Questions From Readers
◼ As to ‘marking’ a disorderly person in the congregation, can I do this whenever I feel that it is needed, or should I wait until the elders have given a talk on the problem?
‘Marking’ another Christian should not be undertaken lightly for it is a serious step. You must determine when to take this step. But in most cases ‘marking’ should follow efforts by the elders to help the erring one, including their finally giving a talk to the congregation on the problem in which he is erring.
When the apostle Paul wrote to Thessalonians about ‘marking’ members of that congregation, he was correcting certain persons there who had departed significantly from God’s counsel. They were “walking disorderly . . ., not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 10-12) Despite the Scriptural counsel against laziness, the disorderly persons would not work and they imposed an expensive burden on the rest. (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4, 5; 12:11, 24, 27; 24:30-34; 26:13-16) So Paul openly counseled against their course. Further, he advised all that if they would not respond to this firm counsel given before the whole congregation, they should be “marked” and avoided, evidently in social matters.
Some persons today have wondered whether they might ‘mark’ a person who is going contrary to godly counsel even though the elders have not given a congregational talk about the wrong. There might be very rare cases where such a need exists. (Compare 1 Corinthians 5:1, 2.) But there are reasons why, in the majority of cases, it is best for ‘marking’ to await definite steps by the elders, including their giving a talk to the congregation.
First, as imperfect humans our tendency might be to misuse ‘marking,’ to employ it as a form of punishment regarding minor offenses or personality differences. In one congregation there might be a sister with an abrasive personality. She ‘gets on others’ nerves,’ being difficult to deal with or to get along with. So some sisters might think that they should ‘mark’ her and avoid her. That certainly would not be in line with Jesus’ loving counsel that we should be merciful toward our brothers and sisters, overlooking their shortcomings and minor faults. Recall, for example, what he taught in the Model Prayer as to when God will forgive us our debts or trespasses. And Jesus urged us to be quick about trying to settle complaints against another. (Matthew 5:23-25; 6:12) So it would be wrong to ‘mark’ a brother over minor personal differences or offenses.
Second, when Paul wrote about ‘marking’ certain ones it was not because they were guilty of minor differences involving personality, individual taste or private opinion. The elders would not necessarily try to get involved in or counsel about such things. But, like Paul, they should be alert to persons who significantly violate Bible principles (even though the errors are not yet gross sin for which they might be disfellowshipped). The elders should privately counsel these erring or disorderly ones. As we read at Galatians 6:1: “Even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.”
If the elders’ repeated attempts to help such a one privately do not bring results, they may discuss the matter and decide to have one of them give a pointed Scriptural talk on the matter to the congregation. While, like Paul, they will not identify those who are seriously disregarding God’s counsel, they will warn against the wrong thinking or course. In this way the congregation will have their minds refreshed as to God’s thinking and they will be alerted so that they can guard against being “infected” or misled. Then, as Paul wrote, Christians individually can ‘mark’ the disorderly one and not associate with him. And, since the elders have provided open counsel on the problem, the erring one will understand why others in the congregation decline that one’s invitations to socialize together.—2 Thessalonians 3:13-15.
Hence, it usually is wise to refrain from ‘marking’ another unless the matter has been openly handled by the elders, even as Paul openly counseled about a serious matter and thereafter individuals could apply his advice about ‘marking.’ By viewing matters in this way we will avoid the danger of misapplying ‘marking’ to minor trespasses, matters of taste or personality differences. Also, it shows respect for the elders as loving shepherds who are caring for the needs of the flock.—1 Peter 5:2.