Summary: Four personal stories that illustrate how God’s people are set apart from the world and separated unto God.
I want to begin by telling you about this book. When Sue and I were in high school, we were active members of our youth fellowship. There must have been 40 or 50 of us. A farmer in our congregation was so concerned about the spiritual life of the youth that he purchased a book for every one of us. If I recall correctly, he bought 50 or 60 of these books at $3.50 a piece and gave each one of us a copy. You can do the math, but in the 1950s, that was a lot of money. And it moves me to this day to think of this man’s dedication.
The book was Separated unto God, written by J.C. Wenger, a well-known Mennonite theologian. Years later, Sue and I were privileged not only to meet him, but to sit in his classes. He writes that one of his goals in writing the book was to “deepen the conviction with which the truth of separation unto God is held by the members of such bodies of Christians as Mennonites . . . and Church of the Brethren.” And he writes about areas of our lives in which we need to recognize that we are the temple of the living God and that God lives in us and walks among us. We are not just separated from the world; we are separated unto God.
One of the scripture passages this book is based on comes from II Corinthians 6. The idea of this scripture is that just as you would not hook up a mule and a horse together to get work done, neither can you expect to bring together believers & unbelievers or light & darkness or God’s temple & idol worship and still be pleasing to God. Some things were never meant to be brought together; they are incompatible. They are headed in opposite directions.
It’s like the guy who saw someone struggling with a sofa in a doorway so he got on the other end to help. They pushed and tugged, but it would not move. Finally, the guy put his end down and said, “It’s no use. We’ll never get it in there.” The other guy said, “In? I thought you were taking it out.” You can’t push and pull at the same time.
The Bible says Christians are the temple of God. A temple is a place where God lives. So if God is going to live within us, we need to live his way, not some other way. If God is going to walk with us, we need to get in step with him, not somebody else. If God is going to be our God, then we need to act like his people and separate ourselves from those things that pull us away. As God’s people we are set apart from the world and separated unto God.
All of us have experienced the tug of the world that pulls us away from God’s way. In my own life, there have been several decision points that helped me see the importance of being separated unto God. I want to tell four stories to illustrate the meaning of the text.
Education. One of the first times I became aware of the importance of being separated unto God had to do with education. Sue and I grew up in a large, rural, Mennonite church in southeastern Iowa. We were both privileged to grow up in homes in which our parents were devout followers of Jesus and faithful members of the church. For both of us, our daily schedule included a time for family worship when as a family we read the Bible and prayed. And on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evening, no matter how busy our parents were on the farm, their work never kept them from church.
Our parents’ devotion to Christ was expressed in many ways. One of the most significant for Sue and me happened when we were ready for high school. Our parents were troubled by some of the activities at the local public high school and they wanted to separate us from those influences. My father went to talk with the school officials, but they could not promise any changes. So several parents decided to send their teenagers to a Mennonite high school 35 miles away. One of the dads bought a station wagon and got a job near the school. He drove eight of us to and from school every day that first year. It was a considerable sacrifice for our parents. Not only did they have to pay transportation costs and school tuition, but they had to do without us that additional hour morning and evening when we could have been helping with the chores on the farm. By the next year there were enough students for a small bus. Two years later it required a big bus. Neither Sue nor I would trade those four years of Christian education for anything. That decision of our parents reinforced our understanding that we are the temple of the living God and that we are to be separated unto him.