Authentic Ministry 15/Second Corinthians
Remember that the point of this epistle is for Paul to defend the authenticity of his ministry. There are three groups involved there at Corinth. There were the false teachers, the agitators that stirred up the trouble. They had initially swayed the whole church, but after Paul’s severe letter, the bulk of the church had come back into their loyalty to Paul. That is the second group. The third group was made of saints in the church who were still rattled, who still had the wobbles. These were the ones that Paul beseeched to “enlarge their hearts.” And in this passage, we get to Paul’s basic “call to action.” We have come to the thing which they must do.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1).
Before summarizing the text, there is an important misunderstanding to get out of the way. In this section, Paul famously says that we are not to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.” This is regularly applied to marriages and/or business partnership, and while this is a legitimate application, it is not what the text is talking about—and we have to be careful not to lose the original meaning. When Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and frequent ailments (1 Tim. 5:23), he was not trying to refute teetotalism. That is a legitimate application (by extension), but not what Paul was talking about. It is the same here.
The original meaning was the summons that Paul was delivering, urging the remaining wobbly Corinthians to make a complete break from the false teachers (whom we will get to know much better in later chapters). For now it will serve to distinguish the wolves, on the one hand, from the sheep who have been mauled by wolves on the other. Paul is appealing here to the latter.
Summary of the Text
Paul starts with the principle. Do not be in harness together with unbelievers (v. 14). The reason is then given in a series of contrasts. Is there fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness (v. 14)? Communion between light and darkness (v. 14)? Concord between Christ and Belial (v. 15)? Faith and infidelity (v. 15)? The temple of God with idols (v. 16)?
These destructive false teachers want to set up their idols in the Corinthians, saints who were the Temple of God (v. 16). What looks like a solitary quotation from the Old Testament starting in v. 16 is actually a complicated mashup of quotations from about six different places in the Old Testament. The first two are promises of close and intimate fellowship (Lev. 26:11-12; Eze. 37:27). Then came the promise of adoption, and this is taken from four distinct places (2 Sam. 7:14; Is. 52:11; Eze. 20:34; Is. 43:6).
Overwhelmingly, the six cited passages are talking about Israel’s restoration to the land, brought out of exile. The Corinthians were the heirs of these spectacular promises and, as such, had an obligation to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of spirit and flesh, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (7:1). That is the call—to break with these sons of Belial. The culmination of this glorious promise is that God will be our Father, and we will be His sons and daughters.
Sons of Belial
We can tell that this is the import of this passage from the overall flow of the argument. Dealing with these false teachers is, after all, the theme of the entire letter. But we can also see it in his use of a word like Belial. The word probably means worthlessness, and is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to covenant losers. In other words, we are talking about covenant members who were wicked louts. See, for example, the following: Dt. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 1:16; 2:12; 10:27; 25:17,25; 30:22; 2 Sam. 20:1; 1 Kings 21:10,13; 2 Chron. 13:7. This is precisely what Paul was dealing with at Corinth, and so he asks the rhetorical question—what possible fellowship can there be between Christ and Belial?
The Pressing Need for More Church Splits
The “unbelievers” Paul is talking about are his adversaries within the church. These are false brothers. Do not be “yoked with” means do not pal around with, enable, encourage, or otherwise link to these people.
The driver of all such splits, however, needs to be holiness. If they pursue holiness in the fear of God, a lot of the separating will take care of itself. Paul is reminding the Corinthians of their identity in Christ. Now, in Christ, what are they? They are the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). They have been made light (2 Cor. 4:6). In Christ, they are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). By direct implication, Paul includes them as being among those who believe (2 Cor. 4:4). They are the Temple of God (2 Cor. 6:16). So the Corinthians are or have each of the characteristics that have no fellowship, communion, concord, part, or agreement with the corruptions offered by the sons of Belial. Those corruptions would unrighteousness, darkness, worthlessness, infidelity, and idolatry. And it is holiness of life that will drive all such things away.
Satan has two basic strategies for attacking the church. He attacks it by persecutions from without, and he attacks it by introducing corruptions from within. The latter has been his tactic of choice in the American church, and it has worked very well for him. The bottom line of all such corruptions is unholiness, and usually with a sexual component (2 Cor. 12:20-21). This is why vast swaths of the evangelical church collapsed almost overnight when the challenges of the last two years first appeared.
And so the application today should be obvious. Separate from—do not have anything to do with, do not follow, do not fellowship with—the ministries of anyone who is woke, or semi-woke, or who compromises on theistic evolution, or is effeminate, or who makes room for homosexuality as an identity, or who ordains women to be pastors, or who advances any form of critical theory, or who would otherwise invite this generation’s Clown Car Review into the church. This list may seem like a disparate collection of random problems, but we must learn to connect the dots. Later in this letter, Paul connects all kinds of problems to the corruption of lust. “For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults [about all kinds of topics]: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed [and he uncovers the root problem]” (2 Cori. 12:20–21).
Tragically, this list of troubles is not limited to mainline liberal churches. Because we did not heed the warnings of the apostle, the evangelical movement is shot through with the cancers of this kind of unbelief. The evangelical church has failed to be salt and light, and consequently the West is disintegrating, and the savorless salt is being trampled on by men. But . . . never forget that we serve a God who raises the dead.
So do not just turn away from these corruptions of sound doctrine. That is insufficient. Pursue holiness. Pursue righteousness. Pursue Christ. And realize that as we all converge on Christ, we are converging on one another (1 John 1:7). So it is not just to be negatively stated, where we refuse to have anything more to do with sons of Belial. No, it means growth in love of worship, hospitality, psalm singing, sabbath feasting, and the cultivation of true community. Not that any of these things can be pursued in their own right, but rather that such things are the natural overflow when we pursue Christ alone.