Questions From Readers

Does God’s direction recorded at Jeremiah 7:16 mean that Christians would not pray about someone who has been expelled from the Christian congregation because he is an unrepentant sinner?

After pronouncing his judgment against unfaithful Judah, Jehovah said to Jeremiah: “As for you, do not pray in behalf of this people, neither raise in their behalf an entreating cry or a prayer nor beseech me, for I shall not be listening to you.”—Jeremiah 7:16.

Why did Jehovah forbid Jeremiah to pray for the Israelites? Clearly, it was because of their flagrant transgressions of his Law. Openly and shamelessly, they were “stealing, murdering and committing adultery and swearing falsely and making sacrificial smoke to Baal and walking after other gods.” Consequently, Jehovah told the faithless Jews: “I will throw you out from before my face, just as I threw out all your brothers, the whole offspring of Ephraim.” Certainly, it would be out of place for Jeremiah, or anyone else, to pray for Jehovah to reverse His judgment.—Jeremiah 7:9, 15.

In line with this, the apostle John wrote about proper prayer to God. First, he assured Christians: “No matter what it is that we ask according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Then, regarding praying in behalf of others, John continued: “If anyone catches sight of his brother sinning a sin that does not incur death, he will ask, and he will give life to him, yes, to those not sinning so as to incur death. There is a sin that does incur death. It is concerning that sin that I do not tell him to make request.” (1 John 5:16) Jesus also spoke of sin that “will not be forgiven,” that is, sin against the holy spirit.—Matthew 12:31, 32.

Does this mean that all who are expelled from the Christian congregation for sinning unrepentantly have committed sins that “incur death” and thus should not be prayed about? This would not necessarily be the case because in some instances such transgressions are not sins that incur death. In fact, it is difficult to tell if they are. A typical example is King Manasseh of Judah. He erected altars to false gods, offered up his own sons in sacrifice, practiced spiritism, and put a carved image in Jehovah’s temple. In fact, the Bible says that Manasseh and the people did “what was bad more than the nations whom Jehovah had annihilated from before the sons of Israel.” For all of this, Jehovah punished Manasseh by sending him as captive in fetters to Babylon.—2 Kings 21:1-9; 2 Chronicles 33:1-11.

Were Manasseh’s sins, gross as they were, the kind that incur death? Apparently not, for the account goes on to say about him: “As soon as it caused him distress, he softened the face of Jehovah his God and kept humbling himself greatly because of the God of his forefathers. And he kept praying to Him, so that He let himself be entreated by him and He heard his request for favor and restored him to Jerusalem to his kingship; and Manasseh came to know that Jehovah is the true God.”—2 Chronicles 33:12, 13.

Thus, we should not jump to the conclusion that a person must be guilty of sin that incurs death solely because he is expelled from the congregation. It may take time for the true heart condition of the individual to be revealed. In fact, it is often stated that one of the purposes of disfellowshipping is to cause the sinner to wake up and hopefully to repent and turn around.

Since the person is no longer in the congregation, any change in heart and attitude may be observed first by those close to him, such as a marriage mate or family members. Those observing such changes may conclude that the transgressor did not commit a sin that incurs death. They may be moved to pray that he may draw strength from God’s inspired Word and that Jehovah will act toward the sinner in harmony with His will.—Psalm 44:21; Ecclesiastes 12:14.

While some may be in a position to observe sufficient evidence to believe that the sinner has repented, this may not be the case with the congregation in general. They would be puzzled, troubled, even stumbled if they were to hear someone praying publicly about the erring one. For this reason, those who feel moved to pray about the sinner should do so only in private, leaving any further development in the matter in the hands of the responsible elders in the congregation.

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Manasseh’s gross sins were forgiven when he humbled himself before Jehovah

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Reproduced from Illustrierte Pracht-Bibel/Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments, nach der deutschen Uebersetzung D. Martin Luther’s