few words. The “Israel of God” refers to new and true Israel identified no more by ethnic distinctions or by the distinguishing rite of circumcision, but by those who walk by a new rule. This new rule is the rule of “new creation.”
In other words, the church of Jesus Christ is in a privileged position as the new and reconstituted chosen people of God. As such, we don’t live by the old rules of Israel but by the new rules of new creation.
And that means we have every reason to aim for peace. After all, the Lord of peace is with us. His gospel is the “good news of peace through Jesus Christ” who “is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). What an amazing privilege to be counted among his people! In this kingdom, there is life. There is joy. There is peace.
 Abraham J. Malherbe, The Letters to the Thessalonians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, vol. 32B, ed. David Noel Freedman (London: Yale University Press, 2008), 458.
 Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG), rev. and ed. Frederick William Danker, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 965.
 “A Gentile and a tax collector” from the Jewish perspective would mean someone outside the people of God.
 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, The New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 289.