The Choices and Requirements of Fellowship
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
2nd Thessalonians 3:10-18
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. 13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
16 Now the Lord of peace himself give you peace always by all means. The Lord be with you all.
17 The salutation of Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write.
18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Last week we read 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-9, and we saw that Paul and the other missionaries had set an example by working to earn money to pay for their own food and lodging, during their very brief stay in Thessalonica.
Paul pointed out that he and the others had earned the right to expect compensation, but they chose to set aside that “right,” and deliver the Grace of God to the people of Thessalonica without cost. We have done the same. We have no employees here: all the work is done by volunteers. All of our teaching and sermons are available online, free of charge
In other passages, Paul laid out the need for support for the elders of a church, but he had already established the precedent that a leader can abstain from receiving support; and he gave the reasons why he, himself, had done so.
It is a good thing for the believers to support one another, especially if someone is sick or disabled and needs assistance. But: human nature being what it is, there will always be a tendency for some to try to take advantage of the generosity of believers, and avoid earning their own keep.
So, Paul addresses that problem in these last verses.
Paul describes the broad issue of disorderliness; but he links it to idleness (not working) and being “busybodies.” We know what it means to “not work”…and Paul specifies in verse ten that he is referring to someone who will not work: not someone who cannot work, for whatever reason (injury, illness, other incapacities.) But what is the biblical meaning of a “busybody?”
In modern English, it usually means a “meddler:” someone who is constantly involving themselves, uninvited, in the affairs of others. Sometimes it is linked to gossip and talebearing.
What is a Busybody?
But in this passage, the Greek word is “periergoi,” meaning “around working.” (Getting around work, perhaps? Or, maybe, being a “runaround,” working the system?)
In 1st Timothy 5:13 we see the same Greek word used, this time in a context that may offer some explanation, specifically in the context of someone who is capable of function, but who is needlessly being supported by others. “13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.”
In the Timothy passage, we see several things linked together:
- Idleness (choosing to not work)
- Wandering from house to house (as opposed to tending to their own home.)
- Tattlers (tale-bearers, gossips)
- Busybodies (periergoi, again)
- “Speaking things which they ought not.”
In this context, it seems that perhaps our modern definition of “busybody” fits pretty well.
Other Shades of Meaning
It is interesting to note that the passage in 1st Peter 4:15, which uses the same English word, is from an entirely unrelated Greek word, literally meaning “overseeing the business of others:” “meddling,” perhaps: trying to exert influence in other people’s affairs. That word comes much closer to our modern definition.
But, collectively, the picture seems to be of someone who “hasn’t got anything better to do” than running around “chatting people up,” and avoiding doing any work of their own. Paul exhorts believers to do what God has called us to do, earn our keep at whatever trade or work we can do, and be a good testimony of the Holy God who has called us. To do otherwise is to be “disorderly,” and such behavior dishonors the Lord. Paul commands such people to work, tend to their own business, earn a living and eat the food they earned.
“Fellowship” means “Partnership:”
Some people try to say that “fellowship” means “two fellows in a ship: both in the same boat.” That is simplistic at best; it is an error. Two people on a ship may hate each other, and they even may be committed to one another’s destruction. That is certainly not fellowship. Fellowship means “having in common.” It implies “partnership.” We are called to join in the fellowship of the suffering of Christ. (Philippians 3:10) The believers at Philippi (Philippians 1:5) were commended for their fellowship in the gospel. They were partners in the work of evangelism.
In 2nd Corinthians 8:4 Paul commended a poverty-stricken church in that they begged the privilege to join in the fellowship of ministering to the needs of the believers in Jerusalem. They wanted to serve as partners in the work! As believers, they chose to function as partners, and they begged him to receive that gift, acknowledging that partnership. It is obviously implied that he did choose to accept it. (This is in the context of correcting the church at Corinth, who evidently were not so eager to participate.)
Fellowship is a Choice
We attach ourselves to a local assembly of like-minded believers and we are willing to be partners with them in worship and in service. Each person has a different ability and different gifts, but we serve together and desire to collectively please the Lord who has called us and who bought us with His blood.
Is it possible to desire the appearance of partnership without actually being committed to that union? Yes, evidently it is. There are thousands of people who are on the membership list at churches across the world, who never attend, and yet will claim membership in “their church” as a part of their credentials as a “fine, upstanding citizen.” But they have no real connection or partnership with that assembly of believers.
We are called to become partners in the work of ministry, and in the work of evangelism and discipleship with the local assembly to which we have attached ourselves. We make a conscious choice to do so.
Requirements of Fellowship
But God has also called us to live in such a way as to not dishonor Him, and not shame the church. We are warned that such behavior is detrimental enough that believers are told to not have “partnership” with such persons. That is a hard thing to do, when we are called to love one another. But that is what it says!
Could this requirement be used wrongly, to attempt to force conformity on a person who is doing no wrong? Certainly, it can, and it has happened many times! Missionaries have been dismissed from Organizations because they disagreed about some relatively small point of doctrine.
People have been drummed out of churches for things that were none of their doing. I knew a man whose wife left him for another man…and he was told to leave his church! I’m not sure what their accusation was, but he was definitely the victim, and rather than seeking to help or comfort him, they excluded him from fellowship.
So, How can We Prevent the Misuse of This Concept?
Galatians 6:1, 2 spells out a rule for church discipline that should prevent abuse.
1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
- The one doing the restoring always must be in the Spirit…this is not done in the flesh!.
- The motive is always to be restoration, not punishment or rejection.
- The approach is always to be one of humility, and gentleness, not condemnation.
- The person or persons attempting the restoration must always remember that they, too, are fragile, and that they can easily be drawn into sin, through anger, pride or other flaws.
- We are always to help others bear their crushing circumstantial burdens, not just stand back, and watch them struggle.
But, if such a person simply rejects help, rejects correction, and rejects the Word, then there is no place for partnership. We are still reaching out, desiring their restoration, but true fellowship is not possible. (No Condemnation! v.15: He is not an enemy! You treat him as a brother!)
Grounds for Fellowship
Paul lays out the sevenfold basis of our Unity in Christ…the “Unity of the Spirit.”
In Ephesians 4:1-6, he says,
“1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
- One Body (1st Corinthians 12:12)
- One Spirit (John 14:16)
- One Hope of our Calling (Colossians 1:27)
- One Lord (1st Corinthians 8:6)
- One Faith (Romans 1:5, 16)
- One Baptism (1st Corinthians 12:13)
- One God and Father (John 17:3)
If all those “unities” are in place, fellowship should be possible. But fellowship can be broken, even among brethren who agree with all these “unities.” That is why it says we are to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace. It is a fragile fellowship, easily damaged by pride and self-will.
We are warned specifically that a “root of bitterness” can spring up and thereby defile many. Others will be affected! None of us live lives disconnected from the believers around us. My sin does not affect just me: it can affect all of my family, and anyone in my sphere of influence.
So, we are to give diligence to maintaining that unity and not allowing small differences to grow into serious divisions. Are we concerned about the overall testimony of the church? Yes, absolutely! But we are equally concerned about the well-being and spiritual health of every person. We are not on some kind of “inspection tour” to “ferret out flaws” and “slap sense into slackers!” The Command is to “Love One Another!”
(v. 16) Paul reminds us, that we are called to peace! We are called to forbear one another in Love. We are called to forgive one another, just as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us! Let’s not forget these things!
And the Grace of God (v. 18) is what sustains us all.
Lord Jesus, draw us into close fellowship with Yourself and with one another. Help us to Love one another as You have commanded us. Protect Your flock from Evil, in Jesus’ Name.