2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1
I never appreciated those who raised me until I had to raise children. I would never have acted the way I did, had I known how much my guardians did for me. What a fool I was to rebel against their authority. Yet, this is only physically speaking. The very thing that parents wish their children would not live in ignorance of, how much they have done for their children, is in vain if they don’t come to know God. God’s Word is the only thing that opens the eyes to true gratitude to live a life not for self but for God and makes sinners who dishonor their parents into saints who honor God and every governing authority.
Robinson Crusoe laments his not submitting to and appreciating his parents when on an island. An excellent illustration of what many experience after making such mistakes. Thankfully the story of Robinson Crusoe is one of learning what he had missed for others so they would not do the same.
Paul, like a parent, had done much for the Corinthian church. He was a father to them (vv.11–13). He had such a love for them, but it was not be reciprocated. And there would be a great cost of not knowing real Christianity if they didn’t receive his ministry. He has made this point in the previous verses, but now he goes further like a doctor getting to the cause, or like a gardener getting to the root of their lack of full acceptance of his ministry. Full acceptance of his ministry not only meant that they rejected false super-apostle ministry, but that they defended his ministry as real ministry. They could no longer ally themselves with false apostles. It is important to understand at the start that the apostle was not likely to be speaking about merely the unbelieving world out there, but false apostles in the church. This was always the greatest danger and could not be dealt with directly, but through strengthening the flock. Nonetheless, Paul’s method is to speak broadly before he speaks specifically.
As God’s Temple, we are not to make alliances with the unfaithful.
Broadly speaking, the unfaithful are called unbelieving in general and characterized as those who are in tension with righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the temple of God. They are those who are characterized by lawlessness, darkness, Belial, unbelief, and idols. Refusal to yoke together with these will free believers in the church to fully accept real ministry and promote real Christianity. The reasons for not being yoked together with them is as follows:
It’s enslaving v.14a
It’s incompatible vv.14b–16a
It’s unfaithful vv. 16b–18
It’s unfitting 7:1
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 6:14a ESV)
We must end our alliances with the unfaithful that enslaves us and choose to embrace real gospel ministry with the faithful that frees us.
The Corinthians were likely tempted to make alliances with unbelievers because it offered (however falsely) freedom from hardship. The word “unbeliever” literally means “without faith.” Again, don’t think “unbelieving world” but rather the unfaithful that are presently influencing the church. They are those not worthy of our confidence. So, it may also be translated, “those without faithfulness.” The faithfulness is toward God not an entity, a church, or even the apostle directly, but to God and His Law-Word. The apostle is drawing from Deuteronomy 22:10 which stated in context reads:
“You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” (Deuteronomy 22:10 ESV)
Deuteronomy 22:10 falls in the contextual section of various laws including, “a woman shall not wear a man’s garment, not shall a man put on a woman’s cloak” (22:5). These laws were not the focus, God was the focus. As they knew what God had done for them, they would gladly not want to take on the practices of Egypt they had left. They were delivered from slavery to Egypt and God loving was calling them to freedom. A rejecting of God’s law only evidenced that they did not know the Lord. They would be returning to the yoke of slavery and not going on in freedom. Rushdoony writes,
“The unequal strength of the ox and the donkey means that the combination of the two is harmful to both, and therefore to the owner. It is an amazing fact that to this day Palestinians insist on yoking an ox and a donkey together, despite centuries of experience that it is unwise to do so.”
The apostle Paul then is applying this to the Temple of God’s people delivered from sin. He has reminded them that they have been “reconciled” through Christ (5:18), and that they were called to work together with God (6:1). Yoking themselves to the unfaithful would demean all that God did for them and destroy all that God gloriously called them to. True freedom involves a new master and the ability to now obey his commands out of gratitude for all that God did for you!
Elsewhere the apostle said,
“How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:2b–4 ESV)
Attaching yourself to sin is a foolish thing when you are attached to the King. The ox and donkey are a fit picture of an enslaving and abusive relationship. Foolish man thinks that he can make a donkey stronger by plowing it with an ox, but the truth is the donkey will begin controlling the ox.
Many good Christians like the Corinthians are today controlled by the unfaithful. Yet, as a believer who accepts the humble message of the gospel, you are to call others up to it and not attach yourselves to the unfaithful. Jesus called men to himself saying that his yoke was easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28–30). Jesus came humble riding on a donkey, bringing the kingdom through humility not super-apostleship; humility that obeyed the law of God because he knew who God was. Jesus was free in his grace to sinners because He knew the Father. Knowing who Jesus is and what he has done frees you to obey him. Focus on the law becomes a burden, focus on the deliverer makes the laws commands a delight. The unfaithful will burden you and put you back into bondage to Egypt, but our faithful Lord and the apostle’s teaching of him will set us free.
Some teach that this passage is purely about marriage relationships. However, this passage is not about marriage relationships, it is about the church’s relationships. When the church has this right, certainly marriage relationships will not be unequally yoked, but neither will friendships and any other alliances made in the body. There is a danger in treating a text with what you want it to teach, and not teaching what it teaches and drawing out its implications. Certainly, there are implications for marriage, but this text is not about marriage, it is about accepting ministry. Marriages in the church will suffer where a church does not teach the importance of accepting and defending real ministry. And the root cause of not accepting and defending a real ministry like Paul’s was because there were people in the church who had yoked themselves to unfaithful pretenders in the same body.
Let us also take this lesson to heart in making sure that we do not do the same. Make sure you do not yoke yourselves to those who are not faithful. You will not make them stronger, they will bring you down and keep you from being faithful. They may put on a show as being supermen or superwomen in the church, but their deeds show they are anything but obedient to Christ’s commands. They are those who do not pursue holiness, gather regularly for worship, support the Word preaches, etc. They can talk all day about how great they are or even how bad they are in false humility, but don’t follow those who are not faithful, and don’t yoke yourselves to them in your dealings. True Christianity is ultimately at stake. Have you gotten too involved with someone that is unfaithful? Are you accepting the Word preached like you did the first time you heard it with eagerness? Are you excited about the ministry at your church more today than ever? If not, you can probably trace it to allying yourself too much with someone who is unfaithful, and instead of bringing them up, they are bringing you down.
Something about Jesus is that he always grows you in excitement and passion for God and his commands. He does not decrease in glory. We grow more like him as we gather with the faithful and refuse to come down from building when Sanballat (cf. Ezra & Nehemiah) comes our way. Eventually, they will either go away like chaff or be raised up to be like Christ through conversion. But there is no hope for that if the faithful get yoked with the unfaithful.
“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? We are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:14b–16a ESV).
The Christian faith is absolutely incompatible with alliances with other so called faiths. Therefore, we are to reject any union that influences us against wholehearted obedience to God.
The apostle gives five grounds (or antitheses) for breaking unholy alliances with those that are unfaithful. These grounds may be summarized as follows:
Those who do right are incompatible with those who do wrong.
Those who live in the light are incompatible with those who live in darkness.
Those who follow Christ are incompatible with Beliar, that is Satan.
Those who are believers are incompatible with those who are unbelievers.
Those who worship God are incompatible with those who worship idols.
The first ground for disassociation with the unfaithful is that partnership with those who do right is incompatible with those who do wrong. The word “partnership” speaks of “sharing common goals or activities.” The word “righteousness”: is to be taken in an ethical sense over and against wicked deeds. As Romans 6:19 states:
I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
The second antithesis is that active fellowship (koinonia) between those who live in the light is incompatible with those who walk in darkness.
The third speaks of “accord” which describes a group that reaches an agreement. “Belial” is a name for Satan. It is used to describe the homosexuals at Gibeah in Judges 19:22; 20:13, and those wicked men who seduced people to worship false gods (Deut. 13:13–14). There is no compatibility between Satan and Satanic agreements and faithfulness to God.
The fourth antithesis deals with “portion” which means to share. The incompatibility is between those faithful and dependable and those not believing in Jesus.
The fifth and final ground for not allying with unbelievers uses the word “agreement” which is consent in a covenantal context. Nothing is more important to God’s people as God’s covenant, and so making covenant with those who worship God have nothing in common with those who worship idols. This is the climax of the grounds made against allying with those unfaithful to God and his commands. Paul may have been shouting in contrast to the super-apostles “For we are the temple of the living God” (v.16)! This defines every contrast as related to what is dead and lifeless, what is pretend and what is real.
Where has a Satanic agreement gotten any believer? Adam and Eve made an agreement with Satan to take of the fruit that was forbidden by God for their good, and plunged headlong into death for all mankind. How much should we emphasize to our souls that incompatibility of righteousness and wickedness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, believer and unbeliever, the temple of God and idols! We are the temple of the living God, and as such we do not pair ourselves with lifeless things, but with the living God!
The wisdom that Paul sets forth to the church is like finding a good wife, or a treasure, or the tree of life, as Proverbs 3 says,
“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.”(Proverbs 3:13–18 ESV)
Why wear a hat that is for a peasant, when God has given you a crown of life? Only the latter fits the members of the Temple—all else is incompatible.
“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.””(2 Corinthians 6:16–18 ESV)
The second ground as to why not to be harnessed by or unequally yoked with the unfaithful is what God meant when he covenanted with his people.
The words “as God said” (v.16) may be translated as “this is what God meant when he said…” Covenant here is that of promise. All the promises of God find their yes in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), there are seven promises contained in three representative periods of history: Moses, the Prophets, David the King. The apostle uses a hermeneutical technique called a pesher and pesharim of bringing three passages together. The method was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and evidenced here.
The first three promises are derived from Leviticus 26:11–13,
I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.
The original plan of God was to dwell with man and tabernacle among them. Adam knew what it was to have the Lord walking among them (Genesis 3:8). The promised restoration came when Jesus tabernacled among them (John 1:14). Because God delivered his people from the yoke of slavery, they were not to take that yoke of slavery again.
The next two covenant promises that serve as grounds to not yoke with the unfaithful are found in Isaiah 52:11. They are part of the prophecies of Israel’s restoration:
Is. 52:11 ¶ Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
Israel as priests and Levites were called to depart from Babylon and go homeward. The words were originally a double emphasis “Depart, depart.” Before this, Isaiah said, “I, I am he” (51:12), “Rouse yourself, rouse yourself” (51:17), “Awake, awake” (52:1). God is telling the exiles in Babylon the good news of their return to Jerusalem from exile. They are being redeemed, but there were conditions stated in v.17. They were to go out from the midst of Babylon; they were to be separate from them; and they were to touch no unclean thing. They were not being called to separate from each other, but from Babylon. They could not remain in Babylon and experience freedom, but they had to be brought out willingly. But how is this possible? Isaiah 53’s obedient servant, none other than the Lord Jesus Christ makes such obedience possible. They had to trust in him!
The final two promises in v.18 are drawn from the Davidic covenant. We have again a trilogy of Moses, Isaiah, and now David forming the pesher interpretation technique to teach us the second basis of why to not be yoked with unbelievers (the first ground being incompatibility, the second here being unfaithfulness to the covenant). The citation is from 2 Samuel 7:14 LXX, but here it is in context in the Hebrew Old Testament:
“He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’””(2 Samuel 7:13–16 ESV)
The apostle however quotes from the LXX Septuagint and under the Holy Spirit expands the promise from son to sons and daughters. The scope of what is promised to David is an eternal home (2 Samuel 13b), Father and son forever (vv.14–15), and an eternal kingdom (v.16). The permanent dwelling of the Messiah and his reign has brought permanence to us sinners to that we would live for God’s glory. The promises begin with a temple and ends with a family and a house of permanence. God’s people are God’s temple, but also God’s people, and individual members of his family. Because David’s Son reigns, God’s forever house will prevail and the gates (Defensive gates) will not prevail (Matthew 16). The church is on the offense of holiness in the world in faithfulness to God’s covenant fulfilled in our reigning King (Psalm 2)!
Think of how much God has done to deliver you from slavery and bring you into a marriage relationship. It is unfaithful to him to go and wed yourself to the unbelieving world! He has foreknew you, predestined you to be conformed to the image of his Son, called, justified, and glorified you, and you would take lightly the command to not be yoked to the world (cf. Romans 8:29–30)?
Ezekiel describes in graphic detail such a wicked alternative:
“Again the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.
“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare.
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.
“But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made for yourself colorful shrines, and on them played the whore. The like has never been, nor ever shall be. You also took your beautiful jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself images of men, and with them played the whore. And you took your embroidered garments to cover them, and set my oil and my incense before them. Also my bread that I gave you—I fed you with fine flour and oil and honey—you set before them for a pleasing aroma; and so it was, declares the Lord GOD. And you took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your whorings so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them? And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, wallowing in your blood.
“And after all your wickedness (woe, woe to you! declares the Lord GOD), you built yourself a vaulted chamber and made yourself a lofty place in every square. At the head of every street you built your lofty place and made your beauty an abomination, offering yourself to any passerby and multiplying your whoring. You also played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. Behold, therefore, I stretched out my hand against you and diminished your allotted portion and delivered you to the greed of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the whore also with the Assyrians, because you were not satisfied; yes, you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your whoring also with the trading land of Chaldea, and even with this you were not satisfied.
“How sick is your heart, declares the Lord GOD, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute” (Ezekiel 16:1–30 ESV).
Would you be a biographical sketch of faithless Israel after God has done so much for you in Jesus Christ? It is one thing to be unfaithful in ignorance, and another to trample the blood of the Son of God afresh. The New Testament gives very serious warnings about unfaithfulness to the New Covenant, having experienced freedom, to return to slavery! God forbid!
“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.”
(2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)
The apostle concludes with an emotional statement “beloved” (in contrast to the unfaithful) on the basis of the promises we have in Christ to walk in step with the command of v.14a, on the basis of the grounds in vv.14b–18.
Paul exhorts them to do two things to be fit for worship in light of the covenant promises of God: cleanse, and bring holiness to completion. He then tells them that such happens in the atmosphere of the fear of God.
The cleansing referred to speaks of Old Testament cleanness that admitted one to worship. It was concerning the whole man “body and spirit.” Separating from unbelievers’ influences. (v.14a) was required of them and us. Paul includes himself in 7:1. He is no longer just speaking to “them.”
The bringing of holiness to completion speaks of a pressing forward (Philippians 3:12–14) with hopes of its permanent arrival at the very end of time (1 Thess. 3:13).
The atmosphere that cleansing and pursuit of holiness that makes us fit for worship exists in is the fear of God. When the atmosphere that God’s people live in is reverence to Almighty God it presents the best opportunity for true worship. Lightening the weight of God’s glory is not the way to be fit for worship; and it is unfitting when we have put ourselves in alliances with unbelievers who have begun to harness and control us instead of God being all encompassing of our lives. We are in fact the new Temple, and as such are to be completely a place for the worship and service of God, uncontrolled by unnecessary alliances with the unbelieving world. The result of rejecting this again is bondage that will keep us from receiving real ministry that promotes real Christianity.
We are urged to stay away from relationships that keep us from fully receiving Paul’s ministry. The root cause of not receiving real ministry is that of unholy alliances with unbelievers. We are urged to be fit for worship by cleansing our whole selves, and to pursue holiness in the atmosphere of the fear of God.
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Reexamine your reception of gospel ministry! Get to the root and see it takes departing from wrong relationships that steer you away from fitness to worship to right relationships with the faithful that encourage fitness for worship.
In a sermon by Thomas Boston, called The Divine Call to Leave the Devil’s Family, he writes:
“Come out from among them, then, unto Jesus Christ, and so be entered into God's family by adoption. Seemeth it a small thing to you to be children of the house of heaven, to have God for your Father, and ye to be his sons and daughters. Believe this offer of the gospel, therefore, made to you, O children of the house of hell, and close with the offer of adoption into God's family, and receive the seal of it in the sacrament. I beseech you to accept it, nay, I charge you to come out from among them this day, and enter into God's family through Jesus Christ.”
God is calling the believer home through Paul’s ministry. It will take ‘departing, departing’ from Babylon, that pretend Jerusalem which rides on the back of the beast of Rome. But what is such departing from relationships comparable to the treasure found in God’s Temple of the fear of God that frees us and fits us for divine worship?
We have thus learned the command given to Christians is that of not yoking ourselves to unbelievers. The apostle has given us two grounds: (1) incompatibility; (2) unfaithfulness to the God of the covenant. And he has closed with urging us in light of all that God has done for us toward a life that fits the faith.
The Old Testament set forth copies that find their fulfillment in the new and last days. These days are now, running from the ascension of Christ to his final return. Believers are to live according to this command. To live otherwise is worse than the genetic modifications that some irreligious scientists attempt in mixing different species. So, we are to be pure in the whole man. The apostle states elsewhere,
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV)
God’s Temple can only be a fit place for the gospel to be truly known where real ministry is fully accepted. And real ministry can only be accepted where Christians are not improperly yoked with the unfaithful, but with God and his authorized ministers. There will be tension anywhere such proper yoking is failing to take place, just as there is tension between light and darkness and all the other parties that Paul has named (v.14ff).
Ultimately yoking with unbelievers results in humanism, a whole different religion. There is much at stake, for in rejecting Paul’s ministry, we would be accepting a substitute other ministry, that of the world. We would be influenced by the world, and not by the Lord ultimately. Yet, the apostle is confident that the church will do the right thing, or he would not be writing them. And this confidence shows up in the verses that follow when he describes their sincere repentance (7:2–16). That makes a difference—not only how the church looks at the minister, but how the minister looks at the church. Help us Lord to see ourselves as your Temple, and then act accordingly with your righteous zeal. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!
1. In Pilgrim's Progress, Christian is taken to the house of the interpreter and is there shown the picture of a minister whom he is authorized to listen to. Paul was such a minister.
2. The Reformation Study Bible is helpful here in defining the yoking together as yoking together “in such a way that they significantly influence the direction and outcome of our moral decisions and spiritual activities.”
3. Richard Pratt, Holman Biblical Commentary on 2 Corinthians
4. NIGTC-2 Corinthians
5. R. J. Rushdoony, Deuteronomy: Commentaries on the Pentateuch Vol. 5, location 817, ebook.
6. NIGTC-2 Corinthians
7. Word studies in this section largely informed by NIGTC. 8. John Woodhouse's commentary on 2 Samuel was helpful here. 9. NIGTC-2 Corinthians 10. Thomas Boston, Works Vol. 1, 652. 11. Pierre Courthial, A New Day of Small Beginnings, pp. 272–73.
8. Audio sermon that corresponds to this manuscript may be found at https://www.sermonaudio.com/saplayer/playpopup.asp?SID=130221627457840