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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
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 Redeemed,

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 APART.

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 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 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.