This verse is commonly used as the scriptural justification for brothers and sisters to separate from each other, to sever relationship, on any number of secondary issues. Regrettably, I have used it in the past, and have had it used on me, as recently as in the past few months.
I am getting more obsessive every day that I live, of the importance of context. I grow weary of the gross mishandling of scripture by ignoring context, and the damage such mishandling does to people. Without turning this blog into a lengthy teaching into the Hebrew and word meanings, etc., those who are inclined to show any effort at all, will find that if a modest amount of disciplined study would be applied to this verse, instead of shallow, reactionary, knee-jerk, proof-texting, we would see that the verse has NOTHING TO DO WITH breaking relationship with a brother or sister!
The idea in the verse is:
“If we do not agree on our final destination, we will never meet there.”
Of course, that makes sense. It just means different routes will take us to different end-points.
Contextually, the prophet is speaking on behalf of God. God has been in long-standing covenantal relationship with Israel. Israel has been determined to pursue their own ends, their own “destination!” His desire for them, His anticipated end-point destination, and theirs are mutually incompatible, because theirs is rooted in sin! They will never result in the same outcome! The image is one of inevitability (as surely as a lion roars when it has prey, etc.) of an unpleasant endpoint if Israel persists.
God loves them so much, He wants to arrive at the same endpoint, so He is going to chastise them . . . “child discipline” them. The text is clear that God is going to CONTINUE RELATIONSHIP WITH ISRAEL EVEN IN THEIR DISOBEDIENCE! He is going to maintain relationship with them . . . in unpleasant fatherly discipline!
This DOES NOT MEAN that two Christians cannot walk together along the way in their journey because we strongly disagree on some point of theology, practice, or emphasis!
My goodness, if love, the bond of maturity (Col. 3:14) is so fragile that disagreement requires separation, we are to be pitied.
This verse has no bearing on the mandate to get along with each other, forbear each other, love each other, walk with each other, etc. as we journey through life in general, and in Christ’s kingdom specifically. We can leave judgments about the virtue and value of differing “end points” to the Only One qualified to make those judgments!
If you have ever used this verse to justify separating yourself from a brother or sister with whom you strongly disagree on some point, like I have regrettably done in the past, please repent to God, and to the people you have “cut off” or separated from relationally by the illegitimate manipulation of the scripture. The painful truth is, we cut people off because it is just too much hard work, it is too emotionally draining to maintain relationship. That may be, and God may grant us a season of slack, but please, let’s not degrade Him and His Word by slapping a bogus proof-text on our own weakness.
We CAN walk together when we disagree on secondary issues.
By Steve Crosby
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