The body of Christ is expert in breaking fellowship over things they should have worked through, and failed miserably at breaking fellowship for reasons scripture actually addresses.
Knowing when and for what reason to break fellowship is the subject today. Loving someone in the Lord is an art, which means no 2 situations will be exactly alike, but there are core sins the NT mentions as reasons to break fellowship. Paul puts them together in a list in I Corinthians 5:11.
“But I write to you not to keep company with anyone who is called a Christian if they are a fornicator, or greedy, or an idolater or abusive person, or a drunkard, or swindler (dishonest in business), with people like that, don’t eat nor fellowship with.” (v12-13: For what have we to do with those outside the body of Christ? Aren’t we to judge those within (the body)? But those that are outside the body God judges. Therefore put away from yourselves that wicked person.”)
We aren’t to judge motives, but we are to judge the fruit of a person’s life. I’ve previously identified the sin of fornication as sex outside of marriage. The context of Paul’s writing was a man in the (house) church who had an ongoing sexual relationship with his step-mother. All the believers knew of it, yet no one confronted him about it, and Paul said that was wrong, for a lifestyle of unrepented fornication is a reason to separate.
‘Greedy’ - this word literally means ‘eager to have more’. Think about the ‘prosperity’ teaching and how greed has entered into so many churches and the hearts of many believers, disguised as the blessing of God. People try to mix unholy spirits of greed/lust with the Holy Spirit and the result is erroneous teaching that appeals to the flesh and emotions rather than stirring people to deeper growth as individuals in Christ and developing Christ-like character.
‘An idolater’. Idol worship in Paul’s time often also involved having sex with temple prostitutes, but in general an idol is something a person is devoted to, that comes between that person and God. Paul lists idolatry right after greed with good reason. An idolater is someone who has elevated something or someone as more important than God. Not the occasional infatuation with a new car or new shoes or new friend, but someone who as a lifestyle holds the object of their devotion as most important in their life.
I had a friend who was very proud of his car. One day while driving it the Lord told him he was committing idolatry. He argued back that he had no shrines nor statues nor did he pray to the saints. The Lord simply replied: “You’ve put this car between us.” He repented of pride in his car and submitted it to Him in his heart.
‘An abusive person’, which is the literal translation of the Greek. Paul doesn’t define abuse, though ‘one who reviles’ is often used here. This would refer to verbal and mental/emotional abuse, with the implication that it could involve physical abuse.
I had to tell a man who beat his wife that he was not welcome at church. They had 5 children and he would beat his wife so badly it would take her nearly a month before the bruises would heal, yet neither I nor her friends could get her to leave him, nor would he repent; She refused to understand when he beat her he had broken the covenant of marriage as surely as if he had slept with another woman.
We tried to get her to go to a ministry that had a safe house, separating for awhile in the hope of bringing him to his senses and that he might seek counseling for his anger and abuse, but each refused. Sad, but I was right to break fellowship with him while embracing his family who were the victims of his violence.
‘Drunkard’. This means ‘to be drunk with wine, intoxicated.’ Today we would define this as substance abuse, one who as a lifestyle or regularly gets drunk, on drugs, etc. We must walk in love towards those seeking to overcome such addictions and lifestyle, and the key seems to be whether these people are making progress in Christ towards overcoming their sins, or not. For those who call themselves Christian yet they make no effort to judge themselves, we are to turn away from, again, because they have refused to deal with it themselves.
‘Swindler’. This word, ‘harpax’ in Greek, is from the root meaning, ‘to seize, carry off by force’. In ancient times it described what we would call a grappling hook or snagging hook that is sometimes used by fisherman. It is the act of throwing out a hook to snag (someone) and reel them in. Thus, swindler, dishonest in business, a liar and deceiver. When you read of ‘ravening’ (wolves in sheep’s clothing), it is this word. From those who make prey of others in church, business, or life - have no fellowship.
Again, all these sins are practiced by people who call themselves Christians, yet live a lifestyle or maintain habits exactly opposite all that is called God and Godly. These are people who have hardened their heart towards God in one particular area. They may say they love God and that can be true in some areas, but they protect this particular sin, refusing to judge themselves. From such Paul says break fellowship.
Weak Christianity would say for the sake of the part of their heart that loves God we should continue with them, but there comes a point you become an enabler of their sin, helping them continue in that sin. The man sleeping with his step-mother no doubt loved God in maybe 70% of his life and heart, but it was based on the 30% he refused to repent of, that they were to break fellowship. Paul said that sin would affect the whole church, so for the sake of others they had to break fellowship with the man.
Focusing on the 70% they love God and refusing to deal with the 30% that is potentially lethal to the their spiritual and moral lives, is like a physically abused wife of an alcoholic refusing to protect herself though she has been hospitalized due to her husband’s beatings, because he is a good provider when he is sober. There comes a point you have to realize the person is using the 70% they say they love God to manipulate you to serve as they do, their 30% sin that is ruining their (and your) life.
But what if…
But what if you know of someone, or work for or with someone, or are married to someone, who fits one or more of these descriptions? What if you love them and want to work with them to overcome one or more of these sins? What is the point you end your involvement in their life in this area?
Let us look deeper into what happens after you’ve walked that extra mile in love, after you’ve been slapped that 2nd time, after you’ve given your resources but are now at a point you must protect what remains and go on with what God has called you to do.
“And if he trespasses against you 7 times in a day, and 7 times in a day turns back to you and says, ‘I repent’, you shall forgive him.” Luke 17:4 Note that’s immediate repentance after the sin, which means this person is trying to overcome, and we are to respond with forgiveness in such a case.
But what if you are walking that extra mile with them and they exhibit false repentance (next week’s subject) and insist on continuing in their sin, and you can walk no further? In Exodus 14:22 the Lord tells Israel they had sinned against him 10 times (over the course of about 13 months) since they left Egypt, and He was finally going to give them what they wanted.
Insert history lesson here: They got to the border of the Promised Land within 13 months after leaving Egypt. On the 10th rejection of His Word/Voice in Numbers 14:22, He allowed them to have what they said they wanted, to die in the wilderness, a process which took 40 years of wanderings. But the initial journey to the border of the Promised Land was no more than 13 months. (Covered in Exodus 14, through Numbers 14)
Israel had hardened their heart to the Lord – remember, on the outside they looked to be lovers of God and religious. These people made offerings through the priests, kept the Sabbath, kept the dietary laws and everything a good Jewish person would have done – but at each opportunity for growth in God, they refused. That is why after 10 times, God let them have what they wanted.
In Steven’s final words in Acts 7, he summarizes that time frame in Israel and says in verse 42: “And God turned” (and gave them up to worship whatever they wanted). And God turned. The word ‘turn’ here, ‘strepho’, means “to turn the back to people” and is used to describe what God did to Israel after their 10th time in 13 months of unrepentant sin.
If you read Numbers 14:40-45, it was only AFTER that 10th time, AFTER God turned His back on them to give them what they wanted, that they ‘repented’. And still, His decision was firm, He did not change His mind. That is the hard part when we love someone, to get to the point we can go no further, then have them cry and beg us to take them back, to let them live at home, to just help them out ’1 more time’. But once the Lord had turned, He turned, and let them suffer the consequences of their sin.
How do we know the difference between genuine repentance and false repentance so that we can make such a decision? That’s next week. Until then…(and remember to email me at email@example.com).