Q. What’s the opposite of light?
Q. What’s the opposite of male?
Q. What’s the opposite of Jew?
Q. What’s the opposite of holy?
Go on. What do you say?
I expect the answer most of us instinctively give is “sinful”. That’s not a bad answer, but if that’s all we think, we’ll probably get ourselves into trouble. For example, that answer runs into trouble with the Sabbath. When God says: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8), God isn’t saying your Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays are sinful. Or when Paul calls them the “holy Scriptures” (2 Tim 3:15) he’s not saying all the other literature on your bookshelves is sinful. In both these uses of the word “holy”, the opposite isn’t “sin”, but “common”. The “holy” is something which has a special connection to God, in a way that the common doesn’t. The common is still good. We can still glorify God in the common things, but the holy things are sacred; they have a special quality, and a special status. The Sabbath day is holy time. The Bible is holy text.
Leviticus 10:10 told the priests: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common”.
But this is a distinction which many Christians today have trouble with and could do with re-learning. We can think the “holy” is just an old covenant idea that has been cancelled by Christ. But this distinction pre-dates sin. In man’s innocence, there was a difference between the Sabbath and other days of the week, between the Garden of Eden and the rest of the earth, between the two trees in the midst of the Garden and all the other trees. In God’s world, some things are common and other things are holy. Not everything is the same. So, it’s right when we come to church to realise something holy is going on. We should treat it differently to everything else in our week. We shouldn’t treat “the table of the Lord” (1 Cor 10:21) in the same way as our table (1 Cor 11:34). But that doesn’t mean our taxi-driving, or our cleaning, or parenting, or music-making are not areas of service to God. Realising that the opposite of holy isn’t sin, but the common, will help us glorify God in both areas of our lives, without confusing them.