The word “admonish” is translated from the Greek noutheteô, and whenever this word is used elsewhere in the NT, except once when it was done in writing (1 Cor. 4:14), it applies to something done in person (Acts 20:31; Rom. 15:14; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14). What, then, does “withdraw from” (2 Thess. 3:6) entail? What is meant by “do not keep company with” (2 Thess. 3:14)?
The only times the phrase mê sunanameignumi (“do not keep company with”) is used in the NT is in 1 Cor. 5:9, 11 and 2 Thess. 3:14, but in the latter verse the idea of total segregation is not enjoined -- the faithful are still to “admonish him as a brother” (v. 15). This raises some questions that probably cannot be answered with certainty. Does 2 Thess. 3:15 amend the general principle of 1 Cor. 5:11, i.e., is it permissible to eat with an erring Christian as long as some type of admonishing is done? Does 1 Cor. 5:11 amend the injunction of 2 Thess. 3:15, i.e., may one have some degree of contact with an erring Christian as long as a meal is not shared? Do these two passages suggest that the level of association is determined by the nature of the sin involved, i.e., total disassociation for sins such as sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, and extortion (1 Cor. 5:11), while some form of association is permissible when the error involves matters such as laziness, meddling, and freeloading (2 Thess. 3:10-12)?
Another factor to consider is the difference between incidental and intentional interaction. For example, an unintentional encounter at the supermarket is much different than purposefully going to someone’s home or arranging a meeting with that person. If contact with a disciplined member is intentional, there ought to be some form of brotherly admonition. If, however, the contact is not intentional, the situation may or may not be conducive to a word of admonition, but whatever might be said or done, there is no place for being rude or unkind (cf. Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:23-26). If the NT provides a blueprint or pattern for church discipline, these passages must be harmonized and judgment calls will have to be made on a case-by-case basis. But obviously regular admonishing can be done without continuous association.
--Kevin L. Moore
Related Posts: Church Discipline, When a Family Member is Disciplined by the Church