I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. ~Romans 16:17-19
Often, I find myself shocked over how controversial the doctrines of the early apostles were when compared to some of our own practices today. Because some over the years have blatantly exploited the practice of excommunication for their own personal gain, many mainstream denominational churches have shunned the practice altogether in the name of tolerance and love. Jesus even seemed to encourage us to accept everyone, telling us to love our enemies and not to resist an evil person in Matthew 5. However, in Romans 16, Paul very clearly told the church to ekklinō (literally, to turn away from, keep aloof from one’s society, to shun one) the divisive person. Not only that, Scripture reiterates this commandment multiple times:
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. ~2 Thess. 3:6
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. ~2 Thess. 3:14
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him. . . ~Titus 3:10
John further commands us not to even greet the divisive person:
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. ~2 John 1:10-11
God will not contradict Himself, and neither does His Word. If there seems to be a contradiction, we are to remember that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter that God conceals (Prov. 25:2). What is the distinction, here?
I believe the clearest one is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. In Matthew 5, Jesus was speaking in context of being salt and light to a world. We are not called to be light to believers–for to believe on Him is to be in the light as He is in the light; instead, we are called to let our lights shine before men that they might see and glorify the Father.
On the contrary, Paul and John referred to those who set themselves up as teachers or believers and refused to follow the doctrine of love the former preached. Jesus Himself addressed such individuals, saying:
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. ~Matt. 18:15-17
We are commanded by Scripture to be wise in our relationships. Recently I dealt with the topic of unforgiveness, and I believe Paul’s statement in Romans 16 ties in with it. Always, we must keep love in our hearts to all and be ready to forgive those who have wronged us, but we must discern those who would come into our gatherings and bring division in our love.
Those who mock holiness and integrity, who prey on the vulnerable and young, who carry gossip back and forth to opposing parties of a dispute, and who set themselves up as God’s mouthpiece with words that do not line up with Scripture are not our brothers and sisters in Christ–they are self-serving deceivers, and to allow them to “minister” unchecked is to ultimately bring fault on ourselves for not sounding an alarm and protecting others. They slander the Bride of Christ, and He will deal with it in justice, but our silence brings the burden of reproach on own heads as well.
May you have ears to hear the Spirit, and thus know when to remain silent and when to speak! And may your words be seasoned in love and in grace!