May the grace and peace of the Father and of our Lord Jesus-Christ be with you as you read this article. As servants of the Lord Jesus-Christ, it is important that we properly recognize those who are “among” us. I am not speaking of those who are outside, but precisely those who supposedly share our faith of Christ. Just like the lawyer asked the famous question “…and who is my neighbor?” in Luke 10:29, an appropriate question for us today is “…and who is my brother?”. From our context of interest and from our understanding, there really seems to be three types of people among us. We shall call them the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. And for each of them, we shall see that God expects us to have a different type of reaction.
The Good Ones
Those are the ones we should be running toward. They are the ones we should endeavor to imitate and learn from. As recorded in many places, the good ones are simply those who follow the traditions they received…from the Apostles (not from their church leader or someone else), and therefore from Jesus-Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1 – Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Philippians 3:17 – Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.
The good ones are the ones who clearly endeavor to live according to the scriptures, and nothing else. They are not entangled by the various doctrines of men. Their only concern is to be followers of the true doctrine taught by the Apostles.
But what I really would like to attract our attention to in this article are the other two groups, which in my opinion, we do not always distinguish: the bad and the ugly.
The Bad Ones
These are actually genuine brothers; however, they do not walk properly. These people are “not” enemies. These are the ones we should actually interact with yet not identify with. Let us see how the Apostle Paul describes them, and the instruction he gives us regarding how we should deal with them.
2 Thessalonians 3:6 – But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.
We see that the principal characteristic of the bad ones is that, in stark opposition to the good ones (2 Thessalonians 3:6), they do not walk after the traditions of the Apostles (the fact that it is the traditions of the Apostles really deserves to be emphasized again). In verse 11-13, the Apostle further identifies them as busybodies who are weary of well-doing. Now he gives us instructions regarding how we should deal with them.
2 Thessalonians 3: 12-15 – Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. … 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
The Apostle tells us that we should not consider such people enemies, but quite opposite (the Greek word used for “but” is alla which is a strong adversative conjunction), we should admonish them as brothers. Matter of fact, this very thing is what the Apostles did in verse 12 in exhorting them. But what brother Paul tells us brings an interesting point. The verb “admonish” is in the present imperative active form, meaning that it is a command (i.e. imperative mood) that we should follow (active voice), and it is something we should do continually (present tense). The question is this: How can we do that (exhort continually) if at the same time we should stay away from them? Yet, that is exactly what the expression “do not keep company” appear to suggest, that we should stay away from them.
It stands therefore to reason (at least in our opinion), that this is not referring to staying away from someone, but instead to not “identifying” with such person. We take note of these people precisely because how they behave is exactly how we should not behave. The shame of such person as referred in verse 14 does not originate from the fact that we consider him an outcast, but instead from the fact that our own behaviors, which are in accordance to the scriptures, are so different than his that there is no way he will not noticed the differences and therefore, be ashamed. This sentiment will be further reinforced as we admonish (exhort, counsel) him regularly. As opposed to the outcast approach, this my friend, sounds like the agape “love” to me!
The Ugly Ones
The ugly ones truly are in a different class. These are the ones we should be running away from, as we earnestly contend for the faith. For one, they are “not” brothers, yet they appear to be so. And that explains why they are so dangerous. They are the false teachers and other ungodly men whose end, as 2 Peter 2: 1 states, is swift destruction. You will concede that it is quite a scary thought that many a times we do not recognize them, so crafty they are at distorting the truth.
2 Peter 2: 1 –…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.
Jude 4: …there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
These people just like the good and the bad ones are truly among us. Jude 12 states that they feast with us! We talk with them everyday, we even worship with them! How are they able to go undetected? I think the Old Testament holds the key. If we call to mind the false prophets of the Old Testament, we can see that one of the great common denominators among them was that they tended to say those things that the people and the kings wanted to hear. And because they did so, supposedly…in the name of the Lord, most people were quickly inclined to cleave unto them. These false prophets tended to be very popular as opposed to the true prophets. Well, you will probably agree that today is not much different.
Here is another graphic description of the ugly ones, which clearly alludes to the fact that they entice “unstable” souls. How can our soul be stable unless we personally study the scriptures? As you read the next verse, please refrain from thinking that this description suggests that those ugly ones can be easily spotted. The unfortunate and frightening fact about them is precisely that these malicious individuals have blinded many of our brethren by creeping in.
2 Peter 2: 13,14 – …They are spots and blemishes, carousing in their own deceptions while they feast with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls.
These are the people the Apostle John calls antichrists, declaring that they are not of us (1 John 2:19).
It is time for an introspection
Now let us look honestly around us and consider how we often perceive and treat people who, either are from other Christian denominations or even within our own denomination, but do not “walk” according to our “established” doctrine. How do we treat these people? Don’t we often treat them as if they are the bad ones, and even in many cases, the ugly ones? We do not talk with them, we do not entertain their point of view. Aren’t we treating them as if they are antichrists? And what about those who truly do stray from the truth (i.e. the bad ones), do we handle them as the Apostle Paul commanded in 2 Thessalonians 3? This my people tells me at least two things. First, we are lacking the maturity to properly identify those among us. We see the good ones as the bad ones who need to be corrected. We see the ugly ones as the good ones who need to be imitated, so attractive is what they are saying. We consider those who are not from our church to be the bad ones.
Second, even when we do identify properly those around us, we do not know how to deal with them. We see an ugly one but we are afraid to denounce him, yet the scripture tells us to be watchmen: What kind of watchman stays silent after he has identified a threat? Doesn’t the watchman sounds the alarm and makes sure the alarm has been heard? We see a bad one and we cast him out of the church (or whatever inner circle) instead of exhorting him as a brother, while we ourselves “supposedly” continue in the traditions of the Apostles. We see a good one and do not make him known so that others may also imitate him.
When are we going to wake up my people? This division within the church, even if they are sometimes based on legitimate concerns, how does it help us as God’s children and servants of the Lord Jesus-Christ? Let us strive to be mature my people, and learn to properly recognize those among us: we have some good, some bad and perhaps even some ugly ones. Oh my dearest people, let us open the scriptures for ourselves, and let us follow the traditions of the Apostles, since they themselves followed Christ. To our God be the Glory, and may our King Jesus-Christ live forever and forever! Amen.