The doctrine of separation holds such a pronounced place in the pages of both Testaments that no one at all familiar with the contents of the Bible can be excused for ignoring it. For with such an emphasis and in view of the corroborating ministry of the Holy Spirit, ignorance is not a valid excuse. And with the eradication of that possibility, the only plausible remainder is rebellion. We simply do not like the unpleasantness or inconvenience attendant to obeying God’s Word, so we refuse to preach or practice the doctrine. God, however, has other ideas.
By practicing scriptural separation, not only does the believer honor God, but he also protects the church. Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul enjoined: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (5:11). We will examine this verse for two reasons. First, it is representative of myriad verses that instruct believers to separate from sin and sinners. Second, it shows the omnipresent need to remain vigilant against sin, even in a mature church and one in which the most profound of church truths are being taught.
“Have no fellowship.” In the midst of this treatise containing the highest of church truth, Paul, nevertheless, writes an extensive paragraph instructing about and warning against sin. In our text, he describes sin in terms of “the unfruitful works of darkness,” giving us, at once, a view of both their origin and their end. However attractive to the eye of the observer sin may appear, it is spawned in darkness, which is the realm of Satan and a place entirely devoid of the Presence of the God of light in whom “is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). That alone should be sufficient reason for the believer to have nothing to do with sin. But Paul continues by explaining sin’s end as well: it is “unfruitful”—“unproductive” or useless. Sin is counterproductive to everything for which the believer has been saved. (In the next verse he is even more forceful, explaining that it is shameful or disgraceful even to speak of those things.)
Regarding these “works of darkness,” or sins, Paul has two succinct commands. First, “have no fellowship with” them. In other words, do not participate in sin. Believers must be separate from sin. We have been delivered from the dark realm of sin; we have been freed from its bondage and the judgment associated with it, so why should we voluntarily participate in that which brings death and hell upon unbelievers and that for which Christ died to deliver us? Paul does not elaborate. Like a traffic stop sign, the instruction is clear, succinct, and essential: STOP! (certain harm awaits the one who ignores this warning).
“Reprove them.” His second command is equally succinct. The words might well be translated as “expose them.” The context (here and elsewhere) indicates that Paul has in mind here, not the exposing of the sins of unbelievers, but of believers who have decided to dabble in sin. Not only must faithful saints themselves avoid sin, but it is the duty of believers to be on guard against sin for one another. That sin is to be “exposed” does not mean that we are to be busybodies and gossips. Rather, we are to warn sinning brethren regarding the nature and consequences of their behavior in a spirit of meekness and self-examination. The exposure should be only as broad as those having direct knowledge of the sin or those immediately affected by it.
Though we could fill several pages with similar passages, may we simply remind ourselves that the real church has been separated from sin by the vicarious death of Christ, and we must live separate from sin. “For this cause [the tolerating of known sin],” Paul writes, “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep [i.e., are dead]” (I Cor. 11:30). May it not be so with us.
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