“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”
Circumstances such as described in these verses are difficult for all concerned, but what Paul is instructing can be clearly understood and followed. When these guidelines are obeyed, the results will lead to peace within the Church of God.
The reason that obstinate, divisive people must be dealt with is that the faithful membership needs to be protected, and this is a solemn responsibility placed upon the ministry, in particular:
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Rebellious people want to “tell their side” of a matter and to put their slant on things. However, the way that these kinds of problems should be handled is through counsel with the ministry and not by tales of discord among the brethren. A characteristic common to those who are disgruntled and who have become openly defiant is an unwillingness to submit to the leadership established by Jesus Christ. Oftentimes, this attitude is accompanied with an unyielding and absolute refusal to discuss matters with a minister of God.
If someone is disorderly, contentious or promotes different doctrines—including challenging the organization and administration of the Church of God—the Bible clearly teaches that this must not be allowed to continue. This kind of opposition causes confusion. It plants seeds of doubt and questioning. By disruptive and argumentative murmuring, people begin to believe lying testimonies—even to the point of having their faith compromised, and unless repented of, to losing the Holy Spirit and eternal life in God’s Kingdom (compare Hebrews 6:4-6).
While it may be heart breaking to separate from those who once walked with us in the way of Christianity but have now become disobedient, God’s instructions must not be ignored or watered down!
Consider these powerful admonitions:
“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11);
“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15);
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner–not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).
Earlier in chapter 5, Paul identified the sin of one of the members. His correction was not only to the individual, but to the membership who willingly permitted this man to continue to be among them.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians regarding their affiliations left little room for compromising:
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever” (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)?
People who do not continue in the truth of God are in grave danger of falling back into the world—the society whose god is Satan (compare 2 Peter 2). Their light will fade into darkness, and they will become an unbeliever. This is why we have such strong warnings against fellowshipping with dissident individuals. In his day, Paul had to contend with those who rejected the leadership of Christ—as we do in our time:
“Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame–who set their mind on earthly things” (Philippians 3:17-19).
The option for anyone is always open to quietly leave our fellowship without trying to cause alienation or to have others follow them. Yet, one must keep in mind the stern pronouncement made by Samuel to King Saul: “‘For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry’” (1Samuel 15:23).
How then should the faithful members treat those who no longer walk with us?
Here, godly wisdom is vital. Some will be weak and need encouragement, and we can pray that God will help them—leading them to repentance (It is only God who can grant them repentance—compare 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Others, who are blatantly rebellious and full of resentment and accusations, must be avoided. Understand that these attitudes are often masked by deceptive representations in order to justify themselves.
There may be times when an individual is publicly identified for causing division, and the ministry will so note that person (compare 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:17; 3 John 1:9). In addition, it is the responsibility for each member to avoid those who contend with the Church of God—even if their situation is dealt with more privately. Being a sympathetic ear to those who are in rebellion is very dangerous!
Remember and mark well what Jesus said would occur in the time leading to His return:
“‘And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another’” (Matthew 24:10).
The faithful people of God must heed the instructions we have been given! We must not compromise with the decisions of the Church of God which are made to protect us and to maintain peace and harmony among ourselves.
Let us also apply what the apostle John taught. His instructions were given several decades following the establishment of the Church of God in 31 AD, and they apply today equally as they did then:
“Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 1:8-11).
Lead Writer: Dave Harris