Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of Christian unity is the idea that Christians are obligated to break fellowship with other true Christians. In a given scenario, both are brothers in Christ, but the one is ethically bound to withhold unity because the other is disobedient. This is the situation that is presented in different ways in Scripture and clearly is the case in 2 Thessalonians 3.
Paul takes a significant portion of the 3rd chapter of a relatively small letter to instruct the church regarding lazy members. Apparently, these members were so eager for the Lord’s return that they were not working at their regular jobs. (3:7-12) In order then to meet their basic needs they were taking from others. This kind of welfare mentality received a stern rebuke from the apostle at the beginning of this discussion in 3:6 and then again at the end in 3:14.
Because the language is so clear, those with a high view of Scripture can accept church discipline in the case of indolence. But the controversy is over whether that text speaks to anything more than believers who refuse to earn a salary. Does it, in fact, also deal with broader issues such as ecclesiastical relationships?
Yes, for several reasons, but here’s just one. Laziness is a perspective on all sins. Is any sin not a kind of laziness?
When a Christian man looks at a woman with lust he knows that he should not do that, but he is tired of always denying himself. So he gives in, which is another way to say he got lazy.
When a Christian business man is tempted to act corruptly, he is being pulled by his flesh to stop the hard work of fighting against easy money, integrity, and delayed gratification, which is another way to say he is being tempted to be lazy about those spiritual disciplines.
When a popular Christian pastor admits on national television that he does not know what the Mormons believe and so he has no problem with endorsing the salvation testimony of one of the cult’s members, is he not being too lazy to read a few books or even a Wikipedia entry on his iPhone? If he does know what the cult believes and he is lying on television, is his lie not a form of laziness because he is unwilling to build the character necessary to speak the truth at all times and then work hard through the consequences which may include a lot of mail or decreased attendance and offerings? If he knows what the cult believes, but is not able to tell the difference between the cult and orthodoxy, is he not still falling to the sin of laziness for not (at the least) downloading John Piper’s sermons for free and learning what the Gospel is? This pastor (be he real or fictional) fits Paul’s description of a lazy man in 2 Thessalonians 3.
Other reasons could be added to this one, but the point is clear: Paul’s closing lines to the Thessalonians require Christians under some circumstances to withhold fellowship from other professing believers.