Wednesday, December 16, 2009

There's a Fine Line Between Condemnation and Expulsion

In my Bible reading lately I have noticed that there are a number of instances where on occasion a believer is called to shun another who calls himself a brother, when his actions would seem to deny his faith. I'm sure that doing so could easily be mistaken for condemnation, and so in my mind this morning I was puzzling over the distinction since I know that God does not give us a place to condemn others. Eventually I came up with some symptoms that might indicate the difference. First of all, I need to capture the verses that prescribe this cutting off of fellowship for what we should hope would be only a short time. And for myself, I have never been in the position to specifically "shun" a brother; I see this as something that is done as a church discipline with the involvement of the church elders. Still, a lot of these distinctions have their more limited applications in various aspects of the Christian life on occasion, so I think that clarifying them is useful for all of us. Perhaps many of us experience condemnation at times (even through no fault of our own), and can see the usefulness in this clarification on that end as well.
1 Corinthians 5:1-13 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.
But actually, I wrote you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

At the price of what would be a false unity, we need to divide with those who are not following Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:19 For there must be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.
The symptoms of condemnation I came up with would be seen after you have done everything you can to turn the brother from his sin and it seems to have availed nothing, and you stop having fellowship, eating with him, or getting together with him for any reason other than restoration. The symptoms of condemnation might include:
1.) contemptuous and unloving attitude. Shunning the person from fellowship could be done either in a contemptuous and unloving way, or in a loving and caring way. If it is done without the goal of reconciliation, that will be obvious and will further alienate the person.
1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.
2.) anger. James 1:19b-20 says, But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
3.) putting up hurdles to avoid reconciliation. Then lack of reconciliation is not their doing, but our own.
4.) lack of concern and prayer for the person. This expresses an unforgiving and judgmental attitude; we close ourselves off from engaging the Holy Spirit in reaching the heart of the person.
5.) unhappiness at any good that the person experiences, and rejoicing when they experience hardship (except with the hope of restoring them to obedience). Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
6.) a feeling of certainty or even hope that the person is destined for hell. This is surely not the place of humanity, but God alone determines who goes to hell.
7.) considering the person as dead even while they live. I have seen parents whose children embrace a homosexual lifestyle call them dead though they are physically alive; this is not what the Scriptures call for. They might well be spiritually dead, but they still need prayer, concern, and attempts made to reconcile them to God.
If we have a condemning attitude, we need to take care to avoid having condemned ourselves in the process, having the plank in our own eye as we try to remove a splinter from that of our brother. Rather, we should have an attitude like that of the Apostle Paul, not giving up but seeking restoration:
2 Corinthians 2:4-11 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree--in order not to say too much--to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
Galatians 6:9
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.
1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Restoration and forgiveness should always be the goal of expulsion, continuing in prayer in hopes that the Spirit might bring it to pass:
Galatians 6:1-2 Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Matthew 6:14
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
So there is the sum of what I came up with; I think it's clearer in my mind, and I hope if you shared my confusion I might have helped you also.
New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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