Questions From Readers
Is the ‘marking’ mentioned at 2 Thessalonians 3:14 a formal congregational process, or is it something that Christians individually do in avoiding unruly ones?
What the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians indicates that the congregation elders have a clear role in such ‘marking.’ However, individual Christians thereafter follow through, doing so with spiritual objectives in mind. We can best appreciate this by considering Paul’s counsel in its original setting.
Paul helped to establish the Thessalonian congregation, aiding men and women to become believers. (Acts 17:1-4) Later he wrote from Corinth to commend and encourage them. Paul offered needed counsel too. He urged them ‘to live quietly, to mind their own business, and to work with their hands.’ Some were not acting that way, so Paul added: “We exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, speak consolingly to the depressed souls, support the weak.” Clearly, there were “disorderly”* ones among them who needed counsel.—1 Thessalonians 1:2-10; 4:11; 5:14.
Some months later, Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, with additional comments about Jesus’ future presence. Paul also gave further guidance about how to deal with disorderly ones who were ‘not working but were meddling with what did not concern them.’ Their actions were contrary both to Paul’s example as a hard worker and to his clear order about working to support oneself. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-12) Paul directed that certain steps be taken. These steps came after what the elders had already done in admonishing or counseling the disorderly. Paul wrote:
“Now we are giving you orders, brothers, . . . to withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition you received from us. For your part, brothers, do not give up in doing right. But 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 Thessalonians 3:6, 13-15.
So the further steps included withdrawing from the disorderly ones, marking them, stopping association with them, yet admonishing them as brothers. What would lead the members of the congregation to take those steps? As a help to clarify this, let us identify three situations that Paul was not focusing on here.
1. We know that Christians are imperfect and have failings. Still, love is a mark of true Christianity, calling on us to be understanding and forgiving of others’ mistakes. For example, a Christian might have a rare outburst of anger, as occurred between Barnabas and Paul. (Acts 15:36-40) Or because of tiredness, one may speak harsh and cutting words. In such instances, by manifesting love and applying Bible counsel, we can cover over the error, continuing to live, associate, and work with our fellow Christian. (Matthew 5:23-25; 6:14; 7:1-5; 1 Peter 4:8) Clearly, failings of this sort were not what Paul was dealing with in 2 Thessalonians.
2. Paul was not addressing a situation in which a Christian personally chooses to limit association with another whose ways or attitudes are not good—for example, one who seems excessively focused on recreation or on material things. Or a parent may limit his child’s association with youngsters who disregard parental authority, play in a rough or dangerous way, or do not take Christianity seriously. Such are simply personal decisions in line with what we read at Proverbs 13:20: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”—Compare 1 Corinthians 15:33.
3. On quite a different scale of gravity, Paul wrote to the Corinthians about one who practices gross sin and is not repentant. Such unrepentant sinners had to be excluded from the congregation. The “wicked” man had to be handed over to Satan, as it were. Thereafter, loyal Christians were not to mix with such wicked ones; the apostle John urged Christians not even to greet them. (1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 John 9-11) This, however, does not fit the counsel of 2 Thessalonians 3:14 either.
Different from the above three situations is that involving “disorderly” ones as discussed in 2 Thessalonians. Paul wrote that these were still ‘brothers,’ to be admonished and treated as such. Thus, the problem with the “disorderly” brothers was neither on the level of a mere personal matter between Christians nor of sufficient seriousness that congregation elders had to step in with a disfellowshipping action, as Paul did in connection with the immoral situation in Corinth. The “disorderly” ones were not guilty of grave sin, as was the man disfellowshipped in Corinth.
The “disorderly” ones in Thessalonica were guilty of significant deviations from Christianity. They would not work, whether because they thought Christ’s return was imminent or because they were lazy. Further, they were causing significant disturbance by ‘meddling with what did not concern them.’ Likely the congregation elders had repeatedly counseled them, in line with Paul’s advice in his first letter and with other divine advice. (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4, 5; 12:11, 24; 24:30-34) Still they persisted in a course that reflected badly on the congregation and that could spread to other Christians. So the Christian elder Paul, without naming the individuals, publicly called attention to their disorderliness, exposing their erroneous course.
He also let the congregation know that it would be appropriate for them as individual Christians to ‘mark’ the disorderly. This implied that individuals should take note of those whose actions corresponded to the course about which the congregation was publicly alerted. Paul advised that they “withdraw from every brother walking disorderly.” That certainly could not mean completely shunning such a person, for they were to “continue admonishing him as a brother.” They would continue to have Christian contact at the meetings and perhaps in the ministry. They could hope that their brother would respond to admonition and abandon his disturbing ways.
In what sense would they “withdraw” from him? Evidently, this was in a social context. (Compare Galatians 2:12.) Their ceasing to have social dealings and recreation with him might show him that principled people disliked his ways. Even if he did not get ashamed and change, at least others would be less likely to learn his ways and become like him. At the same time, these individual Christians should concentrate on the positive. Paul advised them: “For your part, brothers, do not give up in doing right.”—2 Thessalonians 3:13.
Clearly, this apostolic counsel is no basis for looking down on or judging our brothers who make some minor slip or error. Instead, its objective is to help one who takes a disturbing course that significantly conflicts with Christianity.
Paul did not lay down detailed rules as if trying to create a complicated procedure. But it is plain that the elders should first counsel and try to help a disorderly one. If they do not succeed and the person persists in a way that is disturbing and that has the potential for spreading, they may conclude that the congregation should be put on the alert. They can arrange for a talk on why such disorderliness is to be avoided. They will not mention names, but their warning talk will help to protect the congregation because responsive ones will take extra care to limit social activities with any who clearly display such disorderliness.
Hopefully, in time the disorderly one will be ashamed of his ways and will be moved to change. As the elders and others in the congregation see the change, they can individually decide to end the limitation they have put on personally socializing with him.
In summary, then: The congregation elders take the lead in offering help and counsel if someone is walking disorderly. If he does not see the error of his way but continues to be an unwholesome influence, the elders may warn the congregation by means of a talk that makes clear the Biblical view—be it of dating unbelievers, or whatever the improper course is. (1 Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14) Christians in the congregation who are thus alerted can individually decide to limit any socializing with ones who clearly are pursuing a disorderly course but who are still brothers.
The Greek word was used regarding soldiers who did not keep rank or follow discipline, as well as for truant students, those who skipped their school classes.
[Pictures on page 31]
Christian elders admonish the disorderly and yet view them as fellow believers