Concerning the One Who Stirs Up Division
“The saying is trustworthy and true,” Paul says. What saying? What we read yesterday: That God saved us not by our own works of righteousness but by his mercy by which He washed us through the Spirit’s renewal (rebirth) of us. And now as heirs of eternal life, let us turn ourselves from foolish controversies, arguments over who has the most honorable lineage, and quarrels over works of the law which cannot save. Instead, let us go about doing good unto others as Jesus did (Mark 7:37; Acts 10:38), showing love to others since love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10). And the Apostle means it, too: “I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” Preachers should do more to exhort their people to just go about doing good unto others. Such good deeds could at some point lead to a word of witness and would thereby lend more legitimacy to the words.
But what of those who just love spreading as much dissension around the church that they can? It cannot be tolerated. Paul says warn such a person twice but after that “have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and self-condemned.” Paul’s version of church discipline is abbreviated here compared to Matthew 18:15-20 but that need not detain us. There are four points to be made: 1) Someone who causes division and strife within the church must be confronted. The local church is supposed to be the place of peace and joy in all the world. How many have turned away from the church because they came away from it more burdened than when they left home that morning? 2) The purpose of confrontation is always to graciously explain to the offender the nature of their offense in the hopes of repentance. We must understand that no one enjoys this—neither the elders who confront nor the person confronted—but it must be done, and done with the hope of repentance. 3) But if that person refuses to repent after a second visitation and refuses to listen to the church about their ungodly behavior, HE MUST BE SEPARATED. “Must,” I say. Too much is at stake, namely the peace and well-being of the church. Elders who refuse this responsibility are as guilty as the people causing the problems. And, 4) The elders may rightly know that they are not at fault assuming they did all things for the purpose of reconciliation. This is why Paul says that the person is “self-condemned”; they are the ones who have separated themselves through their own impenitent hearts. The elders may bear a clear conscience and the church live in peace.