A Command to Separation
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to Paul's second Thessalonian letter, chapter 3. We have been studying II Thessalonians verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and in the regular expository study of the Word we have come to the passage of Scripture at which we are looking today. It was not selected for a special purpose, and it was not selected for a special day. We have arrived in our study at this passage of Scripture at which we are going to look. The other thing I would like to say to you is that this passage of Scripture deals with something that many of us probably think about very, very little, and many of us may even think it is too stringent to be followed. I would like for you to keep in mind that though this about which we are going to think today is not something that is followed very closely, and some of us may even be at a loss as to how to follow it, it is in the Word of God and therefore it should be considered and therefore, by the grace of God, it should be obeyed.

I think you will see why I am making these comments, because what we are going to think about today is a command for separation, and separation is almost a lost practice. We read from verse 1 of II Thessalonians, chapter 3:

I Thessalonians 3

1Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you:
2And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men have not faith.
3But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil.
4And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will to do the things which we command you.
5And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.
6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
7For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13But ye, brethren, be not weary in well-doing.
14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.
15Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

And we are going to stop our reading there and spend our time meditating on the major portion of the paragraph which begins with verse 6 and concludes with verse 15. The apostle, you will remember, had just said that he had no confidence in the flesh and he had no particular confidence in these Thessalonicans that they would do what he said. But he had confidence in the Lord concerning them that they would obey the commands which he gave. And immediately upon opening the door by that statement, he expresses the command that is going to occupy our attention today, a command to separation.

Separation In the Early Church

This is not peculiar to Paul's letter to the Thessalonicans. I would like for you to glance with me at a few passages of Scripture, by no means all of them, that give us a command to separation so that you will see that it is not some little facet of God's truth that we are overemphasizing, but so that you will see it is a very definite part of our relationship to God. Keep a marker here in II Thessalonians, because we will come back to it in a very few moments, and turn in your Bibles, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 5.

The Corinthian believers were having a real problem related to this matter of separation. Things were not right in the lives of some of the Christians there in Corinth, and no one seemed concerned about it at all. In I Corinthians, chapter 5, the apostle refers to the problem in verse 2, where he says:

I Corinthians 5

2And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.

“The least you could do about this disorderliness is to pray about it, and you are not even concerned about it.” In verse 11 of this same chapter:

I Corinthians 5

11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
13But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

Turn with me, please, to Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, where we have an entirely different situation–different people, a different pastor–but the same problem presenting itself.

I Timothy 2

16But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
17And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
18Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

Two individuals in this particular instance were denying the truth of God's Word. God said, through the Apostle Paul to Timothy and thus to the believers in Crete, “Have nothing to do with those people; shun them; refuse to have any associations with them whatsoever.”

Turn, please, in your Bibles to John's second epistle, the paragraph which begins with verse 8, for there is only one chapter in this particular book:

II John

8Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
9Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

Let us pause for a brief moment. The doctrine of Christ as taught in this second epistle is that Jesus Christ is the virgin-born Son of God–the doctrine of the virgin birth. Verse 10:

II John

10If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
11For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.

Three different illustrations have we brought to your attention from three different sections of the Bible, those illustrations emphasizing the need to obey God's command concerning separation. One of them was related to immorality; one of them was related to erroneous teaching of the Word of God, and one of them was related to the open denial of the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. The command is, “Separate yourselves from such people.”

Problem of Busybodies In the Church

Go back to II Thessalonians, chapter 3, and notice the command to separation in our text today. You find it emphasized in two verses. II Thessalonians, chapter 3, verse 6:

I Thessalonians 3

6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

You will notice in verse 6 the command is to withdraw yourself from a brother who walks disorderly. In verse 14, the command is to have no company with a brother who walks disorderly. We have mentioned to you the reasons for the commands in the other passages of Scripture, and so it would be well for us to notice today the reason that Paul issued this particular command to the Thessalonican believers. We will notice the immediate problem as it is specifically described and then we will notice the principle involved. The specific problem, as it was discussed in Thessalonica, is presented in verse 11:

I Thessalonians 3

11For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.

You will notice the immediate problem that was presented in this particular group of believers. There were some in their midst who were working not at all. They were busybodies. In the original text there is an interesting play on words that is not evident in our English translation. If you will glance down there at verse 11, notice the word “working” and the word “busybodies.” You will find that they come from the same Greek word. That doesn't appear to be so in our translation. Because that is true, you might translate that verse, “Not busy in their own business, but overbusy in that of others.” They are individuals who don't have the time to take care of their own business, but seem to have unlimited time to take care of everyone else's business. They were walking disorderly.

Now, this literally means what it says, because Paul had to touch upon this same problem in the first Thessalonian letter which he wrote. You will keep in mind that the truth that was held up to these believers was the coming of Christ. Of course, the Devil never likes to have any truth emphasized without trying to warp it in some way. So he slipped around to some of these Christians and said, “The preacher said Christ was coming, didn't he?” And they said, “Yes, he did. Isn't it wonderful?” And the Devil said, “Yes, it is, but you know, if He is coming like the preacher says, there isn't any point in your working so hard. Why don't you just quit work? Why don't you sit down? Why don't you take it easy? Why spend all of your time and your effort planning and working if Jesus is coming?” And some of them believed that, and they became a burden to everyone else.

The Apostle Paul said, “Now, those people are walking disorderly.” And that is the thing that I want you to notice with me today because the problems will never be the same in any one congregation. The problems will never be the same in any one locality, so I want you to notice with me today the cause of the command that the Apostle Paul gave for separation was disorderly conduct. Look at verse 6 again and notice the statement that is made relative to that once more:

I Thessalonians 3

6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

Recognize with us today that we are going to deal with this matter on the basis of disorderly conduct and let you name the conduct in the light of the Word of God. Here is a command that we separate ourselves, that we withdraw ourselves, from everyone that walketh disorderly. In I Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 14, the same word is used and there it is translated “unruly.” It comes from the Greek word *ULataktos*UL which is a military term that speaks of a person being out of step, out of rank, not walking according to order. Withdraw yourselves from such an individual.

Disorderliness Related to Disobedience

How can we be sure who is walking disorderly? What basis are we going to use to determine our separation on that point? Our answer is found in our very text here. I am going to suggest to you the phrase and then we will see how it is amplified in the Word of God. We are going to have to base our decision on disobedience to the Word of God, because that is exactly what the apostle is saying. Notice in verse 7:

I Thessalonians 3

7For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8Neither did we eat any man's bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.

Disorderliness is related to disobedience as it is presented by example in the Word of God. The Apostle Paul left a definite example; and he said, “My example is worth following, and if individuals do not follow my example, they are disobedient to the Word of God. And if they are disobedient to the Word of God, they are disorderly. And if they are disorderly, then you need to separate yourself from them.”

Not only was the Word of God presented by example, but you will notice that it was presented by exhortation as well, for in verse 10 we read:

I Thessalonians 3

10For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

And though this principle may not be as pressing today as it was then, the principle is still true. An individual who is not willing to work and make his own way if he is able to should not be fed and cared for by a misdirected Christian charity. And you might need to keep that in mind.

Now, the third thing related to disobedience to the Word of God is the written Word itself. Not only was there example, not only was there exhortation, but there was the written Word itself. Will you glance again at verse 6:

I Thessalonians 3

6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.

We learned earlier in our study of Thessalonians that the word “tradition” is just another word for the Word of God. And then in verse 14:

I Thessalonians 3

14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Notice the word “epistle.” Here he is declaring this epistle which he is writing as the Word of God, and he is saying if people are disobedient to the Word of God, then you should have absolutely nothing to do with them. You should withdraw yourself from them.

Now, that presents a very real problem. The matter of separation presents a very real problem because most of us want to know where the separation will begin and where it will end. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has slipped into such a sad spiritual state that if we began this matter of separation we would hardly know where to begin and where to end. But we cannot disavow the Word of God because that situation may exist.

Character of Separation

Then there are individuals who misinterpret completely what the Word of God has to say about separation and are so separated that they are absolutely useless as far as God and His work is concerned, so I would like for you to notice with me the character of separation as it is taught particularly in our text. I would like for you to notice, first of all, that we are talking about separation from other Christians. The emphasis in this passage of Scripture is related to the brethren. Keep a marker in II Thessalonians and turn to I Corinthians, chapter 5, which we noticed a short time ago, and notice what is said there about this matter of separation as it is related to the brethren. I Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 9:

I Corinthians 5

9I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

Paul said, “Don't get mixed up on what I am saying. I am saying to separate yourself from fornicators; but I am not talking about sinners. If you separated yourself from sinners, you would have to leave this world. And you are left in this world for a purpose, so don't talk about separation from sinners. Talk about separation from brethren, those who know the Lord Jesus Christ, those who are members of the family of God and yet are walking disorderly.” Go back to II Thessalonians, chapter 3, notice verse 6:

I Thessalonians 3

6Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly,…

Beloved, this command is a command to separation among the brethren. If you see me walking disorderly in relation to the Word of God, then you should separate yourself from me. And if I see you walking disorderly in relation to the Word of God, then I should separate myself from you.

Withdraw Fellowship

What do we actually mean by separation? Well, there are two things mentioned in our text. One of them is the word “withdraw.” The word “withdraw” is from the Greek word *ULstello*UL, and it is translated in II Corinthians, chapter 8, verse 20, by the word “avoid.” That makes it pretty plain, doesn't it? I should avoid the child of God who is walking disorderly. Someone says, “But wait a minute. That is so cruel; that is so unreasonable; that is so unfair.” Beloved, it is the Word of God, regardless of what we may think about it.

Notice down in verse 14 another explanation of what it means to withdraw:

I Thessalonians 3

14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

The phrase, “note that man,” comes from the Greek word *ULsemeioo*UL which means, and I think this is very important, “to mark out for yourself that man and have no company with him.” It doesn't mean that you get up on a soapbox and wave your hands and say, “Look at old so and so; we ought not to keep company with him.” But it means reverently, prayerfully, on the basis of the Word of God, you notice the man that is walking disorderly and as far as you are concerned you yourself withdraw from him. You yourself have nothing more to do with him.

Now, really, I like the explanation that is given here in verse 14 because I think it helps to clarify the situation. It says, “Have no company with him.” That phrase, “have no company,” comes from one Greek word which is made up of two prepositions and a verb and when you put the words together it means, “Don't get mixed up with” such individuals. It doesn't mean you can't speak to them on the street. It doesn't mean that you can't give them something to eat if they are hungry. It doesn't mean that you can't help them if they are in need, but it does mean that if they are walking disorderly then you must not get mixed up with them. And again, as cruel as that may sound and as unusual as it may sound, it is the Word of God.

Admonish the Disorderly Brother

Look at verse 15, because all of this must be done in the right spirit. If it is not done in the right spirit, then it will accomplish absolutely nothing. Notice in verse 15:

I Thessalonians 3

15Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

The literal rendering of that last statement is, “Admonish him as still being a brother.” Don't forget, he is your brother, no matter how disorderly he may be walking. Don't forget that he is still God's child, no matter how disorderly he may be walking. Admonish him as a brother. Many passages of Scripture emphasize that same truth.

What does “admonish him” mean? Don't treat him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. The word “admonish” comes from the Greek word *ULnoutheteo*UL and it means “to remind him of what God's Word says.”

Now, when you see someone walking disorderly and you withdraw yourself and you don't get mixed up with him any more, you don't need to turn your head and walk on the other side of the street every time you see him and have the poor man scratching his head and saying, “Well, what did I do to him?” Or every time he comes to your door, you don't open your door to see who it is and then slam the door shut real quick and then have the man say, “Well, has he lost his mind? What's wrong with him?” When you see him walking disorderly, you go to him and you say, “Brother, have you thought about what the Word of God says about this? Have you thought about that? Did you forget what God's Word says?” Or, in some instances, maybe they didn't even know what God's Word said, but you admonish him; you show him the Word of God. And if you do it right, you might not have to separate yourself. The Word of God tells us in Galatians, chapter 6, verse 1, that if we see our brother overtaken in a fault and we who are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, that a brother has been gained. You notice, “restore him in the spirit of meekness.” And we are told, too, in Matthew, chapter 18, that if we go to that brother in the right spirit, we will gain our brother. In so many cases separation wouldn't even be a necessity if we go in the right spirit. So when we talk about the manner in which this separation should be carried on, we might remember that it has a purpose.

I would like for you to think about the climax of all of this. Why does God want you to separate from the brother who walks disorderly? So you can go around with your chest stuck out and say, “I am more spiritual than he is; he is not doing what God tells him to do.”? Well, you are not either if you talk that way. What is the purpose of separation? Look at it here in verse 14:

I Thessalonians 3

14And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.

Note him and have no company with him that he might be ashamed. That is the climax. That is the purpose. Why do you separate yourself from the brother who walks disorderly? Why do you refuse to get mixed up with him? Why do you refuse to endorse what he does? So that he might be ashamed.

What does it mean to be ashamed? This word “ashamed” comes from two Greek words which mean “to turn in on yourself”–that is, “to take a good look at yourself,” and when you take a good look at yourself, you want to change. That is the thought of being ashamed, and the purpose of separation is to bring about that condition in the heart and the life of the individual in question.

Problems Related to Separation

Now, let me say a few things that to my mind arise as problems from this message today, because I don't want you to go off unenlightened in relation to what I have been trying to say to you. I think we need to recognize that there are many people who are walking disorderly unintentionally. So our decision for separation should take that into consideration. There are many people today who are disobeying God's Word not because they are unruly, not because they are rebellious, but because they are too weak to do other than what they are doing. They haven't learned how to lay hold on the grace of God. And if you have separated yourself from them, you would be violating God's Word to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. So be careful before you institute separation proceedings, spiritually speaking. You want to know what you are doing.

Another problem that faces us today is that separation in our day and time has real problems about being effective. If you separate yourself from some Christian who is walking disorderly, he will find a lot more Christians who agree with him, and you will be marked down as a nut, and your testimony won't affect him at all. It won't cause him to be ashamed; it won't cause him to realize that something is wrong in his life. You are just an old fanatic and an old prude and someone who is too good to live around anyone else. So before you start separation proceedings, spiritually speaking, be sure you know what you are doing.

I hate to say this today, but it is true. If we are going to separate ourselves from those who are talking disorderly, we may be undertaking something that would do a great deal of damage. Most of us are living so carelessly and our own lives are so disorderly in relation to the Word of God that if we began this institution of separation proceedings, instead of it being a testimony that would cause someone to be ashamed, it would result in bitterness that could rupture the Body of Christ and turn people away from God. “Oh,” you say, “good, then we just need to ignore this passage.” No, we don't need to ignore it. We, every one of us, need to get our faces before God and confess to Him and acknowledge to Him that our own lives are in such a sad, disorderly state that we can't even obey His command to withdraw ourselves from those who walk disorderly. And we need to be grieved about the state of the Body of Christ as Daniel was grieved about the nation of Israel, because the Body of Christ is in such a sad state that it is almost impossible to exercise any kind of separation and any kind of discipline. Don't disavow the Word of God. Be grieved that we let ourselves get into such a sad state that we can't even obey the commands of Christ.


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