In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate …
We heard that some among you are idle … Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. (verses 6-9, 11-12)
It seems that some of these Thessalonian believers had decided to stop working – instead of earning their own keep, they had decided to let others do it for them. Pretty cushy. Likely they had the idea that Jesus’ return was so close (just around the corner), that there was no longer a need to keep working. Plus, Greek culture placed a very low value on manual work anyway, seeing it as only fitting for slaves. So, some had lapsed into idleness.
That’s the background. What strikes me here is Paul’s leadership style in dealing with it. Four things stand out for those who give leadership today.
(1) “We command.” Paul understood the authority Christ had given him, and he exercises it – indeed he uses the verb “command” four times in verses 4-12. One commentator rightly notes this passage echoes with “a military ring.” As an Apostle of Christ, Paul declares twice over that his teaching is “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s authority indeed.
If we are called to leadership today, we can’t claim authority like Paul’s. He was an Apostle – we’re not. Yet such authority is still resident in the Scriptures. As we faithfully present its teaching, submitting to it ourselves, we humbly participate in the Lord’s own authority.
(2) “We command you, brothers and sisters.” While exerting authority, Paul never forgets he’s dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ – he addresses them this way twice (verses 6, 13). He doesn’t lord it over them but speaks from a heart of loving compassion. He happily sees himself alongside them in the family of God. Effective leadership flows from this place. We’re in it together.
(3) “Our example.” Paul doesn’t just speak truth – he lives it. While he had every right as an Apostle to rely on the Thessalonians’ support, he engaged fully in the very thing in which he’s instructing them – he wasn’t idle but worked hard, night and day, so as not to be a burden. If we’re to lead, it must be by example – it needs to come alive in our own lives first.
(4) “Such people we command and urge.” Paul doesn’t hesitate to “command,”but he also “urges,” employing the very word he used in the previous chapter to speak of Father and Son together “encouraging” our hearts. The same root word is applied by Jesus himself to the Spirit as our “Comforter,” “Counselor,” “Advocate.”Paul exercises authority with this same Spirit-empowered desire to strengthen through encouragement. He’s not heavy-handed, but heart-encouraging. Those who lead today should follow Paul’s style, even as he followed Father, Son and Spirit.
Lord Jesus, thank you for this example from the Apostle Paul. As I have opportunity to lead, may it be with similar conviction, compassion and humility. To your glory. Amen.
Pray: Set your sights on two or three leaders within your own church – pray that Paul’s attributes might live in them. If you also are called to a position of leadership, pray similarly for yourself.