Questions From Readers
● How is a person “marked” in the sense described at 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15?—American Samoa.
The apostle Paul wrote to the congregation at Thessalonica: “If anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked, stop associating with him, that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.” (2 Thess. 3:14, 15) A little earlier in his letter he had given similar instructions, saying: “Now we are giving you orders, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition you received from us.” (2 Th 3 Verse 6) Paul then went on to show the “tradition” that had been received from him and his associates in the hardworking example they had set when with the brothers there in Thessalonica. While most in the congregation were doing well, there were certain ones now who were “walking disorderly . . . not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.”—2 Th 3 Verses 7-11.
Thus, these “disorderly” ones were not committing grave offenses such as fornication, idolatry or extortion, offenses which could oblige the congregation to remove them, if unrepentant, disfellowshiping them. (1 Cor. 6:9-13) Nevertheless, these individuals were poor examples and an unwholesome influence within the congregation. They were not, in certain significant aspects at least, representative of what genuine Christianity should be. While not gross, neither was their misconduct something so minor or petty that it could be overlooked or covered by love. (1 Pet. 4:8) Hence, the need to ‘mark’ such ones. But who would do this and how?
Note that Paul’s letter was not one sent to an overseer, such as Timothy or Titus, nor are the overseers specifically mentioned (as at Philippians 1:1), but the letter is addressed “to the congregation” in general. (2 Thess. 1:1) So, rather than the elders officially and publicly labeling certain individuals as “disorderly,” the members of the congregation individually would do the marking. For the phrase, “keep this one marked,” other translations read: “mark him well” (New English Bible); “note him well” (New Berkeley Version); “take note of him” (Jerusalem Bible); “take special note of that man” (New American Standard Bible). They would ‘mark’ him in the sense that we mean when saying, “Mark my word,” that is, take special note of it.
This marking or noting of certain ones as poor examples may be illustrated by contrast with the favorable marking called for at Psalm 37:37. There the psalmist exhorts: “Watch the blameless one [“mark the man of integrity” (footnote: “take note of”), Jewish Publication Society] and keep the upright one in sight, for the future of that man will be peaceful.” Christians also are urged to ‘keep their eye’ on those setting a fine example among them, observing their conduct and imitating their faith. (Phil. 3:17; Heb. 13:7) This, of course, does not call for any public naming of such good examples. Their good conduct speaks for itself and becomes known to observers. So, too, does the poor conduct of these disorderly ones, and the congregation members individually ‘mark’ them by taking note of them as persons not to be imitated.
To what extent do they “stop associating” with such “marked” ones? 2 Th 3 Verse 6 of this chapter says to “withdraw [“keep aloof,” New American Standard Bible] from every brother walking disorderly.” Their ‘withdrawing’ is evidently of the kind described at Galatians 2:12. There it is related that Peter, mistakenly in this case, “went withdrawing and separating himself” from people of the nations, whereas before he used to eat with them. Thus it appears that congregation members would cease to have social relations with those they themselves ‘mark,’ and this for the purpose of showing that they do not approve of the habits or course these are taking.
To illustrate, in a congregation certain ones may fail to heed the Scriptural warning concerning worldly associations, perhaps even “dating” an unbeliever. (1 Cor. 7:39; 15:33; 2 Cor. 6:14) They may do this though counseled often regarding the matter. The elders, from the platform and otherwise, may even have emphasized the Bible’s counsel and warning against such conduct, not, however, naming the individuals involved. What then? Then, if approached and invited to share in such worldly association by a member of the congregation, the ones approached would ‘mark’ such a one as “disorderly” in this regard. They certainly would not want to associate with him in his course. In some cases, parents might find it necessary to instruct their children to restrict their association with certain young persons in the congregation who may be showing themselves “disorderly” in such ways. Elders, of course, would be careful not to use such ones in any exemplary capacity.
This does not mean that brothers would refuse to greet such a one, as if he were of the kind of persons described at 2 John 9-11. When at a Christian meeting place, they would receive and treat such a one in brotherly fashion. But they would keep in mind his poor example and failure to respond to counsel and, as appropriate opportunity afforded, would ‘admonish him as a brother.’ And, of course, it is especially important that they set a good example themselves in the matter involved.—Titus 2:7, 8.
Is there a difference, then, between these “marked” ones and persons who may have committed serious sins but who were not disfellowshiped due to their sincere repentance? Yes, there is. True, these latter ones may have been publicly reproved, in harmony with 1 Timothy 5:20, but they have already recognized the wrong of their course, felt shame over it and repented. That is not the case with the ones needing to be “marked.” It is for the very reason that they are not recognizing the error of their way so as to repent of it that they need to be shamed, and that is why the brothers stop associating with them on other than necessary occasions, as at Christian meetings.
This ‘marking’ does not mean we are ‘judging’ our brothers—ruling them out as being Christian or as fellow disciples or brothers. Nor are we judging them in things that are solely matters of individual conscience. (Rom. 14:10) We object to a particular habit or course that is clearly contrary to Bible principles. If these persons overcome such we are happy to view them as no longer in need of being marked and are happy to be able to associate freely with them.
We should, then, not use this apostolic injunction as a reason for looking down upon or treating coolly any person who does not measure up precisely to what we may personally view as an “ideal” course or example. Some persons are new in the faith and have much to learn. They are to be dealt with considerately and patiently. (Rom. 14:1-4; 15:1) So, one can ask oneself the question, ‘Is the person truly “disorderly” in a matter of sufficient consequence to merit such marking?’ An occasional minor slip in conduct is not the same as consistently following a course that is out of harmony with clear Scriptural counsel. Consideration would need to be given also when one is conscientiously battling a weakness and sincerely wants to improve. We want to protect our spiritual health and that of our brothers. Yet, we also want to “pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another,” showing real love and concern for one another.—Rom. 14:19.