In all of human history, there never has been a more devastating debater than Jesus. He knew the Bible like He’d written it—because He did. He could read hearts, and He had more wisdom than any mere human being could possess. As a result of these attributes, He routinely wiped the floor with His adversaries.
This was no mean feat! We might read the record of Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees and scribes and conclude that He was up against the clown squad, but these were no clowns. These were the smartest men in the Jewish nation. They had been trained in the Law and the subtleties of argument. They presented Jesus with conundrums that, if we didn’t already know the answer, we wouldn’t be able to solve. These were no clowns, but Jesus made them look like clowns.
However, there is one person in the gospels who bested Jesus rhetorically, who won their point over Him. It wasn’t a scribe, Pharisee, or lawyer. In fact, it was the last person we might have expected to succeed. However, their success tells us a great deal about them and about Jesus too. This morning, then, let’s turn to the story of how somebody won an argument with Jesus.
The first segment of our study concerns Jesus’ antagonist, THE CANAANITE WOMAN. Look at Matthew 15:21-22. Even though Mark’s account of this story is generally shorter, it offers some additional information here. Jesus and His apostles haven’t come to the region of Tyre and Sidon because they wanted to enjoy the beautiful views of the Mediterranean. Instead, they came because it was a Gentile area, and they wanted to get away from all the Jews who believed Jesus was a prophet and were pestering Him for healing. This should remind us that it wasn’t easy to be Jesus. His ministry was about as serene and peaceful as the Nashville rush hour!
We see, then, that Jesus and His apostles came to this region to escape all the people who were bugging them. However, they find that their troubles have followed them. The Jews have been left behind, but now one of the Canaanite locals has started pleading for help. We’ve talked before about how the Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. How much more did they shun the Canaanites! These were the people they were supposed to have destroyed 1500 years ago. This woman’s very existence is a reminder to the disciples of their ancestors’ failure to obey God.
However, even though this woman is not a Jew, she uses Jewish language as she approaches Jesus. She calls Him the Son of David and appeals to Him to cast a demon out of her daughter.. I hope I’m not spoilering anybody here, but one of the most important lessons of this story is that anybody can seek the Lord. Make no mistake: 2000 years ago, this woman was the lowest of the low, yet she comes to Jesus and calls on His name. So too today, whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever you’ve done, call on the Lord, and He’ll listen. His compassion is the same for everyone.
Next, we’re treated to a display of THE WOMAN’S PERSISTENCE. Matthew 15:23-25 tells the tale. Jesus starts off by giving her the silent treatment. This should strike us as strange. Isn’t this the One who said, “Come unto Me, all you who labor?” Interestingly, though, neither here nor at any other point in this story does Jesus tell her that He’s not going to help her. He’s not giving her any encouragement, but He’s not shutting her down either.
This, I think, tells us something important about prayer. Sometimes God says “Yes,” sometimes God says “No,” but sometimes God says “Not yet,” and waits to see what we will do with that. Why this is, I don’t know. Maybe He wants us to grow through our trials before He rescues us. Maybe He wants to see the proof of our faith. However, I do know that whenever we don’t immediately get the answer we want, we should keep praying.
Notice, though, that the disciples have no compunction about getting rid of the Canaanite woman. They tell Jesus to send her away so that she’ll leave them alone. Their motivations are obvious. In addition to being a woman and a Canaanite, she’s filling their quiet retreat with obnoxiousness. She’s about as welcome as a work email in the middle of a two-week vacation!
The lesson here for us, I think, is that we need to beware of discouraging those who are seeking Jesus. We can do this in any number of ways. We can glare at the woman who visits our assembly in a miniskirt or the man who comes in with a Diet Coke. We can icily inform the visitor that they are sitting in our pew. We can tell our friend who is asking us about our church that they wouldn’t like it where we go. We need to be careful, brethren! A tiny action may have eternal significance.
Notice, though, the response that Jesus gives to the disciples. He makes a statement that appears forbidding but still leaves a crack for the woman to squeeze through if she wants. Yes, Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but that still leaves open the possibility that He might help a sheep who isn’t from that house.
The final act of the story is about BREAD FOR DOGS. It unfolds in Matthew 15:25-28. Despite this apparently indifferent treatment from Jesus, the woman is not deterred. She kneels before Him and pleads for His help.
For the first time, Jesus directly addresses her. Again, He still doesn’t straight-out say no, but His words are crushing nonetheless. Piggybacking off His comment about being sent to the Jews only, He says that it isn’t right to take the bread meant for the children and give it to the dogs instead. As if being a woman and a Canaanite weren’t bad enough, now she’s a dog! She’s not even human anymore!
However, the woman takes that on the chin and counterpunches. Until she gets that final, definitive “No,” she’s going to keep hammering. Indeed, her counterargument is a good one. Dogs might not get the bread, but they get the crumbs, and if Jesus is willing to give her crumbs, she’s willing to be a dog.
Before this combination of humility and refusing to quit, Jesus concedes the point, or, rather, He does what He had intended to do all along. He casts the demon out of her daughter before she gets home. Even a Canaanite woman can find help and healing in Jesus!
Really, this story gives us all we need to know about seeking the Lord. It boils down to two simple rules: be humble, and don’t give up. Be humble. Recognize that God is in heaven, and you are on earth. Admit that you have to follow His word rather than your own bright ideas.
Then, don’t give up. Seek Him passionately, relentlessly, every waking hour. Come after God like a bill collector. If you do, He will honor your faith, and He will lead you to blessing.
One of the unexpected side-effects of my diagnosis has been that these days, I find that I have much more in common with our oldest members. I share with them the knowledge that our time on earth is short, which naturally draws our thoughts to our eternal destination. I was discussing the subject with an older sister a week or two ago, and her comment about the judgment was, “I don’t know if I’m good enough.” She was worried about how she was going to fare.
To put this statement in its context, a couple of minutes later, she told me with complete sincerity that if she could take my ALS on herself, she would. This is a woman with such love in her heart that she is literally willing to die in the place of a brother in Christ, and she’s concerned about whether she’s a sheep or a goat!
To be frank, I regard this as an indictment of myself and my preaching brethren. I fear that we spend so much time trying to convince backsliders of their danger that we unwittingly plant seeds of doubt in the hearts of the most faithful. However well-intentioned, that’s not declaring the whole counsel of God! I want to change that at least a little bit this morning by considering the Scriptural testimony concerning the assurance of our salvation.
In particular, I want to look at three bases of our confidence, the first of which is THE PROMISE OF GOD. Let’s read about one of His greatest promises in Hebrews 8:10-12. Before I delve into that passage, though, there’s something else we need to explore. Every passage that I will cite this morning is about God, and there’s a reason for that. If our salvation were about us and our actions, we would have cause for concern, but our salvation isn’t about us. It’s about God and the power of His grace. We are uncertain, but the salvation of God is certain, and it’s certain in part because of His promise.
This whole text is surely one of the most beautiful and uplifting passages in the Bible, but I want to focus on two promises that God makes in it. First, He tells us that He will be our God, and we will be His people. Without this promise, it would be the height of arrogance for any of us to claim to belong to God. How could people as imperfect as all of us are have any part in His perfection? Quite simply, we belong to Him because He has said so. Despite all that we have done, He is not ashamed to be called our God.
The second promise, in v. 12, is if anything even more important. There, God promises that He will forgive our transgressions and forget our sins. This is a costly promise! It cost God the most precious thing He had. However, God was faithful to His word and made our salvation possible through the lifeblood of His Son. The power of that sacrifice was so great that to God, it is as though our sins never happened. Every faithful Christian is “good enough” because in the eyes of God, only the good works are left.
Second, we can be assured of our salvation because of THE POWER OF GOD. Look at the words of the Lord in John 10:27-29. Sad to say, I’m afraid that brotherhood preachers spend more time explaining this passage away in order to defeat Calvinism than they do explaining it in order to comfort the saints. Today, though, let’s go through it without using the C-word.
Notice first of all that v. 27 defines the subjects of the rest of the text. It’s not about everybody. It’s about the sheep, those who know Jesus’ voice and follow Him. That means that all of us can take a very simple test to find out whether the rest applies to us. All we have to do is to ask ourselves honestly, “Do I know the voice of Jesus? Do I follow where He leads?” If the answer to those questions is “Yes,” we are His sheep.
If we are indeed the sheep of the Good Shepherd, that’s a consequential thing to be! Pay attention to what Jesus reveals about His sheep. He will grant them eternal life, they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of His hand. There are lions and wolves out there, but none of them are stronger than Jesus, and even if they were, absolutely nobody is stronger than the Father!
This means, then, that our salvation is not about being “good enough”. It’s not about getting all of the sin out of our lives by ourselves. It’s about hearing and following our Shepherd. Yes, we should hate sin and strive to avoid sinning, but we should not wring our hands and worry about losing our souls every time we have an unkind thought. That’s why we have a Shepherd—to protect us! I know me, and I don’t trust me at all. However, I also know Jesus, and I do trust Him. Because of His power, His sheep can know perfect comfort and perfect peace.
Finally, we can be confident in our salvation because of THE LOVE OF GOD. Let’s conclude our reading this morning with Romans 8:35-39. To be honest, brethren, I feel a little bit like I’ve assembled a dessert buffet of a sermon because these passages are so enjoyable to study. What an amazing text this is! It tells us that the love of God is literally the most powerful force in the universe. There is nothing that can separate us from it.
This is true despite all the trials that Christians can face. For Paul and the rest of our brethren in the first century, affliction, distress, persecution, and all the rest weren’t horrible hypotheticals. Those things were real problems that they had to deal with. In fact, v. 36, is a quotation from Psalm 44. All through that Psalm, the Israelites complain that they’re being defeated in battle even though they are righteous. Paul’s rejoinder is that all of those problems aren’t a defeat. They may look like it in worldly terms, but in reality, every Christian who endures is more than a conqueror because of the love of Jesus.
Let’s make this real. Since my diagnosis, I’ve had I don’t know how many people tell me how sorry they are that I have to face this. You know what? I’m not sorry. I know I’ve got a hard, ugly few years ahead of me, but even though ALS can take away the use of my limbs, my voice, my mind, and my life, it cannot separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I will not die a victim. I will die a conqueror.
I don’t know what problems you have going on in your life. I’d imagine that some of you are dealing with some pretty heavy stuff. However, whatever it is, it can’t separate you from the love of God either. Because of that love, we can be certain that He will be with us through every day of our lives, and through all of eternity, we will be with Him.
Sometimes, our biggest problems with interpreting Scripture arise when we really want the Bible to say something that we already believe. There is something that we think surely is wrong, so we find a suitably vague passage and impose our meaning on it. Though this might satisfy us, we’re finding something in the word that isn’t really there.
There are several passages that invite this kind of abuse, but of them all, perhaps the most egregiously misused is 1 Corinthians 6:19. “Your body is a temple,” Paul says, and well-meaning Christians take this as an opportunity to invest physical health with spiritual significance. Your body is a temple, so you shouldn’t smoke. Your body is a temple, so you shouldn’t be overweight. Your body is a temple, so you should exercise regularly. And so on.
All of this certainly loads guilt on the heads of Christians who do smoke, are overweight, and don’t exercise, but these applications say much more about us and our values than about Paul’s original intent. This evening, then, let’s try to figure out what that original intent is, so that we can better understand what it means that our body is a temple.
As always, the best way to understand a passage is to consider it in context, and the context here begins with a discussion of FOOD AND THE STOMACH. Consider 1 Corinthians 6:11-12. Here, Paul is attempting to address a distorted view of Christian liberty that some in the church in Corinth had. Depending on translation, your Bible may have quotation marks around statements like “Everything is permissible for me,” and “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.” I think that accurately captures the dialogue that is occurring in this text.
From these comments, we can infer that the Corinthians believed that because Christ had set them free, there were all kinds of earthly delights that they were free to enjoy too. Just like the stomach was made for food, their bodies were made for pleasure, so they might as well live it up!
Paul has several things to say in reply. First, he notes that simply because something is lawful doesn’t mean that it is wise. Christians frequently attempt to justify their conduct by saying, “The Bible doesn’t say it’s a sin!” While that may be true, it’s incomplete. Before we engage in some activity, we also should ask if it’s going to help us draw closer to the Lord and to our eternal home.
Second, Paul points out that even some innocent delights can become a problem if they start controlling us instead of us controlling them. I don’t think there’s a thing in the world wrong with playing video games, but if we love video games so much that they start interfering with our work or our time with our families, there’s a problem! Any number of things can take on too much significance in our lives, and we must be on guard against all of them.
Third, Paul shows that some pleasures are flatly wrong. The stomach is for food, but the body is not for immorality! If we justify our behavior on the basis that it feels good, we are leaving the door wide open for sin.
Next, Paul explains exactly why it is that SEXUAL IMMORALITY is wrong. This discussion appears in 1 Corinthians 6:14-18. He begins by pointing out the significance of our bodies. First, it is our bodies that will be resurrected. We’re not going to be disembodied spirits who drift off to heaven. Instead, just like God raised Jesus from the dead, He will raise us. Second, when we obeyed the gospel, our bodies were incorporated into the body of Christ. Our earthly bodies have great spiritual significance!
Here, then, is the big problem with Christians who engage in fornication, adultery, and so forth. When we do, we are taking something that is part of the body of Christ and making it one flesh with a prostitute. Sometimes, preachers will say that every marriage involves three: husband, wife, and God. This passage reveals the dark side of that spiritual truth. Our sexual sin brings Jesus into contact with corruption and defilement.
Indeed, Paul reveals that immorality’s ability to do this is unique. Every other sin is outside the body, but sexual sin is a sin against the body. This might seem strange to us. Take drunkenness, for instance. Drunkenness is definitely a sin, and it definitely affects our bodies. Doesn’t that count?
Not the same thing, says Paul. He doesn’t specify why, but his previous words imply it has to do with the one-flesh nature of sexual intimacy. Drunkenness doesn’t make us intimate with anyone; in fact, the more we drink, the more isolated we become. Sex is different. It’s a union of body, mind, and spirit, one of God’s most beautiful gifts to the human race. When we take this precious gift and turn it to the service of evil, the spiritual fallout soaks into our very bones. We have turned something that was holy into a source of unholiness.
Paul concludes by pointing out the serious problems this creates for those who were BOUGHT WITH A PRICE. Let’s conclude our reading for the evening with 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. Here, we meet our old friend, “Your body is a temple.” However, in context, it takes on a very different meaning. Things that the Bible doesn’t call sins don’t defile our bodies—they’re not sins. In fact, even most of the sins that the Bible condemns don’t defile our bodies either. Drunkenness is as wrong as wrong can be, but it still is a sin outside the body. It simply doesn’t involve our bodies that deeply.
Contextually, there is only one sin that defiles the temple of our bodies, that insults the Spirit who dwells within us. It is sexual immorality. We shouldn’t come away from this passage resolved to eat fewer Big Macs. We should come away from it resolved to keep ourselves sexually pure because of the disastrous consequences of sexual sin.
If there is any commandment in Scripture that our society hates, it is this one. We are, after all, only now coming out of Pride Month, and this year I saw ungodly sexuality celebrated as never before. Sadly, the Bible leaves no doubt about what will happen to all those who practice unrighteousness.
For us, though, the analysis is different. Our worldly neighbors exalt sexual autonomy. Their rallying cry is, “It’s my body, so I can do what I want!” Paul wants us to understand, though, that because we are Christians, our bodies are no longer our own. We were bought with a price, not into the freedom to do whatever we want to, but into servitude to Jesus. I can’t just follow physical pleasure wherever it leads because my body belongs to Him. It’s not something I have the right to do anymore.
Instead, we are responsible for glorifying God with our bodies. There are a couple of different ways we can do this. Sexual union in marriage does this. If we are not married, though, we glorify God by reserving our bodies for our possible future spouses. In no cases can we bring the Spirit within us into contact with intimate sin.
Because it is still 2021, our theme for the year continues to be “Be the Light”. Clay and I don’t have another light-based sermon series scheduled for a little while yet, but I thought it was appropriate to revisit the theme in a one-off sermon anyway.
In particular, I thought all of us could stand to be reminded that even though we’re supposed to be the light, we aren’t supposed to be the source of the light. Instead, that source is Jesus. If we want to know what light is, we should look to Him.
However, this doesn’t merely mean looking at what Jesus said and saying the same thing. Rather, we need to consider the whole pattern of His life and teaching. 2000 years ago, many people rejected Jesus, and they continue to do so today for the same reasons. Even the people who believed in and listened to Him ran into problems with that, and if we think we are above those problems, we are sadly mistaken! This morning, then, let’s look at a context from Mark 8 to see what it can teach us about enlightenment through Christ.
The first of the three stories in the chapter that we’re going to be considering concerns THE PHARISEES. Here, consider Mark 8:11-13. As always when we study Mark, it’s important to remember that the gospel is only loosely chronological, but it is tightly thematic. When Mark puts two stories next to each other, it’s not necessarily because they happened sequentially in time. Instead, it’s because the stories have something to do with each other and offer commentary on each other.
Here, the Pharisees have come to Jesus asking for a sign. On its face, this request sounds reasonable. However, the opposite is true. Jesus has just worked the mighty miracle of the feeding of the 4000, but that’s still not enough for these guys. They want another sign! Jesus declines to jump through their hoops, but based on their previous performance, if He had obliged them instead, they only would have looked for an excuse to ask for yet another sign. Their problem is not absence of proof. It is the absence of a good heart.
In the same way, we must consider whether we are coming to Jesus with a good heart. This has to do first of all with His divinity. We have plenty of evidence that He is indeed the Son of God. The question, though, is whether we are looking for reasons to believe or excuses to disbelieve. If the latter, no apologetic argument ever will be enough to convince us.
The same holds true of the authority of Jesus. There are two hearts with which we can come to the word. We can come to it wanting most of all to carry out our own desires, or we can come to it with the desire only to please Jesus.
Here too, we must be honest. Do I study the Scriptures looking for the tiniest clue about what Jesus wants, so I can do that? Or, instead, do I reject any but the most overwhelming evidence, insisting that my obtuseness leaves me with the right to do whatever I want? If the latter, we have company among the people of 2000 years ago, but it’s not the company we want!
Next, let’s consider how the enlightenment of Jesus affects THE DISCIPLES. Let’s continue with our reading in Mark 8:14-21. In this story, we see a clear difference of priorities between Jesus and even His closest followers. Jesus is concerned with the evil hearts of the Pharisees and of Herod, who also is a problem. Using metaphor, He warns His disciples to watch out for the leaven of their influence.
That’s not where the disciples are. Apparently somebody goofed, and they neglected to lay in provisions for the boat ride ahead. They’re out of bread! As a result, when Jesus starts talking about leaven, their minds go to the yeast in the wheat products they eat.
From our perspective, this might seem like a reasonable mistake to make, but Jesus doesn’t take it that way. Instead, He uses the language of Old Testament prophecy to condemn them. These were men who had seen Jesus make meals for 5000 and 4000 people out of a tiny amount of food. If they had thought about that, they would have realized that it didn’t matter whether they had bread, as long as they had Jesus.
Brethren, this is one to which all of us need to pay attention. As with the disciples, our preferred state is to have both bread and Jesus. We want our relationship with God, but we want all of our earthly comforts and blessings too. When we lose those things, where is our focus? Do we seek Jesus, believing that He is enough, or do we start worrying because we don’t have any bread? As we see, the latter can be a problem even for good-hearted disciples, but if it’s a problem we have, it highlights our need for growth in understanding.
Finally, let’s consider the miracle of healing THE BLIND MAN in Mark 8:22-26. This is surely one of the most difficult miracles in the whole ministry of Jesus to understand. The blind man is brought to Jesus, Jesus lays hands on him, but his vision is not fully restored. Rather than seeing clearly, in his own words, he sees men like trees walking around. Only after Jesus lays hands on him again does he begin to see clearly.
When we consider this miracle in isolation, we find ourselves asking, “How in the world does this make sense?” If Jesus had enough power to heal the guy at all, why did it take two tries to get it right? Did He have to get a power-up from the Holy Spirit before He could try again?
The mistake here, of course, is considering the miracle in isolation. When we’re talking about the One who did all things well, the only reasonable conclusion is that He healed the man in this way because He meant to. In the context of stories about people who refuse to understand or who understand only incompletely, His purpose in doing so is clear.
Here, then, is what is going on. Just like Jesus healed the paralytic to show that He had authority on earth to forgive sins, He healed the blind man in stages to show that our spiritual enlightenment comes in the same way—in stages. Nobody is presented with a perfect understanding of Jesus and His will the moment they’re baptized. Instead, we have to seek Him and learn from Him in order to conform our understanding to His.
This certainly happened with the apostles. In the next chapter, Peter is about to have a big leap in spiritual understanding when he confesses that Jesus is the Christ. However, even then Peter wasn’t done. On the night of Jesus’ betrayal, his violent response shows how much more he has to learn.
So too with us. None of us have it all figured out, nor will we. However, the more diligently we seek the Lord, and continue to seek Him, the more enlightenment we will find.
There are few things that are more difficult for Christians and churches than when another Christian falls into sin. It’s very easy and straightforward for us to interact with one another when everybody is living faithfully; indeed, the fellowship we share in Christ is one of the great joys of earthly existence!
However, one of the characteristics of sin is that it makes everyone else’s choices more difficult. All of a sudden, that easy camaraderie is shattered. Now, every time we see the Christian who is doing wrong, a host of questions leap into our mind. Should we treat them normally and act like nothing’s wrong even though we know it isn’t true. Should we say something? If so, what? Should we go to the other extreme and avoid them entirely because it ends up being much less awkward for everyone?
These are difficult questions, but thankfully, the Holy Spirit does not leave us without help. There are several contexts in Scripture that probe this subject, and one of them appears in our Bible reading for this week. Let’s turn to 2 Thessalonians 3, then, to see what the apostle Paul has to teach us about addressing spiritual problems.
In this context, I see three main lessons for us, and the first is that we must IMITATE THE APOSTLES. Here, let’s read from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10. Here, it becomes obvious that the Thessalonian church has a problem. There are several members of the congregation who are refusing to work.
We don’t know why this is. Many commentators have speculated that it’s because they were expecting the imminent return of Jesus, so what’s the point in working? It’s also possible that they thought it was easier to sponge off other Christians than it was to work. Regardless, these Christians who should be productive members of society are idle busybodies instead.
In addressing this problem, Paul first encourages the church to imitate him and his companions. Paul did the Lord’s work during his time in Thessalonica. He had the right not to do secular work. However, he chose to work to show the Thessalonians how important and godly working was. His behavior was their standard.
Today, early Christians aren’t merely our standard when it comes to working. Their behavior is our standard when it comes to everything. It’s vital for us to acknowledge this standard for two main reasons. First, it shows us what’s right and what’s wrong. We can resolve every important spiritual question by referring to what our first-century brethren did.
Second, it shows us how we must live if we want to help Christians who are walking disorderly. They have to be able to see us obeying the commandments that we want them to obey. I guarantee you that if we try to correct a brother or sister, and they know that we aren’t living right ourselves, the first thing out of their mouths will be an accusation of hypocrisy! Sadly, an exchange like that is actively harmful because it gives them an excuse to reject correction even from a brother who is living right. If we want to clean up somebody else’s act, we must clean up our own act first.
Next, we must be willing to COMMAND AND EXHORT. Here, let’s consider 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13. Notice how formally Paul uses his authority here. As an apostle, in the name of Jesus Christ, he tells the busybodies to knock it off and get back to work.
Both parts of this formula are vital. The first is the command part. This is not something that culturally sits well with us. On Facebook, Americans are lions, but in person, we’re a bunch of cowards. We don’t do face-to-face confrontation well at all!
However, experience has taught me that if you want somebody to change, the only way to get them to change is to talk to them face-t0-face. There is no substitute for looking in somebody’s eyes and telling them they need to straighten up for their soul’s sake.
When we do this, though we must be loving, we must be direct too. Too often we’re so worried about hurting a sinner’s feelings that we beat around the bush and couch our message in so many caveats that they easily ignore it. I’m reminded, though, of a brother I know who is a recovering drug addict. He says that what helped him wasn’t the people who tried to coddle him and downplay his condition. Instead, it was the people who loved him who told him straight up that he was doing evil and needed to repent. We too need to have the moral courage to call a spade a spade and a sin a sin.
As we do this, though, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of exhortation either. Exhortation is positive. It’s encouraging. It offers a road map for change and improvement. If we don’t offer this road map, all we’re doing is beating somebody down and making them feel bad about themselves without offering them a way to feel good about themselves. Our goal isn’t to check boxes here. It’s to provoke change, and if we want to see a change, we should tell the sinner what it is.
Paul’s final instruction is to NOTE THE DISOBEDIENT. Look at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15. Though obviously any of us can exhort a brother to do good, this is clearly an instruction given to the whole church. It’s similar to what we read in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. If we go to somebody, and they refuse to listen—other passages lay out the process here in much greater detail—we need to single them out for different treatment.
Interestingly, Paul’s words here are meant to help us avoid two different extremes. The first is continuing in the same relationship with them as though nothing has changed. The temptation here is obvious, isn’t it? We’ve said our piece, they ignored it, so we shrug and move on in our relationship with them as though they didn’t listen to a hot stock tip we gave them.
Of course, the gospel is much more than a hot stock tip. In Hebrews 10, the writer tells us that Christians who fall away have trampled Jesus, regarded His blood as an unclean thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace. It makes God very angry when His people turn their backs on Him, and for the apostate, their meeting with God on the day of judgment poses a deadly danger. When we continue in friendly association with the sinner despite the doom that is hanging over them, we do them no favors!
At the same time, though, neither do we cut off communication with them entirely. That would be regarding them as an enemy, and if we don’t talk to somebody anymore, it’s awfully hard to admonish them as a brother! Instead, Paul is calling us to strike a difficult balance. We need to continue in that relationship even though they have wrecked it, showing them by our conduct both that we love them and that we don’t approve of their actions. This is awkward, and it’s meant to be awkward, but it’s also the last chance we have to save their souls from destruction.