The purpose of this message is to explain and defend a certain practice required by our church constitution, and to do so in the only manner acceptable to us, which is through an appeal to the Scriptures. In recent months, we have had a small flurry of suspensions from the Lord’s Supper, which has raised some very good questions in the congregation. But this flurry was caused, not by any shift in doctrine, but rather through a flurry of sinning.
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. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 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 Thess. 3:6-15).
This passage contains much of value, but we need to concentrate on the brother who walks in a disorderly manner, and on what happens to him. All the saints are told to “withdraw” from every brother who walks in a disorderly (undisciplined, unruly) way (v. 6). Paul notes that he had set a good example—he and his companions had not behaved in a disorderly way (v. 7). Indicating that the manifestation of disorderliness that he was dealing with here was laziness, Paul cites the nature of their good example (vv. 8-10). Men who will not work should not eat. The reason for this admonition is that they had heard that there were men who walked disorderly, working not at all, being busybodies (v. 11). The word for busybody refers to one who bustles about uselessly. This is not the laziness of inert inactivity. Paul commands such men to get to work (quietly), and to eat their own bread (v. 12). The Thessalonians are told not to be weary in well doing (v. 13). If any disobey, he is to be “noted,” and the obedient in the church are to have “no company” with him in order to shame him. But this is fraternal admonition, not an attack on an enemy (v. 15).
WHAT MAY BE GATHERED FROM THIS
Being lazy is not the only way to be disorderly—but it is the form of disorderliness that Paul is addressing in this circumstance. But what do we learn from this?
There are sins which require the response of the whole congregation which are not sins that have to result in excommunication. When someone is excommunicated, Jesus says they are to be treated as a heathen or tax collector (Matt. 18:17). In other words, the end of the process is that they are excluded from the church. But here the result is very different. The person is admonished as a brother, and expressly not treated as an enemy (v. 15).
But even though he is a brother, he is not treated with kid gloves. The intent is to embarrass him, or make him ashamed (v. 14). The way he is to be ashamed is through the entire congregation noting him, and refusing to keep company with him (v. 14). Now obviously, a person who responded badly to this could require that the discipline move on to something more formal and judicial. The admonished brother in 2 Thessalonians could become the heathen and tax collector of Matthew 18.
CASE LAW, COMMON LAW
Ethical responsibilities in Scripture are frequently taught to us by oblique means. God does not give us a law which lines up nicely with the details of our lives in a one-to-one correspondence. If you borrow an ox and it is stolen from you, you owe restitution (Ex. 22:12). How does this apply to lawnmowers? If you don’t build a parapet around your roof and someone falls off, you are liable (Dt. 22:8). How does this apply to not shoveling your walk?
Now the 2 Thessalonians passage never mentions suspension from the Supper. But neither does Matthew 18 mention the Lord’s Supper. These are inferences that are made (necessarily) in “case law wisdom.” So if I am to “withdraw” and “not keep company with” someone, does it make sense to not withdraw and to keep company with him in the most important koinonia of our lives together?
As we have grown as a congregation, all sorts of creative ways for “walking disorderly” have been developed. Out of the recent suspensions, only one of them was a direct application of the situation in Thessalonians—in other words, it had to do with laziness. But the others were indirect applications, with the public or private nature of the suspensions having to do with the nature and magnitude of the offense. If the private suspensions prove to have been ineffectual in shaming those involved, the next time around would likely be different. But discipline is corrective; the point is to help, not humiliate.
GUARD THE HEART
The central thing to learn from all this is that we are a congregation that is actively seeking to practice godly church discipline. We do not want to operate on a hair trigger, where people are disciplined for publicly looking sideways at Elder So and So. That is the way sects and cults behave. But neither are we willing to allow the honor of the Church to be sullied by members of the who need applied discipline along with the teaching.
The Bible says that if you punish the scorner, the simple learn wisdom (Prov. 21:11). And so—lazy, young men should take heed. So should easily-angered fathers. So should those who do not guard their sexual purity in every respect.