Vol. XI — No. 44 November 1, 1970
2 Corinthians 4:13; 2 Corinthians 6:17
We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak. II Cor. 4:13 - Psalm 116:10
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you… II Cor. 6:17 - Isaiah 52:11
In Christ Jesus, who has separated us unto Himself to be His witnesses, Fellow Redeemed:
Our text is distinctive for several reasons. First, it is a double text—two separate verses taken from the fourth and sixth chapters of the letter that is known among us as Paul’s second epistle to the congregation at Corinth. Second, both of these verses are quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul applies to himself and his fellow ministers of the Word the word of the psalmist, as recorded in the 116th Psalm, when he writes: “I believed, and therefore have I spoken.” In the strong and forceful separation passage in the sixth chapter of his letter Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah when he writes: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate.” What are we to note from this? That the truths expressed in these verses are equally fitting for believers of the New Testament era, as they were fitting for believers of the Old Testament times. In the over-used word of our day—we have before us this morning truths that are “relevant” for us in the truest sense of the word, even as they have been “relevant” for God children in every era and at all times.
There is a third reason that makes the two verses of our text distinctive. And that is this: One of the verses we have chosen is considered by the majority of church people today to be entirely “irrelevant” to modern man. It is believed to be a “throwback” to a more primitive age. And for that reason it is, for the most part, totally ignored by the modern church. As a matter of fact the entire stream of modern church history flows against it. Modern church history, which is currently in the making and in the news, is characterized as the ecumenical movement. The many, many divisions in Christendom are being patched together—and I use the word “patched” advisedly. The countless separate streams are being channeled into one mighty stream—which is creating a serious spiritual pollution problem. It is small wonder—in the face of all the local, national, and international forces for togetherness—that the cry of the Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” falls, for the most part, on deaf ears.
The second verse of our text speaks of confession: “I believed, and therefore have I spoken.” The modern church also believes and speaks, but the content of its confession is entirely different than the content of Paul’s confession and that of the Psalmist. Paul’s confession centered about the basic problem of mankind, of each and every individual in all of mankind—the problem of unholy man in the presence of the holy God, the problem of man’s alienation from his God, the problem of human sin and guilt and death. The modern church has, in general, dismissed this problem as utterly “irrelevant” to modern man, as another “throwback” to a more primitive age when people were concerned about appeasing the angry gods. The modern church prides itself on being concerned with the “total man.” What that means in practice is that the modern church has immersed itself in the problems of man in this life and in this world. They are concerned with economic man, social man, political man, national man, international man, racist man, minority man, poor man, sick man—but not man, the sinner, who must one day face his Creator and Judge.
What is the position of this congregation in this city? And what is the position of the Church of the Lutheran Confession in this country and in the world and on the stage of modern church history? It is in the position of swimming against the stream. It is the position of being out of step with the majority. And then comes the mocking question in so many subtle ways: “Can you be right and so many learned men and such a great majority wrong?” The answer to that question can only be a humble “Yes,” One man, one congregation, one church body—walking in the way of the Word of the Lord—is always the majority, for he who has God on his side is the majority, even though he must wait till the coming of the Lord to be publicly acknowledged. Let no child of God suffer from an inferiority complex. Let no child of God ever apologize for any word of the Lord. Let us rather fearlessly, boldly, joyfully—but always humbly—confess our Lord.
This morning we would confess a pair of interrelated truths that are so popular in our day. We would speak to you of—
Notice carefully—not separation for the sake of separation. Not separation for the purpose of preserving racial identity, which is religious racism. Not separation for the sake of preserving a supposed moral superiority, which is separation for the sake of self-righteousness. But rather separation for the sake of preserving the honor of God in His Word and our status as children of God. Separation also to enable us to carry out our assignment of being our Lord’s witnesses.
Let us be sure that we understand what we are talking about. All of you are acquainted with the Pharisees of the Gospel stories. Most of them were avowed enemies of Jesus. Now the word Pharisee means “separate.” The Pharisees were the “separate ones.” When you read the Gospel stories, you find them referring to certain people as “sinners.” This doesn’t mean, necessarily, that these people were guilty of crimes, felonies and misdemeanors. It means rather that these people did not conform to the hundreds and thousands of rules and regulations that the Pharisees had made over the years to prescribe the conduct that would make a person righteous in the sight of his God, The Pharisees had separated all of society into two classes: the righteous and the sinners. They hated Jesus with a murderous hatred because He disregarded their distinction between righteous and sinners. He didn’t keep Himself separate. He dined with the tax collectors. He talked with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. He received the Gentile Greeks. The cry, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate,” is not a mandate to set up a separate society of super-orthodox, morally superior, smugly self-righteous people whether in a small group, a larger congregation, or a church body. We must needs always beware of falling into Satan’s snare of being separated just for the sake of separation or for any other reasons of the flesh.
The cry of the Spirit is for separation to preserve the honor of God in His Word and to preserve our status as children of our heavenly Father. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord…and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
Our status as children of God is at stake, and that status involves the Word of our God, for—as St. Peter teaches us—we were “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” I Peter 1:23. The Gospel-Word had made us what we are—sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. If that Gospel-Word is corrupted by error, our status as sons and daughters of God is threatened. Error was threatening the Corinthian children of God. In a previous letter Paul had reminded them: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump ?” I Cor. 5:7. When Satan fights, he doesn’t spar or shadow box. He fights for keeps. He always strikes at the faith that saves in the heart of a child of God. How does he do that? What is his battle plan? He would seek to shift the object of one’s faith from the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world to the individual’s own righteousness. Jesus exposed this technique of Satan in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in the temple. The Pharisee had a glowing, confident, exuberant “faith”—in the fact that he had avoided certain sins and performed certain works. He did not go down to his house justified. The publican had a humble faith in the sacrifices that pointed to the sacrifice of God’s Son on the cross. He trusted the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. He went home justified. Every error seeks to pollute grace with works, to inject man’s efforts into the salvation that God alone could work out and give, to convert faith in Jesus alone into some form of faith in oneself. For that reason the cry of the Spirit has consistently been: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate!”
By God’s grace, with much sweat and many tears, we have heeded that cry of the Spirit. But if we have separated from our former brethren and if we are remaining separate to this day just to preserve the Truth that saves for our selves, we expose ourselves to Satan’s temptation to convert us into a group of smug, self-satisfied, self-righteous, modern-day “Pharisees.” The same Paul, who recalled that ancient word of the Lord, “Come out and be separate,” also recalled another ancient Word of the Lord, “I believed, and therefore have I spoken!” But no one can speak if he has no message to proclaim. If the soul-saving Gospel has been lost, as it has in so many churches, then there is nothing left to proclaim. The Spirit of God urges us to be separate so that we have the Truth to share with others. May God in His mercy grant us His Holy Spirit so that each one of us can say with Paul: “I also believe, and therefore I am determined to speak.”
What do I believe? I believe that God created this world and placed man in it. I believe, therefore, that God has the right and has in fact established the code or that standard of conduct according to which and by which every single man will one day be judged. I am aware—was surely all of you are—that modern man speaks a defiant “No” to God. Modern man is in a state of rebellion against God, as man has always been. The difference today is that most so-called Christian churches have joined the rebellion. We are told today that each person should have the right to “do his own thing”—regardless of what God has forbidden or commanded in the Ten Commandments. If consenting adults want to commit fornication, adultery, or engage in homosexual acts; if adults want to engage in civil disobedience, revolution, anarchy; if adults want to misuse drugs such as LSD—that is their business, and God, you just keep your nose out of it and mind your own business. I believe that this attitude is folly, worse than that, suicide, for the individual, society, and the nation. God will hold each man accountable for his behavior, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” II Cor. 5:10.
I believe that there is but one way of escape from the judgment to come. No man can save himself. No man can stand before the bar of judgment one day and successfully argue his case, for we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We simply can’t and don’t measure up to His standards set for us and exacted from us. There is but one way of escape. Paul said, “I believed, and therefore have I spoken.” What did he speak? What did he proclaim to sinners of his day? The glorious truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” II Cor. 5:18. God took action. God entered the stream of mankind when God’s Son was conceived and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus Christ changed the status of the world of sinners in the sight of God from guilty to forgiven, from at enmity to at peace. This God brought about by “imputation.” That is a big word. It simply means that God took the whole, rotten mass of mankind’s sins and charged them to the account of His innocent Son. The Righteous One died for sinners, for the ungodly. The Righteous One took our sin upon Himself and gave us His righteousness. This is the way out. This is the one escape from judgment to come—to be clothed in the righteousness of the Son of God, to have and possess the divine verdict of acquittal, of justification, in simple words, to know and be assured that one’s sin is forgiven.
What are you doing with your life? Certainly you have your aims and goals—getting an education or educating your children, acquiring a home and as many of the creature comforts as possible, providing for the future. How earthly all these things are! How ephemeral. There’re here today and gone tomorrow. How boring, how spiritually deprived, how utterly unimportant is not so much of our striving, our yearning. Are we not children of our heavenly Father? Are we not believers? Do we not say with the Psalmist and with St. Paul: “I believe!”? If so, then we must also be saying, “Therefore am I speaking!” Speak with your lips, with your way of life, with your gifts, with your talents, with your earning power. God grant that individually and as a group we can say with Paul: “We also believe, and therefore speak!” Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.