“Therefore ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.’ ‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.’” 2 Corinthians 6:17–18

We have a word in English that we have borrowed from the ancient Greeks and is found in this Bible passage. It is the word aphorism. Aphorisms are terse sayings expressing a general truth, principle, or astute observation and spoken or written in a laconic and memorable form. I am certain you have picked up a few aphorisms in your time.

Some aphorisms with biblical roots include “don’t hide your light under a bushel,” “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” “pride goes before a fall,” “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” “the more things change the more things stay the same,” “the quality of mercy is not strained,” and “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Aphorisms are distillations of subjective truth formulated to induce wise actions. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are filled with aphoristic sayings.

Hippocrates wrote a medical book entitled Aphorisms, which begins, “Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult.” Since that time there have been many aphorisms coined, including Ben Franklin’s “a penny saved is a penny earned,” Lord Acton’s “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and Hanlon’s Razor “never attribute to malice what may be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Of course, there are comical aphorisms, such as Murphy’s Law and its corollaries. I am sure you know “anything that can go wrong will go wrong (at the worst possible moment).” You may also be familiar with, or at least strongly suspect, “nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool” or “if you make something idiot proof, someone will just make a better idiot!”

In a pursuit of distilled biblical wise-sayings on spiritual matters, it is well worth your while to embrace Bible truth and personally formulate practical rules for personal actions. The Greek word aphoridzo is the root of our word aphorism. It is a compound of the prefix “from” coupled with “horizon, define, delimit, distinction.” The horizon acts to distinguish between heaven and earth and it serves to define boundaries. Aphoridzo means to mark off by setting boundaries, to set apart, to separate and to distinguish.

Interestingly the word is similar to the Hebrew word pharis, which means to separate and was the origination of the name Pharisee. They saw themselves as “separated ones” but their version of separation led to the term we know as “pharisaism” (observing and emphasizing the letter but not the spirit of religious law to such a degree that it has become synonymous with self-righteousness and sanctimony—including a high degree of pretending to be particularly moral and virtuous without actually being so—hypocritical).

Paul, who was once a Pharisee himself (Philippians 3:5), recalled his conversion and call with these words in Romans 1:1, “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated [aphoridzo] to the Gospel of God.” Parkhurst suspects Paul’s choice of words contrasts his former pharisaical life of being separated to the Law with his new call of being separated to the Gospel. Food for thought for men in the ministry and on the mission field—to reckon the intricacies of being separated to the Gospel ministry by ordination in order to insure that their lives are free from self-righteousness and hypocrisy, yet fully recognizing and honoring the boundaries of their lives set by God and His local church. Acts 13:2f reads, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away” (Galatians 1:15). Spiritual aphorisms serve to keep you focused on God’s perfect will for your life.

The term aphoridzo is also used by our Lord to teach that doctrinal beliefs are boundaries and have real life consequences. In Matthew 13:49f He uses the word to describe how God sees all mankind. He has a plan to divide and remove those who are unbelievers so that only believers enter the Millennial Kingdom, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:32). Our Lord also uses the word to show how the world of unsaved men view believers. Luke 6:22 says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you , and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.” Spiritual aphorisms serve to assist you to weather suffering in this present age.

Our text from 2 Corinthians challenges believers to formulate practical principles, concepts, and goals that serve to distinguish and mark off boundaries of godly behavior. The command to “come out from among them” is immediate and decisive. The command to “be separate” requires that we discover God’s boundaries. “Touch not” graphically depicts fastidious care. “I will receive you” is God’s promise to treat godly men and women with kindness and favor (Isaiah 52:11, Jeremiah 31:1, and Jeremiah 9 are worthy of a good season of thought). Spiritual aphorisms serve to insure divine favor in your life.

Be not like the Pharisees valuing the letter of the law above the spirit of the law. Do serve the Lord with Spirit-led distinction and Bible-informed discernment. Trust and obey.