Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica is brief—only forty-five verses. When we think of the scope of doctrines that a young church would need to familiarize itself with, all of the practices they would need to understand, and all of the potential problems they might face, it is striking to consider that Paul devotes more than ten percent of his letter to the doctrine of separation. As noted last week, Paul begins with several principles of separation that some Christians might find shocking; first, that in some instances separation is commanded (it must be practiced), and, second, that in some instances separation is commanded among real Christian brethren. But those two salient points do not complete Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians on this matter. “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. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (II Thes. 3:14, 15).
“And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man.” Here is a clause pregnant with truth. First, Paul asserts the authority of the Word of God in this statement. Second, because the words are God-breathed, they should be recognized as binding upon believers. Third, it is the responsibility of those in the local assembly to observe one another, not in a nosy way or as busybodies, but using the Word of God as a standard for behavior. Fourth, one who disobeys is to be noted (“marked,” “distinguished”).
“And have no company with him.” Though the word command is missing from this instruction, the statement is, nevertheless, imperative. In the instance cited, when someone refuses to work, and so disobeys Paul’s God-given and twice-repeated (I Thes. 4:11; II Thes. 3:6-12) instructions, it is imperative upon his brethren to “have no company with him.” Association that is social in nature is categorically forbidden.
“That he may be ashamed.” Social censure is not enforced for merely punitive purposes: it is the Lord’s desire that by withdrawing fellowship, the brethren will shame the disobedient brother to repent of his sinful disobedience and obey the bibical injunction to work.
“Yet count him not as an enemy.” Haughtiness, anger, self-righteousness, and a sense of moral superiority have no place in the lives of believers. Paul warns the faithful brethren not to regard the offending brother as an enemy, whether that be an enemy of his brethren or an enemy of Christ. In other words, this enforced social separation should be done in a spirit of loving adherence to the Word of God and with a conscious desire for the deliverance and restoration to fellowship of the offending party.
“But admonish him as a brother.” Clearly, there are varying degrees of separation based on the nature of the offense. In this case, total excommunication is not the prescribed remedy, only a conscious, deliberate withdrawal of social contact. It seems that Paul is not suggesting that the separation alone will serve as an admonition; rather, it will provide the setting for pointed verbal admonition.
The withdrawal of fellowship is intended to provoke a shame that will soften the heart, mind, and will of the brother who has refused to obey God’s Word so that he will heed the rebuke of his loving brothers who come along side to restore him to fellowship. The 21st Century church has not outgrown the need to practice this form of separation.
Previous Page | Next Page