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Influencing Sin Without Compromise

A Guide for Christians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  36:28
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Fellowship with God


The Condition of the Church

First, I think it is important for us to understand why Paul wrote this letter in order to properly interpret his meaning.
Rebellion caused by pagans and false teachers
These associations put the church in conflict with Scripture
Scholars estimate that the second epistle to the Corinthians was written between 55-56 A.D. The church in Corinth was in the midst of a full-blown rebellion as they were being infiltrated by pagans and, more alarmingly, traveling teachers with letters of commendation from the twelve apostles in Jerusalem, who were using these letters to teach doctrines and practices contrary to the gospel. These infiltrators claimed an abundance of knowledge but lacked faith and love. The apostle Paul is writing to the church out of a feeling of love for them, as a parent has for their child. He is troubled that the church’s associations with unbelievers is drawing them into idolatrous and pagan practices. The purpose of his letter is to re-affirm to the Corinthians his deep love for them and his Christ-given authority, as well as the ultimate authority of the Scriptures. His main goal was to demonstrate these two points and inspire the Corinthians to restore unity to the church.
Identify the problem and fix it
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Paul breaks away from his main theme of love and authority to convict the church of why there is a problem in the first place and how to fix it:
2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 ESV
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 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. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” 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.

God is not to be taken for granted

Now that we understand the circumstances of the letter, I would like to start with examining verse 16 of our passage.
2 Corinthians 6:16 ESV
16 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.
Paul stresses that we are the temple of the living God because the temple had significant importance to the Jews and early Christians. The temple is the place where God dwells among His people. Paul clarifies his meaning in the latter part of the verse, where he quotes Ezekiel 37:27:
Ezekiel 37:27 ESV
27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
God is a living God, not a dead idol
In fact, Paul adds the qualifier living to his identification of God, referring to the Old Testament speaking of God as the living God because he is active and responsive to His people. Paul wants to emphasize that God differs dramatically from the dead idols of pagans that can do nothing. God is a living being, He does not rely on us, He does not need anything from us. Paul uses the imagery of Christians being the temple of God in a dualistic manner; he is encompassing the entirety of the church, as in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17:
1 Corinthians 3:16–17 ESV
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
as well as the individual, as in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
1 Corinthians 6:19–20 ESV
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
God dwells in us and in the church
Paul’s stress is on the church as a whole, but he also weaves in the idea that the church is made a dwelling for God through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in it’s members.
False teaching perverts God’s dwelling
Contrast that with the fact that the Corinthians were being instructed by false teachers that it was acceptable to worship Jesus in the perverse ways pagan gods were worshipped, citing that Jesus provided freedom by removing sins altogether and therefore teaching that nothing they did, no matter how wrong, could be held against them. However, we understand that true faith involves a repentance from sin and that this type of thinking is a perversion of what Christ’s death and resurrection achieved for us. These false teachings and perversions of the Gospel were Paul’s target.
God can leave anytime He wants (Ezekiel 10)
Furthermore, the people of God enjoy no greater privilege than that of belonging to Him and having Him dwell in us. But God is not bound to His dwelling. Therefore, God’s presence cannot be taken for granted or as a guarantee; He chooses His dwelling freely and He can leave if his people disobey Him (for homework on this concept, read Ezekiel 10).

Holiness is the Christians goal

That brings us to verse 7:1, wherein Paul gives us direction on what we should do in light of this privilege:
2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV
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.
Spiritual holiness before God through obedience
The concept of cleanness and uncleanness is established early in the Bible. We see concepts of it in Genesis, with clarifying regulations provided in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Though the ceremonies were mainly physical, their significance lies in the imagery they represent of spiritual holiness before God. Throughout the New Testament, cleanness is the result of obedience of the heart through regeneration; repentance and confession procure the cleansing power of Christ’s blood.
Behavior and the spirit are defiled together
In addition to this concept, Paul’s reference to “defilement of the body and spirit” implies that our whole person is affected by false teachings and idolatrous practices. He is connecting that an impure spirit will lead to misuse of your body and visa versa. Behavior is not just external; it corrupts the spirit as well, neither the behavior of the body nor the condition of the spirit should be over looked by believers. This was exemplified in the fact that pagan worship often involved promiscuity, prostitution, cutting oneself, and other forms of self harm. In fact, Paul links these physical acts to demons in 1 Corinthians 10:19-21:
1 Corinthians 10:19–21 ESV
19 What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Holiness is separation from sin
My point is, holiness is a separation from the world’s fallen condition and it’s given to true believers when they place their faith in Christ. Preserving this holiness is the goal of our lives each and every day.

Compromise leads to division

Finally, Paul’s command in verse 14 explains how we are to achieve this goal:
2 Corinthians 6:14 ESV
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
Now let’s consider that a yoke is a wooden frame placed on the backs of draft animals to make them pull in tandem and work together. The imagery Paul is invoking is found in Deuteronomy 22:10, which is a prohibition on yoking different types of animals together:
Deuteronomy 22:10 ESV
10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
Believers and unbelievers are not the same creatures
Unbelievers false worship cause division in the church
As you can see from this example, the apostle is expounding that believers and unbelievers are two different types of creatures. He is speaking directly to the joint nature of the church’s work, and commanding that we should not form partnerships with unbelievers. Therefore, Paul’s command is best interpreted in relation to worship, specifically the matter of pagan and false worship and the division it causes in the church. Likewise, Paul gave a similar mandate to the church in Rome:
Romans 16:17–18 ESV
17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Unbelievers lead believers away from the truth
In a like manner, rival suitors to the church in Corinth were pagan idolaters and false teachers infecting the church with doctrine and practices that were in conflict with the Scriptures and, regardless of them professing to be Christians, Paul points them out as unbelievers from whom the church needs to separate. Paul’s greatest concern was that these unbelievers were leading believers astray from true faith, as he writes in 2 Corinthians 11:3:
2 Corinthians 11:3 ESV
3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

Separation from sin is necessary

God is not to be ignored
Keeping the sins of the Corinthian church and their acceptance of false teachings in mind, it is clear that they did not understand the Scriptures and recognize the danger that they placed themselves in. They needed to be reminded that the God of Scriptures is not to be ignored. Furthermore, Paul wanted believers to understand that true faith requires that they separate themselves from unbelievers.
Don’t mis-use, or allows other to mis-use, Scripture
At the same time, it is common for Christians to apply Paul’s instructions here to marriages and close business associations between believers and unbelievers, but this is not the case and out of context with the whole of Paul’s teachings. We gain clarity on the apostles position in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:
1 Corinthians 7:12–16 ESV
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
and 1 Corinthians 5:9-10:
1 Corinthians 5:9–10 ESV
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
Don’t compromise Christianity
In light of these passages, it is clear that not all associations are forbidden but rather, Paul’s intention is to prohibit relationships which lead to a compromise of Christian beliefs and conduct.
Correct professing Christians who say, teach, or act in ways that conflict with the Scriptures
If false Christians refuse to repent, we are to no longer associate with them
Be the influence in relationships with unbelievers
Nevertheless, how do we clearly follow Paul’s instructions? First, we are to correct professing Christians who say, teach, or act in ways that conflict with the Scriptures. Second, if they refuse to repent, we are to no longer associate with them. However, Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:32 to be willing to forgive these people when they truly repent and come to faith, but in the mean-time, we should not be in fellowship with them and allow them to corrupt the church. Finally, in our everyday interactions with unbelievers, we are to be sure that we are the influence in our interactions and not the other way around. In fact, We should always be proclaiming and demonstrating God’s holiness.
We must live in this world, but this world must not live in us.
In conclusion, modern Christians are not unlike the ancient Corinthians. The attitude of too many Christians is that the church should court and please the world in order to try to win it over. They want to compromise the teaching of the Scriptures and Christian values in order to fill up the pews. This is not what the Scriptures tell us to do; as we learned today, there must be a separation from sin. This does not mean isolating ourselves, but it does mean keeping ourselves from the compromise, defilement, and influence of the world. A old poem illustrates the danger well:
All the water in the world
However hard it tried,
Could never, never sink a ship
Unless it got inside.
All the hardships of this world,
Might wear you pretty thin,
But they won’t hurt you, one least bit
Unless you let them in.
It is fine for the ship to be in the water, but when the water gets into the ship, there is a clear and present danger.
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