20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning. 21 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality.
We see today the same message that Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica; we discussed this in Loving Discipline. At that time, public shame was an acceptable and effective way of correction. Today you would probably get sued for doing something like that. So, how then should we handle Paul’s instruction here? The word that makes me feel uncomfortable in this passage is fearful. Fear is found in different forms throughout the bible. What kind of fear is Paul talking about here?
He is using the word which conveys one should literally be afraid of doing something. So then, should we publicly shame people who sin so that others are afraid? I feel challenged by this and quite honestly believe I need to do some soul searching about it. I do think that in today’s society it would have the opposite affect of what Paul intends this to accomplish. What is his focus? Paul wants us to be wary of sinning.
The point is not to cast someone out from the church or society, but rather to make aware not only sinfulness (something that the church has become very good at doing), but rather the effects of it. The public exposure of sinfulness is to reveal what happens when you live a sinful life. We tend to desire an equation to explain to us how things work. We want a clear cut A+B=C rule so that we can try to follow it. The exposure of sinfulness and how it destroys lives does just this. It isn’t to humiliate and judge someone, that isn’t our job as brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, it is to realize when someone needs help and lovingly restore them, whatever that may look like in their situation.
I think we tend to miss the love part. We point fingers and want to reveal the sinfulness of others and blame them for their sinfulness instead of recognizing the sickness and treating it. It would be messed up if you went to the doctor with a cold and he told you, “It’s your fault you are sick. Get out of my office before you get me sick as well!” and booted you out into the parking lot, wouldn’t it? Instead, doctors treat you if they can figure out what is wrong. If it is something new, they do their best to discover the root cause of your ailments and then figure out how to make you better. Once all this happens, they share the information with others so that many can benefit from your experience in the future. This is the principle Paul is trying to teach in regards to exposing sinfulness.
Sin is a naturally occurring disease that has a cure. However, we won’t take medicine for something we don’t admit we have, will we? If I don’t think I have a cold, I won’t take medicine for a cold. But if my wife has similar symptoms, takes medicine, gets better, and then says, “hey, you probably have a cold, take this to get better,” I will be more inclined to recognize my ailment and the cure for it. Sin is the disease; Jesus is the cure.
Paul then mentions that we should take care to take these principles to heart and not be partial. If we recall, these principles were written by Paul as governing principles for a church body. It is as if Paul prescribed them to ensure a healthy church governance. Just as your doctor prescribes some sort of regimen when you go in for a checkup: take these vitamins, eat this food, don’t eat that food, stop doing this, start doing that… If we don’t follow the guidelines and principles we do not grow the way we desire or are expected to; we do not recognize our full potential of growth. Similarly, these principles are essential for healthy church growth and governance. I want to remind us all that these things are not just applicable to ruling a church body, but our individual behavior as followers of Jesus Christ. Do not let the devil deceive you into thinking, “this doesn’t apply to me because I am not a part of church leadership.” You are a part of the church and it applies to each and every one of us.
Are you following the prescribed regimen? Are you taking the medicine that makes you well? Do you even know you have a disease?