Picture with me, which shouldn’t be really that hard to do, a community of faith that has withdrawn from the world. A community of faith where a certain culture and certain time-frame got freeze-dried. And that faith community practices life like it is that culture and time-frame even when the culture and the time frame have rapidly changed. A faith community who are separate and distinct from the wider world around them.
Obviously I am talking about the Amish, who many make their homes in Lancaster County. A community that practices life much like it is 1850 Germany by speaking dutch or PA Dutch (for the most part) and by riding around in buggies. Now I am not saying that the Amish aren’t great people, etc.. but I am wondering if their reading of the Scriptures led them to this idea of being separate from the world and removing themselves from the culture. And I’m wondering if they were reading the text that we are going to read today and coming to their conclusions through it. But are they the right conclusions or not?
Picture with me a group of people, a larger community of faith, if you will, who while they might not look any different from first appearances, still separate themselves from the world and from the culture. This group of people might not necessarily speak Dutch and only drive buggies, but this group of people still separate themselves and create their own culture, their own education systems, etc… I am wondering if they have also read the text that we will look at this morning. And I am wondering if they have the right conclusions or not.
Today we are talking about third way followers of Jesus and third way faith communities and being separate from the world. Even saying these words brings up a lot of thoughts, a lot of push back, and a lot of misunderstandings. So let’s jump into the Scripture for this morning, see what it says, see how people have interpreted, and see what might be the way that we should truly seek to live out this principle of separation from the world.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? (Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
So often this is the text, especially verse 17 about being separately, which is interpreted to mean this idea of separation that we create our own culture, our own language (so to speak) and we remove ourselves from the world. But is that what Paul is actually saying? To create our own “world” so that we don’t have to engage with the “heathen” out there? Or is there more to it?
Paul is calling the church, the community of the transformed, who belong to the Kingdom of God, to function in the world but being radically different than the world (or better put the world system or the way the world works or the Kingdom of this world) and radically separate from the world. The faithful pilgrim church sees the sinful world system or kingdom of this world an an alien environment with radically different ethics, values, and goals than the Kingdom of GodThis principal then also includes the modern idea and concept of separation of church and state. Therefore, third way followers of Jesus and third way faith communities reject all forms of civil religion, whether historical forms like the traditional corpus Christianum (a medieval concept of the unity between church and state) or the more recently developed form of Christian nationalism.
Paul begins this section of chapter 6 by saying that Christians shouldn’t be yoked with unbelievers.” The picture that he is bringing to mind is the picture of two oxen joined together by what is called a yoke. When two oxen are yoked together you want them to be of equal strength, size and weight, over wise they would go in circles. They couldn’t perform the task that they were yoked together to perform. Obviously the main thrust of this metaphor is towards marriage and the call for those who are believers to be married to, or yoked together with other believers. Marriage is really really difficult and even those of us who are married and seeking to follow Jesus have a hard time being yoked together. But all the more reason to be yoked with other followers of Jesus.
Much of the rest of the verses talk about the relationship, if you will between radically different things, like light and dark, righteous and wicked and Christ and Belial. Paul is saying that these things are radically different and are worlds apart from each other. In verse 15 he puts the radically different Kingdoms this way, “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” The word Belial used here is a Hebrew word meaning worthlessness. If Christ is to be ascribed worth-ship (the old english word from the word that we use worship) than Paul here is saying Satan is worthlessness which is the exact opposite of worth-ship.
Paul then goes on in verse 17 and puts together three different Old Testament scriptures to come up with a new verse. The three passages are Isaiah 52:11 which says, Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord’s house.”, Ezekiel 20:34 which says, I will bring you from the nations and gather( you from the countries where you have been scattered—with a mighty hand( and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath.” and lastly Ezekiel 20:41 which says, “ I will accept you as fragrant incense( when I bring you out from the nations and gather( you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will be proved holy through you in the sight of the nations.” Paul is using these three Old Testament passages to reiterate the fact that there are two kingdom at play and we are to come out of the kingdom of the world which we have been freed from by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and into the Kingdom of God where there is life, hope, and reconciliation.
All too often however verse 17 is used to say that we are to come out and be separate. So often then this idea of separation is not necessarily related to the Kingdoms at work and at play, but external things. So the Amish are separate from the “world” through their own education system, the language that they use, the manner of dress, their modes of transportation, and their shunning of modern electricity. Or probably closer to home (not geographically) is a movement within evangelical Christianity to be separate from the “evils” of the world and to create their own education system (lots of times homeschooling), own publishing systems, their own music, their own movies, etc… But this is not what Paul is trying to get across. He doesn’t want us to leave the “world” and create our own “world” To create our own Christian sub-culture away from the rest of the world and the culture. In fact in the first letter to the Corinthian church he says this in 5:9-10, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate(N) with sexually immoral people— 1not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” Instead what he wants for the Corinthian church (and also all followers of Jesus who would come after) to live out what he says in Romans 12:1 where he calls us not to conform to the patterns of this world. The beliefs, values, morals, and the ways of this world system. He is calling us much like the rest of the Scriptures to be IN the world (the world that we see and live in, etc..) but not be OF the world (the world system that is controlled and governed by the evil one). It’s like the idea that ships should be on the water but the water shouldn’t be in the ship. He is calling the church to live out the values of the Kingdom of God instead of the values of the Kingdom of the worldThe Kingdom of God values of love, sacrifice, peace, justice, compassion, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and selflessness. Instead of the Kingdom of the world values of hate, selfishness, pride, arrogance, injustice, judgment, unforgiveness, bitterness, violence, and greed.
There are two kingdoms at work in this world. The Kingdom of the World and it’s ruler Satan and the Kingdom of God ruled by the Trinity- The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In fact we even see this idea of two Kingdoms being played out in Luke 4 in the midst of Jesus temptation in the wilderness. In Luke 4 we read, “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Nowhere do we then see Jesus denying that fact that the Kingdoms of this world have been given to Satan, and are under this authority and rule and reign. Jesus never challenges Satan on that fact. So Satan is in fact the ruler of this “world” (or probably better stated the word system that is opposed to the Kingdom of God, God himself, Jesus and the ways of the Kingdom of God)
The Kingdom of God demands a new value system, a new ethic and a sharp separation from the Kingdom of this world. The people of Christ, the church are people who are freed from the powers of this world. As I said before, followers of Jesus are freed from the powers of this world because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And Paul is calling the Corinthian church to live free of those values and beliefs and the world’s system, instead of continuing to go back to the world system and even bringing the world system into the church as a whole.
One area that I think we, as followers of Jesus, especially need to hear this call to be separate from the system and values of this world is in relations to politics and the church. All too often Christians get dragged into political debates and the throw out the Kingdom of God values right our the window. It’s like love, patience, seeing the image of God in another, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, etc… that is all fine and good if this other person agrees with me, is of the same party as me, etc.. But if we disagree or you are of the other party, the gloves are off, and we take on the values of this world so quickly. We need to follow Jesus way of engaging with binary and opposing “positions” and find a third way of engaging. When he was presented with binary statements (whether they were political- many were, ethical, etc..) So for instance the story were the Jewish leaders come to him and ask if they should pay taxes to Caesar. They thought that there were only 2 ways to answer it…yes pay taxes and get in trouble with the Israelites, or no, and bring the power of the Roman Empire down on Him. Instead he separates from these two possibilities, and answers in a brilliant third way- Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s and give to God’s what is God’s.
So third way followers of Jesus take the call of Paul to be separate from the world, not as a call to create our own culture, ie The Christian Subculture. And not as a call to just mirror and live out the culture. But to walk the straight and narrow line of being in the world, seeking to be salt and light, and making a difference in the world, but being separate from the system of this world. It is not an easy line to walk but one that God calls us as individuals and as communities of faith to walk.
So let’s move beyond the abstract and the principles of being separate from the world and the world system and into the concrete of what this actually looks like in practice. So let’s talk about your first reaction to the saying “separation from the world.” Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 and see what God might be saying to us about living a third way faith as individuals and as a community. And let’s see what it might look to truly walk this line of being in but not of the world.
1. Read and Reflect on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. What stands out? What questions does it raise in your mind? What thoughts, insights, etc.. do you have about being "separated from the world"?
2. What does or might it look like for you to be separate from the world? To be in the world but not of the world? What does or might it look like for us to be separate from the world? To be in the world but not of the world?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?