These verses, 6 and 15, frame a directive of what to do with those who are literally busybodies, people who have nothing better to do than make trouble. Apparently, the Thessalonian church had as high of a mercy gift as churches today. They were tolerating bad behaviors from their members and Paul says, “Stop it!”
There are two separate issues going on here. The first is that these disrupters are doing harm to the church. Never mind that they set a bad example in the community of faith as well as in the community at large. The church was expending resources to enable, and thus condone, the bad behavior. This was costing the church resources that could have been more effectively expended elsewhere.
The second issue is that by tolerating the behavior – and indeed the rewarding of it – the church was sending a demotivating message to the membership at large. That message was surely contagious and could have spread through the ekklesia to the detriment, and even the destruction, of the church.
Paul’s solution was to disassociate from them. “Keep away” from them. His final pronouncement is illustrative as well as instructive. “Warn them as you would a fellow believer” which is to say, “They are NOT fellow believers, but act as if they were by warning them about their disruptive, disobedient, and destructive behavior by avoiding them – by disassociating yourselves from them.”
Throughout the New Testament the church is called to deal firmly with idle, disruptive, and disobedient believers. And yet today, like I suppose even then, the church would rather tolerate bad behavior than make a scene, lose a member, or not be “nice.” But the Bible isn’t a nice book. Indeed, it can be harsh and ruthless.
Jesus was clear, “Not everyone who call me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21) – even though they may well have been “good” church members who prophesied, taught, and healed (v 22). And then there are Paul’s words to the Corinthian church: “Expel the wicked person from among you!” (1 Corinthians 5:13). And of course, let us not forget the many times Jesus speaks of people being cast into the fire because they were disobedient and unfruitful (e.g., John 15, Matthew 3, et al). Now that’s not nice!
But churches in North America continue to tolerate, condone, excuse, and enable bad behavior from disruptive and disobedient church members. Which of course makes the church itself disobedient. No wonder the church in the US is in such bad shape. If we’re commanded to disassociate from the idle, disruptive, and disobedient, how much more must the Holy Spirit disassociate from a church that is idle, disruptive, and disobedient! And that explains a lot …
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