7. What can we learn from Jehovah God’s own example in this regard?
7 If we imitate our heavenly Father we will remember that he even showed certain considerateness toward the first human pair after their disfellowshiping in Eden, providing them with clothing. (Gen. 3:21) This was an undeserved kindness toward them. As Jesus reminded his disciples, Jehovah God “makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) The apostle Paul showed that, despite the independent course the Gentile nations took contrary to God’s way, Jehovah “did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving [them] rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling [their] hearts to the full with food and good cheer.” (Acts 14:16, 17) So, not “mixing in company” with a person, or treating such one as “a man of the nations,” does not prevent us from being decent, courteous, considerate and humane.
WHAT SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIPING INVOLVES
8. (a) What does the Greek expression for “mixing in company with,” used by the apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11, imply? (b) What does it mean to have “fellowship” with another? (c) Is it having fellowship with wrongdoers if we exhort them to repentance?
8 The Greek expression used by Paul for “mixing in company with” is the verb syn·a·na·miʹgny·mi, meaning “to mix or mingle together.” The basic verb involved (miʹgny·mi) is used at Matthew 27:34 to describe the mixing of wine with gall and at Luke 13:1 to describe Pilate’s mixing blood with sacrifices. So it involves a real merging or blending, a uniting into a combination or compound. For us to ‘mix in company’ with others would imply a fellowship existing among us. The English term “fellowship” has the sense of “comradeship; companionship; friendliness,” there being a “community [or, common and mutual sharing] of interest, sentiment, etc.” (The World Book Dictionary) So, to fellowship with another means accepting the other person as on an equal standing with oneself, being interested in and entertaining his views, sharing these with an open and favorable attitude. To have spiritual fellowship with another would be, in effect, to have a spiritual ‘good time’ together. But when we exhort a person to repentance we are not uniting ourselves with him in an amicable union; we are not sharing with him any improper attitude and sentiment he may have shown but, rather, are dealing with him as a person in need of correction.
10-12. (a) Do all persons who are disfellowshiped continue to manifest the traits or ways that made them like “leaven”? Illustrate. (b) What circumstances therefore need to be given due weight in determining the right attitude toward those disfellowshiped? (c) How does the parable of the prodigal son illustrate this understanding of matters?
10 We may note, too, that at 1 Corinthians 5:11 the apostle warns against mixing in company with one who “is” a fornicator or practicer of some other kind of serious wrongdoing. What, however, of the one who has been disfellowshiped for being that kind of person but who thereafter, either at an early point or at a later point in time, gives consistent evidence of discontinuing such wrong practice, stopping it? Can it be said that he or she still “is” a fornicator or whatever type of wrongdoer such a one was that caused him or her to be as “leaven” toward the congregation?
11 For example, a young person disfellowshiped for fornication may thereafter marry, raise a family and live a respectable life. Or one who was disfellowshiped for drunkenness may abandon such practice and, if drinking at all, may do so in moderation only. By such changes these individuals may now regain the respect of the community. Such ones may not yet have come and formally sought reinstatement by the congregation. Is there, however, not an evident difference between these and others who continue right on in the wrongdoing that brought their disfellowshiping? Those giving up the wrong practice may still manifest some appreciation for Christian truth, perhaps even defending the true Christian congregation when someone speaks evil against it. Should not such circumstances be given due weight and have an effect on our attitude as a congregation toward such ones?
12 Surely if the prodigal son of the parable had returned home in a drunken state, perhaps dragging along one of his harlot companions, the father’s reaction would not have been the same. But the father had reason to believe that the son was approaching with a right motive and, rather than suspect the worst, the father hoped the best and went out to meet his errant son.
13. What evidence of repentance surpasses that of words, as shown by statements of John the Baptist and the apostle Paul? (b) How does this principle then apply in the case of a person who has been disfellowshiped?
13 Today, too, we want to realize that one of the best evidences of repentance is not just in words, formally stated, but in actions. (Compare 1 John 3:18.) Thus, when certain ones came to John the Baptist (who was baptizing persons in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins), John did not view their formal action as the most important factor or all that was needed. Rather, he told them to go and “produce fruits that befit repentance,” citing for them examples of such fruit or good works, such as showing merciful generosity, abandoning cheating and extortion, abstaining from harassment or false testimony against others. (Matt. 3:7, 8; Luke 3:7-14) The apostle Paul similarly exhorted people to “repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Thus, when a person who was disfellowshiped ceases the wrong practice that caused the congregation to remove him as “leaven,” this change may be viewed as at least some indication that he is ‘turning around’ and repenting of his previous course.—Acts 3:19.