The Thessalonians: An Undisciplined Life

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    2 Thessalonians 3

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who leads an undisciplined life that is not in keeping with the tradition you received from us. 2 Thessalonians 3:6 BSB

2 Thessalonians 3:6 BSB

In the final part of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he warned about living an undisciplined life. What did Paul mean by an “undisciplined life”? Did he mean we should avoid stopping for that chocolate donut on the way to work every morning? Or perhaps he meant we should be sure we get that much coveted 8 hours of “beauty” sleep every night? Or maybe, he was suggesting we remain committed to the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year? Indeed, avoiding temptation, taking care of ourselves, and sticking to goals involve discipline, but the kind of discipline Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 3 is much more than that. Let’s take a look at what Paul meant by leading an undisciplined life.

 Breaking Rank

Paul used the Greek word “ataktos” when referring to an undisciplined life. Ataktos means disorderly or, in military terms, “breaking rank.” It also means deviating from the set order or rule. We see why Paul used “ataktos” when in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, he equated an undisciplined life with not keeping with the tradition that the Thessalonians were taught by Paul, Silas, and Timothy. In other words, some Thessalonians were breaking rank; they were deviating from the set order or “traditions” they received from the apostles.

But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus rebuke the Pharisees for putting man-made traditions above the commandments of God? The Pharisees had become so tied to the traditions of their fathers that to keep these traditions, they ignored God’s law (Matthew 15:3-10).

The traditions of men, which Jesus was referring to, are not what Paul had in mind here. He was describing the teachings he had given the Thessalonians during his visit, those he put in his first letter, and now those he included in his second letter (also see 2 Thessalonians 2:14-15). These teachings were not from the mouth of man but from the mouth of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13, Acts 22:14-15). And Paul expected the Thessalonians to fall in line.

But unlike the religious leaders Jesus went head to head with, Paul practiced what he preached. He taught by example.

Following A Good Example

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you.

Evidently, Paul heard that some of the Thessalonians weren’t working and were relying on others to support them. Paul prompts the Thessalonians to remember the example that he, Silas, and Timothy set for them. He reminds them that they were not idle when they were with them – they were always working, supporting themselves so as not to be a burden. They had lived before the Thessalonians a life worth imitating, setting an excellent example for them with their conduct. They did their part.

Doing Your Part

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

2 Thessalonians 3:10

Followers of Christ are expected to do their part, not to sit idly by and count on others to take care of them. Paul reminded the Thessalonians of the command he had given them: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Work here doesn’t necessarily mean punching a time clock every day; it means performing a task, toiling, or being productive.

God values work and discourages idleness. One of the reasons He created us was to glorify Him by being good stewards of His creation. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15 NIV). When we are not taking care of His creation, whether it be the earth or fellow man, we are not pleasing God; we are not glorifying Him. And there will eventually be consequences.

We see this work theme throughout the Bible, and are warned of the consequences of not doing our part. Here are a few words of wisdom from the Book of Proverbs:

“Lazy people sleep soundly, but idleness leaves them hungry” (Proverbs 19:15 NLT).

“The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4).

Not only does idleness lead to unfruitfulness, but it also can lead to much worse things. Most of us have heard the saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” No doubt that is true.

Playing in the Devil’s Workshop

“We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies.” 2 Thessalonians 3:11

2 Thessalonians 3:11

When people have too much time on their hands, trouble often follows; they become idle and undisciplined.  Paul refers to this type of person as a busybody. A busybody tends to be a meddling or prying person who often engages in gossip and certainly can cause strife.  The Bible has lots to say about busybodies. Peter goes as far as to equate busybodies with murderers, thieves, and evildoers (1 Peter 4:15), and Paul says of those who are idle – they are “not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13).

Being a busybody doesn’t just affect the busybody but those around them also. Their meddling and prying disrupt and divide fellow believers. Their unproductiveness hurts others as well. When someone doesn’t pull their weight, someone else has to pull it for them. This can be very discouraging to those doing double duty.

Paul offers encouragement to those who have been doing more than their fair share – he says, “Do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 13).

 Finally, he tells the Thessalonians who are doing their part how to deal with those who are playing in the devil’s workshop. He says to have nothing to do with them so that they may be ashamed. He caveats this order with another one: the undisciplined are not to be regarded as enemies. You see, the point is not to give up on them but to draw them back to the church, the body of Christ. By not associating with the idle and disruptive, the hope is that they will miss the fellowship of the body, fall in line,  and decide to do their part.


Discipline in our Christian lives is vital. We are to do all we can to follow and be obedient to His Word. Discipline is important for the unity of the body of Christ. We must do our part when we are able and stay out of the devil’s workshop. We must not be busybodies but instead busy ourselves with the work of Christ. Whatever we do, it must glorify God. We must not lead an undisciplined life.


After reading verses 6 through 12, how would you describe the Christian work ethic? Do you think the Church today falls in line with this ethic? Why or why not?

Paul’s statement, “if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” may seem harsh compared to the worldview today. In what ways do you think our culture would be different if this statement was put into practice?

How do those who refuse to do their part negatively affect the Church?

Paul talks about Church discipline for those who live undisciplined lives. What do you think Church discipline would look like in the Church today?

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