The Bible could have been written very differently. It could have been written in such a way that each chapter dealt with a particular Christian competency. One chapter could have been on love, another on forgiveness, and so forth. Everything could have been grouped into categories and topics.
But it wasn’t written that way.
It was written with certain books telling stories, other books providing poetry and wisdom literature, and other books were initially written as letters to churches. The books of the Bible come in a bunch of different formats.
So to understand what God’s Word has to say on a particular topic, you can’t just read one chapter. You need to develop a growing familiarity with the whole Bible so that God’s Holy Spirit (and good Bible resource books) can bring to your memory all of the various things God has said on a particular topic.
And that’s the point! God doesn’t want us to simply have a quick-fix manual. He wants us to have a Book that we love and spend much time with.
So when we come to the topic of how we are to relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ, what does our relationship with them look like?
Within the past week, in my regular Bible reading program, I came across two texts that help us begin to answer that question.
Here is the first text…
Romans 12:10, 16-18 (CSB) “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor… Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Clearly, we are to care deeply for each other. We are to relate to each other as people of incredible value. We are to strive to live in unity, humbly relating to every Jesus-follower. When they wrong us, we are to repay them with what is good. In other words, we are to do as much as we possibly can to live at peace with other Christians so that if there is disunity, it’s not our fault.
That sounds like great counsel, doesn’t it? If a Christian community determined to apply only these verses to their life, it would create an absolutely wonderful, emotionally satisfying community.
But we are all too aware that some people who go by the name “Christian” don’t act like it. They say they are headed to Heaven but act like they are on their way to Hell. They act not different than people who claim no allegiance to Jesus. Are we to apply Romans 12 to our relationship with “saints” who are content to engage in what the Bible forbids?
In some ways the answer is “yes.” We must continue to be ready to help them if they need it (love). We must value them. We must strive to live at peace without creating chaos with our words.
But listen to this other passage that I also read this past week. Listen as God’s Word tells us how to relate to someone who claims to be a Christian and yet does things that are unbecoming of a Christian.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (CSB) “I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you.”
Among the many other applications of these verses, we must realize that while we are commanded to love and value others, there are certain Christians that we simply cannot have a relationship with. We value them and will help them if they need it but we will never invite them over to our home for a meal. They are in sin and they are content to be so and we cannot simply overlook such “evil” (that is clearly stated in the very last sentence).
For instance, notice the words “verbally abusive” in the text. If someone who claims to be a Jesus-follower uses their words to hurt you (hateful speech, gossip, slander, etc.) and they will not stop, then you are told in this passage that you cannot be friends with them. Romans 12 tells us that we are commanded to return good for evil – but 1 Corinthians 5 says that we should not have a relationship with them.
Some people misunderstand the Bible and think that we must be friends with every person to claims to be a Christian, even those who abuse us. Not so. We treat them kindly, value them, and exercise a love that will meet their needs but we are told not to have a relationship with them until they repent.
Now, we also have to bring in other passages of Scripture into this conversation, too. We can’t just quickly and whimsically cut ties with brothers and sisters in Christ. We must first apply the principles of Matthew 18:15-17 and try to work things out first. (The book, “Peacemaker,” by Ken Sande is an incredible resource!)
But, clearly, we are told that there are certain people that Christians are not to have a relationship with as long as they are content to remain in sin.
This is a truth that few Christians talk about. Feel free to begin a discussion in the comments section below. But make sure that the comments do not reflect badly on anyone. If they do, I reserve the right to delete the comment.