4501 Waller Rd E
Third Sunday After Epiphany
January 24, 2016
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor
CHRISTIANS ARE A PEOPLE APART
II Corinthians 6:14-7:1
To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ: mercy, peace,
and love be multiplied to you, Amen. Today the Holy Spirit directs our attention to the sixth
chapter of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, beginning with verse 14 , as follows:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with
lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with
Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God
with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And
walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people. Therefore " Come out from
among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive
you." " I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD
Almighty." Therefore, having these promises, 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
What do you think was the worst pandemic illness ever to strike mankind? I think most people's
first guess would be the bubonic plague, a terrible disease that spread across Europe and Asia
during the 14th century. But if you did guess that, you'd be wrong. During the winter of 1918-19,
Spanish influenza swept around the globe, killing upwards of 50 million people. The Spanish flu
killed more people in nine months than the black plague did in a hundred years!
What would you do if there was a deadly outbreak of disease here in this area? You'd probably try
to get your family away somehow. 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 and your loved ones as far as possible from the deadly effects of the disease.
What's really frightening is that there is such a plague, and it's not swine flu or avian flu, not Ebola
or Lyme disease. 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 your 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.
Today's theme is:
CHRISTIANS ARE A PEOPLE APART
I. ...Meant to be separate from the sinful ways of the world.
II. ...Meant to be consecrated as the temple of God.
We studied Paul's letters to the Corinthians in Bible class a while back. It was a congregation with
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 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 too friendly with the world once again. The difference between believer and unbeliever was
becoming harder and harder to distinguish. They were forgetting one of the fundamental realities 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 be separate. Paul says in our text, Do not be
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. Far from it. He wasn't even saying that they couldn't be married to someone who
wasn't a Christian - many of them were, and he encouraged them to witness their faith to their
spouses in the hope of gaining them for Christ.
But the exception doesn't disprove the rule, and Paul's point remains: in everything that had to do
with their faith and their worship and their moral compass in life, they were to isolate themselves
from the unbelievers. Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch
what is unclean, And I will receive you.
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? Would you feel comfortable with
Jesus looking over your shoulder as you browse the internet? -He is anyway, whether you realize it
or not! Not long ago we discussed with the men of the congregation the incredible danger posed
by internet pornography. You businessmen - what do your business methods say about you? Do
they 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 walk into a casino, or when you're standing in line with the rest of them at the
convenience store waiting for your lottery ticket? "Come out from among them and be 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
Do you feel like hanging your head yet? I do. If you're like me, you probably need to confess that
you've been far too 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 ask for
God's help in avoiding such over-familiarity in the future. One powerful tool for doing that 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. A temple! 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: you are the temple of the living God. As
God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My
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 inappropriate 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 has 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.
Therefore, Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Separation and isolation
are often contrasted with unity as something bad. To be called a "separatist" or an "isolationist" is
considered an insult. But isolation isn't 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 cherish and preserve the light of our
Heavenly Father's! Be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive
you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says 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, and you are reconciled to
your Heavenly Father. I wonder if you realize what a precious thing that is...
A father's acceptance can be such an important thing. Former New York Mets first baseman Keith
Hernandez batted over 300 seven times in his career, won eleven Gold Gloves and two world series,
and (according to some) was the best first baseman there ever was. But in a candid interview he
revealed that there was one goal he failed utterly at, and that was to please his father. When
presented with all his many achievements, his father casually dismissed them and said, "Someday
you're going to look back and say, 'I could have done more.'" Can you imagine that? Some people
work their heart out, but never seem to be able to please their parents.
Some people feel that way about God. Martin Luther was that way. He tried and tried to please his
heavenly Father with his good works, but only felt more and more displeasing and unworthy before
God. Then he read Romans 1:17, "The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is
written, "The just shall live by faith." And he finally understood how to be accepted by God. He
finally understood that the "righteous of God" in that passage refers, not to the righteousness God
demands, but to the righteousness God gives. Through faith, God gave to Martin Luther the
righteousness he craved, the perfect righteousness of Christ Himself. Through Christ, he was
reconciled to his Heavenly father.
You know, the same thing's true about you. You, too, have now become a member of God's family
by faith. Because of Christ's atoning work, you too are now assured of God's acceptance and
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, Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the
flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
We Christians are in the world, but we are not to be of the world. It's like a scuba diver exploring
the depths of the ocean. It's a whole different world, and the diver is in that world, but he is
definitely not of that world (or else he'd have gills). No the diver has to carry his oxygen supply on
his back, and to return eventually to that world where he does belong. We believers cannot come
out of the world; at least, not until our Savior takes us out on Judgment Day. In the meantime, let us
breath freely of the pure oxygen of God's Word, which will sustain us until that happy day arrives.
In service to our Savior, and out of a reverent fear of God, my friends, let us shun the sinful ways of
the world. Let us repent of our sins every day, and every day seeking God's forgiveness. Let us
bear it constantly in mind that we are A PEOPLE APART, and behave accordingly! God grant us
the faith so to live, AMEN.