II Thess. 3:6. “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.”
Paul is changing the subject, now, to address some other issues that existed in the Thessalonian church–and in all churches. Human nature doesn’t change much over time. Paul had skillfully set the scene for what he is about to say, encouraging and praising the people for their endurance and love. Now it’s time for him to admonish them.
Because the harmony and welfare of this young church were being threatened, Paul spoke strongly and authoritatively. He didn’t apologize for or excuse what he was about to say, because he spoke under the authority of the Holy Spirit. He had addressed this issue more cautiously in I Thess. 4:11-12 and 5:14; apparently he did not get the results he hoped for. This time, his language is clear, strong, and indisputable.
Withdraw is a strong word. It calls for a complete removal from those who are “disorderly.” Later in this chapter, we’ll see the support for this demand, and the need for it; In verse 12, we’ll see directions given concerning the disorderly, and concerning how the faithful members are to treat them.
We command. . .brethren . . .in the Name: Paul speaks with both authority and affection. He speaks to the brethren, the fellow-believers, most of whom were brought to faith under his own ministry. He loves them. He takes no pleasure in having to scold them. He also speaks in the Lord’s Name, thereby claiming His authority to admonish and command. Anyone who acknowledges His lordship is constrained to obey His commands.
Withdraw: A much more stern command than in I Thess. 5:14, where they had been told to “admonish the disorderly.” That, apparently, was not enough. Now they are to withdraw. This is an interesting word, if you trace it back to its origins and follow how it has changed. The root meaning of withdraw was to set or place. It came to mean to bring together,as in furling the sails of a ship. Then, more generally, it meant to restrain, to check. In one sense, it means to draw or shrink back from. The usage in this verse is that they are to make it a practice to withdraw themselves from, personally separate themselves from, the disorderly; this would be done by withholding fellowship from them. They are to remain aloof to impress upon the offenders that their behavior produces a gap between themselves and the other church members.
I think it is important to stop here for a moment and look at the way this command to withdraw has been misapplied in some religious groups, and even in good churches. There was no command to kick these people out of the congregation, although it was implied that they not be allowed to participate in communion. They were still welcome to attend, to hear the preaching and teaching of the Word. What was to be withheld was the inclusion into the bosom of the family, so to speak. If these people were in trouble, there was no command to refuse to help them. If they expressed a desire for restoration, there was no command to refuse them. And those who were not guilty of the disorderly behavior were never told that they could lord it over their Christian brothers and treat them as if they themselves were somehow better. The withdrawal had the clear purpose of making the offenders stop, consider, and change what they were doing. This is the principle of boundaries and consequences that we hear so much about today, and it’s a good one. In a family, the biblically consistent lines we draw are the boundaries. When those boundaries are crossed, then the pre-set consequences must be applied. It’s amazing how well this works, both in the family and the church, as well as in society as a whole. When the system breaks down, it’s because the boundaries are loose and easily breached, and because the consequences are inconsistently applied.
More on “the disorderly” next time.