For those who love truth and hate error

"Mark and Avoid"

Rom. 16:17-18

There can be no doubt that Christians are commanded to “mark and avoid” certain members of the church. However, general speaking the churches have chosen to ignore this command and they will pay a price for their sin of omission not only at the final judgment, but in this life as well. We reap what we sow. It is somewhat like the mechanic on T.V. who holds the oil filter in his hand and says, “pay me now or pay me later.” You can pay “$3.00 for a filter now or $1,200 for a new motor later.” It is not pleasant for Christians to “mark and avoid” at the moment; so we have a tendency to ignore the divine instruction. We trade immediate relief for future disaster. But the Bible commands us to “mark” both the bad and the good. With the previous comments in mind, please study with me the following passages.

“Mark” The Evil Ones

“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).

The word “mark” translates the Greek word "skope". It means “to look at, behold, watch, contemplate.” It is used metaphorically of “looking to.” In Romans 16:17 it is used of a warning against those who cause divisions, and in Philippians 3:17 of observing those who walk faithfully in order that Christians might have an example after which to pattern their conduct. In Luke 11:35 "skopeo" is rendered into the English “take heed.”

The word “avoid” is translated from the Greek word "ekklino". It means, “to turn away from, to turn aside, turning away from those who cause offences and occasions of stumbling according to the doctrine, turning away from division makers and errorists.” We are to stay away from them and out of their way so that we will not fall in with them in their evil work. We are to have nothing to do with them, except that we rebuke them and refute any errors they may teach. If this divine admonition does not mean we are to completely avoid them, what words would inspiration employ to say as much? The reason is obvious. If the contentious, factuous, and /or false teacher is left to himself he will soon have nobody with which to "fuss".

The church had not existed very long before false teachers reared their ugly heads in it. (Acts 15:1) “And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, {and said}, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Paul called them “false brethren.” (Galatians 2:4) “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage.” In fact, the books of Galatians and 2 Corinthians were written in part to counteract their cancerous doctrine. They were working for their own sensual ends, they served their own belly. In their own mis-guided zeal they would come to Rome and anywhere else they could to spread their error among the churches. This they would do through their smooth and fair speech, the desire of which was to easily beguile the hearts of the innocent. Therefore, Paul ordered the church to oppose them boldly and without hesitation, using strong and sharp works in opposition to their nefarious error so that the church would know the false teachers for what they were and recognize that the doctrine they taught was evil.

The first passages we considered in this study primarily concerned “false teachers.” But, one can “walk disorderly” without teaching a false doctrine. That being the case, what should be done with those who otherwise “walk disorderly”? Paul wrote, “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.” “Dissorderly” translates the Greek word "ataktos". It is a military term meaning, “not keeping rank, insubordinate.” Such church members (soldiers in the army of the Lord) are “out of step” with the doctrine of Christ, the “captain of their salvation” (Heb. 2:10). They must be brought to repentance or avoided by faithful brethren. Those brethren who refuse to “have no company with him” commit sin in so doing. Thus, by their unauthorized actions they too are out of step with the will of heaven (Col. 3:17) and are in need of corrective church discipline.
Regardless of whether a church member is a false teacher, or a church member who walks disorderly in some other way, or one who has chosen to sever fellowship from faithful brethren, the action should be the same. We must “note” them, “mark and avoid” them. “Marking” starts with the public declaration of their sin. “Avoiding” is how we react toward them in the days that follow. Both of these take great faith in and love of God so we will have the courage to act in such matters (1 Cor. 5:9-11).

"Mark" The Good Ones

In Philippians 3:17 Paul writes, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” In this passage “mark” means to fix the attention on and is used teach the brethren to in order to imitate Paul in his conduct. In Romans 16:17 “mark” is used in order to “avoid.” But here Paul says, “brethren be followers together of me.” In 1 Corinthians 11:1 he adds, “as I also am of Christ.” Christians are to pick out men and women in the church who are worthy of imitation and make “note” of them. We are to “mark” those good examples for our encouragement. It is regrettable, but some brethren focus on the “failures” of some brethren rather than the faithful conduct of Godly brethren. It is as if they choose to focus on Judas Iscariot rather than on the apostle Paul in their own service to Jesus. Let us remember the advice of the Psalmist. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psa. 37:37).

What keeps us from obeying the Lord’s commands to “mark” good men among the saints to be our examples among men to follow? The answer is found in that all too often our values are misplaced. What keeps us from obeying the Lord’s command to “mark and avoid” wicked brethren? Sometime, relatives are involved, brotherhood projects—where the money comes from to fund such endeavors, fear of losing jobs—this is especially true of preachers. On occasions, close friends are involved or it is a combination of all the aforementioned. But, when all our excuses are given, God’s instructions remain the same. We need the attitude of Peter and the rest of the apostles who said, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5:29). Can anyone begin to imagine what and who all Noah and his family had to avoid in order to be and remain faithful to God (Gen. 6:9; Heb. 11:4:7; Rom. 15:4)?

If any church ever had a reputation properly deserved for teaching the importance of obeying God’s commandments it has been and is the church of Christ, as that term is defined and used in the New Testament. But it is one thing for the church to teach the importance of obeying God’s Will and quite another for her to do it, and that consistently, steadfastly, and without respect of persons. To the church’s shame, generally speaking, she has failed consistently and with regularity to obey God’s commandments pertaining to the withdrawal of fellowship from erring brethren who are determined to continue in sin, refusing to repent of the same. Moreover, we have watched once faithful brethren (as far as we knew) “mark and avoid” faithful church members while they zealously exhorted the church to remain in fellowship with those brethren who espouse false doctrines—brethren who continue to refuse to repent of their sins. And, this is after the false teacher was approached on many occasions in an effort to obtain his repentance, but thus farto no avail.

In one church where I preached many years ago my mind was made up to leave that work when one of the two elders frankly stated to his fellow elder and me that as long as he was an elder in that congregation it would never withdraw fellowship from any a member of it. It is with that sad fact in mind that we close this article with the prayer and hope that brethren who teach the truth on this timely topic will come to practice what they preach—for faith without works is dead, being alone (Jam. 2:17).

--David P. Brown, Editor