To Be Set Apart Part 3

To Be Set Apart - Part 3

This is part of a series of blog posts on Following God in Low Seasons. To read the previous post, To Be Set Apart Part 2.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. and it shall be, in that day, says the Lord, that you will call Me “My Husband,” and no longer call Me “My Master,” For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, And they shall be remembered by their name no more.
— Hosea 2:14-17

I Will Allure…

God draws us into seasons where we struggle with our own hearts, in order to bring us from our own systems of comfort to finding comfort in Him. In doing this, he removes the “names of the Baals” and betroths us to Him. We begin to find deep communion and are deeply pierced by his tender compassion towards us.

The term “My Master” in verse 17 literally translates as “My Baal.” Looking back at the list of names for Baal, when we serve those things, we exchange the Lordship of Jesus for submission to an idol. When we do that the state of our heart reflects that image.

In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with the creeping things of the ground. Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In loving-kindness and mercy.

Hosea 2:18-19

The purpose of seasons of spiritual struggle is to remove from you the things you call on that you derive identity from, and to create within you a heart set apart for God. As we said in the last post, there are still ways that our heart is drawn to idol worship through ideologies, possessions, and relationship. In Hosea, God promises to woo us into a season where he will move our hearts from relating to the worship of Baal to intimate communion with Him. God will deal with our inner carnality (the beasts, birds, and creeping things) in order to develop within us an insatiable desire for righteousness, justice, loving-kindness, and mercy.

One who is betrothed is set apart…

One who is set apart by God is marked with His wonder, splendor, and awe. Their desire is to “behold the beauty of Christ (Psalm 27:4)” and to have a clean heart created within them (Psalm 51:10). 

…“I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

Romans 11:4

To not have their knees bowed to Baal means they have struck from their hearts the tendency to weigh themselves against their ideology, status, position, income, power, prestige, and gift. One set apart will carry certain distinct characteristics. These character traits mirror the life of Christ, and they can be seen in the lives of men and women throughout church history. Here are a few examples from the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

Those who are set apart are submitted…

In the 5th century a man named Symeon was trying to find a way to seek God in silence and solitude. The manner of life he ultimately decided upon baffled, confused, and worried the fathers around him. Symeon had been known as a man who practiced severe discipline, at certain points having been chastised for bringing physical harm to himself.

When the fathers learned of what he had settled upon, they sent a delegation to test him. Symeon had erected for himself a pillar with a platform at the top.  After having ascended the pillar he sat upon the platform to enjoy his new-found removal from the earth and set out to encounter the presence of God.

The delegation from the fathers had been given simple instructions, they were to call him down in order to rebuke him for the severe discipline he had begun. However, the fathers instructed the ones who had been sent to withdraw their rebuke if Symeon was compliant. They knew that if was compliant with the rebuke, then he was submitted to authority. If he was willing to submit they were confident he was not in the wrong. As it turns out, as soon as they called him down to chastise him, he immediately rose up to respond in humility. Symeon was exonerated because of his willingness to respond to spiritual authority.

One significant indication of the man or woman who is set apart by God for His service is a willingness to submit themselves to the leadership of those around them. Very few men and women have isolated themselves from spiritual parentage and lived a healthy and long ministry life.

One early church father, when pondering whether enduring difficult seasons, showing hospitality, or living alone for God was the greatest example of godliness was told in a vision that the greatest thing a man can do is abandon his own will:

“The one in obedience, however, abandoned his will wholly and depended on God and his spiritual Father.”

To many throughout Christian history, the test of submission was the de facto test of maturity.  Without submission worship becomes difficult.

The one set apart will be humble…

Around the same time Symeon was sitting on top of a pole, a man from the desert of Egypt named Serapion sold himself into slavery to a well-known pagan actor. Serapion spent his time serving the family to the best of his abilities, as well as praying, fasting, and studying the scriptures.

After he had lived with them for some time, an opportunity arose to speak with the actor about Christ. The conscience of the actor was pierced and he gave his heart to Jesus.  Soon, his wife followed suit, and then the rest of his family. The family left the acting profession and began serving Christ in their city. Soon after, they told Serapion they desired to set him free, to which he responded:

”Since my God has shown you His mercy and by your cooperation your souls have been saved through me, I will tell you my secret: Divine Providence used me as an instrument for your salvation.”

He proceeded to return the money they had used to purchase him. They were stunned. They begged Serapion to take the sum and give it to the poor, but Serapion refused. He told them that it was not right for him to spend what belonged to another. Reluctantly they accepted the return and begged him to remain with them to teach them. Serapion agreed to return when he could, but to Serapion, greater work lay on the horizon.  He had caught wind of a man in another city that needed to know Christ, so he set out to, once again, sell himself to the service of another in order to win one more soul to Christ.

The lives of those set apart for Christ do not consider their lives their own. What they set out to accomplish is directly related to their service towards Him. Serapion could have built an international ministry and held large crusades, or launched a successful church based upon any number of church growth strategies, but his life was marked with a concern only for the things God had asked him to do. And that included selling himself to another in order to win that one to Christ.

Those set apart for God retain a passivity to offense…

Another distinct characteristic of one set apart for God is a refusal to be offended. The true mark of one pierced for Christ is to thank God for using difficult people and situations as a tonic for the ill-nature presently in your heart.

When Abba Moses the Ethiopian attempted to enter a meeting with a group of priests, they rebuffed him, in part because of the color of his skin. Moses, rather than respond in anger, chose to ask an even deeper inner question. Abba Moses recognized that his anger was a symptom of his own to deal with, it was not the actions of the others that gave license to his anger, it was his own inner man. So Moses asked the only question you can when faced with these situations:

“Why have you become upset, like those who foam at the mouth? With precisely this anger you show that you are ill; for, if you were not ill, you would not have felt pain. Why, hapless soul, have you forsaken self-reproach for the condemnation of your brother, since it was he who revealed your illness, which was hidden within you and of which you were ignorant until now?”

Abba Zosimas, spoke with great clarity on the topic:

“If one does not imagine the other person to be like a healer, then one is bringing upon oneself the greatest harm. Why do you say that the other person has caused you suffering? That person has actually brought you cleansing. Moreover, you should think of that person as a healer, sent to you by Christ. You ought to suffer for the sake of that person (Acts 9.16), and you should regard that person as your benefactor.”

The Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5 are the height of the inner discipline of the spiritual life. Where the people who cause offense show us the wounds of our heart, the Beatitudes show us the balm for healing. If division, we are to practice peace. If greed, we are to practice poverty of spirit. If anger, we are to practice mercy.

The one who is set apart for God will see those around them as the blessings they are. They are the source of revelation of the state of your heart.  If the commandments of Christ are hard to follow it is because of our sickness and choice, now this person has become the potential source of our healing.  Without the pain of suffering, we would never have known the state of our heart. 

Take those that have wronged you and thank them for giving you the opportunity to find healing.  Think of them as sent by Christ to cauterize your wounds.  If you were healthy, you would not be suffering.  But because you are weak, you need healing, and that healing is to respond in the commandments of Christ.

To be set apart means to be moved deeply by compassion…

There is one story in the desert tradition that serves to highlight this principle. A certain father named Agathon set out one day to sell the mats and baskets he had been weaving in the marketplace. Upon coming to town he encountered a sick traveler lying in the city. No one had stopped to look after this man.

Agathon took it upon himself to care for this sick individual. He sold what he was caring, rented a room in the city, and worked with his hands to pay the rent while nursing this man back to health. The entire process took four months. When the sick man was restored to health, Agathon set back out for his place of solitary living to Christ in the Egyptian desert.

…one who loves God truly asks no other recompense than God Himself; for if he should demand anything else it would be the prize that he loved and not God.

Bernard of Clairvaux

The reward for love ought to simply be the love itself. Often, when it comes to love, we love in order to gain something in return. Whether for the approval of the person, the acceptance of God, the inflation of the ego, the promise of material gain, or any number of other reasons. Our reasons for love are not because we love, but because we desperately want to be loved.

The one set apart for God is convinced of the love God has for them. Their only recourse is to love others in return. The deep, heart-felt compassion of Christ (that Brennan Manning calls the gut-wrenching tenderness of God) becomes the life of the heart. And when we don’t “feel it” we choose to be the image of Christ and the glory of his love for those around us. To be moved by compassion means to choose to be moved by compassion.

One of the most famous statements made by Abba Agathon was this:

If I could meet a leper give him my body and take his, I should be very happy. That indeed is perfect charity.

Those who are set apart are submitted, they are humble, they refuse to be offended, and they are moved by the compassion of Christ.  As Paul said:

The love of Christ compels us.

2 Corinthians 5:14a

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