2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
The Danger of Lazy Reading
One of the things that we need to do as followers of Christ is to understand the logic of the Scriptures. We need to grow more and more to rightly divide the word of truth. That is, we need to rightly understand the pieces and the parts of what God has said as well as how those parts fit together.
We should be constantly challenging our own assumptions about the logic of our faith. By this I mean we should be examining how we understand the most basic questions of our faith and then holding that understanding alongside the Scriptures and letting the Scriptures challenge and reshape our thinking. We all need renewing. We all need to set our minds on the things above. We all need to continue humbly with a teachable spirit, eager to conform again to the word revealed.
In Paul’s first letter to his disciple Timothy, Paul reminds him that there were certain persons who had swerved from right doctrine and right aims and a right understanding of where growth in the Christian life comes from. And so they had wandered away into vain (useless) discussions. These people desire to be teachers of the law but they don’t understanding either what they themselves were saying or the things about which they made confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:6-7).
We do not want to be like these people. We need to hold our understanding of sin, righteousness, forgiveness, peace with God, growth in the Christian life, etc. up next to the teaching of Scripture and be shaped by it.
And so we must listen carefully to the author’s of Scripture. We need to listen to their logic as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
This morning Paul will bring us an exhortation. He is going to urge us to do something and to not do something, but it is so important that we hear the logic of his exhortation because if we do not listen carefully we will likely swerve from right doctrine, right aims, and a right understanding of where growth in the Christian life comes from and so wander into vain, useless, or even damaging discussions. Lord preserve us.
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
The Logic of Paul’s Exhortation
So what we need to do is to walk through this section and listen to Paul’s logic – how he is making his argument and exhorting God’s people.
We see in verse 14 the exhortation: Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
First of all, it is important to know the context into which Paul is speaking. Paul is speaking to the Corinthian church, a church existing in a city with a bustling economy, with many different kinds of people doing business there and bringing with them many different religious beliefs and practices and many different expressions of sin. And many in the Corinthian church had come to faith out of that context diverse sinfulness. And in their short existence the Corinthian church had a history of being drawn back into those religious cults and immoral practices out of which they had been called.
Now, the image of being yoked to an unbeliever is drawn from the practice of fastening a yoke over the necks of two animals, like an ox or some other beast of burden, and attaching them together to a plow or cart so that they pull together. Paul is saying don’t be yoked together with unbelievers. He says that there is an inequality between believers and unbelievers that makes our being yoked together inappropriate.
Paul is not simply referring here to entering into the union of marriage with an unbeliever, even as that may indeed be a valid application. Instead, he is specifically talking about being partners with unbelievers as they participate in the false teaching and practices of pagan religion so common in the city of Corinth. We are not to attach ourselves to those who are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ and partner with them in wickedness.
We, like the Corinthian believers, live in a time and culture where we all have access at our fingertips to every kind of religious error, every kind of immoral and idolatrous practice you could conceive of and not only that, but we live in a time when tolerance is confused with acceptance and what is esteemed by this culture as the greatest moral good of our day seems to be not judging the worth or value of other people’s views and beliefs and opinions, but embracing and accepting all belief and options as equally beautiful and valid and worthy. We also live in a culture (natural to the human condition) that has a very small view of God and so a very light view of sin and a light view of righteousness – and so we, like the Corinthians need this exhortation. And we will, toward the end of our time, wrestle with some practical applications in our lives.
But right now, let’s mark that Paul is exhorting us: do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
But let’s now focus on Paul’s logic. Why shouldn’t believers be yoked with unbelievers? Paul continues on in verse 14.
2 Corinthians 6:14b-16a
For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?
So, here Paul tells us why believers should not yoke themselves to unbelievers and really he is emphasizing and explaining the inequality that exists between believers and unbelievers. So, why shouldn’t believers in Jesus unite and tie themselves together with unbelievers?
In answer, Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions, all of which have the implied answer: no, none, nothing, even more than that they are opposed and opposites.
Q: For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?
The implied and obvious answer is: no partnership. None. Even more than that righteousness and lawlessness are opposed to one another. They are opposites.
Here, let’s just pause a moment to understand what righteousness and lawlessness are. Often when we think of righteousness and lawlessness we think of these relative to other people rather than as we should think of them, that is in relation to God.
God alone is righteous and God defines what righteousness is. He is morally right.
And true righteousness among men is defined as perfectly and unwaveringly loving and honoring what God Himself loves and honors. As Jesus articulated for us the fulfillment of the law of God is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength, to love God fully without deviation or hesitation and to love a our neighbor just as Christ has loved us. True righteousness is on display in the life of Jesus as He fully honored the Father and went to the cross.
Lawlessness is defined as discarding the law of God. It is a heart posture opposed to God, that does not love and honor God and does not submit to Him and does not love one’s neighbor.
So what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? None. It is utterly impossible that they could have a partnership.
Q: ...what fellowship has light with darkness?
Again, the implied and obvious answer is: light and darkness do not have any fellowship. They are by definition opposites. Darkness is the absence of light.
So what fellowship has light with darkness? None. What do they share? Nothing. It is impossible that they could have fellowship.
Q: …what accord has Christ with Belial?
Belial is a title that emerged to describe the opponent of God. So what accord does the Christ, the great Prophet, Priest, and King, Servant, Lion, and Lamb of God sent to do and who has done God’s will perfectly have with the opponent of God? None. Their aims are in absolute discord.
Q: …what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?
Again, this is Paul’s point and he is reminding us of it. After having made these comparisons between righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, he now wants us to see that the implied and obvious answer to this question is: none. believers share no portion with unbelievers at all. They do not share of the same things – in fact they are of opposing and opposite things.
And so that we connect what Paul is saying he asks one more question:
Q: …what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
In other words what agreement has the dwelling place of the one true and living God with false gods? The implied and obvious answer again is: none. No agreement. But notice that in the very next sentence Paul makes this important connection: For we are the temple of the living God.
We landed on this truth last time and we began to unpack the glory of what this means. But notice now the logic of Paul’s argument. You are the temple of the living God. You are a living stone in the one true everlasting temple of the living God. What agreement has the temple of God with false gods? The implied and obvious answer is: none. No agreement. You are the temple and you have no agreement, no accord, no fellowship, no partnership with idols.
But, notice also that Paul is equating righteousness, light, Christ, and the dwelling place of God with the believer while he is equating lawlessness, darkness, Belial, and idols with the unbeliever. This is of great importance in our thinking about the nature of mankind and what God has done through the gospel of Jesus Christ to remake a people for His own possession.
I wonder if we recognize the massive change that God has worked in Christ for us.
Paul is describing the reality of who we are as believers in Jesus Christ. If you are a believer in Jesus, you have actually been remade, delivered from the domain of darkness, transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son. You are the temple of the living God. You are of Christ and Christ livings in you. You are of the light. You are of righteousness. And conversely then, because of who you are you cannot have agreement any longer of idols. You cannot have an accord with God’s opponents. You cannot have fellowship with darkness. You do not share any portion with unbelievers.
For we are the everlasting temple of the living God. Paul is grounding his imperative (his command/exhortation) in the indicative (the fact of who we are as Christians).
Allow me to illustrate this using Paul’s logic:
Superman Should Not Be Cowering in the Corner
Consider Superman. For those of you who don’t know, Superman has an alter-ego who goes by the name Clark Kent. Now Clark Kent looks like a normal guy, talks like a normal guy, and has a regular job as a newspaper man. Nobody would guess by looking at him that he was anything but a normal guy. But when there is a need, Clark Kent will exchange his normal everyday clothes for the blue and red costume of Superman. Very often a tragedy will strike, a burning building, a train out of control, or an airplane about to crash and Clark Kent will quietly disappear and Superman flies in and puts out the fire, stops the train, saves the plane.
Well, what if Clark Kent somehow forgot that he was actually Superman? Let’s say one of his enemies figured out a way to cause him to forget his true identity. So he thinks he is just a normal guy. He has forgotten that he can leap tall buildings in a single bound. He has forgotten that he is more powerful than a locomotive. He has forgotten that he is faster than a speeding bullet. He doesn’t know that he can fly. He doesn’t know that he is impervious to bullets and bombs. He has no idea.
And let’s say that this forgetful Clark Kent gets on a plane one day to cover a story and it takes off and they reach their cruising altitude and suddenly an evil villain comes over the speakers telling the passengers that the captain and crew of the plane have been overpowered, the plane’s controls have been destroyed and the plane will most certainly crash. The evil villain then makes his escape by parachute.
Well, what do you suppose is going on in Clark’s heart and mind in this moment? Well, some in the plane are not ready to give up without a fight; they are running to the cockpit and going to try to get in just in case there is a chance of flying the plane and looking for more parachutes. Of course there are others who are just in hysterics, screaming and crying. But Clark Kent, what is he doing? Well, he will either join those who are trying to fly the plain or find parachutes or trying to think of something useful to do or he will join the lady screaming next to him.
But here is the point: unless Clark remembers who he is, unless he remembers and believes the fact that he is Superman, all of his attitudes and words and actions will be out of harmony with who he truly is. He will be racked with fear. He will be speaking with harsh and stressed language. He will be running around in distress with everyone else.
And if you and I happened to be on the plane and knew his true identity we would say to him, “what are you doing? Why are you screaming and and waving your hands in the air in fear? Why are your words so frenzied and stressed? What are you doing?” And he would say, “what do you mean, I’m doing what everyone else here is doing!” and you would say, “but you are not like everyone else here! Don’t you know who you are?”
Well, this is the same kind of argument that Paul is making in our passage. Paul is not threatening or beating God’s people – he is calling us to remember who we are and he is calling us to believe the promises of God in Christ Jesus.
Do you know who you are believer? Do you know who you have become in Christ? You are the dwelling place of the living God. You are of Christ and He lives in you. You are of the light and of righteousness so why are you living in harmony and fellowship and tying yourself to those who hate your God, worship idols, practice wickedness and walk in darkness? Don’t you know who you are? That is the logic of his argument.
But because we are prone to forget and disbelieve the truth he reminds us that this reality, which is true of every believer, has been what God has been promising all along, now fulfilled in Christ.
So at the end of verse 16, Paul says, “as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.’”
What Paul has done here is to draw together a smattering of the Old Testament Scriptures where God promised to make us his dwelling place, to walk with us, to be our God and we His people. And Paul draws together the nature of the case, showing that based upon these promises of new identity and new creation we are to go out from the midst of sinners, be separate from them and to touch no unclean thing. Again, Paul points to when God promised a time when He would welcome us and be our Father, and that we would be His sons and daughters, not His enemies (Paul’s words here are probably from Leviticus 26:11-12, Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:34, and 2 Samuel 7:14 and Isaiah 43:6).
Paul’s point is that this has long been God’s promised intention to remake us and bless us as His own, and that this promised time has now come in Christ Jesus. This is who we now are in Christ.
A Summary of His Argument
So, in verse one of chapter 7 Paul summarizes his argument:
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
One important note is that the word ‘completion’ refers to bringing holiness to fullness. In other words, Paul is talking about bringing holiness to full measure – in the fear of God (that is in the awe and reverence of the Lord. And packed into that awe and reverence is both a trembling at His transcendent holiness and a love for His mercy, grace, wisdom, and faithfulness). We are to be filled with holiness with a trembling awe of who God is and what He has accomplished for us in Christ. You are a son grace and grace alone. You are a daughter. You are beloved because of the greatness and grace of your God – live like it.
So the argument is this: cleanse yourself of every defilement and bring holiness to fullness because of who you are in Christ!
Now, I we can understand that principal and I think it is something we need to come back to often and remind ourselves of who we are and who we are not, but the reality is applying Paul’s words in every context is not always easy. Again, the original context is that the Corinthian church was being drawn back into the pagan worship and immoral practices of the culture.
But in applying this to our time and culture, some have taken Paul’s exhortation here as a mandate to remove from all association or connection with the unsaved world creating an intentionally segregated and separate Christian community in which Christians have dealing only with other Christians.
But I want to place up against that understanding Paul’s own teaching in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
So we need to square these two passages. We are not to associate with sexually immoral people who bears the name of Christ, but the implication is that we can (maybe even should) have dealings with the sexually immoral, the greedy, the swindlers, and idolaters of the world. We are not to go out of the world. But what comes out crystal clear, even in this 1 Corinthian passage, is that we are not to be of the world. We are to have deals with the world, but not fellowship. Even as we are not to avoid interaction with unbelievers, how could we if we are to fulfill our God given mission, we are not to participate with them in their wickedness. We are the citizens of heaven and cannot have fellowship, union, participation with wickedness.
Add also Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian church:
But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints (the title for all believers – we are the holy ones). Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
So, here again, we must remember who we are in Christ, children of the light – all our behavior is to be good and right and true. We must put away all that is does not fit in the temple of the living God. And as Paul tells the Corinthian church we are to purge those who say they are of Christ, but who go on living in sin. We are to be a radically peculiar people because we are marked by love and holiness, marked by what is good, right, and true.
And yet we are not to go out of the world. It seems we are to interact and have dealings with the unbelieving, unsaved world, because we have a mission here. But not to unite or partner with them in their works of darkness – in fact we are to expose them! We are to be salt (those who preserve what is Good and right and true) and light (those that expose and bring what is good and right and truth) in the world.
Here is a Call for Wisdom
So, how should this look in the day to day and in the activities and employments that we, as citizens of heaven, choose to pursue?
I think the application of these things takes wisdom and a continually renewing of our mind that by testing we might discern what the will of the Lord is.
But as Scott Hafemann says so well, “Paul does not have in view the life of the church in the world, but the life of the world in the church.”
We are to be unashamedly in the world. The life of the church should be lived in and among the world with bold and radical god-centeredness and Christ exalting passion and endurance. And this of course is a challenge and we should wrestle together with the question of how we might participate with the world as Christ’s holy people. We should be asking, “am I discerning the will of the Lord? Am I practicing and promoting justice and mercy and representing Christ well and bearing witness about His gospel well in how I am interacting in the world?” Yes, We ought to be in the world.
But Paul is call us to always remember who we are. We are not of the world. Is the life of the world being allowed to exist in this church? Is the life of the world being embraced in our lives? Are we one person on Sunday morning and another during the rest of our lives? Are we allowing what God hates to exist and go unexposed in our homes and in our business dealings and in our shopping and in our relationships and friendships with both saved and unsaved? Are we allowing the life of the world into this church?
To be a Christian in this world will involve tension, difficulty, awkwardness, persecution, opposition, death. But if we value comfort, earthly safety, man’s approval, and peace on earth more than Christ we will prove ourselves children of wrath, the Bible says. But if we believe the promises of God, we are children of the light because of Jesus, let us walk as children of light, making the best use of the time for the days are evil and our King and Savior will soon appear. We have a mission while we are here: to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with all peoples and to help them become fully devoted to Him, His people, and His mission. Do you know who you are and why you are here? Let us live like it.