“Do you notice anything different?” Is there a more deadly or damming question that can be asked of a spouse? I think not. I in particular am a victim of said question on numerous occasions. Though I take a great deal of false pride in assuming that I am always aware of my surroundings, I am actually quite inept at noticing small things such as the placement of new pictures on the wall, a change in the room’s paint color, or the arrival of new furniture. It’s a killer question because it exposes my weakness. It is also a killer question to ask spiritually.
When a believer becomes embroiled in sin and will not repent, the church is told to cut them off. Paul writes:
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.”
So here is my question, “Would we notice anything different?” Do we actual spend enough time together as a church family for this to be a meaningful punishment? If we refused to eat with someone, would that persons’ life be any different?
Paul’s command to isolate the unrepent sinner supposes community. He supposes that our church families are built on fellowship. He assumes that the Corinthians actually get together outside of church. He assumes that people regularly enter each other homes and do life together. Please do not miss this: for the refusal to eat lunch together to be a punishment, church members actually have to be eating lunch together.
And now, back to the question, “would we notice anything different?” Would the believer being punished notice anything different? Or would the punishment simply be more of the same? Oh wow another day of eating by myself. That’s never happened before, ha ha ha.”
How we answer that question will reveal a lot about our own hearts and about the health of our churches. For a church to thrive, men and women must regularly be interacting with their fellow brothers and sisters. They must regularly be about the business of admonishing and encouraging each other. And, the believer must be about the business of receiving admonishment and encouragement from others. As the great pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,
“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength for the believer.” (p.19).
Are we regularly drawing strength and encouragement from this source? Are we with other Christians? I hope the answer is yes. However, if your answer is a faint yes or a hard no, I encourage you to join with me as I seek to apply the gospel. Start reaching out and welcoming people into your homes. Start being intentionally vulnerable with your fellow brothers and sisters. Begin the process of real discipleship today. Why wait?