The Basis for Separation
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles to Psalm 119, while I remind you that Psalm 119 is essentially the Psalm of the Word of God. We have discovered in each paragraph there is some practical application of the Word of God to the believer's life. We have found that each paragraph is introduced by a Hebrew letter. We found that the Hebrew letter is there because each line of that particular paragraph, in the original text, begins with that particular letter. We have discovered as well, in most cases, the letter of the paragraph introduces the basic theme of the paragraph or an essential truth contained in it. You will notice the strange looking symbol at the beginning of each paragraph which is a Hebrew letter, and that Hebrew letter has a name.

The paragraph at which we are now going to look begins with verse 113 and concludes with verse 120, and it is introduced by the Hebrew letter SEMECH . That is the name of the letter. The interesting thing about this particular name is that the word SEMECH , as we shall see in our discussion, is used to suggest the idea of propping someone up, of strengthening an individual, of making him stronger. For example, if you will look down at verse 116, you will read:

Psalm 119:

116 Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

Notice the word uphold . The Hebrew word for that English word uphold is the word SEMECH , which is the name of the letter with which this paragraph begins. That indicates one of the themes of the paragraph, for we are going to see that this particular paragraph suggests to us that the Word of God is the basis of separation for the believer. We are going to discover that such a separation is not an easy thing. It takes the upholding power of God.

We read the paragraph with that in mind, beginning with verse 113:

Psalm 119:

113 I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.
114 Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.
115 Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.
116 Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.
117 Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.
118 Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.
119 Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.
120 My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.

We might say that a paragraph that has for its theme the idea of separation is a bit out of place in relation to the modern thinking of the present hour because instead of emphasis upon separation, there is emphasis upon union. Instead of emphasis upon standing on the basis of conviction, there is emphasis on the surrender of conviction for the sake of ecumenical harmony; but this paragraph, though it is a bit out of place in relation to modern thinking, is perfectly in place for those who are interested in walking in the light of God's Word.

Demand for Separation in God's Example

You will recall that in our last study, that was our responsibility because in verse 105, we read:

Psalm 119:

105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

I repeat, those who are walking in the light of God's Word will be faced with a demand for separation. This demand for separation in the present paragraph under consideration is seen first in God's example, then in man's experience. Notice one of the examples in relation to God in verse 118, where the Psalmist says, concerning God:

Psalm 119:

118 Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.

“Thou hast trodden down all them that depart from thy statutes, for their deceit is falsehood.” In this verse, God evaluates the activities in relation to His Word. Finding them false, He casts them aside.

I like the Paraphrased suggestion in connection with this verse, which reads: “But you have rejected all who have rejected you, Lord. They are only fooling themselves.”

We would emphasize that it is not a matter of God's rejecting willy-nilly. It is not a matter of God's rejecting at whatever particular whim He may desire, but it is a matter of individuals' rejecting God and His way, and then God rejecting them on the basis of their rejection.

That is evident if you will look again at the phrase, “trodden down.” We read there:

Psalm 119:

118 Thou hast trodden down all them that err…

The phrase, “trodden down,” comes from the Hebrew word calah , which means “to weigh.” The suggestion is the same as is found in the book of Daniel, though a different word is used: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.” God takes the wicked. He weighs them and their actions in the light of His Word, and then he casts them aside to be trodden down. The Lord Jesus Christ said that would happen to Christians who have lost the effectiveness of their testimony. He uses the same thought in the Gospels when he said that the Christians were salt. In Matthew, chapter 5, verse 13, He said:

Matthew 5:

13 Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

The expression, “trodden down,” involves the idea of evaluation and decision on the basis of that evaluation. God separates Himself from sinners in the respect that I am thinking about. Should we do less than He does?

Another illustration of how God separates Himself from the wicked is found in verse 119 of Psalm 119, where we read:

Psalm 119:

119 Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.

The Christian is spoken of as being silver mixed with dross, and God finds it necessary from time to time to put the Christian through the fire that all the dross might be removed. Though the fire burns hotter than most of us like for it to burn, the silver is better for it and so is the child of God.

Solomon expressed it in Proverbs, chapter 25, verse 4:

Proverbs 25:

4 Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.

Even in relation to the believer's life, the separation of the silver from the dross is necessary. When God speaks of the wicked, He speaks of their not being silver mixed with dross, He speaks of their being all dross. There is nothing worthwhile about them. There is nothing worth anything in connection with them.

Here again the Paraphrased version effectively emphasizes this to our thinking by the choice of words, for it translates verse 119 in this fashion: “The wicked are the scum which you skim off and throw away.”

Demand for Separation through Man's Experience

This isn't something we say about the wicked. This is something that God says about it. The demand for separation, I would emphasize, is seen in God's example; but perhaps more closely associated to our own lives, the demand for separation is seen through man's experience. At least it was so in relation to the Psalmist. I wonder if you have found it true in relation to your own life. Notice verse 113, where the Psalmist said:

Psalm 119:

113 I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.

Then verse 115:

Psalm 119:

115 Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.

Something bothered the Psalmist in his pilgrim pathway, something acted as a problem to keep him from effectively living his own testimony, and that was what he described as vain thoughts in verse 113. “I hate vain thoughts,” he said.

You will notice, if you look at that verse closely, the word vain is in italics, which indicates that it is not in the original text. The word for thoughts here is a word different from the word ordinarily used in the Hebrew text. It is a word that means “an individual who doubts the authenticity of the Word of God,” an individual who is glibly saying, “Oh you may believe that, but I don't. I don't think there is anything to that at all.”

Of course, there are some individuals who say that, I think, to keep people stirred up. They don't really mean what they say. There are other individuals who have not thought the matter through and they just talk to hear themselves talk. There are some individuals who are honest doubters. Those individuals need not only our prayers, but they need our time to show them that the Word of God is not anything about which a man needs to be skeptical.

The Psalmist said, “I hate skeptical thinking. I hate those doubts that are related to the Word of God.” The reason that he felt that way is indicated in the last part of verse 113, where he said, “…thy law do I love. Other individuals may be skeptical of the Word. They may doubt it, but I love it, and I don't want anybody around me who is consistently doubting what the Word of God has to say because it makes it more difficult for me.”

The editors of the Paraphrased version caught this thought very well, for they said: “I hate those who are undecided whether or not to obey you. My choice is clear.” I like that. “My choice is clear as a child of God. I know what I have to do, and I don't like people around me who are undecided about whether or not they are going to obey or not because it makes it difficult for me.”

You will remember that the Psalmist, in verse 63, made up his mind the kind of company he was going to keep, for there he said:

Psalm 119:

63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.

He said, “I am a companion of them who fear thee, and of them who obey thy Word.” He is approaching it from another standpoint in this paragraph by saying, “I am not going to keep company with those who doubt thy Word because my choice is clear. I know what I need to do.”

Though his choice was clear, as I have already indicated, it wasn't an easy choice to uphold. That is why, in verse 115, you hear the Psalmist saying:

Psalm 119:

115 Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.

Here again is another translation that catches the music of the verse with the words: “Be gone you evil-minded men. Don't try to keep me from obeying God's command.”

This, too, should speak to our own hearts and emphasize that through ordinary human experience, there is a need for separation. Continue on if you will in your associations with those who make light of His Word, and it won't be long until you will be questioning God's Word as well. Keep on if you will among those who say, “You can obey God if you want to, but we are not going to,” and you will soon be wondering if you should.

Difficulty of Separation

There is a demand for separation. It cannot be denied, but just as the Psalmist suggested that it was difficult for him to follow on to know the Lord unless he lived a separated life, it is difficult to separate. We are not surprised, then, to hear the Psalmist speak of the difficulty of separation. He knew that he was not strong enough within himself to live a separated life. The difficulties of separation are indicated to us by two phrases in this paragraph which sound very much alike. One of them we touched upon in our introductory remarks, but will you look at verse 116, where we hear the Psalmist say:

Psalm 119:

116 Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.

“Uphold me according to thy promise, that I may live and not be ashamed of my hope.” Notice verse 117:

Psalm 119:

117 Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.

Notice first, “Uphold me,” then “Hold me up.” They sound very much alike, don't they, but they are speaking of two different things. As I suggested to you earlier, the word uphold comes from the Hebrew word camak , which is translated by the word sustain . When the Psalmist was saying, “Lord, uphold me,” he was saying, “Lord, sustain me.”

There is an interesting use of this word found in Psalm 3, if you would like to turn back there and notice the emphasis upon the place of prayer in the believer's life. In verse 4, the Psalmist said:

Psalm 3:

4 I cried unto the LORD with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.
5 I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me.

The word sustained is the translation of the Hebrew word camak , which is translated by the word uphold . The Psalmist found his pathway of separation very difficult, but he prayed about it, and in his prayer life, he found that sustenance that enabled him to carry on to know the Lord and follow where He led.

Look again at Psalm 119, verse 117, where he emphasizes the plea:

Psalm 119:

117 Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.

The phrase, “hold up,” is a translation of the Hebrew word caad , which elsewhere is translated “strengthen.” Go to Psalm 20, and you will find it translated there in a setting that makes a point that would be well for us to emphasize at the moment, for in Psalm 20, verse 1, we read:

Psalm 20:

1 The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
2 Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion;

Notice the word strengthen . It is a translation of this phrase, “hold thou me up.” Where did this phrase come from? From Zion. Zion, in David's day, was the place where God's throne was. Strength today comes not from a literal city of Jerusalem, but from the Jerusalem which is above where the Lord Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of the throne of God.

Why We Need Strength and Sustenance

Are you asking yourself why you need strength and sustenance? Why do you think of them as two different things? If a man is too weak to stand by himself, you can hold him up; that is, you can uphold him; you can sustain him; but that gets tiresome after a while. There are other things that need to be done. You want him to get to the place where he will operate on his own momentum, and that is the reason for the second request. The Psalmist said, “Lord, uphold me now, sustain me in this new life of separation until I can get on my own feet. Then strengthen me, and I will be able to operate not on the basis of holding on to the arm of someone else; but I will be able to operate because I have been strengthened with all might,” as Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians, “by His Spirit in the inner man.”

There are some Christians who never get beyond verse 115. God is always having to sustain them. He is always having to uphold them. If He removes His support from them even for a moment, they would fall to the ground. The happy situation is to get into verse 117, where you are constantly looking to the Throne of Grace for that power of the Holy Spirit which enables you to go on.

The demand for separation in the Word of God cannot be denied. The difficulties in maintaining that separation have already been brought to our attention, but some people don't seem to be greatly concerned one way or another. They say, “Separation—what difference does it make? Aren't we all headed for the same place? Aren't we all interested in the same thing? Aren't we all God's children? Why talk about separation?”

Determining Factor for Psalmist's Separation

Many are the arguments that are given for individuals' refusing to obey God's command for separation. Many are the reasons that could be given as to why separation is essential, but we are going to limit our comments on what the Psalmist considered in his life the determining factor for his separation—the reason he recognized separation as being part of what God expected and the reason he was going to do it. That determining factor is found in verse 120, where we read:

Psalm 119:

120 My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.

This has been pointed out before. This is a wholesome fear of God which the Psalmist had. It wasn't that kind of fear spoken of by individuals who talk about cowering in a corner at the very thought of God. It is a fear that is wholesome, a fear that is needed, and I am personally convinced a fear for which the emphasis is sadly lacking in our day. I would not belittle this word fear and suggest that we don't need to be afraid of God, for I would be taking liberty with the Word if I did. Look at verse 120 again and notice the statement, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee.” The word trembleth comes from a Hebrew word that speaks literally of “hair standing on end.” We have used that expression, haven't we? “I was so scared my hair stood on end.”

Sometimes in visual portrayals of this thing, you will see it happen by whatever means it might occur. The Psalmist said, “I am afraid of God. When I realize some of the awesome things that God does, my hair stands on end.”

I am not going to stand here and tell you that God is all so much love. I am not going to stand here and tell you that because we are living in the day of grace that you don't need to be afraid of God. The Psalmist said, “When I think of the awesomeness of God, sometimes my hair stands on end.”

I would emphasize that this is not a fear that is related to your cowering in a corner without any relationship with God at all. It is not a fear that comes from an imperfect love; it is a fear that has its roots in sin. As a matter of fact, if you will look at the word afraid in verse 120, you will remember that comes from the Hebrew word yare , which elsewhere in the Scriptures is translated by the word reverence . For example, turn to Psalm 89, where the Psalmist uses the same word, but translated it reverence that we might catch the vision of what we are talking about at the moment. Notice verse 7:

Psalm 89:

7 God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.

Notice the word reverence in that verse. It is this Hebrew word yare . The Psalmist is saying, “God should be feared and He should be held in reverence by those around Him.”

I do not like to hear people joking about God. I don't watch television as often as I would if I didn't have anything else to do, but what little I have seen of it, I have been distressed by the increasing loss of reverence for God in most programs in song and in words. I have been disturbed that many of us as Christians smile when those references are made to God in the fashion of which I speak. There is not the reverence for God that there ought to be, and I would say to all of us as Christian parents, perhaps we need to be more careful. Perhaps we need to be more under the sense of obligation to instill a reverence in the hearts of our children for God.

The Psalmist said, “Because I am afraid of God, I am going to do what God says. Because I am afraid of God, I am going to listen to what God has to say in relation to separation.”

Depth of Separation

The matter of separation, as a great many others, at times can get out of control. You can overdo anything, so there is a need for a discussion concerning the depth of separation. Just how far should a Christian go in matters related to matters of separation? To what length should a Christian carry the matter of separation? Will the adherence to God's demand for separation develop a false sense of security, or will adherence to the demands for separation develop a sense of self-righteousness on the part of the individuals concerned? How far should you go in the matter of separation? You can go too far, you know. The Christians in the city of Corinth did. They took a word of advice from the Apostle Paul concerning the fornicator in their midst and they separated themselves, but they overdid it, and the Apostle had to write them another letter to say, “You are going to do more harm than you are good if you don't put on the brakes and put some circumference in relation to your separation.”

You can overdo the matter, but because people have overdone the matter is not reason for those of us who want to walk in the light of the Word to ignore the matter, so I would suggest that we go back to Psalm 119 and notice the depth of separation suggested by the Psalmist. It comes to mind in verse 114, where he said:

Psalm 119:

114 Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.

I believe here in this verse is the depth of our separation. I believe that the depth of our separation should be expressed in the terms of the Lord and His Word. Did you notice what he said? “The Lord is my shelter and my shield.” I believe with all of my heart that if we are in right relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, that is as deep in separation as we need to go.

You say, “Isn't there anything that I need to do in relationship to this separation?” Not if you stay in fellowship with Him because the Apostle recorded the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John, chapter 15, in a manner that would do well for all of us to heed. The Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples who were rightly related to Him, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.”

That is a simple statement of fact, Beloved. If this world system and the people who are in adherence to it love you and pat you on the back, they are doing more for you than they did for the Savior, and there must be a reason they do it. Notice verse 19:

John 15:

19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

If you want the acclaim of the world, you will never have it if you take your stand with Jesus Christ. You don't need to expect to have it. If you are getting the acclaim of the world, then you are not standing with Jesus Christ. It is as simple as that, for the Lord Jesus Christ said, “The reason the world doesn't like you is because I have chosen you out of the world.” If you were of the world, the world would love you. If the world loves you, then you couldn't be in right relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The depth of our separation—how deep, how far? Just as deep as the Lord. If you are in right relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, then your separation is deep enough, but notice he gives another safeguard because sometimes people have different ideas about what fellowship with Jesus Christ means. I am amazed the longer I live the things people can do contrary to the Word of God and say that the Lord Jesus Christ is leading them to do it. I am amazed at the number of things that are done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ which are absolutely contrary to the Lord and His Word.

The Psalmist had a safeguard. Not only did he say, “The Lord is my shield and my shelter,” but he said, “I hope in Thy Word. That is, the Word of God is the basis for all of my decisions.” Therefore, Beloved, we can say that the circumference of your separation should be the Word of God, and if the world is not walking in obedience to the Word, then separate yourself from them. God said, not I. If individuals who are Christians are not walking in accordance to the Word of God, then separate yourself from them. God said it, not I.

Conclusion

Turn with me for a closing passage of Scripture to the book of Romans, chapter 16, and notice what the Apostle Paul said to Roman believers concerning the need for separation. Notice verse 17:

Romans 16:

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine [teachings] which ye have learned; and avoid them.

You say, “Well, if somebody believes in falling from grace and I believe in eternal security, then I shouldn't have anything to do with them? ” No, that is not what he is talking about. He tells you that in the next verse. Somebody believes that He is coming for me and somebody believes that He is not coming, then you shouldn't have any fellowship with them. No, that is not what he is talking about. Notice what he said:

Romans 16:

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.
19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

That is the happy relationship, Beloved. Be as ignorant of evil as you can. Don't think for a moment that you have got to know all of the evil in the world before you know what is going on. Paul said, “I want you wise concerning good, simple concerning evil. You don't need to carry on an experiment.”


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