THE PATTERN OF THE APOSTLES
In verses 7 through 9 Paul reminds the Thessalonians that, in the matter of orderly living, the apostles were a pattern to them: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat bread as a gift from anyone, but in labor and hardship we worked night and day that we might not be burdensome to any of you; not that we do not have the right, but that we might give ourselves to you as a pattern to imitate us.” The apostles were for the building up of the church in all things (2 Cor. 12:19). They were absolutely not disorderly among the believers, but were a pattern for the believers to imitate.
Because of the influence of the religious background, Christians often say, “We do not follow a man. We are following the Lord. You should not imitate any man. Instead, you need only to imitate the Lord.” In a sense, this is right. However, it is not easy to follow the Lord directly, since none of us has ever met Him physically. Some who insist on following only the Lord may reply, “We should study the four Gospels and see how the Lord Jesus walked. Then we shall be able to follow in His footsteps.” However, in many things related to our human living, there are not any footsteps of the Lord to follow. For example, He was never married. How, then, can you follow Him in your married life? We can follow Him indirectly by following other believers. There were practical reasons for Paul to charge the Corinthian believers to follow him as he followed the Lord (1 Cor. 11:1). Because Paul was an imitator of Christ, we should be imitators of Paul.
Of course, following another believer depends on the situation. Suppose an archbishop comes to us and tells us to follow him. We would have to say, “Dear archbishop, we cannot follow you or imitate you in being an archbishop.”
Many believers today are confused concerning whom to follow and whom not to follow, whom to imitate and whom not to imitate. But in the Lord’s recovery we have been enlightened through the Lord’s speaking. I would not encourage you to follow any particular person. Using Paul’s word, I would encourage you to follow “the tradition which you received from us” (2 Thes. 3:6). By tradition Paul means teachings and instructions, given verbally or in writing. We cannot deny that in the Lord’s recovery we have His speaking, teaching, and instruction. Although I would not ask you to imitate a particular person, I would urge you to pay heed to all of the speaking, teaching, and instruction you have received. These are the traditions from the Lord, and we should follow them. Because these traditions are free from the influence of the religious background, it is safe for anyone to follow them.
In this chapter, Paul encourages the believers not simply to follow his walk, but especially to follow his instructions, his teachings. This is to walk according to the tradition the believers received from the apostles.
THE MEANING OF WALKING DISORDERLY
Verses 7 and 8 indicate what it primarily means to walk disorderly. According to the context, to walk disorderly here is not to work and yet to still eat. If anyone does not work and yet eats, he walks disorderly. But because the apostles were not disorderly, they did not eat bread as a gift from anyone. Rather, they worked night and day in order not to be burdensome to the believers.
In verse 10 Paul goes on to say, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this charge, that if anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.” It is disorderly not to work and yet to eat. However, a brother would be walking orderly if he did not work and also did not eat. It is not working and yet eating that causes one to be disorderly.
Verse 11 says, “For we hear of some walking among you disorderly, working at nothing, but busybodies.” They were busy but “working at nothing,” busy only with what was not their own business. Busybodies are nobody, and with them there is no Body of Christ. None of us should be busybodies. We all must learn to be busy, that is, to do our own work properly.
In verse 12 Paul continues, “Now such we charge and entreat in the Lord Jesus Christ, that working with quietness they may eat their own bread.” Here we see that we should work without gossiping and eat our own bread. Do not invite those who do not want to work to have dinner with you. As long as they are not willing to work, you should not invite them to eat with you. To invite them to eat free of charge is to show love for them in a way that is not proper.
In verses 13 through 15 Paul tells the believers not to lose heart doing good; not to associate with anyone who does not obey the apostle’s word in this letter; and to admonish him as a brother, not to count him as an enemy. The main point in this portion is that we all must learn to live in an orderly way. Let us walk orderly so that the brothers will agree with what we do.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 31, by Witness Lee)