As I was growing up in church, I remember hearing frequently about the importance of avoiding contact with the wrong kind of people. “Bad company corrupts good morals,” I was told (1 Corinthians 15:33). And so, if I wanted to be a genuine follower of Jesus, I needed to “come out from among them, and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Of course, there’s something to be said for the notion that we need to be mindful of the way in which our environment can impact our heart. In fact, in today’s gospel reading, the Lord Himself points out the way in which “the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things can come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). However, there’s another strand of teaching in scripture — one that I don’t remember hearing as frequently — but that offers an equally vital perspective.
In today’s New Testament reading (1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8), the Apostle Paul refers to a letter he wrote to Corinth before 1st Corinthians (a letter, unfortunately, which has been lost to us). In that letter, he did instruct the church “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (5:9), but now he feels the need to clarify: “not at all meaning the people of this world (emphasis added) who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.”
Paul, you see, cares deeply about the holiness and personal transformation of Jesus’ followers (as all of his writings make clear), but he also has a missionary heart. He understands that we have been sent into the world, just like the Father sent Jesus into the world (John 20:21), which is why Jesus prayed: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world — but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Until Jesus returns, we’re to be the “salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13), which can’t happen if we never get “out of the saltshaker” (to borrow the title of a once-popular book on evangelism) — and we’re to be “light of the world” (Mt. 5:14), which can’t happen as long as we remain hidden under our comfortable Christian bushels.
How will we go “into the world” today? And how can we encourage, support, and pray for one another so that the beauty and power of holiness will not only safeguard us but will also bring the transforming love of Christ into the lives of those who need it most?