Tough Love, for the Sake of the Church
By John D. Barry, CEO of Jesus' Economy
Community standards are regularly held at institutions, especially Christian universities. What about community standards for our churches? Paul the apostle had some thoughts on this for the church at Thessalonica.
“Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer” (NIV).
Honor and shame were a major part of Graeco-Roman society. Shame would have been a powerful motivator toward repentance. If a person felt isolated, they would realize what they had lost because of their behavior and likely repent. While this can seem harsh, keep in mind that the Christian community at Thessalonica had little recourse but this option. Also keep in mind the larger context.
The Christians at Thessalonica were experiencing intense persecution, which would have included being socially ostracized (2 Thessalonians 1:4). Thus, they depended on one another. In the midst of this, there were certain people in their community who refused to work while demanding charity from the church (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12). These people would have drained the church’s resources and made their already difficult situation dire.
It’s also likely that the church regularly ate together and shared many of their resources (compare Acts 2:46; 4:32; 1 Corinthians 11:18–22). Thus, the church at Thessalonica had to consider the entire community. A person who took advantage of the community by abusing charity had to be kept in check.
I wonder if we have lost this level of accountability (compare 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1)? Do we allow for people in our church community to easily disregard standard obligations such as hard work and truly loving the hurting? Do we allow for misguided theology to be used as an excuse in the process (compare 2 Thessalonians 2:1–4)? Are we allowing for people to represent our churches and Jesus who clearly do not represent our values? It seems to me that there is a lot we can learn from Paul’s guidance here.
But what’s critical is that we note Paul’s overall framework: that we love a person to repentance (2 Thessalonians 3:14). Furthermore, he is clear that we should not treat those we are calling to repentance like enemies (2 Thessalonians 3:15). Tough love can be good. But it should be administered with grace and mercy—for the purpose of helping the individual and the community.
John D. Barry is the CEO of Jesus’ Economy, an innovative non-profit creating jobs and churches in the developing world. At JesusEconomy.org, people can shop fair trade and give directly to a cause they’re passionate about, such as bringing the gospel to unreached people groups. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the author or editor of 30 books.