Our principles are not tested by how eloquently we speak of them or embrace them in the good times. Rather they are tested in evil times, when we are asked to choose between a principle and reputation, between a principle and honor or between a principle and comfort, peace or fair treatment. Abraham confessed that he was a pilgrim in the land of Canaan. In other words he didn’t identify himself with the Canaanites. However great or small their mutual respect went, Abraham had separated himself from them (cp. Genesis 17:10, 14), and this is the key to understanding Abraham’s desire to bury Sarah, his wife, in the land that was promised to him by God.
When Sarah died Abraham asked permission to bury her in the land of the Canaanites. At first they simply offered him one of their own family tombs. Had Abraham agreed to this proposal, he would have admitted that in reality there was no difference between the Canaanites and himself. However differently Abraham and they lived their lives, in the end all went to the same place at death, so there was no intrinsic value in Abraham’s principle to be separate from them if death united them once more.
When Ephron offered Abraham the gift of his field and the cave which Abraham asked to purchase from him, it was again a ploy to draw Abraham into their company. Had Abraham accepted his offer, Abraham would have obligated himself to Ephron and the children of Heth not only for the purpose of taxation, but also for unmentioned future favors. It was similar to a bribe, and one ought not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2Corinthians 6:14).
Finally, the value of Abraham’s principles was revealed in his purchase of the field and the cave of Ephron for an exorbitant fee. For what he could have had for free, he paid a ridiculously high price, and this to be not only separate from the people of the land in life, but also in death.
Today, the uncircumcised of heart are all around us, and the only difference between them and us is our behavior, how we live our lives before God. At times we may be viewed with suspicion, as self-righteous or even as a threat to their way of life. Nevertheless, our reputations need to be sacrifice for the principle of separation (2Corinthians 6:17). Some, like Ephron, seek to shame us by expressing themselves in an overly generous manner in an effort to cause us to live in obligation to their way of life, admitting that though our traditions (principles) may be different, in reality we are just as they are.
Nevertheless, if we value our principles more than our reputations or our honor, our enemies will be exposed in their reaction toward us when they treat us unfairly for no good reason, except that we are different than they are. Most of us were born in the land, just as they were. We pay our taxes just as they claim to do and live lawful lives in the land, doing no harm to our neighbor. Yet, we might be looked upon as evil and superstitious; at times we may be verbally abused, and traps may be set for us in hopes that we would say or do something that would prove hypocrisy on our part. In some places we may be considered to be the filth of mankind that the world wishes to wipe off itself in order to appear clean. Yet, the truth of it all is that they appear unclean, because we maintain our separation from them and to our God. In other words, our lives are the light God shines upon their works in an effort to get them to repent.
At the end of the day, however, it is Paul’s words that ring out so true: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1Corinthians 15:19). Abraham paid a heavy price to maintain his principles in this life, while looking forward to the resurrection when God will reward all those who have separated themselves to him. It was Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries who were martyred in Ecuador in 1956, who said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Abraham believed God’s promises to him were true, so his investment to buy a gravesite in that Promised Land was the best purchase he ever made. Similarly, however we use our worldly possessions to honor God is the best investment we could make for the Kingdom’s sake—we, like Abraham, are “laying up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20).