Few doctrines separate as much as the doctrine of separation. Ironically, it is often the proponents of so-called love and unity who practice the most stringent separation—not necessarily from sin and compromise but certainly from those who proclaim and maintain the necessity of biblical separation. Their anti-separation stance extends only to those with whom they agree. But the Bible is clear on the need for separation in particular cases. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. . . . 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. 3:6:14, 15).
The command to separate. One thing our text makes clear is that in some cases separation is not an option: it is a requirement. In the present instance, Paul is speaking about the necessity of separating from a fellow believer. Unlike those at Corinth, where Paul speaks of anyone whose sins might suggest that though he be “called a brother” (I Cor. 5:11), he might not be one in fact, here he addresses those who are almost assuredly believers. He leaves no doubt as to the reality of their profession. Nevertheless, to refuse to separate in those instances is not an evidence of superior love or greater compassion than others; rather, it manifests sinful disobedience to the specific command of God. Paul declares unequivocally that the separation called for in the instance before the church at Thessalonica was commanded “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul invokes the full formal name of the Lord to emphasize the authority and necessity of this action. Those who never find just cause to practice separation must either rationalize such passages or ignore them altogether because the command is unequivocal: “withdraw yourselves.” Knowing our hesitancy, the Spirit of God repeats the injunction in different words of the same meaning: “have no company with him.”
The cause for separation. We might be surprised by the circumstances extant in the church Paul has addressed. Apparently, some had misconstrued the doctrine of the imminent return of Christ as an excuse to quit working. “If Christ might return at any moment why not live off the savings that others have accumulated and will not be needing?” seems to have been their attitude. Paul would have none of it. No doctrine of the Word of God, however compelling, gives an excuse to neglect the practical responsibilities of this life. Paul views such behavior as “walking disorderly [being “unruly”].” Paul adamantly defends both the inspiration of this letter and the necessity of separating from those who resolutely disobey after repeated admonitions (see: I Thes. 4:11; 5:14) when he writes: “if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him.” Again, repeated, pointed disobedience to the Word of God by a brother (v. 6) requires faithful believers to separate from him. Clearly, not every instance of disobedience demands separation. Were that the case, no believer would ever be able to fellowship with any other believer. But the specific instance given here indicates that God’s prescription of separation for disobedience is much more frequent than most of the modern church recognizes or practices. (Perhaps this explains much of the spiritual lethargy that engulfs the church today.)
The conduct in separation. Paul explains that the purpose for separating from an unruly brother is “that he may be ashamed.” This avowed purpose should offer hope that the separation will be temporary; as such, it is a reminder that arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness have no place in the exercise of this biblical responsibility. Biblical separation demands the utmost charity and concern for the offending brother, a desire that he be restored to fellowship with the Lord through confessing and forsaking his sin and, thus, to fellowship with His local body. In such cases, the separation required is that of casual socializing. The faithful should actively seek opportunities for specific ministering: “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Blessed is the local assembly that takes to heart every part of these Scriptures.
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