As Paul brought this letter to a conclusion, he asked for prayer for his continuing gospel mission. Paul wanted the Lord to duplicate the experience he and his team had in Thessalonica. When they first took the gospel there, it really did “speed ahead” (v.1), spreading very rapidly. Acts 17:1-10 tells the story — inside of a month they preached the gospel, a “great many” were saved, and a church was planted and thriving. It was a demonstration of the power of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s reminder of how the church began was meant to inspire their faith and to encourage them to keep doing what he had taught them: love one another and make disciples. The devil was not going to stop fighting against that purpose, but neither was God going to stop protecting them (v.3).
Before Paul closed this letter with his personal signature (v.17), he had to address the most obvious problem caused by false teachers in Thessalonica. They had duped some of the members into believing that the Day of the Lord had already begun, and so they should put their lives in “neutral” and just wait for Jesus to show up. Apparently some even taught that to work or to plan for the future showed a lack of faith in the Second Coming of Christ. As a result many of the believers quit everything and did nothing. Their idleness gave ample opportunity for sin: since they did not work they became a burden to the church, which supported them; they became lazy and wasted time they could have spent making disciples or serving the church; and they became “busybodies” — gossips and meddlers (v.11).
Paul “commanded and encouraged” these people to work and earn a living and to keep serving the Lord (v.12-13). It was a stern warning. The church was to withdraw fellowship from the lazy, idle person (v.6, 14) and to stop supporting them financially (v.10). Paul advocated a tough love that would use hunger and loneliness if necessary to correct and restore an errant brother or sister in Christ.
I can’t read this without asking myself, “Have I grown lazy in the Lord’s work? Am I growing “weary in doing good (v.13)?” When Jesus comes to gather His church, I want Him to find me tired and sweaty and spent, giving my all and doing my best to spread the gospel and strengthen the church. I don’t want to hear Him say, “Half done, My half-hearted, semi-faithful servant.” I want to hear, “Well done — you were a good and faithful servant!”