II THESSALONIANS 3:5-7: “May the Lord direct your lives as you show God’s love and Christ’s endurance. Brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ we order you not to associate with any believer who doesn’t live a disciplined life and doesn’t follow the tradition you received from us. You know what you must do to imitate us. We lived a disciplined life among you.” (GW)
OBSERVATION: What is one of the greatest expressions of love that we can show to a fellow believer? There are many things that will immediately come to mind, which include – extending forgiveness, giving comfort, showing mercy, or meeting a physical need. However, one of the lost expressions of love in today’s culture, and I am speaking of church culture (not the world’s), is – speaking the truth. Speaking the truth in love, and living a life that is consistent with that truth, is a quality that seems to be slipping away. It was true for the Thessalonian believers, and it is also true for the church.
Paul exhorts us to live our lives in such a way that we show God’s love and Christ’s endurance. Jesus’ life was the full picture of God’s love in action. Wherever Jesus went – He loved! He healed the sick, He fed the multitudes, He comforted the broken-hearted, He proclaimed release to the captives, offered recovery of sight to the blind, and proclaimed the acceptable year of our Lord! Yet – Jesus was not crucified because He loved so much. Jesus was crucified because He told the truth!
- “Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus replied, “You’re correct in saying that I’m a king. I have been born and have come into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to me.” (John 18:37 GW)
Paul extends this call to how we relate to our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. We are always called to show God’s love, but we are also called to show Christ’s endurance, His endurance for the truth. Love demands truth, and truth demands love. Therefore, to Paul, and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul exhorts them – “…we order you not to associate with any believer who doesn’t live a disciplined life and doesn’t follow the tradition you received from us.” In other words, love does not ignore the truth, it calls for commitment in response to the Lord’s commands. The believer cannot continue in a relationship with another believer as if nothing is wrong – when that believer is actively and openly ignoring the truth.
Here is where it gets difficult, and here is where we often fail to both understand this command and put it to practice. The enemy whispers in our ear – “But that is not loving!” We move from God’s definition of love, which always includes truth – to the world’s definition of love, which allows any truth, regardless of its origin. To a believer, who knows the Word of God, this is completely inconsistent with both the revelation of Scripture and the life of Jesus. John the Baptist was beheaded because he confronted Herod about his personal sin. Jesus was crucified because He confronted the Jewish nation with their hypocrisy. In both there was love and truth. Without love, truth will simply condemn. And without truth, love will always destroy that which it tries to protect. Both are needed!
Am I advocating the old fashioned practice of “shunning”? Absolutely not. However there is a balance between “fellowship” and “association”. When Paul says not to “associate” with another believer who is walking undisciplined (outside of God’s will and revealed Word), the words used denote setting up boundaries within this relationship that will communicate clearly your concern and will not offer a false sense of approval for the fallen brother or sister’s behavior. Paul goes on to say,
- “Brothers and sisters, we can’t allow ourselves to get tired of doing what is right. It may be that some people will not listen to what we say in this letter. Take note of them and don’t associate with them so that they will feel ashamed. Yet, don’t treat them like enemies, but instruct them like brothers and sisters.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15 GW)
The fallen brother or sister does not become our enemy, they become the focus of our true love and fervent prayer for them to come to full reconciliation with the Lord and the Body of Christ! To lower the standard of truth and allow them to drift further and further away from the Lord is no love at all. However, establishing boundaries that communicates the truth, while allowing for lines of communication to continue, shows the truth in love. And Paul is careful to add that we cannot allow ourselves to get tired of doing what is right. We must watch our lives closely and be open to the same correction in love that we are called to give to others! The goal is always restoration and forgiveness that leads to renewed growth and life in the Lord Jesus Christ!
When faced with this type of situation it is important to look to the Word of God and to seek godly counsel on what type of boundaries would be appropriate. In the context of these verses, the boundaries were to stop allowing those who had become lazy, to live off the work and effort of others. Paul was very clear –
- “While we were with you, we gave you the order: “Whoever doesn’t want to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat.” We hear that some of you are not living disciplined lives. You’re not working, so you go around interfering in other people’s lives. We order and encourage such people by the Lord Jesus Christ to pay attention to their own work so they can support themselves.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 GW)
This may seem harsh, but the end is the loving restoration of those who were not working, into a productive member of the community, with dignity and purpose in their lives. The exact situation and issue may require different types of boundaries, and this is where godly counsel is needed. And to be redundant – the end goal of any and all boundaries is the restoration of fellowship and the deepening of love and communion with the Lord and the Body of Christ!
Lord, forgive me for the times when I have used the truth as a hammer to judge others. Also, forgive me for when I have hidden behind love and refused to take a stand for the truth. Lord Jesus, You lived the perfect balance of truth and love. Teach me how to do this, and grant me the grace I need to pay the cost of living out Your love in the fullness of Your truth!
In Jesus Name!