May 19, 2012
Miss Hall was my Fifth Grade school teacher in the Linacre Lane Junior School in Liverpool, England. Thinking back on it, she was probably my best teacher ever.
But whenever Miss Hall bellowed, “Come out, John Plunkett!” I knew that I was in big trouble!
But when our loving and merciful God commands His children to “Come out!” just what are we to do?
In this sermon, would like to ask and answer two questions:
With proper balance and from God’s point of view:
1. To what extent and in what manner does God want us to come out?… more specifically, to come out of this world?
2. To what extent can we – and should we – associate with our unconverted neighbours and relatives?”
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.
This is a very serious command and a very serious warning which come, of course, from God, as quoted by the Apostle John. Now, here are some similar words of God, this time quoted by the Apostle Paul:
II Corinthians 6:17:
Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate”, says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.”
When we read this verse, we must ask the question: Who are “them”? Who is Paul referring to when he writes “them”? Who is it that we must come out from amongst? Who must we be separate from? For the answer, let us back up to verse 14:
II Corinthians 6:14-16:
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.”
Yes, God’s people are to come out from unbelievers, lawless people, people who reject God’s Law, people who dwell in spiritual darkness, people who worship idols, and those whom the Apostle Paul calls “children of Belial.” The word “Belial” comes from an old Hebrew word which means wickedness, ungodliness, evil, worthlessness, baseness, ruin and destruction. It is clear, then, that God’s new covenant people are to come out from among unbelievers and all of those other kinds of people on Paul’s list.
However, in the past, and perhaps even still today, some true Christians and professing Christians have gone overboard in trying to obey this “Come out” command. For example, some church leaders – yes, including some Church of God leaders – have set up the equivalents of communes – often located in very remote areas – in order to escape from and to avoid the world and to await Christ’s return. In many cases, the results of such communes have been very, very bad. Also, as another example, there are Church of God leaders who have concocted unbiblical rules commanding “their” members not to associate at all with non-members – in some cases even including their unconverted close family members. We know that this is still happening today. In fact, it seems to be on the increase!
I know, of course, that most of us do not carry these scriptures to such excessive lengths. But how far do we take them? And how far should we take them? To what extent do we cut ourselves off from the unconverted world – including our non-member neighbours and relatives? To what extent should we cut ourselves off? And to what extent can we safely be involved with what we call “the world”?
Love thy Neighbour
At least eight times in God’s Word, He tells us to love our neighbours. Eight times constitutes quite a bit of repetition and we know that God’s Word uses repetition for emphasis. We have all heard these words over and over again. The LORD (YHVH) of the Old Testament said it first to the children of Israel:
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.
The wording of this verse implies that their neighbours were their fellow Israelites. Let us look into the New Testament, and see where the apostle Paul quoted this scripture twice and expanded on it:
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
So here again in both of these epistles – and just like in Leviticus 19:18 – the grammar and the way the apostle Paul writes this imply that our love and service should be within the church. But please remember that the church back then – the Body of Jesus Christ – was one Body. The implication is that Paul was referring to the whole Church of God – not just the brethren in Rome and Galatia; not just the members in those individual areas; but the whole Church of God – the whole Body of Jesus Christ. Still, the implication we get from reading these epistles is that his words here are just for God’s people – just for the Church. But through the apostle James, God widens the scope a little bit:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
What he is saying here is that love for our neighbours must be impartial. Yes, impartial with regards to race, gender and social standing, as we read in other associated verses. But what about the really big difference between human beings? And what is this really big difference? The biggest difference between human beings – both today and back then – is that some people are converted and some are unconverted.
Should we really be impartial between the converted and the unconverted in our love and service to them? I know that many members and ministers would quickly jump up and say, “Yes, of course!” But what did Jesus Christ say on this? First of all He quoted His own Words from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus, as you know, was the YHVH of the Old Testament (John 8:58). He said it first, He repeated it and He expanded on it a number of times. He repeatedly declared that love for our neighbours is a very important priority.
This is probably one of the most famous scriptures in God’s Word:
And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” So he answered and said, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
This is our big question for today. He doesn’t specifically say so, but by asking, “Who is my neighbour?” this lawyer also seems to be asking, “Is it every Jew?
Every physical Israelite?” We could expand this question to ask “Is it every
In asking this question the lawyer unknowingly opened up an opportunity for Jesus to give one of His most important lessons. Continuing in verse 30:
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”
The implication is that this “certain man” was an Israelite – probably a Jew. Verse 31:
“Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.”
This priest was not a Gentile. He was a fellow-Israelite to the injured man. Verses 32-33:
“Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
We all know the rest of the story and what the Samaritan did for this injured man. What we need to remember when we read this is that the Samaritans were a mixed-race people and were the most hated people amongst the Jews, who looked upon them as dogs – worthless mongrel dogs. Let us pick up Jesus’ discourse in verses 36-37:
“So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?” And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
We could add on the end of Jesus’ words in verse 37: “Yes, even to non-Israelites.”
Why did Jesus speak this “parable”? (I am not really sure if it really was a parable or whether it actually happened). I believe that two of the main reasons for Jesus giving it were:
1. To teach the Jews of that time that physical Gentiles as well as physical Israelites would one day soon have access to salvation. This started to come about within a very few years from that time.
2. To teach them and us that we are not to be racially prejudiced – neither physically nor spiritually.
The neighbours we are to give love and service to can and should include spiritual foreigners; people who are not spiritual Israelites; not Church of God members; people who are still “in the world.”
Love your enemies
What else did Jesus say on this?
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.
Love your enemies? This is a very tall order; and probably one of the most difficult commands in God’s Word.
How do we look upon our unconverted relatives and neighbours? How do you look upon your unconverted relatives and neighbours? Do you look upon them as enemies? Are you suspicious of them? Do you think that they are all lurking every hour of every day; lying in wait to pounce upon you and do you harm? It appears that some brethren really do feel that this is the case and that all of the people “in the world” out there are just sitting there waiting to get them.
It is true, of course, that a time is prophesied to come when even our family members may betray us to the end-time authorities (Matthew 10:36). Those family members might possibly be our physical family members – but also possibly, our spiritual family members.
As we look around us, we see that there certainly are bad things happening in the world. But in our day today in most of our western nations, such hatred and religious bigotry as foretold by Jesus is, at this time, generally uncommon. Yes, it is true that there are some exceptions. But the vast majority of our unconverted relatives and neighbours just don’t care! They don’t care what you believe or that you go to church on a Saturday.
You must look at your own case, of course; but I know that, in our case, most of our neighbours and relatives who are not in the church are either totally irreligious or only nominally religious. Most people in our neighbourhood do not – as far as I am aware – curse, hate, spitefully use or persecute us.
Again, I realize that this does happen in some areas and some members may have a few problems in this way; but usually, not many. Actually, if you really think about it, it is sad to say that there is more intolerance in this day and age between fellow spiritual Israelites than between spiritual Israelites and spiritual Gentiles.
Still in Matthew 5, let us continue in verses 45-57:
That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
Again, please apply this spiritually as well as physically.
Jesus is telling His spiritual brothers and sisters to love non-brethren and even our enemies.
What Would Jesus Do?
Yes, this is what Jesus taught and this is what Jesus commanded. But what would Jesus do?”
Have you read the book, “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon? It is a little “protestanty”; but the concept is a very good and sound one. “What would Jesus do?” is the question that comes up repeatedly throughout the book.
But the related questions I am asking here today is: “What did Jesus Do?” What was His personal example in this regard? Did He practice what He preached?
Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”...
We already saw that the Samaritans were the most hated of the non-Jews; but God’s Word also shows us that the tax collectors (KJV: publicans) were the most hated of the fellow-Jews. Here is Jesus’ answer in verses 12-13:
When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
One side lesson that we can learn here is that we should not be so free to criticize doctors.
Imperfect as they and their methods may be, they can still do a lot for us.
If we consider Jesus to have been “the Chief Physician,” we can see that He served the spiritually sick of the world. He is still doing so. So, if Jesus is the Chief Physician then you and I are trainee spiritual doctors and nurses – serving under Him, on His behalf, and in His name. But how can we effectively serve the spiritually sick of the world if we will have nothing at all to do with them?
Some brethren might make excuses for themselves by claiming that all their time is taken up with existing church brethren. Others might claim that the spiritually sick of the world are served already by church websites, literature, television programs and that kind of thing. Others might say that it is the minister’s job to contact those people. Some people might say, “We are just members; not ministers; we just need to pray and pay!” I heard that phrase many years ago when I first came into God’s church. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. One of the greatest evangelism tools is personal example.
Again, what did Jesus do? Did he give any other examples? Yes He did:
Luke 7:36-39, 47:
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner”… “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
The implication here is that this woman’s sins were probably those of immorality – thus putting her among the ranks of those “lawless people” mentioned above in II Corinthians 6:14-16 – one of those unrighteous people that we are supposed to stay away from.
But Jesus did not shun her. He was merciful to her. He didn’t avoid her.
Whenever we possibly can, we need to follow Jesus’ example in this regard.
Let’s go to John 17, which is one of the most amazing pieces of scripture and is certainly at the top of my list of my favourite scriptures. As you all know, this is Jesus’ wonderful prayer to His Father. I have said it before and I will say it again: When you have the Son of God talking to God the Father, there is electricity there… something extra special in these amazing words:
John 17:6, 11, 14-16, 18:
I have manifested your name to the men whom you have given me out of the world. They were yours, you gave them to me, and they have kept your word… Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you… I have given them your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world… As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
So allow me to paraphrase what Jesus said here:
• God the Father took us out of the world spiritually and gave us to Jesus Christ, His Son.
• Spiritually, we are not of this world, in just the same way as Jesus was not – and is not – of this world.
• But physically, whether we like it or not, we are still in the world. Sometimes we get fed up with this and wish that we weren’t!
• Jesus sent His disciples – and you and me – into the world physically; and He specifically said that He was not praying to the Father to take us out of the world.
• But, rather, just as God the Father sent Jesus into the world to do a very important job, He sent you and me into this physically and spiritually dangerous world – also to do a very important job.
Are we “bucking” part of that job – part of the commission He gave to us, by restricting our fellowship to the brethren in “our own” Church of God groups?” If we keep ourselves exclusively to ourselves, what we are effectively doing is short-circuiting God’s commission for us and blinding ourselves with our own light. What we should be doing is what Jesus taught, what Jesus commanded, and what Jesus did as our example. We need to be shining God’s light to the world with an appropriate level of contact and example:
Also He said to them, “Is a lamp brought to be put under a basket or under a bed? Is it not to be set on a lampstand.”
If you have an oil lamp and you light it and put it under a bed or under a basket, what will it do?
It will burn the bed or the basket! The result will be the very opposite of what the lamp was made to do.
Instead of giving light it would cause destruction, fire, smoke and additional darkness.
The spiritual counterparts to these things are obvious.
What about us? We all must apply these things to ourselves. Are you hiding your spiritual lamp from your unconverted neighbours? Do you avoid them? Are you uncomfortable around your unconverted neighbours? Do you dread the questions they might ask if you get too close to them? Do you dread the embarrassment that might result if you get in any way close to them?
I know, of course, that Jesus told us not to cast our precious "pearls before swine" (Matthew 7:6). When we are talking to unconverted people we must weigh our words carefully and very wisely. We need to avoid talking ourselves into potential ridicule and even persecution. It is not a good idea to tell unsolicited or unnecessary details of all of our beliefs. If they want to know more details they will ask us. Also, we also need to be careful that they don’t get the impression that we are trying to convert them.
We don’t have to give them all of the details, but we should not be embarrassed about these things. We should never, never be embarrassed to mention “our church” in casual conversation, or our involvement in it. Again, this should be in natural conversation, and again, only to the extent that the other person seems truly interested. If we are ashamed of Jesus Christ, His name, His church or His gospel now, the time will come when He and His Father will be ashamed of us. Jesus will say, “Sorry, I don’t know you”:
For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
It should be quite obvious that the will of God the Father has a lot of aspects to it. One of those aspects is that we take His light out of its covered storage place, that we set it up on a lamp-stand in the house. And that house needs to be high on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16). Yes, we need to be shining God’s light to each other (our brethren) within the house. When we think about a house up on the top of a hill where lights are shining brightly inside the house at night time and the curtains are open, it has a certain attraction. People passing by look up at the house and say, “Look at the lights in that house up there!” This is what we need to be doing spiritually. Again, we need to be shining God’s spiritual light in a controlled manner to the unconverted.
Still in Matthew 7; continuing in verse 22:
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord’…
...Yes, It’s true that we shunned our neighbours and failed to shine your light to them; but…
… have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’
This is a horrifying thought.
At the time that we need so much to be included with the converted, we would be cast out with the
Before closing, I would like to add a couple of qualifications to what we have discussed today:
1. We should not associate with our unconverted neighbours to the extent that we, and God’s way of life in us, become unrecognizable from them and their unconverted way of life. In other words, we are not to lower our standards (actually God’s standards!) to match those of the world.
2. We should not give so much time and service to our unconverted neighbours at the excessive expense of the time and service that we need to be spending with our converted spiritual brothers and sisters. In other words, spiritually, “charity begins at home.”
The balance is difficult to find. We can go too far into one ditch or the other. This balance may differ from person to person; so we should not judge one another in this regard. We need to pray and ask God to help us find and maintain the right balance.
I would like to close with a paraphrase of the two main points I wanted to get across today:
Come out of her my people... but in godly balance... not neglecting to love thy neighbour!