One of the hardest aspects of being a Christian is letting go of those brethren who refuse to be faithful. Sometimes love can blind the Christian to the shortcomings of their brethren and cause even the smartest Christians to make weak and illogical excuses for the sinful actions of those they love. Loving someone doesn’t change what the Bible says about their actions. God commands that the unfaithful brethren within the church that have been approached numerous times and refuse to repent and come back to God to be ostracized.
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.Matthew 18:15-17
How can the saints turn their backs on someone that they love, how can they put them out of their minds and treat them as if they are no longer a part of their lives? Last week the study of One Another emphasized being able to love another person and to love God without creating a false image of them, to love them as they are and not what a person wants them to be. Loving a Christian brother or sister for who they are yet treating them as a heathen and publican for refusing to change may appear like a contradiction, but it is not.
On the surface, not judging the actions of the brethren as either right or wrong but trusting them to live their lives according to what feels right to them appears to be the course of peace and kindness. However, should a mature and well-minded Christian who observes the sinful and destructive actions of a young Christian just assume that everything will work out, and that not doing anything is the best course? How many parents would let their children play with matches and just assume everything will be fine? How many new parents would leave their newborn unattended in bath water? Individuals with the knowledge of experience and righteousness, who can see the wide path of destruction better than the babes in Christ, have a responsibility to reprove, rebuke, instruct, correct, and restore those immature and naïve Christians who have a limited knowledge of right and wrong (Gal. 6:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:13; 1 Tim. 5:20). Christians can love their brethren and not love their actions. Sometimes the most loving thing a Christian can do is not turn a blind eye to the sins of those they love!
Consider how King David, who was rebuked several times, views the instruction of the more spiritually minded, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities” (Ps. 141:5). If a follower of God has his head in the right place, then the reproof of the faithful will be a welcome help, and the faithful should not refuse to “reprove” iniquities for fear of driving others away. Of course, everything a Christian does should be in love and humility (Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:15; Rom. 12:3), but it is better to be reproved by the brethren now, than suffer condemning judgment from God later.
Paul writes to the church at Corinth who had been refusing to put away their members who lived in unrighteousness. Paul exhorts, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33). Paul cares enough about the brethren in Corinth to tell them the truth, even if it is not what they want to hear. Paul explains that even a little influence from the world that naïve Christians continually accept in their lives can result in their apostasy (1 Cor. 5:6). The astute followers of God must separate from the worldly brother because if they fellowship with the unrighteous then the message that they send to the unfaithful brother is that the church does not approve of your lifestyle, but we will treat you as if you have done nothing wrong. What reason does it give them to change? Why should people do right, if doing wrong has no consequences? Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for ignoring the unfaithful brethren and allowing the unfaithful to be treated as faithful (1 Cor. 5). “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). Christians are not to treat the unrepentant brother as they did when they were faithful. Not only do they send the wrong message to the unfaithful brother, but they have given darkness a foothold in the church. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15). No church leadership should be so gullible to think that ignoring the sins of the brethren will have no lasting effect on the church.
How are Christians to put their minds away from such people that they love? Paul writes to the church at Philippi who had suffered great persecutions for their faith. Paul writes to them in what has been called the epistle of joy. In chapter four, Paul reveals, “…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). Paul explains how he was able to maintain contentment within his suffering. He writes in Philippians 4:4-8 that Christians should take their troubles to God and trust that He will help them, while focusing their minds on the positive. Christians must trust in God that He knows best (Prov. 3:5). If done properly, the act of disfellowshipping will bring the unfaithful back to God, which is the whole point of drawing away from them.