A Difference that Makes a Difference
“Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you….” 2 Corinthians 6:17 ESV
“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22b-23 ESV
Dear Church Family,
According to one of my seminary teachers, the rabbis would sometimes present their students with seemingly contradictory scriptures as a teaching tool. They would then work out a resolution. Well, my Cord Group has been reading through James, a letter that emphasizes holiness, and this opened up a similar discussion for us. The idea of holiness and separateness from the world is certainly common in scripture. Paul emphasized this in 2 Corinthians 6:17. However, 1 Corinthians, he talked about living as a Jew among Jews, and as a Gentile among Gentiles (see the quotation from 1 Corinthians 9 above). So, are we to pull away from the world, or is “fitting in” with the world a tool we can use in reaching the world for Christ?
Paul’s statements are not contradictory, but they do open up an opportunity to think about how Christians should (and should not) try to be different than “the world.” I think we would all agree that Christians should avoid, say, drunkenness, and theft certainly seems to be off limits. But what about gray areas? What about, say, going to movies, or public sporting events?
Let me offer an example. Let’s say for the sake of argument that the top-selling pickup in the U.S. is the Ford F-150. As a Christian who wants to be “separate” from the world, does that mean I should by a Chevy? (Yes, I know a few people who would tell me to by a Chevy over a Ford, but that has nothing to do with holiness.) Most of us (hopefully) would agree that this would be a shallow understanding of the biblical teaching that Christians should be different.
Paul saw living as the Jews or Gentiles as an issue for sharing the gospel—“that I may share with them in its blessings.” The key to his thought here is sacrifice. Paul had listed a number of things that he, as a Christian and as an apostle, had a “right” to. His point, however, was that he would sacrifice any of these rights if the exercise of them might get in the way of sharing the gospel. When he lived among the Gentiles, he might take up some customs that were, perhaps, unusual or uncomfortable for him as a Jew so they would more readily hear his message of grace.
Paul never advocated engaging in the sinful ways of Gentiles; he didn’t want to “fit in,” if fitting in included, say, attending pagan rituals. I think we can see that our “difference” from the world isn’t, say, wearing suits when the world wears jeans. Rather, we want to live in such a way that our gospel, our witness, will not be hindered by our lives. Sometimes, that will require sacrifice. That’s a difference that makes a difference.