One of the preachers I very well remember from boyhood days, was an older man who told how he tended market in the city. Among other things, he sold apple butter and cup cheese. He had a big bowl of apple butter and a big container of cup cheese.
One Saturday, he forgot his serving utensils, and he searched, but he could only find one ladle with which to serve his customers. And so, when he had a customer for apple butter, he used the same dipper he had used when he served cup cheese.
He said it wasn’t too bad at first. But as the day progressed, some of the cheese stuck to the dipper when he dipped the apple butter, and some of the apple butter stuck to the dipper when he dipped the cheese—and by mid-afternoon, he was in a real dilemma. He didn’t know which was the bowl of apple butter and which was the bowl of cup cheese! They both looked alike.
The doctrine of nonconformity (separation from the world) is almost completely ignored by most groups within Christendom. Yet, separation from the world-system is one of the great themes of the New Testament. The people of God are not to follow the vain customs of the world about us.
Nearly every book of the New Testament says something about the Christian and his relation to the world:
In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of those who follow Him, and says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
The apostle Paul says:
- To the Romans: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
- To the Corinthians: “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
- To the Galatians: “(Christ) gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world” (Galatians 1:4).
- To Titus: “Denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:12).
The apostle James was inspired to write: “Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world (the cosmos) is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
The apostle John says: “Love not the world (the cosmos) . . . if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
God’s people are to be separate from (set apart from) the vanity and wickedness of this world system. Many of the activities practiced by the world about us are really displeasing to God. And so we must separate from those activities and attitudes which violate the laws of God.
1. Separation: Unbecoming Speech
The Bible attaches great significance to the speech of God’s people. Surely our words should be different from the conversation patterns of the world. There are a number of types of speech which we must seek to avoid.
Gossiping is indulging in needless chatter about other people. It is personal, intimate talk about unnecessary things. The gossiper doesn’t necessarily slander others. He doesn’t twist their words and cut down their character—but whenever you see him, he has something new to tell about somebody else:
- who all the latest boy friends are
- when the next baby is due
- how much a neighbor paid for his house
Gossip is simply idle chatter about the rather personal affairs of other people, and it carries with it the danger of becoming untruthful speech.
Gossip 1 told gossip 2 that Smith bought his goods from Brown.
Gossip 2 told gossip 3 that Smith got his goods from Brown.
Gossip 3 told gossip 4 that Smith took his goods from Brown.
Gossip 4 told gossip 5 that Smith stole his goods from Brown.
Gossipers have a tendency to add a little bit more each time the story is told, until the final tale contains more falsehood than truth.
b) Careless speech
Jesus warns against the use of idle words. Matthew 12:36 records His admonition. “But I say unto you, that every idle word (careless word) that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment.”
This prohibition surely is a caution against the use of euphemisms—mild words substituted for more unpleasant words. Some of the hard-core euphemisms are words like “gee” and “golly” and “heck” and “darn” and “dickens.”
- “Gee” is a substitute for Jesus.
- “Gosh” and “golly” are substitutes for God.
- “Heck” is a substitute for hell.
- “Darn” is a substitute for damn.
- “Dickens” comes not from Charles Dickens, the English writer, but from “devil kin,” meaning relatives of the devil.
If we mention the use of such words, some will say, “But I don’t mean anything by the use of such words.” That’s exactly what Jesus is talking about. Why say them if we don’t mean anything by their use?
They are really more than idle words; they are substitutes for profanity. Surely they should not be found in the Christian’s vocabulary. Even words like “goodness,” “gracious,” and “mercy days”—should be ruled out, because goodness, mercy, and grace are attributes of the Most High God—and we pray “Hallowed be thy name.”
c) Profane language
God warns against the use of profanity in the third of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Cursing, swearing, coarse talk, shoddy conversation are all forbidden in this sweeping mandate.
Shall we just stand by when someone abuses the name of Jesus, and say nothing? If we say nothing, his cursing flings the pure name of God in the mud, and our silence lets it there. Sometimes such occasions are good opportunities for witnessing for Jesus. It is important not to nag at someone who swears, but if we live with (or work with) someone who habitually swears, it is our duty to let that person know that we do not appreciate his swearing, and that indeed, our heavenly Father does not approve. The name of Jesus is delightfully sweet, and some day He is the One whom we must meet.
d) Untrue language
The Bible instructs against speaking untruths in Ephesians 4:25. “Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man (the) truth with his neighbor.” And the ninth Commandment (of the Ten) says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” And yet, we hear people talk about bending the truth, coloring the truth, and adapting the truth. Many seem to look at telling small lies as harmless slips of the tongue.
There are various forms of being untruthful:
One form is to tell a plain unvarnished lie—like Peter, at the trial of Jesus, when the damsel said that he had been with Jesus. Peter said, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Another form of lying is to engage in the use of slander—uttering a false charge that damages the reputation of another person.
A third form of lying is exaggerating when speaking—simply enlarging a matter beyond the bounds of truth.
Another sneaky form of lying is to use the right words, but with a meaning different from the truth. The young man who had gone fishing, but was unsuccessful, stopped at a fish market on the way home. He said to the lad tending the market, “Throw a dozen of those mackerel to me, and throw them one by one.” The lad said, “What do you mean—throw them one by one?” The unsuccessful fisherman said, “I’ve got to say I caught them, and I don’t want to lie about it.”
We must remember that lying brings severe punishment from heaven, not only embarrassment here on earth. Revelation 21:8 says that “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” I don’t know all that is involved in that admonition, but we had better learn to be truthful in all that we say.
e) Ungraceful language
The instruction is given in Colossians 4:6. The text says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.”
The word “grace” signifies the idea of beauty and dignity. And even though sometimes we need to speak out plainly against sin, we must always remember to speak kindly and charitably and gracefully—not with a tone of sarcasm. Let your speech be always with grace. Let your words have a certain dignity.
Graceful language means that we will make a clear effort to avoid the use of slang expressions like:
- “We had a groovy time.”
- “We really had a blast.”
- “He’s a real creep.”
- “Don’t listen to that windbag.”
- “Don’t believe all that malarkey.”
Graceful language avoids referring to people as “gas bags.” It doesn’t tell jokes about “mothers-in-law” and “old maids.” Graceful language refrains from the use of words like “stupid” and “nerd” and “dingbat” when referring to other people. It shuns calling a wife “the old lady.” It avoids slurs like “niggers” and “wops” and “Pollocks.” And some won’t agree with this—but calling children “kids” is certainly not speaking with dignity. Parents would not want their children to call dad an “old goat.”
Phrases like “shut up,” and “that makes me mad”—are in poor taste for God’s people. We are to be separate from the world in our speech. Our speech should betray us to Jesus. Our speech should mark us as being different from the world.
2. Separation: Unwholesome Attitudes
We are instructed in 2 Corinthians 7:1 to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
The word “spirit” speaks of our attitudes. Wrong attitudes are sins of the spirit. An “attitude” is a manner of acting, feeling, or thinking which shows one’s disposition. There are some church members who would never gamble or swear or put a television set in their house—but at the same time, they are irritable, and fault-finding, and self-centered, and unwilling to acknowledge wrong. These are marks of bad attitudes.
a) The attitude toward the use of time
The world does not find time for the truly important things in life. People of the world are chiefly concerned about life here on this earth.
The Christian, by way of contrast, is aware that the brevity of life means that we must serve our Master immediately and zealously and faithfully. James 4:14-15 says that we don’t know what is going to take place tomorrow, and so we had better say, “If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that.”
We plan for tomorrow, and that is proper. The tiny ant prepares food at harvest time for the winter to come, and we should do the same thing (Proverbs 6:6-8). But we are keenly aware that our plans may be altered at any moment. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” The little poem says:
When as a child, I slept and wept—time crept;
When as a youth, I laughed and talked—time walked;
When I became a full-grown man—time ran;
And older as I daily grew—time flew;
Soon I shall find, in traveling on—time gone.
b) The attitude toward material things
The world becomes more and more preoccupied with material riches—gourmet eating, lavish clothing, and expensive furnishings. Every advertisement in newspapers, magazines, and other media—is geared to create within us a spirit of discontent. They hold out the object and say, “Look, you don’t have this; you’ve got to have this; you really ought to want it.” And so the media appeals to our natural inborn sense of greed.
But as transformed Christians, we must remember the admonition found in Proverbs 30:8-9, which says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, and feed me with food convenient for me . . . lest I be full and deny thee . . . lest I be poor and steal.”
This is a balanced way of looking at material things. If I am rich, I will be inclined to think that I can get along without God, and so I don’t crave riches. But if I am too poor, I might be tempted to steal, and so I pray that God will keep me from extreme poverty.
We seek to avoid expensive living and lavish lifestyles, but at the same time, we work hard to provide for our families—and pray that God will deliver us from the desperations of poverty.
c) The attitude toward those who offend
The worldly person usually responds to ill treatment with the same kind of ill treatment given to him. He responds to good will with the same kind of good will shown to him. In other words, the world’s position is to be nice to those who are nice to them, and to be not so nice to those who mistreat them.
The Christian, by way of contrast, does not return evil for evil, nor good for good. Instead, he seeks to return good for evil (Romans 12:21).
We are to recompense to no man, evil for evil, but instead, we aim to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, and to live peaceably with all persons. We try to answer angry people by using a gentle voice; we seek to make peaceful settlement of differences even if it involves personal loss; we aim to be quick to apologize when we wrong others, and quick to forgive when others wrong us. The Christian does everything possible, from his side, to maintain harmony with others.
d) The attitude toward life’s uncertainties
The worldly person worries when health begins to fail. He panics when the economic situation doesn’t look good. He goes to pieces when unexplainable adversities come.
The Christian, by way of contrast, separates from those attitudes because he has a source of confidence:
- when the life of a young child is snuffed out at an early age.
- when an active husband dies, and the wife is faced with the task of keeping a family together, and providing for their daily needs.
- when the dreaded word “cancer” strikes a family member. Most families have had the hard experience of dealing with a long-term illness of some kind. Sometimes there are frequent surgeries and severe physical disabilities.
We are confident that our God is in absolute control, and that adversity does not separate us from God’s concern and God’s love. We know that “all things work together for good to them that love God, and to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The Bible from beginning to end teaches that God is completely sovereign; that God is infinite in wisdom; and that God is perfect in love.
God (in His love) always wills what is best for us.
God (in His wisdom) always knows what is best for us.
God (in His sovereignty) has the power to bring it about.
To have a simple trust in God, acknowledging that the circumstances of our lives have not gotten out of the control of an all-wise God, is the major truth to keep in mind in the midst of life’s uncertainties. The God who cares for sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31) is screening the experiences of your life and mine, so that we are not the mere victims of fate!
Fannie Crosby (in one of her hymns) says:
“All the way my Savior leads me—
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
“Heavenly peace, divinest comfort—
Here by faith, in Him to dwell!
For I know, what’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.”
We are to be separate from the world in our attitudes. Our attitudes should betray us to Jesus. Our attitudes toward time, toward finances, toward abuse from others, toward life’s uncertainties—should mark us as being different from the world.