What should a church do when a member is pursuing sin? The New Testament teaches that an individual should approach the brother or sister one-on-one. “If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matt. 18:15). If they do not listen, two or three should go to provide a witness. If they still refuse, the whole church should be made aware. If they refuse again, they should be treated like a pagan. Note that this doesn’t necessitate a harsh attitude; Jesus was the friend of sinners. But it does call God’s people to separate. The Church is the bride of Christ, and as such she must keep herself pure.
Hosea 4:15–19 delivers a similar warning to Judah. These brothers and sisters of Israel refused to repent. Israel was hopelessly determined to continue in adultery, and God expressed concern that Judah would be tempted to stray as well. So Hosea cautioned Judah not to go to Gilgal or Beth Aven (Bethel) and not to swear, “As surely as the Lord lives” (v. 15).
Why should they not go to these places? Gilgal, once significant in Israel’s history (Josh. 4 and 5; 1 Sam. 7 and 11), had become a center for apostasy. Bethel—where Abraham camped (Gen. 12:8) and Jacob saw the stairway to heaven (Gen. 28:11–18)— had become a “house of deception.” Judah needed to stay away. The oath “as the Lord lives” was used by many in the Old Testament (Boaz [Ruth 3:13]; David [1 Sam. 20:3]; Solomon [1 Kings 2:24]). However, God’s people had been directing this oath at Baal. In so doing, they defiled it. Because of their persistent sin, God described Israel as an obstinate cow. When people are this dogged in their idolatry, all one can do is “leave him alone” (v. 17).
>> If this passage describes your own compulsion to sin, the clear application is to repent. If this passage describes the sin patterns of someone you love, prayerfully consider if confrontation or distance is called for.
We are prone to self-righteousness toward ourselves and permissiveness toward our friends. Lord, move us to love You enough to repent, and to love our friends enough to confront them on patterns of sin. Restore us to righteous living.