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Our deepest identity is defined by our relationship with Christ (see John 1:12). Spend some time thanking God for your new identity in him.
Do Not Be Yoked With Unbelievers14Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
17"Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you."
18"I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
2 Corinthians 71Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
These verses seem out of place. In fact, 6:13 seems to lead logically to 7:2. However, it is not uncommon for Paul to go off at a tangent and then return abruptly to his train of thought. He is touching on an issue that dogs the Corinthian church: what it means to live distinctively as Christians. He has spoken to them about this already in 1 Corinthians (5:9,10; 6:1–6; 7:12–16,39; 8:10–13; 10:21–33).
Purity of life
Over the centuries some groups of Christians have taken these verses to mean that they should live exclusive lives, removed from society. This is clearly not Paul’s intention. He expects unbelievers to be present when the church gathers in worship (1 Corinthians 14:23,24). However, the church in Corinth has not grasped the radical nature of conversion. This has led to confused relationships with pagan society and has clouded their relationship with the apostle Paul. Their new identity as God’s children must be worked out in purity of life (6:18 – 7:1).
Holiness and hospitality
Christian distinctiveness is actually very attractive. The Taizé Community in the South of France live a distinctive life of prayer, and thousands of people from across the world make their way there, attracted by their holiness and hospitality. Distinctiveness and openness to others are not incompatible.
Is there confusion in any of my relationships? Have I lost my Christian distinctiveness? What does it mean for me to be a temple of God (6:16; see 1 Corinthians 6:19)?
Our passage today constitutes a ringing call to holiness. It contains several phrases, especially ‘Do not be yoked together with unbelievers’ and ‘Come out from them and be separate’ (6:14,17), which are well known to many Christians. However, these sayings can be misinterpreted and skew our idea of holiness. We might think we need to withdraw altogether from unbelievers, but this is not Paul’s view, as the Corinthians already know.1 Indeed, God himself has come to us in Jesus, living among people full of sin and shame, touching our brokenness and bringing salvation (v 16). If holiness is essentially Christlikeness, then withdrawal from the world cannot be the way forward, for this contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture and the very actions of God himself.
What do these verses teach us? Paul Barnett declares that, in context, ‘the passage is a specific call for separation from the temple cults of Corinth’, cults that would have involved both ‘idolatry and temple prostitution’.2 Sexual impurity must be shunned. Failure to do so misuses God’s wonderful gift bestowed for us to enjoy in Christian marriage. We might think idolatry, the other issue in Corinth, does not apply to us, but an idol is anything or anyone which takes the place of our Lord in our hearts. Money and career are just two of the things that can become our gods. Neither are bad in themselves, yet we can pursue them selfishly, becoming mired in consumerism or self-centred ambition. We may come to worship them and relegate God to second place. Consequently, we become more like those around us, instead of fulfilling our mandate to be good-news people who announce and embody a different way of living. May God give us a real passion for biblical, Christ-centred holiness.
Are there idols in your life you need to tear down? Spend time in confession and ask God for strength to worship him alone.1 See 1 Cor 5:9,10; 7:12–15; 10:27; 14:22–24
Exactly what behaviour Paul has in mind when he writes of being in an ‘unequal yoke’ is not clear. It has often been applied to marriage and to business partnerships, but the idea is wider and deeper than that.
Business in Corinth
In Corinth business people met regularly for meals in the temples to maintain the relationships through which business was conducted, and this involved elements of pagan worship and acceptance of pagan gods (see 1 Corinthians 8:1–13). Paul is concerned that there was still spiritual confusion.
Read in context, this statement relates to their attitude to Paul, their criticism of him and their refusal to accept him. It may even be that the unbelievers he has in mind are not non-Christians but those within the church who are attacking him.
Either way, the attitudes of the Corinthians stem from their spiritual confusion and their refusal to have done with idol worship and old patterns of living. They have failed to realise that being ’new creations’ involves a complete change in allegiance and thought patterns.
The history of the Church shows:
• It is possible to be physically isolated but spiritually and ethically wedded, at least in part, to the values of the age.
• It is equally possible to be involved in society but show clear spiritual and ethical distinctiveness.
Paul argues for the latter.
The ever-present danger is that we fail to heed his warning and accommodate to the values and life patterns of the age.
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