“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.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14,15 KJV)
This verse, along with Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (see chapter 5), is one of the few instances when Christians are asked not to associate with someone. This can be a very challenging instruction as it needs to be carried out in love and with prayerful guidance as it is easy to take a sharp turn from this instruction. It is easy to find ourselves in a position of judgment, spite, or more dangerously relativism. Relativism being that something which is based on the environment and attitude of the current population and thus not subject to a stable underlying foundation. It is interesting that Paul would suggest we use guilt or a need for compliance that so naturally can come from the shame of separation. It is interesting to me as it is often the Christians who are excluded from so many things. It tends to be society at large that purposely excludes the Christian in the hope that the church will learn to conform to the way things “really” work in the world. The faith that this requires of the church is incredible! I can almost picture the church building a wall and having to carry a sword in the other hand while doing it (see also Nehemiah 4). I think the important part of this instruction that Paul gives is in verse 15 where we are not to count him as an enemy. It helps us remember that the correction that needs to take place is going to be for everyone’s mutual benefit.
So how is the deviation into relativism so very dangerous? Simply stated, it devours. When society looses it’s foundation, it cuts off a certain portion of the population to force compliance with the greater population. It requires people to move as one by force. I am not saying that unity is a bad thing, but it is quite a different matter when unity is achieved without the freedom to want to be unified. Threats and dominance may simulate unity, but only so long as that force is able to maintain a presence. Such tactics have no trace of love in them. They only desire to build a perfect beast. I think this is revealed to the attentive in the most interesting of places. “And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.” (Mark 5:9 KJV) This is the obvious reference to the possessed man who roamed the tombs near the country of the Gadarenes. This man had great strength as that which was in him was unified, but it was a devouring and repressive unity by force and dominance. The realization of the evil of the forcible unity should help remind us to maintain humility in our approach to others as we see the now helpless victim conquered under the perversion of what would be an otherwise reasonable instruction. An instruction that is now so twisted in the quest for unity that love is now absent. While there is an obvious and clear distinction between the correction of a brother and the correction of someone outside the church (see again 1 Corinthians 5), it is worthwhile to keep a clear focus on our surrender to God and not to let our own desires for managing the situation take over. We have our duties. We need to be faithful in them.
“Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” (Luke 17:1-4 KJV)