How should a community of believers (a church) treat someone in their community who is persistently disregarding the clear instructions on how to live a God honouring life?
These people Paul is referring to have been persistently disregarding the apostles teaching on what a right response to the gospel looks like in life. This person or group of people had already been urged to change through his first letter (1 Thessalonians 5:14), and are disregarding the life modelled by the apostles (vs7-8) & the apostles teaching (vs10).
So how should we handle such a person, where there is disregard for the clear will of God in terms of some serious misbehaviour? 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 gives us five practical guidelines on when, why and how discipline should be exercised:
(These 5 points are inspired by John Stott’s commentary on Thessalonians)
- The need for discipline arises when there is consistent deliberant disobedience to the plain teaching of Scripture. The issue is not ignorance regarding God’s will, but a disregard for God’s will and a disregard of the appeals of the community of faith.
- The nature of the discipline which was required by the apostle was a measure of social exclusion because softer approaches had been disregarded already by the person(s). Discipline should start soft and private, but becomes more more insistent and public in nature if people persist in their disobedience to God’s revealed will. Persistent unreported of disobedience should result in some degree of exclusion (‘not to be associated with’ see vs6 & 14), the congregation was to ‘take note of that person’ and together to not ‘mingle or associate with’ them (vs14). The phrase used can have differing degrees of exclusion, ranging from total separation (as in 2 Corinthians 5:9-13) to more moderate avoidance of free and familiar fellowship (as at Thessalonica) according to John Stott.
- The responsibility for administering discipline to a persistent offender belongs to the congregation as a whole. Paul does not address his instructions merely to the elders of the Thessalonian church. Leaders may need to take the initiative, but then a corporate response is needed by the whole church membership.
- The spirit in which discipline is to be administered must be friendly, not hostile. It is to be done ‘gently’ (see Galatians 6:1-2). In 2 Thessalonians we find the apostle saying; ‘Do not regard him as an enemy’ (15a) rather the spirit here is to, ‘warn him as a brother’ (15b).
- The purpose of this discipline is positive and constructive. Although being excluded will result in shame (vs14b), the intention however is not destructive but meant to cause the person(s) to come to their senses, see the seriousness of their sin and repent. John Stott says; “Paul’s intention is not that he be excluded from the community, but reinstated in it.” We remember that Jesus’ instructions on this matter was that our desire should be that we could win our brother/sister back, be reconciled (Matthew 18:15-17)!
I was just 12-13 at the time, Dave was probably 25. It’s strange but I can’t even remember especially how I got to youth each week (thanks Mom and Dad I am sure it was you!), but I do remember how I got home. It was Dave’s Kombi! That Kombi was a loud fun place to be, we used to get rowdy at times and even used to sneak up behind unsuspecting pedestrians on Main Road in Cape Town, going really close the the pavement and then suddenly at the right moment all hang out the windows bellowing out our best barking impersonations and then delighting in the heights people would jump to in their moments of sudden terror!
I have etched in my memory a moment driving in Dave’s car when he said something like; ‘I’d like to get to know you better…spend time with you and some other guys to help you grow in God.’
That moment, that short invitation changed my life forever!
Now, unlike the majority of young South African men today, there was nothing lacking in my family, no deficiency in my own dad but Dave’s invitation and the constant commitment to me and the intentional friendship that followed had both a formative and transformative impact on my life.
And so we started meeting as a discipleship group – normally about 4-5 guys and Dave. Our normal rhythm was to meet early in the morning before school and after school before varsity, once a week. We would most often gate-crash the Lautenbach families home, sometimes having to wake family members by knocking on their windows because Phil enjoyed his shuteye! We’d talk rubbish, make a noise, read the bible, pray and share life together often by answering Dave’s questions which often seemed to get right down to the marrow of life. The last question was often; “Have you just lied to me?”! We were mates, Dave was our mate although he was different, he was friend and a father in God.
We got drawn into whatever Dave was up to and loved to just watch him do it, do it with him, have him let us do it and in time feel the release and the encouragement from him to do it on our own. This happened as we became youth leaders, leaders at Summer Camp and on the men’s discipleship hikes that were so formative in all our lives. We read the books Dave had read, and ended up learning to fast and pray and grew in our desire to give our lives for something that would last forever.
I know that those years in Dave’s discipleship groups have been the single biggest reason why I believe that I am today at age 42 still walking in the purposes of God, those years formed me, formed my love for God, my desire to live for His purposes and formed my character.
In his letter to Titus Paul says; “To Titus, my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). When I read this I thought of Dave and how he could say to me, say to many like me; ‘my son in the faith’.
I’ll never forget the one meeting we had when Dave got a serious look on his face, opened the bible to 2 Timothy 2:2 and having read it declared that if we did not begin to pass on to others what He had been giving to us he would have to cease to meet with us! We were given 6months to find someone else, other younger guys or lease mature believers to then gather around our lives. Our assignment was to simply do what Dave had done with us again and again.
When I read Paul’s greeting to Titus I felt challenged again, and it’s a challenge that I believe every Christ follower who has known Christ for more than 2years should feel; “Who are your spiritual sons/daughters?” Who have you, who are you pouring your life into? Who would call you ‘Dad’ or ‘Mom’ in God?
Dave was that guy for me. But the challenge is who can say that I, that you have been that guy, that woman for them?
Discipleship is an intentional relationship, it requires effort to start and effort to keep going. Discipleship has aspects of friendship, teaching, imitation, accountability, equipping & release for the purpose of stimulating greater love & devotion to Jesus and His mission in the lives of others.
To disciple is to develop LOVE for Jesus, FAITH, CHARACTER, GIFTING in another and then RELEASING them to do as you have done with them.
At the moment I have three young guys who call me; ‘Dad’. Two of them have their own dad’s, but it is my joy to know that Dave’s fathering of me, Dave’s challenge to reproduce what he had deposited in me and modelled to me has in fact happened.
In South Africa, we live in a fatherless generation, we have a crisis! Who can honestly call you ‘dad’ or ‘mom’ in the Lord? I urge you to take this to heart, to share your life intentionally with others, to ask God to open your eyes to those around you who’s lives will be transformed like mine was if only you’d take the initiative and invite them to share life with you. Will you?
By Gareth Bowley