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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 Paul has been giving pictures to these Corinthian Christians about what it looks like to be God’s servant. In particular, Paul has been describing himself and the apostles, showing how they are servants of God so that these Christians would live their lives in the same way (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:19-20). In this paragraph Paul is going to describe these great promises that we possess which is to cause us to change the way we live our lives.

Do Not Be Mismatched (6:14-15)

Verse 14 is a fairly well-known verses as it has been frequently used to teach that a Christian cannot marry a non-Christian. Some translations read to not be unequally yoke or mismatched with unbelievers (ESV, NKJV, NRSV, HCSB). Some translations read to not be bound at all to unbelievers (NASB, CSB, NET, NIV, NLT). This Greek word heterozygountes is difficult to render, literally meaning “other yoked” and this is the only place this word is used in the New Testament. The adverb form of this word is used in the LXX in Leviticus 19:19 prohibiting the yoking of two different animals together. So this seems to be the picture Paul is painting. You would never put two different kinds of animals together under the same yoke. Therefore, I think the NRSV and HCSB express the idea well, “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers.”

Before we can ever make application of the scripture we must first examine what the text meant to the original audience. By looking at the context it does not appear that Paul has marriage in mind. Nowhere in this chapter or the next chapter does he speak of marriage to cause us to think that he has in mind that God prohibits Christians from marrying non-Christians. The context is that in 6:11-13 Paul says that his heart is open wide to these Corinthians. But the Corinthians are restricted in their affections toward Paul. Why are their hearts restricted? Why are their affections for Paul limited and withheld? This is Paul’s answer. The answer is not because they married unbelievers. Their affections are limited because their affections are yoked in this world and in the relationships they have in this world. That is the point of the paragraph. You cannot have your heart bound to others in worldly ways. They have partnered with worldly people and this has caused their affections for Paul to be restrained.

Now is it possible to become married to a person such that it would cause a Christian to have their affections for God restrained and limited? Absolutely. Paul is very broad and is speaking of any partnership that we might have with an unbeliever that will cause us to compromise our faith or limit our zeal and affection for God. But we must not read this text to say that Paul taught marrying unbelievers is a sin. That is not what is taught here. We can prove this is 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul instructed Christians who were married to unbelievers to remain in that marriage (“remain in the calling to which you were called”). So, is marrying an unbeliever a sin? No. Can marrying unbeliever become sinful? Yes, if it causes your affections for the Lord to wane. But this is also true of family relationships, work relationships, friends, neighbors, and any other relationship that we may enter into. Paul is telling these Christians to not bind themselves into a relationship that will cause this mismatch.

The rest of verse 14 through verse 16 give a fuller explanation why this must be the case. Righteousness cannot be in partnership with lawlessness. Light does not have fellowship with darkness. There is not an agreement between Christ and Belial (a name for Satan during the intertestamental period and is a name for the archenemy of God in the Dead Sea Scrolls). Therefore, what does a believer share with an unbeliever? Paul’s point is that we have nothing in common. We do not share the same values. We do not share the commitments. We do not share the same worldview. We do not share the same way of thinking. We cannot be bound to people in any kind of relationship where it would cause us to not think and act as followers of Jesus.

The Temple of God (6:16)

This picture is strengthened in verse 16 where it becomes clearer that Paul has a concern for idolatry for these Christians. Their hearts have been pulled away from God and toward the world. They are in these relationships with people so that they are accepting idolatry and maintaining idolatrous practices. Let us keep in mind that idolatry is not only the worshiping of false gods but also the immoral behavior that came from idolatry. Idolatry is the context of Paul’s argument because these Christians are falling into sinful behaviors because of the relationships they have in the world so that their affections toward Paul, and ultimately Christ, have been restrained. They are being influenced by the world. We cannot have associations with people where we are pulled into behaving like the world. We must not be at places that reflect worldliness, like bars, night clubs, etc. What association does light have with darkness? Now every generation comes along and asks, “What is the big deal?” What is the big deal if we behave with some immorality? What is the big deal if we are at bars and clubs and the like? Why can’t we participate in those worldly things? Listen to how Paul expresses this in the rest of the paragraph.

“For we are the temple of the living God.” Here is why Christians do not practice those things: we are the temple of the living God. What does this mean? To understand this we need to look at the scriptures and ask, “What did the temple represent?” The big picture concerning the temple is that is represented the presence of God.

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. (Leviticus 26:11–12 ESV)

The temple of God represented having a relationship with God and being near God. When the people were with God, then God was with his people, and God’s presence was in the temple to reflect this. When the people left God, then God was not with his people, and God destroyed his temple to reflect this. The temple represents being in relationship with God. So is the point to not smoke or drink or what have you because God gave you this physical body and you need to take care of it? No! When Paul says that you are the temple of the living God he is telling you that you are in a relationship with God. You cannot be in fellowship with darkness and light at the same time! You cannot be joined to God in righteousness and joined to the world in its wickedness. Notice this is the point that Paul makes at the end of verse 16.

I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV)

God is walking with you and living with you. You belong to him. He is your God and you are his people. How can you possibly join yourself to people who are pulling you away from God?!

Come Out! (6:17-18)

What does God expect us to do? “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing.” Leave the wickedness. God is holy. God is not in fellowship with wickedness. If we are going to be like those who are in the world, then God cannot be in relationship with us. We are supposed to leave the ways of the world. We are supposed to change our thoughts and behaviors so that they are no longer like the world. This is why it is a big deal to end immorality. This is why we do not act like the world and go to places that represent wickedness. This is why we severe relationships with those who draw us into practicing the darkness rather than the light. God has called us to come out from the world and be distinct.

Now what does God say will happen if we will leave these relationships, come out from the world, and be separate? Listen to the rest of verses 17-18.

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 6:17–18 ESV)

We need to be floored by this promises. God says that he will welcome us. God says that he will accept us. God says he will receive us if we will come out from the world and not behave like it. God will receive sinners who come out from the world. God welcomes sinners who separate themselves from the immoral practices of the world. Not only this, God welcomes you into a relationship with him that he will be a father to you and you will be sons and daughters to him. We are adopted. This quotation of Paul is a staggering quotation to use to prove his point. Do you remember who God made this promise to when he said I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me? God said this to David in 2 Samuel 7:8-14. Paul is quoting the Davidic covenant and telling us that this promise belongs to us. It is not just to David or to Solomon. The promise is to you, to your children, and to all who are far off. The promise is to all people who will separate themselves from the practices of the world. God will welcome you, will be your father, and you will be a son or a daughter to him. You are a child of royalty, a child of the Almighty God! You have a privileged relationship. You are not like those people in the world. The children of royalty live different lives than others, don’t they? You are different. You are to be separate.

Pure (7:1)

Now listen to 2 Corinthians 7:1.

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)

“Since we have these promises….” What should we do since we have been given these amazing promises? Cleanse ourselves from every defilement of the body and the spirit. We need to purify ourselves. We need to purify our lives. We need to cleanse ourselves on the inside (the heart) and the outside (the behaviors). This covenantal privilege we have been given demands holy living. We are in the process of bringing holiness to completion in our lives by removing every piece of filth that is in our lives.   Let us take careful inventory of our lives and cleanse ourselves from every defilement in our lives. We are in the process of holiness. Do not stop taking every thought captive and making ourselves pure until we are complete.