As I’ve been reading through “Crazy for God,” I’ve been reflecting on some of the behaviors that produce unhealthy Christians. One of the things that seem to stand out is a spirit of judgment, arrogance, and general isolation from the world.
This kind of other living is summoned up in a quote that I found particularly enlightening:
And in some ways it seems fully justified in scripture. For example, one of my favorite passages is out of 2 Timothy, chapter 3. In it, there is the classic “do-not-do” list. But unlike other lists, this one hits particularly at home.
For example it talks about how people will be:
lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,”
Surely at least one of those things hits close to home for you.
And if that wasn’t rough enough, here’s the real clincher—a verse central to Wesley’s faith:
…having a form of godliness but denying its power.
Now here is where it gets rough. It concludes by saying:
And from such people turn away.
I have two problems with this.
1. What if some of those things described you? How do you turn from yourself? (Insert teaching about repentance here.)
2. If we follow this to the letter, won’t we be perpetuating the isolation that so often ruins our faith and witness? Doesn’t this kind of isolation lead to the superiority that seems contrary to the life of Jesus—the person who was so eloquently called “the friend of sinners”?
As I reflected on this and did some reading in commentaries, I came to two possible conclusions.
First, what if this passage wasn’t referring to sinners—or people living outside of the faith—but to those in the faith? In that is the case, it is saying we should cut off fellowship with those who claim to follow Jesus, but fall short of the ideals we all strive towards. If this is the case, we could still welcome sinners—it would be the church members we would be kicking out. I am uncomfortable with this, but I think it can be supported by many other passages around false-teachers and Christian troublemakers. The sad thing is that I cannot think of any stories where a church executed this kind of behavior in a way that seemed God-honoring. All the same, I think I could leave room for it in my theology.
My second reflection had to do with the way this verse is translated.
Every translation I read says in one way or another: “from such people turn away.” Yet, if you read the original Greek it simply says “and these turn away from.”
Scholars (and I should add: who are smarter then me) typically interpret that to mean “these people” but what if it was to say instead not “these people” but “these things.” (From what I can tell, the word is generic and can go either way). If this is the case, the command isn’t to avoid the person, but the attribute—maybe even in your own life?
Does it matter? I’m not sure. What I do know is this: Jesus was a friend of sinners. And I am forced to interpret this passage in light of the Word.
How do you handle it?
Do you think we should avoid certain people? If so, when?
And how do we love those who are broken if we do?