The Adult Time Out
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3:13-14
While in treatment for my opioid addiction, I felt like I was being treated like a child. I went from being an Emergency Room physician to being told when to get up and when to go to bed. I was told I could go outside only with staff supervision, and I had access to my snack bin only during snack bin time. It was infuriating and I said as much – I’m being treated like a child. At that moment, a light bulb went on in my brain. Oh . . . I’ve been acting like a child, impulsively following my nature. I guess I deserve to be treated as a child.
Treatment was, in essence, a giant adult timeout, which I needed. When my kids were little and disobeyed the house rules, it was quite effective to simply sit them in a chair for five minutes, not allowing them to interact or continue their normal routine. In my addiction, I needed that. I needed a dramatic interruption of my self-destructive behavior which was spiraling out of control.
In today’s passage, Paul described a similar response to the unruly of the church in Thessalonica. In the passage, he taught the church what to do with those who claim to follow Christ, but simply continue to follow their own way. Paul said that the church must create and maintain boundaries with these individuals. They’re to effectively be cut off from the body and excluded from participating in the everyday life of the church. This wasn’t a hateful act, but rather a loving one, done to protect the church and to hopefully motivate the disobedient to repent.
This may seem harsh, unkind, or even un-Christlike. Who are you to judge me? God forgives me. Why can’t you? Forgiveness isn’t the same as restoration though. When someone refuses to repent and stop doing the hurtful thing, it’s appropriate to maintain boundaries with them – both for their good and ours. When a client in a Christian treatment facility relapses, bringing drugs into the house, they must be kicked out. They may have been forgiven by God, but the rules still apply. For the sake of the other clients and for the sake of the one who’s relapsed, excommunication for a time must occur.
Sometimes as adults, we act like children. When we do that, it’s unfortunately necessary to treat us like children. When we act childishly, we may simply need a giant timeout.