It is often the very things that encourage us most or that provoke the strongest admiration from us in biblical characters that we seek most strenuously to avoid in our own lives. Who does not admire David’s faith and courage in confronting Goliath or Daniel’s faith and confidence when faced with a den of lions? Yet how many of us shrink from facing the Goliaths and lions in our own lives? Separation is such a Goliath or lion. We admire the separation of Abraham or Paul, but we hope never to be required to practice separation ourselves. But the reality is that anyone who wishes to be faithful to the Lord will be required to practice separation at various times. In Second Timothy, Paul defined circumstances that trigger such times for all of us. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (3:1-5).
The danger exposed. This is one of the most remarkable catalogues in all of Scripture, listing as it does an array of sins (actually sinners) from attitudes (unthankfulness), to family relations (disobedient to parents), to violent crimes (fierce), to spiritual states (unholy). Every conceivable category of sin seems to be covered by at least one example in this list. Paul says that times characterized by these sins will be “perilous” (translated elsewhere as “fierce” and meaning “difficult” or “dangerous”). In other words, here is our Goliath or our lions’ den. What is especially remarkable (and dangerous) about these sinners is their status. The Spirit of God did not produce this list by scouring the gutter for bums lying or the prisons for hardened criminals serving lengthy terms. This list of sinners comes from the respectable crowd of prominent names inscribed on church rolls, even their leaders. For Paul explains that they possess a “form of godliness.” In other words, they have an outward appearance of godliness. But Paul hastens to explain their hypocrisy: “but denying the power thereof.” The casual observer see a cloak of religion, a show of righteousness, but in reality they deny the power of godliness. They neither resist sin nor flee temptation. They do not manifest true godly character in their lives. The godly, Paul implies, will not find themselves in the list he has written.
The duty enjoined. The implication is that these are people who have persisted in these sins while pretending a testimony of faith. What is the prescribed method of dealing with such spiritual hypocrisy, people professing faith in Christ, but with lives characterized by one or more of these sins? Should faithful saints redouble their evangelistic efforts? Doubtless, we should pray for such, but the injunction of God is clear and concise: “from such turn away.” Avoid them. We tend to recoil at such commands. We have been led to believe that even our prisons are intended for the purpose of rehabilitating the hardest of criminals. But God is not in the business of rehabilitating people. He redeems, transforms, delivers from sin. And when He instructs us to avoid these obdurate sinners, we do otherwise to our own peril (see v. 1 of text). When God requires separation, and we deem some other stance to be more charitable, we, first of all, sin against God, second, put ourselves in danger of being deceived through our willing compromise, and, third, endanger our loved ones by exposing them to the corrupting influence of these sinners. God defeated Goliath by enabling David to attack him directly. God defeated the lions by enabling Daniel to face them passively. God will defeat these enemies only as we faithfully avoid them. God’s way alone is right.
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