google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Gems in the Gospel of John - Part 71

Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 71 - John 17:17

Set apart

At first in Chapter 17 Jesus prayed for himself. Now, in verses 16 – 19 he prays for the small apostolic band that had been with him for the 3 years of his ministry, faithfully, doggedly, sometimes not understanding at all, but still with him. So the detail of what he wanted to happen to them is not for us - but the principles are, and they are quite clear. For the very first time in John’s Gospel we get the word ‘holy’ and the words ‘sanctify’ which mean ‘make holy’ twice. The basic meaning of the word ‘holy’ is simply ‘set apart’. Unfortunately in common usage, in English anyway, it has come to mean being a bit lost in religiosity, a bit disconnected from reality, not quite with the rest of the world – which thought connects with the original meaning of ‘set apart’. But Jesus has just been talking about the way that although he was soon to leave the world, they were to remain in it. They were stuck in it. He was not talking about any possibility of them withdrawing to a special group for living and going into the world of ordinary people as little as possible.

What Jesus wanted his followers to be was set apart from the rest of the world but playing a full part in it. But there are right and wrong ways of being set apart. It is not about outward appearance; things like the clothes we wear. Paul told the women of the church in Corinth off because the way they did their hair and the things they wore, or didn’t wear, on their heads made them stand out from other women. They could be identified in the street. We used to drive to church in Glasgow some Sunday evenings and be passed by a car. Ooh look, we would say: there are the Christians going to church as we saw the car was full of women wearing hats such as no one else wore except to very special occasions. They were quite wrong to do that. In obeying the letter of scripture they were contradicting its principle completely.

No. we are to be set apart but not that way. It is about setting ourselves apart from language full of sexual innuendo, from groups wallowing in gossip, from the modern equivalent of idolatry such as the close worship of a sports team, from drinking parties or drug parties. Only if we set ourselves apart from these things can we have any hope of being fully accepted by the Lord as one of his. Yes, we shall have been saved but only as through fire and flood.

There is a big problem here. Different churches in different countries view this differently. Some think the follower-of-Jesus should try to be as much like the ordinary guy in the street as possible so as to remove any potential barrier to him visiting church. Other churches try to be closer to the view we see that Jesus took here, arguing that those were very different days and a very different culture.

The most important thing to do is to think about the situation you are in and not let a situation develop which is not appropriate because you have not thought and prayed about it. There are right and wrong ways of going about everything like this. I remember going to work in a small firm. One of my predecessors had been a declared Christian. I don’t know what he did but he succeeded in upsetting just about everybody he came into contact with. I have to confess that as a result I kept my head down seeking to avoid conflict. He was wrong; I was wrong. There must be a right middle way somewhere between those two extremes. Seek it; find it

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