Devotional: Keeping Our Distance

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Keeping Our Distance*

Bill Strom, Ph.D.
Trinity Western University

“Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

These last months, the world has become accustomed to the phrase “social distancing,” which means staying six feet apart, limiting interaction, and living in quarantine. Why? To avoid catching the coronavirus.

Did you ever consider that the Bible refers to a similar practice for spiritual health? In 2 Thessalonians, Paul ended with the command that if anyone disobeyed these instructions, they were not to associate with them! Warn them!

In its full-blown form, this teaching, along with others, prompted the early church to develop the practice of dis-fellowshipping. Sounds unloving, right? Even judgmental. Why would God inspire Paul to write it?

Menno Simons, a church reformer, wrestled with this teaching and practice. Simons saw it this way. God called us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), and to live in the world but not like the world. So when believers chose to thumb their nose at God and gave Jesus a bad name, God made a plan for spiritual, social distancing.

But Simons understood that we are all sinners, so holding others accountable must be done with care “in sighing, tears, and a spirit of compassion”… in the love of Christ,” and done “not too rigidly or too leniently.”

May we seek God’s wisdom, walk with patience, and speak with courage when we admonish others, and may we do so in love for the good of one another. And if we receive such admonitions, may we wake up to God’s loving call to return to his ways.

Prayer: Dear God, you care deeply for our spiritual well-being and detest sin. Help me understand how to graciously yet firmly approach brothers and sisters — in love — who appear insistent on spoiling your reputation. And may I humbly receive correction in the spirit of love so that I may know and love you more. Amen.

Practice: Go Deeper — If someone criticizes your actions or faith walk, how do you respond? Does it depend on whether or not they are a believer? Why or why not?

*This devotional originally appeared here:

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