Pr Ko Lingkang
Separation – An Act of Love (1 Corinthians 13:6)
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;”
Very often, those who are critical of the teachings and practice of Biblical separation would say that it is not loving to be so contentious and divisive. They argue that fundamentalists who practice separation are narrow minded, bigoted, uncharitable and even ‘unchristian’.
The clarion call of the Neo-Evangelicals who have repudiated the doctrine of separation is that ‘doctrine divides, love unites’. In so doing, they seek to pit truth and love as two contrasting irreconcilable things, such that one who contends for the faith and seeks to uphold the doctrines of the Bible is seen as unloving and divisive, whereas a true Christian is one who above all exhibits love, and can lovingly unite the body of Christ, even if it comes at the expense of doctrine and truth.
Is that a right understanding of the doctrine of separation? Is it really unloving to practice separation and discipline? And if it is unloving, does that mean that it is unbiblical and unchristian too?
If we look carefully at the biblical teachings concerning truth and love, we realize that they could not be further from the truth!
1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful chapter of love personified. Paul writes to the church at Corinth – a church that was embroiled in a number of conflicts and controversies, that led to divisiveness and in-fighting. In response to the various squabbles that were taking place, Paul exhorts them to seek after “a more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31), and that is the way of true Christian charity. He warns them that no matter what spiritual gifts they may be given, how much faith they claim to have, or how many works they think they are doing for God, it is all useless if they do not exercise love (1 Cor 13:1-3). From verse 4 onwards, Paul describes the attributes of true biblical love – what it really means for us to exercise love in the manner that God wants.
Our focus in relation to the practice of biblical separation is the two attributes mentioned in verse 6 – that charity “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth”. In these two simple phrases, we see principles on how we ought to lovingly relate to sin and error that arises in our midst.
“Rejoiceth not in iniquity”
Firstly, true love is one that would never rejoice in sin or unrighteousness. A person who loves another is one who would want what is best for him. Because he cares so much for him, he would never rejoice when he is struggling with some sin or caught up in some error. His concern for him would be that he would be able to repent of the sin and be corrected of the error. Instead of rejoicing, there is instead anguish and concern for the sinner, and a concerted effort made to address the iniquity. True love would cause one to never be happy or satisfied until the iniquity is dealt with, for to allow the iniquity to continue and never say anything or do anything would not be love at all, but hate!
Therefore, when a church chooses to practice separation from another church, organization or individual because of known sin, it is an act of love. It is never an easy or comfortable thing, to confront the sin of another. It could cause the one doing so to come across as arrogant, castigated for having a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude, and be seen as lacking in compassion. Yet it is the right thing to do. As difficult as it may by, when we see a brother caught up in some sin or error, it is the responsibility of the loving brother to point out that fault, and then in love to restore him to righteousness. In so doing, we are bearing one another’s burdens, and fulfilling the law of Christ, which is the law of love (Gal 6:1-2).
As children of God, we must understand sin for what it is. All sins are serious transgressions against God’s holiness and are abominations in the sight of God. They are like sicknesses and diseases that plague our spiritual health. If allowed to remain unchecked, it can cause serious detriment to the life of a believer, and at times adversely affect those around him as well. Just as we would never rejoice to hear of a loved one being afflicted with some disease, we would never be delighted to learn of a brother, church or Christian organization being caught up in sin. Instead, we would seek to do what is necessary to help him or them out of his sin. If despite the due process of warning and counselling, the person still refuses to repent, then the Biblical instruction is separation. That is what Paul commanded the Christians at Thessalonica to do with the disobedient brother: “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” The purpose of such separation was so that the errant brother would be ashamed and realize the error of his ways. Yet in such separation, it is not that we ostracize them and cast them out as an enemy, but to do so lovingly, always with the view of their restoration, hoping that they would repent and return to fellowship.
“Rejoiceth in the truth” – help others to the truth
Instead, love is one that rejoices in the truth. When you love someone, you would never want him to believe in or continue in a lie. If he is caught up in some erroneous teaching or is deceived into believing that his life of sin is fine, then your burden would be that you would want to help him out of it. You would desire for him to know the truth!
Truth is always and only found in the Word of God. The Bible alone is our standard in helping us to discern truth from error, right from wrong. Every true believer is one who delights in the truth and loves the Word of God. He hates deceit and error and would never want to have contact with or associate with those who would promote any such falsehoods.
The purpose of separation is always to uphold the truth of God’s Word. When God’s Word comes under attack, or some erroneous doctrines are promoted, the truth of God is at stake. To continue in fellowship with those who would preach error or falsehood, would be to condone their error. Scripture is very clear on this. Various passages that teach such separation:
1Timothy 6:3-5 “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; (4) He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, (5) Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.”
Romans 16:17-18 “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
2 John 1:9-11 “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (10) If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: (11) For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
God’s warning to us is clear – that anyone who associates with those who teach and uphold erroneous doctrines is also considered to be a partaker of their evil deeds. True love that rejoices in truth, will never want to have such association with error. The line of separation that is drawn ought to be very clear and distinct. John’s instructions in 2 John 1:9-11 was in the context of people in the church showing hospitality to itinerant preachers. They would travel from city to city, like what the Apostle Paul did in his missionary journeys, and would put up in the homes of church members during their stay in the city. John’s warning was that if they knew of preachers who were teaching false doctrines, they were not to take them in and have any fellowship with them, for if they were to do so, it would be to condone their wrong teachings, and be considered to have helped them in their promotion of error!
For us, the application is clear. If we know of any individual, church or organization that is teaching or compromising with those who teach error, we are to separate from them, and do not in any way show support or agreement with them, for if we do so, we would not be rejoicing in the truth, but rather rejoicing in falsehood. When we do so, it is an act of love, for love rejoices in truth, and will always seek to defend and uphold the truth of God.
Biblical separation is a much-neglected teaching of the Bible in Christendom today. The prevailing attitude and mindset is one of ecumenism – the effort to unite all churches together at all costs. As such, any talk of separation or distinction is viewed with suspicion and even disdain. To them, it is most unloving to criticize others and to highlight their faults and errors. Instead, they claim that it is loving to compromise and to condone error. However, Scripture is clear, that true love is one that never delights in the sins and errors of others, but rather rejoices only when they come to truth and righteousness.
Although it may sometimes be difficult to stand on the side of truth, especially when that requires us to go against the grain of what seems to be popular and acceptable. Yet we must remember that our concern is not man’s opinion of us, but God’s. Our duty is not to make popular choices that pleases man, but to obey God’s instructions to us, and to do so out of genuine Christian love.