Sometimes, Jesus stood toe-to-toe with those who opposed Him. Sometimes He slipped away to avoid a clash (John 8:59). In battle, it’s known as fighting shy. It’s not a mark of defeat but a tactical manoeuvre. Withdrawal lets you catch your breath, duck for cover and refuel.
It also gives your enemy something to think about. Where did that guy go?
While God commands us to assemble for our encouragement and growth in the faith, He also teaches us the wisdom of retreat.
The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. (Proverbs 22:3)
Gideon hid himself and his taxable income in a wine vat so that the Midianites wouldn’t get their hands on either (Judges 6:11). David chose to fight shy and hid in a field to avoid King Saul (1 Samuel 20:24). And when the church began to see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, Jesus told them to run for the hills (Luke 21:20-21).
The bible tells us to withdraw from sinners who entice us (Proverbs 1:15) as well as sin itself (1 Timothy 6:11).
We are also taught to withdraw from believers who are disruptive.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the tradition which you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
This verse comes to us with the full force of Christ’s name. But here, unlike a public ex-communication which required the removal of an offender, a more private social withdrawal of those around him seems to be in view.
The word, ‘withdraw’ is a mariner’s term. It means to ‘furl the sails’ and ‘steer clear’ of the rocks. It implies the serious danger of not withdrawing.
The term ‘disorderly’ is a military metaphor meaning, ‘not keep rank’ or ‘fall out of line’ with the troops.
These are brothers who profess to live under the gospel but are not walking according to its precepts. They have become contentious in their manner and disruptive to the peace of the fellowship.
Earlier, Paul had told the church to warn and correct such a brother (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Now he considers the ongoing disruption a real danger to themselves and others and commands those around him to withdraw.
The command applies to ‘every brother’, regardless of status or station. He was still a brother, but his own folly was now tearing apart the peaceful fellowship Paul had been calling the church to maintain (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
There are times to fight and there are times to fight shy. There are times for close combat and there are times to retreat so we can see the battleground we are in.
We are often too busy for our own good, under threat from temptation, and vexed by the disruptive conduct of others. At such times wisdom may call us to furl the sails and lay low.
Such a withdrawal need not mean a compromise with the truth. It need not infer cowardice. Such withdrawals may, in fact, keep us from stumbling into all kinds of other sins that we didn’t see coming and provide us with the kind of stillness that leads to renewed strength.