There can be no doubt that the New Testament commands Christians to mark and avoid certain church members. I’m sorry to say, that in the overall picture, we practice this very little. Churches that choose to ignore the command will pay a price for their neglect on down the line, even in this life. It is somewhat like the mechanic on TV who holds the oil filter in his hand and says, "Pay me now or pay me later." He is saying, "$3 for a filter now, or $1,200 for a new motor later." It may be unpleasant for Christians to mark and avoid at the moment; so we tend to ignore the divine instruction. We trade immediate relief for future disaster. The Scriptures command us to mark both the bad and the good. Let us now consider some passages.
Mark the Evil Ones
The word mark is from skopeo, which means "to look at, behold, watch, contemplate." It is used metaphorically of looking to. In Romans 16:17, it refers to watching those who cause division. In Philippians 3:17, Paul told the church to observe those Christians who walk uprightly and follow the examples set by him and his fellow workers. In Luke 11:35, skopeo is translated "take heed."
The word avoid is from ekklino, which means “to turn away from, to turn aside, turning away from those who cause offences and occasions of stumbling, turning away from division makers and errorists." It seems that we are enjoined to keep out of their way and not fall in with them; to shun them, having nothing to do with them. It appears to me that this would pretty much demand absolute avoidance. The reason is obvious. If a quarrelsome person is left to himself, he will soon have nobody with whom to quarrel.
The church had not been in existence very long when false teachers came on the scene.
In fact, the books of Galatians and 2 Corinthians were written in part to counteract their poisonous doctrine. It seems these false teachers were working for their own sensual aggrandizement; they served their own bellies. In all likelihood, they would be coming to Rome with their missionary zeal, but not with missionary love. Their smooth and fair speech could easily beguile the hearts of the innocent. Paul called for a strong, sharp, unhesitating stroke to take the wind out of their sails. Sometimes, these false teachers were zealous in their disruptive work because they were jealous of God's accepted leaders. Whatever their motives, they were destructive of God's cause.
I am certain you have observed that the first passages under consideration deal with false teachers. But, what about those who walk disorderly in other ways? "For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies." (2 Thessalonians 3:11) Verse 14 gives the answer:
"And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed." Regardless whether it is a false teacher, one among us who walks disorderly, or one who has chosen to sever fellowship from us and is in sin, the action should be the same. We must note, mark, and avoid them. Marking begins with a public announcement of their spiritual demise. Avoiding is how we react toward them in the days that follow. Both require great courage.
Mark the Good Ones
What keeps us from obeying the Lord's commands to mark good men among the saints as heroes? Most of the time, it is because we have misplaced values.
What keeps us from obeying the Lord's command to mark and avoid wicked brethren? Sometimes, relatives are involved. On other occasions, close friends are involved. It may even include someone who is powerful financially, and we are afraid of the effect marking and avoiding that person may have on the church. But, brethren, after we give all our excuses, God's instructions remain. We need to have the same attitude as Peter and the other apostles, who said, "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
For many of God’s people, discipline in the Lord’s church has always been a difficult sell. Some brethren don’t seem to understand why God commanded the local church to practice discipline. Why did He command such actions? It’s the way we exhibit love for lost and misguided souls. It is to bring them face to face with the reality of their lost condition before God. Unless he repents and turns away from his unrighteousness, God’s wayward child is as lost as the alien sinner.
Brother Jones also made a valid point about marking good examples in local churches. Such brethren are examples of strength and courage, and can influence others who may need encouragement. Godly men and women are important assets to the local church; they promote growth, peace, and unity; and they help the brethren around them. Such men and women are a source of encouragement to gospel preachers. We see:
What uplifting examples. May God help us understand the need to do both kinds of marking. By keeping the church pure and placing the examples of stronger Christians before those who are weaker, we can help the church to be all that it can be! (KMG)