2Cor.6.14-7:1 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1


Gospel Separation

Luke said that the city of Athens was a city full of idols; he could have said the same about Corinth. Corinth has had a long history and in classical times it was to home to the Temple of Aphrodite which, at one time had more than 1,000 sacred prostitutes.

Around 146 BC the city was reduced to a  heap of ruins and was not rebuilt until about a hundred years later in 44 BC. Aphrodite's temple was not rebuilt when the city was re-established but the fertility rituals likely continued in the main city near the agora. In Roman Corinth, some of the old temples were in left in ruins while others were restored and enlarged. The temple of Apollos was in ruins in Paul's day but there were several sanctuaries to Apollo inside the city. In fact you could find temples to a wide range of gods, you could find one dedicated to "all the gods".

Corinth was a very worldly place. It was a pleasure based city with a good deal of business and the wealth that businesses can produce. It was also a port city offering sailors the sensual satisfaction that sailors often sought. Yet it was here that Paul had been used to plant a church. It was an environment that wasn't conducive to holy living, the kind of living that was in harmony with the grace of God.

And Paul urged the believers in Corinth to be careful that they did not "receive the grace of God in vain."  2Cor.6:1.

Do not be unequally yoked…
These words are frequently read in isolation from their immediate context. When that is done the words are interpreted almost exclusively as relating to the question of marriage between a believer and a non-believer. While it is legitimate to draw implications for marriage from this and the following verses, marriage is certainly not what was uppermost in Paul's mind as he penned these words.

Paul is primarily concerned here with the necessary separation of Christianity from pagan religions.

The OT provides the background for this language of being unequally yoked. Hidden away amongst a series of very practical laws we read the following:

Deut.22:10 "You shall not plough with an ox and a donkey together."

As Paul applies this idea to Christians and non-Christians he is effectively teaching that we have to do not with different members of the same species but with two different species entirely! There is a great difference, a fundamental difference, which distinguishes the Christian from all others.

For the Christian to be yoked with unbelievers means nothing less than to have fellowship with them in the unfruitful works of darkness.

The Christian has however been brought into a covenant relationship with God and in this new relationship he has obligations towards God which he must fulfil. So the Christian is not free to enter lightly into other relationships certainly not into any committed relationship that would compromise or violate these obligations.

Paul reasons with his readers by asking a series of questions all of which anticipate a negative reply. We find these questions in vv.14b-16a where Paul gives us a list of five mutually exclusive pairs. Paul does not expect us to find anything at all in common between these five pairs and he certainly would be surprised were anyone to try. Here is his list:

  • For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?

Righteousness is a characteristic of God. In Jesus the Christian too receives the status of a righteous person, of someone who is declared to be right before God. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit carries on the good work that God has begun in producing that holiness without which no-one will see the Lord.

This righteousness has nothing to do with an individual trying desperately to keep the law of God and so establish his own righteousness. No, this is the righteousness of God that comes by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – Paul deals with this at some length in his letter to the Romans.

On the other hand lawlessness is a characteristic of a life lived in opposition to God, a life that refuses to submit to God. It is from the very state of lawlessness that the Christian has been redeemed and saved. The man of lawlessness is no friend of God – he is rather the Antichrist.

Isn't it clear that there can be no partnership between this two as they have nothing whatsoever in common on which to base such a relationship?

  • Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

God is Light. Jesus is the Light of the World and similarly he calls his disciples, those who are his and who follow him, the light of the world. Before becoming a Christian a man/woman lives in darkness. Until God sets to work in someone's life he/she is content to live in such spiritual darkness because his/her deeds are evil.

But then light breaks into their lives! God causes his light to shine in the heart and their life is totally transformed!

Darkness is characteristic of ignorance and of a refusal to submit to God. Darkness is to be cast away, to be cast out, excluded from the blessed presence of God and to exposed only to his anger and to his wrath.

Darkness and light are mutually exclusive. You enter a dark room, turn on the light and the darkness has gone –they can't co-exist together and the Christian should not attempt to make his spiritual light co-exist happily with the spiritual darkness of the enemy.

  • What accord has Christ with Belial?

Yes, it is true that Jesus was accused by his enemies of being in league with Satan and of only being able to cast out demons because he did so by Beelzebul but the demons themselves knew better than that! They knew who Jesus was "the Holy One of God", the "Son of the Most High God?.

Belial is name that does not appear at all in the OT but which was used in Jewish writing with a range of meanings covering Satan, the devil, the highest demon, and the antichrist.

How could Jesus agree with this one when his very purpose in coming into the world was to destroy the works of the devil?

  • Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

One believes there is a God who is loving and kind – the other doesn't. One believes this loving kind God is also holy and will judge sin – the other doesn't. One longs to be with this God and responds to his overtures of love with a wholehearted response – the other doesn't. One believes that Jesus died for his sins and is the only way to  God – the other doesn't. One believes in heaven and hell and in laying up treasure in heaven – the other doesn't.

Where is there scope for agreement except on matters of no spiritual significance or import?

  • What agreement has the temple of God with idols?

The temple of Jerusalem contained no statue, no idol and for that reason was mocked by the pagan who merrily his temples with effigies of his gods. These gods were no gods at all but participation in feasts and sacrifices there involved a participation with demons. Gentile converts needed to be warned of the seriousness of this and reminded that they were now themselves made the very temple of God – indwellt not merely by the Spirit of God but in whom also the Father and Son came to live Jn.14:17, 1Jn.4:12.

Some Scriptural Proofs
Having declared that Christian believers were now themselves the temple of God Paul moved on to refer to OT Scriptures that had spoken long ago of such blessings.

"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."

You could take up a Bible with cross references and spend some interesting and profitable time examining the contexts in which these words are found.

We may refer to these blessings as gospel blessings because it is in and through the gospel that these promises have become a living, vibrant reality:

  • The promise of God dwelling amongst us

  • The promise of God and his people being in relationship

  • The promise that this relationship would be the closest Father-Child possible

These great promises become gospel reality because the one who made the promises was and is able to bring them all to fruition for the one making the promises is none other than the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the Omnipotent One who does whatsoever he pleases!!

Ps 115:3 "Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases."

What blessings these are and it is hardly surprising that as Paul relates them he includes the lifestyle that such a generous God expects and requires of his beloved children.

Again and again in the OT God intervened on behalf of his people as the One who was faithful to his covenant; again and again the people of God are reminded of their responsibilities too to walk in his statutes and observing his commandments.

Paul's Appeal
Summing up what he has to say at this particular moment Paul called for action. It wasn't an action in order to secure the promises of God but an action that sprung from those very promises that God had freely given to his people.

2Cor.7:1 "Since we have these promises…"

This is how we should receive the promises of God – as springboards or incentives to action. The Christian life is to be an active one.

Yes, it is always God who takes the initiative:

  • he loves first, but we are to love in return 1Jn.4:19 "We love him, because he first loved us."

  • he works in us both to will and to do his good pleasure but we are called on the basis of that to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling Phil.2:12-13.

  • Now here the wonderful promises realised fully in the gospel era brought in by Jesus Christ we are similarly called to an active response and Paul speaks of a twofold response:

A. there is to be a putting off and
B. there is also to be a putting on

2Cor7:1 "let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God."

In the lax moral climate of Corinth where idol worship was closely associated with carnality the Christian need to steer a wise course avoiding accepting the standards and values of the surrounding culture. This meant taking care about matters of the flesh as well as matters of the spirit. And the temptations were multiple do you notice that Paul writes of the need for cleansing from every defilement? If the Christian was to take this seriously then he simply couldn't allow himself to enter into any of the unholy alliances Paul had envisaged earlier.

Do you notice too that Paul doesn't exclude himself from his exhortations? He doesn't tell the Corinthians of what they must do as though he was somehow immune from the temptations to which they were exposed but he says let us cleanse ourselves. We often find it easier to apply to others what we fail to apply to ourselves – Paul was careful not to be like that.

It is important not to imagine that somehow we are above such warnings – pride goes before a fall and all of us need to take care and fall because of over-confidence in our own abilities our own spirituality.

But it is not sufficient simply to put off, to cleanse ourselves from all kinds of defilement there is to be a positive aspect to our living too – holiness is not to be measured just in terms of what we don't do but also in the positive terms of what we do. Paul's closing exhortation is that we keep our eyes focussed on God and that we make sure that we maintain a proper reverence for him. Holiness ultimately involves motivation as much as it does action.

Let us always remember too that holiness is no luxury, it is not simply an option for the keenies, it is the without-which-nothing in the Christian life.

May God help us to see the and appreciate the importance of careful living as Christians as we seek to live for his glory. And may he help us so to live!


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