‘Be ye separate’

The concept of Biblical Separation

Key Bible references 2 Corinthians 6. 14-7. 1.

There are numerous key commands in the Bible for the Christian. In fact, Christian life started in response to a command - ‘Be ye saved’, Isa. 45. 22. By obeying that command, we commenced our spiritual lives, and, there and then, other commands came into play. ‘Be ye strong’, 2 Chr. 15. 7. ‘Be ye stedfast’, 1 Cor. 15. 58. ‘Be ye sanctified’ (holy), 1 Pet. 1. 15. And now this, ‘Be ye separate’, 2 Cor. 6. 17. It is a binding decree from the throne of God. He is urging His people to be distinct from those around them. Their standard of morality must be different. Their ethics must be superior. They must be different in the way they use their leisure time. As far as our relationship with the world is concerned, every believer should be a non-conformist. Conformity is not an option, Rom. 12. 2.

Separation and not Isolation. In our study, we will note that biblical separation does mean that we avoid certain locations, and dissociate ourselves from certain people, but, generally, it does not involve us isolating ourselves from the people of the world. Certain religions provide a facility for aspiring holy ones to cloister themselves behind the walls of a monastery or convent. The idea is that by opting out of society with its family responsibilities and commercial demands, they will increase in piety. However, the devil can scale monastery walls! The people carry their sinful nature (the flesh) through the gates with them. In a similar way, modern cults have tried to impose uniformity. They promote a commune life-style that excludes non-members, but isolation is neither effective nor scriptural.

The Bible teaches that to avoid sinners, believers would need to be out of the world altogether, 1 Cor. 5. 10. The Lord Jesus said, ‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world’, John 17. 18. The fact is that interaction with unbelievers is a normal feature of life. We cannot choose our family circle. Very few have any say in appointing work colleagues. We cannot decide who lives in the house next door. Thus, as family members, workmates and neighbours we are in frequent contact with a large number of people who do not share our beliefs. An unfriendly, aloof, holier-than-thou attitude towards these contacts could alienate them. They are our mission field and potential objects of our kindness; ‘let us do good unto all men’, Gal. 6. 10. So separation is not isolation, but, as we shall now observe, it is crucial to know where to draw the line in our associations with unbelievers.

The Practicalities of Separation. The appeal to be separate in verse 17 is prefaced by the word ‘wherefore’. In other words, the command is given on account of issues that have been raised in the previous verses and they supply the clue about what is involved in being separate. Much of the teaching is negative, but, then, someone who is separated unto the Lord in a positive way, will turn from anything that would dis-please Him. The Nazarites were separated ‘unto the Lord’, Num. 6. 2, but that involved them in separating themselves from forbidden things, v. 3. A believer who has presented his body a living sacrifice, in a positive way, will not be conformed to this world, Rom. 12. 1-2. The degree of positive separation to the Lord will determine the degree of separation from the world.

When introducing the subject, the first issue Paul raises is that of the unequal yoke, v. 14. The imagery is from Deuteronomy chapter 22 verse 10, ‘Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together’. It would have been cruel to put these two beasts in harness with each other. Their height was different. Their pace was different. Their temperament was different. Ceremonially, one was a clean animal and the other unclean, and, thus, they portray the believer and the unbeliever. Separation involves avoiding an unequal matrimonial yoke, the most obvious application of the principle. However, the rule covers every area of life. To join a political party is an unequal yoke, as is membership of a sports club. A business partnership with an unbeliever is an unequal yoke, and so is membership of a religious denomination with a mixed membership of saved and unsaved. Separa-tion means there should be no close alliances with unsaved people in any sphere of life.

Separation means that the believer will be different morally and ethically, v. 14. Righteousness and unrighteousness are incompatible. Light and darkness cannot co-exist. The reason believers step back from close involvement with unsaved people is that obedience to the scriptures in matters of finance, integrity and honesty places them on a plane with which the unregenerate person could never be comfortable. Turning the coin, a close relationship with an unsaved person could present the believer with endless problems of conscience. Separation obviates compromise and the erosion of moral and spiritual principles.

Separation does not only affect our alliances, but it affects our allegiance, for no ‘concord’ exists between Christ and Belial, the devil, v. 15. To be involved in the ways of the world is to dally with a system over which Satan is prince and god, John 14. 30; 2 Cor. 4. 4.‘The whole world lieth in the evil one’, 1 John 5. 19 RV, lulled to sleep in his lap, insensitive to both God’s love and God’s judgement. Senses are dulled to what is right and wrong, so that people glamorise things that should make them ashamed, Phil. 3. 19. When the Christian gets too close to that system with its perverted values, he gives tacit acknowledgement of its head, this Belial with whom the believer’s Lord can never be in harmony. It is a question of loyalties, and the Lord Jesus will never settle for divided loyalties, so the call is, ‘Be ye separate’.

Further, separation impacts on our activities, for ‘what part hath he that believeth with an infidel (unbeliever)?’ v. 15. The word ‘part’ conveys the idea of sharing. Believers and unbelievers do not share the same interests; hence, their activities are diverse. Ideally, Christians have set their minds on ‘things above’, Col. 3. 2, whereas unbelievers ‘mind earthly things’, Phil. 3. 19. Which world are we living for?

The truth of separation also influences our associations, for idols can have no appeal for those who comprise ‘the temple of the living God’, among whom God dwells, and with whom He walks, v. 16. Obviously, the verse is teaching that in a religious sense there should be a clear line of demarcation between believer and unbeliever, but it should be understood that, in these ancient times, the idol’s temple was also an old-time community centre, the focal point of the social life of the area. For the believer it was out of bounds. Separation does have a geographical aspect; it should affect the places we go.

Idols are more sophisticated today, but the word is still in use in the western world. There are sporting idols, and pop idols, and screen idols. Their devotees are legion and are normally described as ‘fans’, which according to The Concise English Dictionary is an abbreviated form of ‘fanatic’. These fans expend vast amounts of money in expressing loyalty. They purchase appropriate merchandise, and, with an expensive ticket in their pockets, they travel long distances to the concert or sporting event. Is it legitimate for a child of God to participate? Is there anything essentially wrong with joining the crowd at the gig or the stadium? Let scripture speak for itself, ‘What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?’ If the ‘living God’ dwells in us and walks in us, would He be comfortable to accompany us to places where ungodliness is rampant and where vulgarity and violence are rife. A visit to a nightclub would be inappropriate at any time, but how much more so on a Saturday night, with the privilege of remembering the crucified Saviour first on the agenda for the following day. Margaret Mauro wrote a challenging poem entitled The Young Christian, and among its sentiments were these.

Can I take part with those Who nailed Him to the tree?

And where His name is never praised Is that the place for me?

Nay, world! I turn away. Though thou seem’st fair and good;

That friendly outstretched hand of thine Is stained with Jesus’ blood.

The call to ‘come out from among them’ demands that the believer distances himself from the people of the world as they pursue their leisure activities. The company that we keep inevitably affects us. ‘Evil company doth corrupt good manners’, 1 Cor. 15. 33 RV.  Be like the psalmist who chose his companions well, ‘I am a companion of all them that fear thee’, Ps. 119. 63. He surrounded himself with ‘the faithful of the land’, Ps. 101. 6.

‘Touch not the unclean thing’ is a reminder of the contaminating effects of certain associations and pursuits. Under the law, holiness was not infectious but uncleanness was decidedly contagious, Hag. 2. 11-14. The people we associate with, the things we do and the places we frequent can all have a defiling effect upon us.

Incentives to Separation. It could be that the separated believer is marginalized, and made to feel somewhat of an outcast, a real oddity. Is there anything available to ease the feeling of rejection? There is: what the scripture calls, ‘these promises’, 7. 1. What are these promises? ‘I will receive you ’, 6. 17. In a special way they will be enveloped in divine affection, the affection of a Father who has a deep interest in His sons and daughters, v. 18.

That Father is also ‘the Lord Almighty’. So, the One who has called them to Himself from this ‘present evil world’, Gal. 1. 4, is a source of comfort to them as a Father, when they face a chilly backlash from that hostile world. As the Lord Almighty, He is a channel of power for them, giving them the needed help to walk an unpopular narrow pathway. He is more than able to compensate for the sacrifice involved in a separated walk.

These promises should be a real stimulus to holy living, 7. 1. ‘Cleansing’ ourselves should be a top priority, for the inference is that inappropriate associations have a defiling effect on both the body and the mind. The positive pursuit of practical and progressive holiness will be facilitated by the fear of God, ‘perfecting holiness in the fear of God’. It has often been said that if we fear God we will fear sin. Reverence for Him will promote proper conduct.

If you have heeded the command, ‘Be ye saved’, add to it this, ‘Be ye separate’.