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New Year, Sacred Life

Date: Jan. 3, 2021

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

Key Verse: 2 Corinthians 6:14

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

Happy New Year! This is our first worship of 2021 and boy, does the year 2021 look strange on paper. I have gotten used to seeing 2020 that seeing two zero two one on a page or screen, just looks weird. But 2020 is now over. It was a year for the history books, filled with pain, anguish, despair, bewilderment, fear and hope. I remember that, for a number of years, people have been saying they can’t wait for the next year to come. In 2017, people were hoping 2018 would be better. In 2018, people were looking forward to 2019. In 2019, people were just wanting to get the year over and were having visions of a bright 2020. Then 2020 came and by all rights, 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year. It started with so much promise, but once the pandemic was declared, the world was held hostage. Travel slowed to a trickle and a number of industries ground to a halt. Hotels and the entertainment industry were pale comparisons of their former selves. Classes shifted online and a number of people struggled with so much. Civil unrest rose because of senseless violence. People were needlessly dying at the hands of law enforcement and protests filled the streets. All the while the pandemic raged on and on, and people grew tired of social distancing and wearing masks. Even with a vaccine, the numbers of infected and dying rise every day. As of now, 1 in a 1,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. On top of that, 2020 was an election year that proved to be the most unusual. It is enough to drive us into depression. Coming into a new year brings hope and renewal. Even though it is just a day change on the calendar, going from one year to the next is very symbolic of starting anew. We can leave 2020 behind and look forward to a new year and a new start in 2021. Last week, Bob gave the key verse message for 2021 about delighting in the word of God. It was a message about really finding joy in God’s word, as it sustains us and encourages us. Our passage, this week, actually builds on that thought as we return to our study of 2 Corinthians. As we begin 2021, let’s look to the word of God and find encouragement in what the Lord wants to tell us.

So, we are back in our study of 2 Corinthians. The last time we were here was before Thanksgiving. That is quite a bit of time ago, especially in COVID time. Since 2020 was about five years long, that means it has been about seven months since we’ve been in 2 Corinthians, or at least it has felt like seven months. It’s actually closer to seven weeks. At any rate, in our last passage from 2 Corinthians, which was given on November 15, we learned about this concept of not feeling like it. In that passage, Paul spoke of not putting any stumbling blocks in anyone’s path, so his ministry would not be discredited. This means that he always served God with the utmost quality, whether he felt like it or not. Paul’s main mission was to bring people to Christ, and he made sure that nothing that he did would prevent other people from coming to Jesus. It didn’t matter if he was broken or hurting, imprisoned or hungry; there was nothing that would prevent Paul from giving his best to God. In the message, we were encouraged not to just do things, especially love, when we feel like it, because we would be no different than the rest of the world. We are to love unconditionally and that would set us apart from everyone else. That love would be a mark that people would look at us and want to come to Jesus because despite whatever we may be going through, that love never dies and never gives up. It is unbreaking and never stops. We care because Jesus cared about us first.

I find that the previous passage in 2 Corinthians segues into this passage nicely. In the last passage, Paul encourages his readers to be the best at all times. In this passage, now that we are the best, it is important to know how to interact with the people around you. Our passage starts out, today, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (6:14) Paul starts this section out with, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” The phrase “yoked together” is the same phrase that is used in the law, in Leviticus 19:19, where the Bible talks about not yoking different types of animals together. It is actually a whole section about not doing something with two different items, like not planting a field with two different types of seed or wearing clothing woven with two different types of material. In Deuteronomy, there is a passage that explicitly notes to not yoke together an ox with a donkey. (Deuteronomy 22:10) From a farming standpoint, putting those two together wouldn’t make a lot of sense. In a field to plow, the ox will pull hard, but the donkey would try to pull faster, resulting in crooked plow lines. Keeping the plow straight would be difficult. The same would hold for if they were pulling a cart. Having such dissimilar animals pulling the cart would make it difficult to steer because they wouldn’t want to work at the same pace. In dog sleds, the dogs pulling the sled are of similar size to help balance the load. There are no Great Danes and Chihuahuas on the same sled. It would be difficult to control and the Chihuahuas would be dangling their feet and being pulled along without doing any work. They would be useless.

In this passage, Paul is calling for believers to not be yoked together with unbelievers. I don’t know about you, but I have never yoked two people together, whether they be believers or unbelievers. I’ve never made anyone plow a field or pull a cart. So, then, Paul must be referring to something else, unless they really did use people like that. I doubt it, though. In fact, Paul is referring to believers entering into partnerships with unbelievers. That is what some translations mention. They talk about partnerships or being partners. What this terminology doesn’t mean is that we should avoid all contact with unbelievers and stay away from them. Some Christians have the belief that believers must completely isolate themselves from the world and have zero contact with unbelievers, but that is not what Paul is writing about here. Our great mission is to help unbelievers to come to meet Jesus. If we have no contact with unbelievers, then they would never become believers. Christianity is not some exclusive club, where members are not allowed to speak to others. That would be a cult.

Instead, what this means is that we should not compromise our beliefs for the sake of a business endeavor or project. As Paul wrote, “For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (6:14-16) In Corinth, Paul is referring to Christians participating in pagan practices, like going to a pagan temple and participating. The church in Corinth was an open church that had difficulty in shedding its paganness. They participated in a lot of different things and many of those things dealt with pagan beliefs, like ritual prostitution or idol worship and feasts. The rhetorical questions that Paul brings up show the incompatibility between the righteous and the wicked. They are diametrically opposed light and dark. Light and darkness cannot exist in the same space. Darkness is the absence of light, so by definition, if there is light, there cannot be darkness, and if there is darkness, then there is not light. The same holds for Christ and Belial. Belial is another name for the king of demons or Satan. Satan wants to lead people away from God, but Christ’s entire purpose was to reunite us with God. There is no middle ground between them, just a chasm.

When we live as Christians, as believers, there are many times where we want to compromise and live in a middle ground. Perhaps, before you were a believer you had a life where you partied a lot. You got into drinking and carousing. When you came to believe in Jesus, part of you still wanted to hold on to that partying life. You wanted to live in both worlds. Perhaps it was a relationship that was carnal and immoral. Perhaps it was a love of money and power. At any rate, you wanted to hold on to what you used to have while trying to live a life holding onto Jesus. What we can see in these first few verses is that there is no middle ground between the life we had as an unbeliever and a life as a believer. We can’t hold on to those destructive tendencies. We cannot live with things that we once idolized. There can be no agreement between the temple of God and idols. It will never work. They are diametrically opposed; they have zero things in common. Serving God will lead you away from idols and to God. Whereas seeking idols will lead you away from God.

Paul calls for us to not seek a middle ground, because there is none. You are on one side or the other. In our interactions with other people, we can’t compromise those beliefs. If you are in a team or group and some members want to do something shady, then we are not to participate. We have to do our best at all times. We cannot seek an unfair advantage for the sake of advancing our agenda. For example, we cannot yoke ourselves with someone who is dishonest and a fearmonger just because he might not persecute us. If he helps us because we give our allegiance to him, then we compromise our souls and we are no longer on the side of the righteous, but on the side of the wicked. We would have idolized our position in society over our love for Christ. We cannot sacrifice our character to advance an agenda by cozying up to an unscrupulous person. When we do so, we sacrifice our relationship with Jesus.

In the same way, when we act and react like the rest of the world does, then we are yoked together with unbelievers. We are falling down the same paths as those who do not believe in the gospel. The past year, 2020, was a difficult year for many reasons for many people. Like I already mentioned, 1 in 1000 Americans have already died of COVID-19. For each one of those deaths, there were family members who were left behind suddenly. They might not even been allowed to be with their loved ones when passing away. There is a tremendous sense of loss, right now. We have lost so much, and how we act and react to that loss is very telling. There are some that live in fear of a disease. There are some that are angry at those who show caution. There are some that act like there is nothing going on right now. We must not live in fear, we must not live in anger, we must not live in ignorance. We live by trusting God and using the wisdom he has provided us. We show love to others and care for them. When people oppose Christian ideals and thoughts, there are some that want to rail against the scoffers. Some Christians want to fight against the unbelievers and prove the legitimacy of the gospel. It may seem noble, but it is no different than what the unbelievers were doing to gospel. We want to respond in kind and not with kindness. These things are show us to be yoked with unbelievers. We have not risen above such reactions but become mired in them.

As believers, we cannot live like that. The reasons we cannot live yoked with unbelievers are twofold. The first reason is what happens to us when we try to live a compromised life and the second reason is what happens to God. For the first reason, let’s look at one of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) When we try to live serving two masters, like God and money, for example, we will be divided. We will hate one and love the other or devoted to one and despise the other. When we try to live in the middle ground, we are trying to play both sides. Unfortunately, how reality works is different than the delusions we hope for. We hope to have the best of both worlds. If you are a partier and a believer, you hope to have fun partying it up and to have salvation through Jesus. However, the reality that is that never enjoy either one. When partying, you feel guilty. When with Jesus, you yearn for the fun of partying. You are never happy. The same holds for everything that divides us. When you try to live in the middle ground, you are trying to live two lives and end up living none. It can even start to feel like you are being ripped apart.

The other reason can be seen in some of the remaining verses. “For we are the temple of the living God.” (6:16) A temple is the place where God chooses to live on earth. It is like his house. In Jesus’ time, the temple was a physical building where animal sacrifices were made in accordance with the law. At the time of the writing of this letter, the temple in Jerusalem was still standing, but in 15 years, it would be demolished by the Romans in the year AD 70. At this point in time, however, Paul already recognizes that the temple in Jerusalem no longer served its purpose. There was no longer a need for God to have a temple building on this earth. When Jesus died on the cross, the temple curtain which separated the Most Holy Place and the Holy Place was torn from top to bottom, symbolizing the division between man and God was gone, and God was free to dwell with humanity. Instead of inhabiting a temple building, because of Jesus, God was now able to dwell within people. By believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we become the temple of the living God.

Since our bodies become a house for God, we ought to look at our hearts and actions in light of that. If our bodies are temples to the Lord, then they are His house. Since it is His house, it should all belong to him. God is not a renter of his house, but the owner. Since God is the owner, it makes absolute sense that all of His temple belongs to him. There aren’t parts of your house that belong to another person, so why would there be parts of God’s house that belong to someone or something else? That is what happens when we try to live in the middle ground. We want God to live in the temple of our heart, but we want to tell him that there are some rooms where he is not allowed to go. We might try to keep the filth to one room, but it gets tracked everywhere. Eventually, the entire house is muddied up. If you were the homeowner, you wouldn’t want to live in a house like that. Neither does God. He does not want to live in a compromised house.

In this passage, Paul quotes three things. In each one, it is mentioned that God or the Lord said something. The first is, “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.’” (6:16) God said that he will live with the believers and walk among them. In the next quotation Paul shows, “Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’” (6:17) Since God will live with us, he tells us that we should come out from them and be separate. God is holy, he is separate and sacred. In the book of Leviticus, God mentions a number of times, “Be holy, because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44,45, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26) God is holy and his home should also be holy. That home, his temple, should not be shared with that which is unclean. If it is, then it is not God’s temple. There is one more thing that Paul quotes, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (6:18) Not only will God be living with us, but also, we will be family. He will be the Father and we will be his children. God is not a tenant, but our Father. We should not treat the Lord with such disrespect.

In these promises, we have proof of the unwavering love that God has shown us. The Lord is willing to live among our brokenness because his son has repaired the relationship, we have always supposed to have had with him. Our passage concludes, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (7:1) Here, Paul encourages believers to purify themselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit. He is calling for us to undergo a detox and a cleansing. Don’t worry. It is not like a colon cleanse, but it can be much harder to do. We have to choose to not follow the ways of the world. We have to aim to perfect holiness. We have to separate ourselves from the ways of the world. As the passage says, we do so out of reverence for God. Our love and desire to honor God should be the major driving force in our lives. Our eyes must be continually fixed on God and we should want to be perfect because God is perfect. We should strive to his perfection and desire to be like him.

If our eyes are not on God, then they are on something else. When our desires are not on God and how to please him, then those desires inevitably fall back to ourselves and how to please ourselves. This is true for individualistic cultures and family-based cultures. In family-based cultures, the desire is to fulfill some goal for your own family, which is still self-serving. Individualistic cultures are obviously about the self. In our own society, there is so much emphasis on achieving your own dreams, following your own path. When we believe these ideas, then we fall into a trap that causes us to constantly seek ways to better ourselves and we will never be satisfied. It doesn’t matter if what we seek is noble or not; the selfish motive makes it no different than what an unbeliever’s motive. My family has been trying to buy a house, a few weeks ago, we put down an offer and negotiations began. Unfortunately, the sellers wouldn’t come down far enough for us and we had to walk away. We really liked the house and began to think about how to furnish it. It’s a bit disappointing that it turned out this way, but this passage reminds me, that my motive for the house is a bit selfish. I want to stay in the area to serve the Lord’s mission, but my desire for a house has been for myself and not for God. The major driving force should be God in all my decisions. He should be number one, no matter what. He will provide what we need; he always has.

If you look at all those examples from earlier of being yoked with unbelievers, they are all rooted in selfish motives. If we want to live a double life, having the world and Christ. It is our selfishness to desire the things of the flesh. When we blindly follow an unscrupulous person, we compromise our beliefs because we want our agenda to be moved forward. It is not about God, but our agenda. When we live and respond as the world does, we are just as afraid as the world is. We forget that the Lord is in charge. We don’t have to be harsh to unbelievers that scorn and mock us. We know the truth and should trust in it. God is in charge of all situations. We have no reason to live in fear or worry. In fact, we should strive for perfection because God is perfect. We have to need to trust the unscrupulous, we have a God who is in charge and his agenda is always moved forward. No one can stop the Lord’s plans. When we come to the Lord and delight in him and his word, we will find more joy that we could even imagine when we lived a life of sin. This is a new year, 2021. And in this new year, we should make a pledge and promise to God to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates our spirit. Our lives are to be sacred to God. Our bodies are his temple, and we need to see it as truth. This year let us not live as the world does, but to become a shining example for the world. We should show everyone that will not compromise the principles of following Jesus, and we do so because we love God and revere him.

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