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. — 2 Thessalonians 3:6
Many years ago Denise and I worked with a young man who was very skilled in music and who had a stage presence that was simply electrifying. However, in his personal life, things were completely out of order. Not only did he make a constant string of unwise decisions for himself, but those horrendous decisions were detrimentally affecting many people’s lives.
As pastors, we saw what this man did; we heard about the effect his behavior was having on other people; and we counseled people who had been abused by him. But because he was so talented and had such a strong stage presence, people ignored his chronic bad behavior, overlooking it as if it were just a minor flaw in his life and revering him as someone “great.”
After many months of prayer, I had a strong “knowing” from the Holy Spirit that this young man was headed for serious trouble. I met with him to discuss his future, but he ignored my advice and pressed onward with his destructive behavior. I was left with no choice but to call my young leadership team together and tell them, “I know that you love this man. But because he lives such a rebellious life, refuses to listen to anyone in authority, and keeps making such bad choices in his life, I am asking that you withdraw from him and stop investing your time and energy in that friendship.”
What my young team didn’t know was that this young man had gone so far off track, he had begun committing criminal actions. As a pastor, I couldn’t divulge everything I knew, so I asked my leadership team to trust me and submit to me in this matter by withdrawing from any further fellowship with him. As difficult as it may have been for them to obey me, I was ordering them to break off their relationship with this young man who was belligerently headed for a major catastrophe. I was sure that if they stayed close to him, he would try to drag them into the crisis with him.
As time passed, our young leaders became exceedingly grateful that I had ordered them to break off their relationship with the young man. Eventually he violated international trade laws and got into such a dangerous situation with the Russian mafia that he went into hiding to keep himself from being murdered. But although he tried to hide, members of the mafia found him, kidnapped him, and held him until they were confident he had the funds to pay the debt he owed them. When he was finally released, he was black and blue from the multiple beatings he had suffered at their hands.
You would think that after experiencing such brutality, this young man would have learned to change his ways. But instead, he persisted in his rebellion to authority and continued to commit grossly wrong actions in his life.
Although this young man was a brother in the Lord, he had never learned to submit to authority and refused to listen to those who could help him. Apparently, the apostle Paul was also aware of people who were unruly and insubordinate in the city of Thessalonica. It is evident that he was disturbed by this problem, for when he wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gave them a stern order: “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” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
Notice that Paul says, “Now we command you.…” The word “command” is so strong in the Greek that it leaves no room for misunderstanding. It is the Greek word parangello, which means to order, to charge, or to give a command. All of Paul’s readers would have understood that this was not a suggestion — it was a direct command.
Paul went on to tell them, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.…” The word “withdraw” is the Greek word stello, which means to gather up, to pull together, to move oneself, or to withdraw. In some ancient texts, it meant to shorten the sails or to pull in all the loose, flapping sails that would hinder a ship from moving forward at maximum speed. In other places, the word stello was used to picture a runner pulling up the long, dangling ends of his robe so the loose ends wouldn’t hinder him in a foot race.
When Paul used the word stello, the Thessalonians would have immediately understood that he was ordering them to make an inward resolution. He was ordering them to pull themselves together and get rid of all the loose ends that could hinder their spiritual walk, which would include withdrawing from any rebellious Christians who refused to get things right with the Lord. There is no doubt that Paul was explicitly ordering the Thessalonian believers to remove themselves from all such relationships that could adversely affect their own progress with the Lord.
In the next statement, Paul identified the exact group of rebellious believers he was talking about. He told them (and us), “…Withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly.…”
The words “walketh” is the Greek word peripateo. The word peripateo is very significant in this verse, for it means to walk about or to walk around, giving the impression of one who habitually lives and functions in a certain way. By employing the use of this word, Paul indicated that he wasn’t writing about a believer who makes an occasional mistake in his life; rather, he was categorically referring to those believers who habitually live in a “disorderly” manner.
The word “disorderly” is taken from the Greek word atakeo. The word atakeo was a military term that described a soldier who was out of rank or a soldier who was out of order. It carries the idea of one who is insubordinate or one who is disrespectful of those who have been placed in authority over him.
The word atakeo was also used in Greek society to portray individuals who refused to work and who lived off the goodwill of others. Apparently some of the rebellious people in Thessalonica refused to listen to the church leadership’s command to get a job. Instead, they took advantage of the goodwill of Christians, “sponging off them” whenever they needed some money.
This scenario is very clear as you continue to read Second Thessalonians 3. The word atakeo was also used to depict people who meddled in other people’s affairs. As in the case of the Thessalonians, these loafers had no jobs and therefore had lots of time to interfere in other people’s business. Paul was so against this behavior that he ordered the believers of Thessalonica to withdraw from these habitual loafers.
Paul finished this verse by reminding them that such a chronic loafer was not living “…after the tradition which he received of us.” In the Greek text, the word “tradition” is the word paradidomi, a Greek word that means to personally deliver or to personally transmit something to someone. Paul had personally delivered instruction to the Thessalonians about living responsible lives. No one in Thessalonica could claim ignorance, for Paul had personally taught them. Those who continued to live in this fashion were simply ignoring his instructions. And rather than tolerate their behavior, Paul told them, “Enough is enough!”
When you take all these Greek word meanings into account, Second Thessalonians 3:6 could be interpreted to mean:
“Brothers, we give you this command in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Distance yourselves from every brother who routinely lives his life out of order — breaking ranks, violating authority, living the life of a maverick, and perpetually refusing to submit to anyone’s authority. If you’re already entangled with a brother like this, do whatever you must to get free of that relationship. It’s time to tie up all the loose ends with this brother and to inwardly resolve that you are not going to spend time with him any longer. Although he’s a brother, his actions are not in agreement with the teachings you learned from us.”
Paul’s command is very clear: Even though such brothers or sisters are related to us in Christ, we are not to have close fellowship with those who show disrespect for authority and who routinely live their lives out of order. When a believer lives in defiance of God’s Word and God-established authority, we must inwardly resolve to back away so we don’t put our stamp of approval on them by affiliating ourselves with them. Yes, we must continue to love them; nevertheless, there comes a time when we must disassociate from unrepentant, erring believers. As we do, we will help them realize they are wrong and protect our own testimony from being negatively affected.
In light of Paul’s message in Second Thessalonians 3:6, what is God saying to you about your current friendships? Do you closely associate with any individuals who have no regard for the Word of God or respect for God-established authority? If so, do you have a good reason why you maintain an intimate relationship with them? Are these the kind of close friends you need? Could it be that you need to back away from the people in your life who are living in rebellion? Is it time to invest yourself in someone else who loves God’s Word, who is submitted to authority, and who has a heart to prosper under the blessing of the local church?
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I ask You to help me truthfully examine my relationships to determine which of them are helping me and which are hindering me. If any of my relationships are with people who are disorderly or rebellious and unwilling to change, please give me the courage to follow the instructions of Your Word. Holy Spirit, I am depending on You to lead and guide me and to help me do exactly what Jesus wants me to do.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I carefully guard my life by closely affiliating with people who love God’s Word, respect God-established authority, and act as positive influences in my life. I do not allow myself to be dragged into relationships with people who refuse to seriously walk with God. Those who could negatively influence me are not the people I choose to be my closest friends. Nothing in the world is more important than my walk with God. Since those who are close to me have a tremendous influence on my life, I choose friends who, like me, make their walk with God their greatest priority.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you ever maintained close relationships with people who you knew were not good for your spiritual life? Were you negatively affected by this close affiliation as a result?
2. Can you think of someone in your life who is associating too closely with people who have the potential of negatively influencing his or her life? Have you expressed your heartfelt concerns to this person?
3. Have you spent time in prayer, asking God to resolve this situation? If not, why don’t you take a few minutes right now to ask the Lord to work in this situation as He protects your friend or relative from the potential harm you foresee?