How do I treat an unrepentant friend?
I have an older woman in my life who has been an encouragement and help in my Christian walk…who has now made decisions that are painful and un-Christlike. The issues have been addressed and yet have continued without repentance. I still see her regularly and I’m at a loss when it comes to how to interact with her. Do you have any advice?
-Grieving Younger Woman
First of all, can I just say that I’m so sorry? Because all sin, even if it’s not something aimed directly at you, is painful. I am sorry that you and those around you are facing the sorrow sin is bringing through this situation.
Second, Scripture does speak to the issue of sin and unrepentance, but I think we often misunderstand what it’s telling us. In Matthew 18, Jesus gives this instruction:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
“Pagans and tax collectors” was, in that time, a very clear way of saying, “unbelievers.” So, if someone is continuing to sin after being confronted and is refusing to repent—they should be treated as an unbeliever.
And how should we treat unbelievers? We should be actively showing them love and compassion—offering them the hope of the gospel through words and actions.
There can be a lot more nuances to this depending on the situation, but my basic advice is simply to treat them with love because, as we’re reminded in Romans 2:4, it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.
Now, there are a few other passages that people often reference in this type of situation. One is Titus 3:10 where it says, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.”
I’ve seen this referenced to say, “See, the Bible says I shouldn’t have anything to do with an unrepentant person.” But we need to be careful to look at the full context of any passage.
Titus 3:10: This particular verse is part of a passage that talks about arguments and foolish controversies. The Greek word translated, “nothing to do with them” is actually “paraiteomai” which means “to beg off” or “excuse”.
I, personally, read this verse as saying Hey, don’t be drawn into arguments. Refuse or “beg off” or “make an excuse” not to talk about those subjects with a person who continues to choose divisiveness.
Another verse that comes up often is 2 Thessalonians 3:14. “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instructions in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.”
2 Thessalonians 3:14: This passage is talking about idleness and being a busybody rather than working/helping. The verb here that is translated “do not associate” means to not “keep company” with someone.
(It reads similar to Proverbs 22:24-25 where we’re told to not be close friends with people with violent tempers.)
My take on this verse is that Paul is saying, “Hey, if there are people who are just sitting around, or not helping, or causing trouble with gossip and nosiness–don’t join them.” Get up and help work. Walk away from the gossip. Be willing to warn them a couple times, but then don’t stay there listening and “keeping company” or taking part.
Both the Titus verse and this one in Thessalonians are sometimes mentioned to suggest that as a believer you can’t go near someone who is unrepentant but I would say the point is to have boundaries to keep you from also falling into sinful patterns.
That said, there is a passage in I Corinthians 5 that talks about expelling the wicked (sexually immoral) person from the Body (Church). I don’t think this means you can’t talk to the person anymore but rather it’s about marking clear boundaries so they are not able to pretend to be following Christ while acting in a way that dishonors Him and harms others.
Instead of treating this person as a brother or sister in Christ, we’re called to interact with them as an unbeliever who is in need of Christ.
Now, we don’t know the particulars of your situation but hopefully at least one of these passages can be applied in some way that is helpful. But also, along with all of this, remember that it’s okay to grieve. Loss is hard. Within the church, we are a family and losing a member of that family (no matter how long or short the period of loss is) will always bring grief. Allowing the shift/change of someone we used to admire or look up to and now can’t is a hard change–a deep grief that takes time to heal.
Be gentle with yourself as you work to be gentle with them.
Mishandled grief can display itself as anger, and all that will do is create more sin that harms others. So allow the grief, take it to the Lord, trust that He is faithful to complete His work in each of us—you and the one who has turned away from fellowship.
And know that if we were talking face-to-face about this subject, I would offer you the biggest, warmest hug.
Grateful and thankful for this encouragement 💕
I really liked your comments on this subject. I also think of that verse where Jesus says to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you etc. What I tell my great grandchildren is that I will always forgive them because God always forgives me. Simple but makes the point.