According to an online dictionary, one definition of neglect is:
“To pay little or no attention to, fail to heed, disregard, ignore.”
Unbelievers obviously come in all kinds. Some of them are relatives and family members. Some are co-workers and colleagues. Some are Muslim, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, or professing Christian (e.g., Arminian, Calvinist, Catholic).
It seems to me that neglect is a “less active” form of persecution in the sense that the “passive” persecutors are not actively pursuing but actively neglecting.
It may be difficult at times to tell *exactly why* some unbelievers totally neglect us. What does this total neglect “look like”? What does it involve? Sometimes “total neglect” on the part of God-haters is a good thing; but it may not always be good, depending. For example if neglecting us means that we are also being “neglected” from things like slander or physical harm then neglect in this case is good. Though it may be painful, we have the encouragement of the Scriptures of how we are to respond when we are NOT being neglected from things like slander and physical harm:
“Blessed are you when they shall reproach you, and persecute you, and shall say every evil word against you, lying, on account of Me. Rejoice and leap for joy, for your reward is great in Heaven; for in this way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they cut you off, and will reproach you, and will cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man; rejoice in that day, and leap for joy; for, behold, your reward is much in Heaven! For their fathers did according to these things to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).
“And they obeyed him. And calling the apostles, having flogged them, having charged them not to speak on the name of Jesus, even they set them free. Then they indeed departed from the presence of the sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were deemed worthy to be dishonored on behalf of His name” (Acts 5:40-41).
“And when we heard these things, both we and those of the place begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. But Paul answered, What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I not only am ready to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And he not being persuaded, we were silent, saying, The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:12-14).
“But you have closely followed my doctrine, the conduct, the purpose, the faith, the long-suffering, the love, the patient endurance, the persecutions, the sufferings, such as happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra, what persecutions I bore. And the Lord delivered me out of all. And, indeed, all desiring to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:10-12).
“Brothers, we are bound to give thanks to God always concerning you, even as it is right, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of each one of you multiplies toward one another, so as for us to boast ourselves in you in the assemblies of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions, and the afflictions which you endure, a clear token of the just judgment of God, for you to be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you indeed suffer; since it is a just thing with God to pay back tribulation to the ones troubling you, and to give you, those being afflicted, relief with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from Heaven with angels of His power, in flaming fire giving full vengeance to those not knowing God, and to those not obeying the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will pay the penalty: everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of His strength, when He comes to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all those who believe in that Day, because our testimony to you was believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).
There are many different reasons for why we might be neglected by certain unbelievers. Some of the following passages are possibilities for those who know what we believe (though obviously the possibilities are not limited to these passages):
Psalm 41:8: “saying, A thing of ruin is poured out on him; and, He who lies down shall not rise again.” (LITV)
Psalm 41:8: “A thing of Belial is poured out on him, And because he lay down he riseth not again.” (YLT; Young’s Literal)
Psalm 41:8: “An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.” (KJV)
Psalm 41:8: “They say, A wicked thing is poured out on him, and he who lies down shall rise no more.” (MKJV)
My e-sword shows this transliteration of the Hebrew: “belîya‛al.” Thus, Young’s translation of “a thing of Belial” is the most literal. Their neglect of us may be due to our belief of the gospel and our utter refusal to compromise in any area. Because we will not be moved, they might be slandering us by saying (or thinking), “An evil disease … cleaveth fast unto him.” To them, our “evil disease” is uncompromising belief of the truth and so perhaps that is why they do not wish to come near us (neglect us).
“I have become a stranger to My brothers and a foreigner to My mother’s children. For the zeal of Your house has consumed Me; and the reproaches of the ones who reproach You have fallen on Me” (Psalm 69:8-9).
Another possible reason for neglect is that because of our belief of the gospel of Christ, we are now strangers and a foreigners to them. We are spiritual strangers and spiritual foreigners because we will not compromise by speaking peace when there is no peace (cf. 2 John 9-11). Our zeal for the Word of the cross (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-18) brings a certain level of estrangement from unbelieving “Christians” and relatives. Of course, the level of estrangement can vary in degree, just as the level of hostility can vary in degree. The truth of the gospel does not always bring outward violence and hostility (e.g., oinking swine and snarling dogs). And there are times when there can still be a kind of “friendly” relationship among those who believe the truth and those who do not. But what the truth of the gospel always brings is a sword; it necessarily divides. It always makes those on either side of the Sword of Truth enemies; it’s just that not all enemies without exception are out to kill or physically harm us for what we believe.
“But while He was yet speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Then one said to Him, Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to You. But answering, He said to the one speaking to Him, Who is My mother? And who are My brothers. And stretching out His hand to His disciples, He said, Behold, My mother and My brothers” (Matthew 12:46-49).
“Then His mother and brothers came. And standing outside, they sent to Him, calling Him. And a crowd sat around Him. And they said to Him, Behold, Your mother and Your brothers seek You outside. And He answered them, saying, Who is My mother or My brothers? And having looked around on those sitting around Him in a circle, He said, Behold, My mother and My brothers!” (Mark 3:31-34).
“And His mother and His brothers came to Him, and were not able to come up with Him through the crowd. And it was told to Him, saying Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside wishing to see You. And answering, He said to them, My mother and My brothers are these: the ones hearing the Word of God, and doing it” (Luke 8:19-21).
I wonder if anyone would (falsely) accuse Jesus of “neglecting” His brothers and mother. But what of the question that they are the ones neglecting Him? Well, in this case they are not neglecting Him, but are seeking Him out for one reason or other. Is Jesus honoring His mother by asking,
“Who is My mother? … Behold My mother … [are among those] hearing the Word of God, and doing it”?
Of course He is honoring His mother. The reason for the “Who is My mother?” and “Behold My mother…[those] hearing the Word of God, and doing it” is one of priority. That is, Jesus’ spiritual mothers and brothers have priority over His physical mother and brothers. Luke 11:27-28 speaks similarly to the priority or primacy of spiritual blessing resulting in obedience, over a mere external privilege.
“And it happened in His saying these things, lifting up her voice out of the crowd a certain woman said to Him, Blessed is the womb having borne You and the breasts which You sucked. But He said, No; rather, blessed are those hearing the Word of God, and keeping it” (Luke 11:27-28).
In Luke 1:42 Elizabeth spoke by the Holy Spirit, saying that Mary was “blessed…among women.” Jesus was simply correcting and redirecting the female “voice out of the crowd” to the proper place of blessing which was not to be found in mere physical connections to Himself.
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers and sisters, and besides, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).
An example of not hating father, mother, brother, etc. — and thus not being a true disciple of Jesus Christ — is to speak peace to them in their unbelief and rebellion when there is no peace (2 John 9-11). Sometimes our refusal to compromise in this manner will result in them neglecting us. In their blinded eyes, if we really and truly “loved” them we would “love” them more than we love Christ. To “love” them in the way they desire us to “love” is to hate Christ. And thus, for us to love Christ by refusing to compromise they take it as an evil form of hatred to their persons. But here is encouragement:
“And everyone who left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for the sake of My name, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (Matthew 19:29).
“But answering, Jesus said, Truly I say to you, There is no one who forsook house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and the gospel, that will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the coming age, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
To “forsake” mother, father, brother, etc., does not necessarily mean to cut off all contact with them, but it may mean this depending on the circumstance — which is why we are to endeavor to “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
For myself, the neglect that is not good is from my brother, Corey. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, which is approximately 1,000 miles from where I reside. I cannot say he is neglecting me by not visiting me. But we both have e-mail and he does neglect me (i.e., completely ignores me) when I send him things that pertain to truth (e.g., the gospel and other Biblical topics related to the gospel). Corey simply does not wish to discuss important matters with me. Now if I write something like, “Hi, Corey. How are you doing?” then he will probably not “neglect” me in that. But he will neglect when it comes to Biblical matters (but he has not always neglected when it comes to other things).
How do I react to this? Well, other than to pray for him there is not much that I can do about it. He has almost always ignored (neglected) my e-mails that are about Biblical matters, and I do not want to cross the line into harassing him by casting pearls before swine. When I had talked to my father about the gospel and related matters he said he was okay with discussing it. So, I can’t really say that there is neglect on the part of my father (or even my mother), but there is definitely a kind of “estrangement” of sorts due to the sword of the gospel that is wedged between us:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a bride against her mother-in-law. Ones hostile to the man shall be those of his own house. The one loving father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And the one loving son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. The one finding his life shall lose it. And the one losing his life on account of Me shall find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).
On the surface (i.e., superficially) there is a kind of cordiality between my father and I. But when I begin discussing things like his disbelief of the gospel and his continuance in adultery, then a little bit of subtle hostility comes through in what he says to me on the phone. For example, he will bring up the Biblical quotation that children (me) are to honor their father and mother. So, according to my father’s reasoning I must dishonor Christ and the marriage bed (cf. Hebrews 13:4) in order to “honor” them. As if “honoring” them meant that I am to endorse their wickedness; or as if “honoring” them meant that I am to speak peace to them when there is no peace. That’s my father inserting his own perverted meaning of “honor your father and mother” into the text of Scripture. In short, my father thinks that I am dishonoring him and my mother because I refuse to love “father or mother more than [Jesus Christ].”
The only “neglect” on the part of my father and mother is their “neglect” (i.e., refusal to heed) the Biblical warnings and to repent and believe the gospel. How do I react to this? With sadness. But what can I do? I can pray and I may be able to continue write or sent things to them by means of postal mail or yet another telephone conversation. But if it gets to the point where I would be harassing them by casting pearls to swine or giving to dogs what is sacred, then it is time to cease discussing gospel-related things lest they turn and tear me to pieces, as Jesus said (Matthew 7:6).
What of “socialization” with unbelievers and the possible charge of being called “anti-social”? [Some unbelievers may assert that it is NOT they who are neglecting be we ARE neglecting because we are being anti-social.] Not all socializing with unbelievers is sinful compromise. It depends what this “socializing” involves. If our attendance or involvement in a particular social gathering is sin, then of course we are to shun it. But refusing to “socialize” in and of itself is not “anti-social.” To refuse to gather where sin (of various kinds) is being glorified is not anti-social at all; but rather, it is anti-sin and anti-compromise. “Socializing” of itself is obviously not the problem.
This post is certainly not meant for my benefit alone, but for the benefit of all true Christians who may go through similar things or have similar circumstances or questions facing them.