Incubation or Isolation?
When someone is sick there is a time for incubation and a time for isolation. If you incubate when you should isolate, things get worse (and others are negatively affected). If you isolate when you should incubate, the sickness in the individual will worsen without active treatment. The same is true spiritually. In most cases of treating spiritual sickness, scripture calls for incubation, rather than isolation. When I say incubation, I mean creating an environ- ment that will help, strengthen, and comfort a spiritually sick person.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all (1 Thessalonians 5:14).
Our assemblies are supposed to be times of incubation—encouragement, edification, focus, knowledge expan- sion, and provocations to love and good works (Hebrews 10.24). Other healing and strengthening environments are created when we have times outside of assemblies where we study, pray and sing together. Additionally, individuals simply showing brotherly love in their actions and exercising hospitality in social activities can provide desperately needed nurturing.
Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in dili- gence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distrib- uting to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (Romans 12.10-13).
For incubation to occur everyone must cooperate. Those who are strong will need to not just please themselves, but sacrifice to help build up others (Romans 15.1). And those who need incubation must make that known (con- fess—James 5.16). The spiritually sick who are trying to recover must not be isolated or abandoned, and they must not isolate themselves, but take advantage of every incubation opportunity others and they can create (cf. Hebrews 10.24-25). Those who are weak and sick need to remember that incubation opportunities can be created and of- fered, but not forced — they must participate.
As with the physical, there are spiritual diseases which call for isolation. In cases of impenitence, sin is to be identified to the church (Matthew 18.17; 1 Corinthians 5.5) and they are to be avoided (Romans 16.17), with social contact being severely restricted (1 Corinthians 5.11). It is hoped that this isolation will cause the person to see the severity of their sickness, be ashamed (2 Thessalonians 3.14; have “godly sorrow” — 2 Corinthians 7.5); and repent to receive healing through forgiveness in Christ. However, an equally vital role of isolation is protection for others from the spread of spiritual disease.
Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the un- leavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
The decision to incubate or isolate is a serious one. Often nothing is done and those who need nurturing grow weaker until they die, while those who need isolation are overcome in sin and take others with them into the world and error. Of course incubating someone who needs isolation will strengthen them in their sin, and isolating someone who needs incubation will wither what little faith they may still have. We need to thoughtfully and prayer- fully approach each situation, creating the appropriate prescription.