Separation: Are there people hindering your spiritual growth?
If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, you should know you’ve been commanded to grow spiritually. Scripture is quite clear on this. Here are some of the apostle Peter’s last words.
2 Peter 3:18
18 But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen. [Emphasis added]
Then we have the apostle Paul telling us much the same in his last written words to us.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Study [SPOUDAZO = be diligent] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. [Emphasis added]
In both cases we’re told that our intake of God’s Word must be a priority. Otherwise, spiritual growth simply isn’t going to happen. We are also warned that as we move closer to the end times things aren’t going to get any easier for people to do this.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. [Emphasis added]
Then later in this same passage we are warned of the consequences of this.
2 Timothy 3:12-13
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. [Emphasis added]
Therefore, we are warned that we’ll have to pay a price in suffering to remain faithful to our Lord. Environmentally, things are not going to get better in the last days. To prepare yourself for dealing with people who oppose you, you’re going to have to get serious about what your relationship with the Lord means to you. And the best defense you have for it is internal, not anything external. In other words, you need the Lord and His Word in your thinking more than anything. To accomplish this, you’re going to have to make some important strategic and probably difficult decisions. This involves separating yourself from certain people who work to hinder you in your spiritual growth and development. In some situations, the physical separation may not be possible, as in being married to a negative person, but the mental separation always is. What you must realize is that we’re all subject to being influenced by the wrong people, causing us to make the wrong decisions day-to-day. For this reason, we’ve been warned about these people. The apostle Paul gives us some general statements about this.
17 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 [speaking of their emotions]; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple [AKAKOS = free of evil]. [Emphasis added]
What’s described here is quite common. It happens often. It shouldn’t, but it does! Because of the importance of doctrine, we’re not to compromise it for the sake of “unity.” Unfortunately, most people are more concerned about pleasing someone or “the crowd” than they are about pleasing the One who saved them. Our stand needs to be with the Bible and with Scripture rightly divided, not doctrines made by men. Here’s an example of this principle stated in the apostle Paul’s ministry.
2 Timothy 2:16-18a
16 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.
17 And their word will eat as doth a canker [GANGRAINA = spreading corruption like gangrene]: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus;
18a Who concerning the truth have erred, … [Emphasis added]
In this case it was apparently two believers who had badly influenced some of the other believers. You are never safe to assume that because someone’s doctrine is incorrect, they must be unsaved. That can be the case but sometimes it is not. Most of the people Paul corrects in his epistles were believers. We know that because he speaks of them as “brethren,” meaning brothers and sisters in Christ. The term carnal is one that Paul often uses for these believers who had come to believe false doctrine.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
2 I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.
3 For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? [Emphasis added]
When he says they are “carnal” and “walk as men” he means they were thinking and acting just like some unbelievers. And never be so foolish as to think “true” believers can’t or won’t do that. In nearly all of Paul’s epistles we see illustrations of where they can and did. In fact, nearly all of Paul’s epistles were written to address believers about this very thing. I’m always amazed when people who profess to be Christians talk like “true Christians” won’t do “such things.” Really?!?! If you’ll study all of Paul’s epistles, you’ll find there’s hardly a sin you can name that certain believers in certain churches weren’t guilty of committing. The very reason Paul tells them NOT to do certain things is because they WERE doing those things. Usually the commands given are telling those believers to STOP doing certain things.
Self-righteousness is a terrible thing. Our Lord provided some stern rebukes for it in the time of His earthly ministry. And who were the people most guilty of it then? Answer: Religious people! As religious and pious as they may have appeared to many, in that case they were not God’s people. Do we have such people today? We certainly do, and many or even most are found in churches. Our Lord had some stern and sobering words for such people in the time of His earthly ministry. In that day, they were in synagogues. Today most are found in local churches. Here are His statements about them.
Matthew 23:1-5, 13-15, 27-28, 33
1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2 Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
Here He’s telling us these were “the preachers” of that day.
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
5 But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
Then notice later what He calls these people.
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
He didn’t pull any punches at all with these people. He sternly warns His disciples about them. Such “religious” people are the greatest enemies to the progressing believer. These people are not at all what they may appear to be to the non-discerning.
27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Our Lord even speaks of them as poisonous snakes because when they open their mouths, they spew the venom of false teaching.
33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? [Emphasis added]
Could He have made it any plainer? Could He have said it in more forceful terms? I think not. Where are such people in your environment? I assure you they are here in our society and in churches. If you don’t learn to recognize them, you may become one of their victims. What you come to believe from the Bible matters. Unity at the expense of sound doctrine is totally unacceptable. If we’re to have an effective ministry, we must avoid these people, never wanting to be influenced by them or identified with them.
In every generation there are people who need to be warned about sincere or insincere people who will lead God’s people astray. That’s why we see so much about this in the writings about our Lord’s ministry as well as that of the apostle Paul. Here are some other passages where our Lord was warning people about them.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. [Emphasis added]
To beware is to avoid these people as best you can.
6 Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. [Emphasis added]
Like a little leaven can leaven a whole lump of bread, so it is with the effect of false teaching. Just a little goes a long way toward creating confusion and division. When Jesus used leaven to illustrate what He was saying, even His disciples didn’t know what He was talking about.
11 How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees?
12 Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. [Emphasis added]
The apostle Paul was constantly having to issue similar statements about the importance of avoiding certain people.
1 Timothy 6:3-5
3 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 [NOSEO = to be foolish] 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. [Emphasis added]
Again, the withdrawing is first and primarily mental, but often involves the need for physical separation. Sometimes people need to get completely away from their influential words.
Colossians 2:4, 8
4 And this I say, lest any man should beguile [APATAO = deceive] you with enticing words.
So very subtle and deceptive people can be!
8 Beware lest any man spoil [SUNAGOGEO = lead off as captive] you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments [STOICHEION = things presented as superior] of the world, and not after Christ. [Emphasis added]
Principles of grace are always belittled, contradicted, and ridiculed by “religious” types. Such is their way in every generation. Only the names of the people and the titles of their organizations have changed. As you’re seeing, there was a need for separation from these people in all the churches Paul established. They were all dealing with this problem in varying degrees. Again, they are believers or professing believers. Many times they are pleasant, personable people, but they’re deadly in their doctrine.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
14 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 [a fellow believer but one who has strayed]. [Emphasis added]
It is impossible and unnecessary to separate oneself from all unbelievers, although it may be necessary to separate oneself from some if that’s what it takes to avoid being influenced by them.
1 Corinthians 5:9-11
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. [Emphasis added]
If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, truly the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have in this life is a chance to qualify for special rewards in eternity. The day will come when we’ll all personally stand before our Savior where our productivity for Him in this lifetime will be evaluated. The good things we did in service to Him will all be evaluated and rewarded.
2 Corinthians 5:10
10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. [Emphasis added]
Are you ready for this? We all surely need to be. One never knows when that time will come. We just need to consciously work on being prepared for it. And we don’t need to allow anything or anyone to get in our way of being fully prepared for this.