Near the end his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul includes this striking exhortation regarding disobedient Christians:

Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed. Don’t think of them as enemies, but warn them as you would a brother or sister (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 NLT).

This passage is very similar to Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 not even to eat with believers who indulge in overtly sinful behavior, such as idolatry, immorality, greed, cheating, or abuse of others. Think about what Paul is saying in these two passages.

Stay away from them.
Do not associate with them.
Do not eat with them.
Do not treat them as enemies.
Warn them as a brother or sister.

In some Christian circles we have grown so soft that we don’t take this seriously. We hear it said so often that “you can’t judge another person” that we actually begin to believe it. But Paul explicitly says in 1 Corinthians 5:12 that it is our responsibility to judge those inside the church.

What should this look like in practical terms? I think it means that when you encounter a sinning brother or sister (meaning someone who sins and shows no signs of repentance), do not treat them as if nothing is wrong. That’s the principle. Don’t keep up the pretense that everything is okay when it isn’t

Maybe you don’t get together to watch Monday Night Football.
Maybe you don’t exchange IMs about casual chit-chat.
Maybe you suspend your weekly lunches.
Maybe you don't hang out with them like you used to do.
Maybe you don’t go their birthday party.
Maybe you don’t call them on the phone every day.

You do whatever it takes to make the point that their continued sinful lifestyle has impacted your friendship. Do you still greet them? Yes. Are you friendly to them? Yes. Do you speak unkindly to them? You may say something they think is unkind, but if it is spoken in love, it is not wrong. Do you gossip about them to others? No, that is something you must not do.

And when they begin to show signs of repentance and begin to come to their senses, you do what the father did in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). You run to greet them with love and hugs and tears. 

If you are strong enough to do what God says you must do, you may actually save a sinning brother or sister for the Lord. God can use your courage to cause that brother or sister to become ashamed of their sinful lifestyle. There is no guarantee here. But if you act as if their sin doesn’t matter, how will they ever come to repentance?

Shame can be a good thing if it leads us back to the Lord. It takes wisdom, tact, love, prayer, humility and courage to do what Paul tells us to do. It’s hard to say, “No, I won’t go to the game with you” or “No, I’m not going to have lunch with you.” But maybe God will use your courage to wake up a sinning Christian.

You can reach the author at ray@keepbelieving.com. Click here to sign up for the free weekly email sermon.