II Corinthians 6:3–7:1 Be Separate….
Key Notes: The honor and dishonor of the missionary. The yoke, a shared burden. The purity of the Church in history. Yoked to the culture.
Paul moves from his careful development of the ministry of reconciliation to a new and unexpected subject, Christians in partnership with non-Christians. This is a thorny subject with many applications. We will use examples from Church History and personal experience.
6:3–10 “We put no obstacles in anyone’s way so that no fault can be found with our ministry” does not mean that obstacles do not exist. Paul has encountered them and overcome them. He gives us three groups of three obstacles that the missionaries had to cope with:
afflictions, hardships, calamities—the usual troubles of travel
beatings, imprisonments, riots (as many as 7)—perils of city ministry
labors, vigils, hunger—basic hard work and deprivation
To counter these obstacles
he has his inner stability: purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness
and God’s presence! The Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, the power of God,
the weapons of righteousness—the Sword of the Spirit in the right and the shield of faith in the left hand.
With these the missionaries have overcome their obstacles. But nevertheless they are
In honor and dishonor
In ill repute and good repute
Imposters yet true
Unknown and well-known
Dying but living
Punished yet not dead
Sorrowful but rejoicing
Poor but making many rich.
This set of antitheses is in contrast to the previous set found in 4:8–11 which reflects Paul’s personal suffering; these suggest trouble with their reputation. Their bad reputation may be felt by the Corinthians and would be an obstacle to Paul’s ministry with them.
6:11–7:1 Having talked about obstacles, Paul turns the tables: The real obstacles to the advancement of the Gospel are the Corinthians themselves--their lack of love and their continuing pull toward idols. While his affection for them is wide open, their hearts (Gr. "splanchna", guts) are cramped.
The problem is that they are still in partnership with their pagan relatives and neighbors. He continues with the antithesis device. It is either
Righteousness or iniquity
Light or darkness
Christ or Satan
Believers vs. unbelievers
The temple of God or idols.
We are the Temple of the Living God! The idols still linger in Corinthians’ minds and ICor.8–10 contains a long discussion of food offered to idols.
The next verses are a a sample of OT references to the promises of God:
My dwelling place will be with them. Ezek.37:27
I will be their God and they will be my people. Lev.26:11
Depart and come out of there--Babylon. Jer.50:8
Touch not the unclean thing. Isa.52:11
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth. Isa.43:6
Since we have God’s promise of His presence and reconciliation, how can we continue with idols? With these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, making holiness complete in the fear of God.
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The double yoke was a collar put around over the heads of two animals so that the shoulders could be used for pulling. In this form it is used as a metaphor for a shared burden.
“….a yoke that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear “ here refers to the Jewish legal system.. (Acts 15:10; Gal.5:10).
“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me….” (Matt.11:29).
The OT law prohibited yoking an ox and a donkey (Deut.22:9–11) for obvious reasons. But the Law also forbade making cloth with mixed threads, or planting different crops in the same field or cross-breeding animals. Perhaps all of these rules were to reinforce the idea of not getting into unequal partnerships.
The unequal yoke can be considered at several levels
Marriage to a non-Christian
Partnership with non-Christians in business
Attachment to apostate church organizations.
The mixed congregation of the local church
Taken in reverse order, the purity of the local church is an ideal goal. “Come out from among them and be separate” is a double-edged sword. We are required not to compromise with idolatry and to "cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” On the other hand, divisions are deplorable and must be avoided if possible. Separating from idolatry is one things. Separating from other Christians is another.
“…that they may all be one even as We are one, I in them and Thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know….” (Jn.17:22–23)
We are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph.4:3)
But “There must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” (ICor.11:19)
“They went out from us for they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.”
(I Jn. 2:19)
So divisions appear inevitable and were already emerging in the middle of the first century.
“About‘7AD, Irenaeus listed twenty varieties of Christianity; about 384AD, Epiphanius counted eighty.”
(Caesar and Christ. Will Durant; Simon and Schuster,’44; p. 616)
The ideal of a monolithic Christian organization failed in the first century. The Roman Catholic Church maintained a political union until the 1500’s by containing separatist movements as “orders” under the Church’s umbrella. However, the political union allowed corruption to flourish. The church refused to purge itself and did not move until Luther forced it to, expelling the Protestants rather than changing its ways.
The concept of regenerate church membership is a Baptist principle that comes to us from the Puritans. But the concept goes back to the fourth century. The persecutions of the Roman emperors Decius and Diocletian were so intense that many thousands renounced their faith. Bishops surrendered their clerical garb andChristians threw their copies of Scripture into the fire.
When the pressure was gone, there was great movement of remorse and repentance and people flocked back to their churches seeking to be reinstated. When a bishop was being ordained who had put his Scriptures in the fire and was being consecrated by a known defector, some objected vehemently. They argued that true absolution required exacting requirements of reinstatement including rebaptism. They were led by Donatus and were called Donatists. Their movement began in 303AD. The Donatists believed that the church was a visible society of the elect set apart from the world. The sacraments could not be performed by unworthy ministers. As we know, in the OT, apostate priests like Hophni and Phinehas were dealt with severely. Malachi has a serious indictment of the priests. Mal. 2
Augustine opposed the Donatists. He taught that there is an invisible church inside the visible body of professing believers. We agree. He said that defectors should be welcomed back with appropriate penance. He said that the priest did not have to be holy to perform the duties. The sacraments convey grace "ex opera operato"—by virtue of the act itself. We depend upon Christ’s holiness, not the holiness of a priest, who is merely an instrument.
We agree that Christ’s holiness is our source of grace. But we do not believe that the “sacraments” are sacraments at all. That is, baptism and communion do not convey saving grace. We can also see how being dismissive of the priest’s spiritual life would foster the corruption of the pastorate.
The Donatists began appointing their own bishops and forming their own congregations. At one time they had 270 bishops, cathedrals, etc. Augustine thought they were divisive and should be suppressed, even persecuted. The Donatists resisted. Eventually they became violent. In North Africa, where they were strongest, they became “guerrillas for God”, preventing travel between cities. The purification movement ended in a dismal failure. The Donatists died out after the Moslem invasions.
Another huge rent in the fabric of the church occurred at the Reformation. The Protestants correctly protested on theological grounds, but were guilty of excesses, breaking altars and cathedral windows and were greeted with a violent Catholic back-lash and the 30 Years’ War. However, unlike the Donatists, the Protestants survived and have brought good to the world.
The Puritans of the 17th-18th centuries also strived for a pure church. Everyone could participate in the worship and preaching part of the service, but when communion began, only those who were genuinely saved and in a state of grace could participate. Eventually, most of the congregation would have to leave before communion, and the rule became unsupportable. The Puritan movement died out in less than a hundred years.
At the denominational level, we have seen much division with the intent of purifying the Church. In recent times, the Episcopalians divided in‘73. The Reformed Episcopalians were formed with intent of getting rid of the Mass as a means of salvation.
In’47 the American Baptist Convention was criticized for commissioning missionaries who did not believe the Gospel. The Conservative Baptists left their parent denomination, and formed the Conservative Baptist Foreign Missions Society. They covenanted to send out only those who were true believers and evangelistic in their ministry. In’73 evangelical Presbyterians left the more liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) to form the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).
Unfortunately, reform movements also eventually need reform. The Methodists did not intend to separate from the Anglicans, but in doing so supported a large-scale revival. Now the Methodists are themselves in need of purification and a split seems inevitable.
The next issue, fellowship with non-Christians, was hard to avoid in a city of the ancient world, dominated as Corinth was by idol-worship. It pervaded all aspects of life-politics, sports, cultural life, and home life. Idolatry today is more subtle and difficult to discern. But some applications are simple.
Marriage is the best example of an equal or unequal yoke. When a Christian marries a non-Christian, the Christian is usually neutralized. Marrying "in the Lord" (ICor.7:39) should be drummed into the heads of children before they are old enough to make such decisions for themselves.
Other situations involves business and social contacts.
*Can I go into partnership with non-Christians?
Should I make my position clear from the start?
Do I have an exit strategy? Will I be corrupted by money?
*Do I belong in a secret society that resists the Gospel? Free-masons, Shriners, Eastern Star?
At the personal level, which is Paul’s primary concern, the unequal yoke in every day life limits or cripples our witness. We are yoked to popular culture with tragic consequences. The statistics are wearisome.
*Evangelical Christian divorce just as often as non-Christians.
*Our Christian youth are perhaps 10% less promiscuous than their peers.
*About a third of evangelicals think premarital sex is OK and about 15% think adultery is also OK.
*The least racially prejudiced religious groups are Catholics and non-evangelicals. Evangelicals and Southern Baptists are the most racially prejudiced.
*Family abuse is the same in theologically conservative homes as elsewhere.
*The average church-member gives a quarter of a tithe. Our church gives a third of a tithe. Nationally, six percent of “born again” people tithe. Giving has declined yearly for several decades.
(“The Evangelical Scandal.” Interview of Ron Sider; Christianity Today; April 2005; p. 71.)
Coming apart and being separate is difficult, sometimes painful. It takes spiritual discipline to go against the current. But if I do not follow Christ I am an obstacle to God’s reconciling work in the world.
Am I a hindrance or a help?