First Sunday After Epiphany January 10, 1999
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Thus far the Word of Holy Scripture.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Light of all the living, and the death of death our foe, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
During the 14th century, a terrible disease swept across the whole of Europe and parts of Asia. The disease was bubonic plague, better known as the Black Death. It was spread by rats, fleas and infected humans. Its symptoms included high fever, chills, and exhaustion, and it was almost invariably fatal. Those who were wealthy enough fled to isolated estates in the country. But not everyone had the means to do that. Most people stayed in the towns and villages—and died by the thousands. In twenty years, nearly three-quarters of Europe’s total population was wiped out by the plague.
What would you do if there were such a plague here in this area? You’d get your family out as fast as you could, wouldn’t you? That’s what I’d do. But what if the contagion was widespread all across America? Then you’d no doubt do everything possible to isolate yourself? You’d want to separate yourself as far as possible from the deadly effects of the disease. Well, there is such a plague. It’s the plague of worldliness and godlessness, and it’s all around us in America. Make no mistake, it is a deadly threat to our Christian faith! In our text for today, God calls on us believers to isolate ourselves from the worldly ways of the unbelievers among whom we live. So if you’ve been taking your faith for granted lately—if it sometimes seems to you as though there really isn’t much difference between a Christian and an unbeliever—then has the Apostle Paul got news for you! Today’s theme is:
The people in the Christian congregation at Corinth had a problem. All of them claimed to be believers, but there were those among them who just weren’t behaving very much like believers. Some of them were compromising on doctrine; they were listening to a group of false teachers called the “Judaizers,” who said that salvation comes by faith and by keeping the Law. Some of the members were going back to their old, pre-Christian ways, and indulging in the sinful lifestyle of the unbelievers around them—fornication, adultery, drunkenness, etc. They were getting a little too friendly with the world; the difference between believer and unbeliever was becoming harder and harder to distinguish. They were forgetting a fundamental tenet of their faith: that CHRISTIANS ARE A PEOPLE APART!
Well, Paul told them this had to stop. Christians, Paul said, are meant to be separate from the sinful ways of the world.
To illustrate, he took an interesting picture from the Old Testament. In the Levitical law, the Israelites were forbidden to yoke two different kinds of draft animals to the same plow—a donkey and an ox, for instance, or a horse and a mule. Mostly, this was because it just wouldn’t work. You’d never get anything done with two such different animals trying to pull the same yoke.
That’s what you people are like, Paul told the Corinthians, when you voluntarily join yourselves to the unbelieving ways of the world. You’re trying to promote unity in an area where there should be isolation. You’re trying to cooperate when you should separate. Paul says in our text, Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
Following that statement come four questions, and the answer to each of them is none. What fellowship, Paul asks, can there be between those made righteous by faith in Christ and those who lead the lawless existence of unbelief? None. What communion can there be between the children of light and the children of darkness? None. What agreement can there be between the servants of Christ and the servants of Satan? None. What things does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? None. Now, Paul wasn’t telling them they couldn’t buy vegetables from an unbelieving shopkeeper. But in everything that had to do with their faith and their worship and their moral compass in life, they should be isolated from the unbelievers. “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean.”
And what about you? Does Paul’s criticism touch a nerve for you? Perhaps it ought to! Certainly there’s never been a time when the sinful ways of the world held more temptations for the believer. How many have you given in to already? How often have you allowed movies or TV shows in your home that glorified murder and adultery? What about the books and magazines to be found in your home—could you recommend them all as good Christian reading? You businessmen—do your business methods reflect honesty and the fear of God, or have you conformed to the cutthroat, “me-first” philosophy of most American business? Parents, are you taking care to bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, or are you blindly letting the godless principles of humanism, evolution and situation ethics rub off on them from the public schools?
The world says drunkenness is all in good fun, God’s Word says it’s a sin; which attitude does your behavior reflect when you overindulge in alcohol? “Do not be conformed to this world,” the Bible says. The world says gambling is “recreation”; God’s Word says it’s poor stewardship and a sin against the Seventh Commandment; I ask you—do you look more like a believer or an unbeliever when you’re standing in line with the rest of them on Wednesday night waiting for your Lotto ticket? “Come out from among them and be ye separate, says the Lord.”—All these things affect our Christian faith, and they’re just the tip of the iceberg. That’s why Paul is so desperate to get his message across that CHRISTIANS MUST BE A PEOPLE APART.
Well, if you’re like me, you may have to confess that you’ve been far to friendly with the world at times; that you’ve been guilty of touching many an “unclean thing.” Let’s not deny the problem, but rather confess it, ask forgiveness for it, and resolve to use every tool God gives us to avoid such over-familiarity in the future. One such powerful tool is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is Paul’s next subject.
I’d like you to think of yourself, for a moment, in terms of a building. If you were a building, what kind of building would you be? Would you describe yourself as a skyscraper, strong and modern, towering over your neighbors? Maybe you see yourself as a solid brick courthouse—a little old fashioned, perhaps, but stable and enduring. Well, if you’re a Christian, then God sees you as a different sort of building. The Bible says every believer is meant to be consecrated as the temple of God.
In a very real sense, you personally are God’s temple. By virtue of your faith, your body is the house in which God the Holy Spirit dwells.—That’s what the Apostle Paul says in our text, and he quotes the Old Testament book of Leviticus to prove it: Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
What a revelation! How can anybody possibly think that there’s no difference between a Christian and an unbeliever? CHRISTIANS ARE A PEOPLE APART! You see a person walking down the street: if he doesn’t have faith in Christ as his Savior, then it doesn’t matter how good he looks on the outside—spiritually, there is only darkness in his heart. But as a Christian, you are God’s temple. The Holy Spirit is actually living right inside your body! That’s why Paul says it’s so incongruous and improper for a believer to set his heart on the things of this world—that’s like setting up an idol inside the temple! “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Paul asks. None, of course! Unlike the non-Christians who live around you, in your heart there is no room for any god other than your Savior Jesus Christ.
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord. Separation and isolation are often contrasted with unity as something bad. But it’s not bad when the plague’s in town! And it’s not always bad for the Christian life, either. Our text proves that, when we’re talking about the godless ways of the world, separation is not only necessary—it can be a very great blessing! Have you got insulation on your home? It’s really there for two reasons, isn’t it?—Not only to keep the cold out, but also to keep the warmth in. Well, that’s another reason why CHRISTIANS ARE A PEOPLE APART: not only to keep the darkness of the world out, but also to keep the light of our Heavenly Father’s love in! Be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
What a precious promise! Isn’t this, after all, the same Good News announced to the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” God was announcing to the world that He was providing a solution for sin. Though every human is by nature God’s enemy, lost in sin, here God was providing a way for people to come back into His favor; to become His friends; indeed, to become God’s very own beloved sons and daughters!
That was the promise attached to the Babe of Bethlehem, and when Jesus grew up, that was the promise He fulfilled. When Jesus gave up the ghost on the cross of Calvary, He bore in His body the punishment for all the sins of mankind, including yours. When He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, Jesus opened a path to heaven for every sinner who will but place his trust in Him—including you. Christ removed the obstacle of sin that stood between you and God; He made sonship possible again. In short, with the gift of His Son, God was reconciled to the world, as Paul says in the previous chapter, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Cor 5:19.
Now that Good News has come to you. Now the Holy Spirit has given you faith and made your heart the temple of God. You are now a member of that PEOPLE APART. I wonder if you realize what a precious thing that is—
A few years ago, when our family was visiting in Wisconsin, I had the privilege of administering the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the daughter of a friend of mine in Madison—a wonderful little four-year-old named Sarah. Sarah had been diagnosed with a rare form of childhood leukemia, and her parents were rightly concerned that, whatever happened, she ought to be baptized. So I did. But first I took her on my lap and tried to explain baptism in the simplest terms I could think of. I told her that, in baptism, God would wash all her sins away and give her faith in Jesus, and that from now on she would be a member of God’s family. Being so young, though, I guess I wondered how much she really understood. Well, six months later we learned that, despite the doctors’ best efforts, Sarah had died. But I also found out that I needn’t have worried about how much she understood about Christianity. One day, in the final months of her illness, she was discussing the subject of death with her mother. Her mother reassured her that she would go to heaven when she died. Sarah stared at her with a puzzled expression. “Well, of course I’m going to heaven!” she said, “I’m a member of God’s family!”
You know, the same thing’s true about you—you, too, have now become a member of God’s family. Because of Christ’s atoning work, you too are now assured of everlasting life in heaven. By putting faith in your heart, the Holy Ghost has separated you from the world. And what a happy separation that is! What a precious possession is your membership in that PEOPLE APART! Peter says, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people…who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” 1 Pet 2:9-10.
How much is your membership in this PEOPLE APART worth to you? Shouldn’t it be the most precious possession you’ve got? Shouldn’t it be worth every effort you can put forth to maintain that separation, that wholesome isolation from the world? Paul evidently thought so. In our text he said, Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
We can not come out of the world; at least, not until our Savior takes us out on Judgment Day. But though we are in the world, let’s make sure we Christians are not of the world. In service to our Savior, and out of a reverent fear of God, my friends—let us shun the sinful ways of this world like the plague! Let’s cleanse ourselves by repenting of our sins every day, and every day seeking God’s forgiveness. Let’s bear it constantly in mind that we are A PEOPLE APART—and behave accordingly! God grant us the faith so to live, 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.