Faithlife Sermons

Ox and Donkey

2 Corinthians  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jesus has made us the temple of the living God, set apart to complete holiness.



Every Thursday evening I would get an email asking for the title of the message. It’s a bad habit, but I am so engrossed in the research of it I never give it a title, though I remember my English teacher always says you give a title last. So same thing happened, and I decided to use a more interesting title: Ox and Donkey. What does it remind you of? Any guess? Chinese zodiac. Well this year is year of the Rat, there is an Ox, but no Donkey, closest animal would be a horse.
Two animals, how about these one? Sure there is a donkey again, but the other is clearly an elephant. And in some ways it does have something to do with politics, but not Democrats vs. Republicans.
Democrats vs. Republicans
Or how about financial: Bull and the Bear, one means the market is full of optimism and the other means pessimism and things are on the way down. I suppose it can be related to finance.
Financial Markets (Bull and the Bear)
Tortoise and the Hare? Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner? You begin to realize how often a pair of animals are used as a metaphor or symbol to represent an idea.
Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner


We’ve been now looking at 2 Corinthians for a while now, our first message was all the way back in July of 2019, like a decade ago! We are reading this letter Paul wrote to the church of Corinth which he planted and enemies both outside and from within has caused their relationship to be estranged, and we’ve been looking at a large section where Paul is commending, or putting it out there he is a worthy Apostle of Jesus Christ, and also a father to them, and therefore needs to correct them when they are wrong. Today, we are going to look at his argument for perhaps issues he had addressed back in his first letter to the church of Corinth, that perhaps they have not properly dealt with it, and Paul needs to remind them what’s at stake. Contextually, Paul could be dealing with about illicit relationship, temple prostitution, and advice on marriage or 8, 10 about food sacrificed to idols. But nowadays it’s perfectly fine to be in a mixed racial marriage (long pause), just look at me! (though unlike today where we get to choose our religion and beliefs or not, ancient near-eastern culture people are born into their gods and idols, and bring them along when they get married, so mixed marriage often means God plus idols). And idolatry isn’t a big deal to the average Christian being lured to a Buddhist temple by an unbelieving grandma or uncle to worship with incense. The most common objection I’ve heard or experienced is what do you do going to an unbelieving deceased relative’s grave site and whether we should bow three times, offer incense or not. So how is this teaching today relevant, and what’s at stake which causes Paul to devote this part of the letter with much ink, especially from the Old Testament? So if you have a bible, turn with me to , and it’s page 967 in the pew bible.


We are actually going to look at the last verse first!

7 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.

Notice the word “these promises.” What is the significance of these promises? And how are they related to the first verse:
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” And now we solve our first riddle about the image of the ox and the donkey.


Paul was using an image which for those who are familiar with the Torah, God’s law, would pick up on unequally yoked from Deuteronomy 22.

9 “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. 10 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. 11 You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.

Paul is alluding to three things you ought not to mix together. Two kinds of seeds, plow with an ox and a donkey, and wool and linen. It’s the one in the middle we are concerned with. What’s wrong with plowing with two different animals? Well, practically it would cause a lot of problem in terms of speed, and strength, and may result with an uneven field, one pulling the other, or one stumbles. You just don’t do that! So is that what it means to be unequally yoked? Is Paul saying a believer (which is implied as the other party) shouldn’t associate with an unbeliever because they are unequal in skills and abilities? It may be, but an unbeliever and believer can both have the same skills and abilities, so there’s no problem for them to work together. Unequal nature? As in the ox tends to be more bullish, and a donkey tend to be more gentle? Maybe. Is there more to why an ox and a donkey are unequal? Yes! Because God said so. Really? That’s your answer. Yes, in , it says according to their dietary law an ox is clean which you may eat. But a donkey has cloven hoofs and therefore is considered unclean, and not edible. Now you may say, I’ve been to a farm and I see ox that looks like they haven’t shower for weeks and donkeys that are well kept, how is one clean and the other unclean? Until they get washed right? No, they are destined to be unclean, because God said so. Clean and unclean are not merely sanitary terms but ritualistic terms. It has to do with the heart of the matter, which is purity. What is considered holy (the Hebrew word means set apart) and what isn’t? Less you think the Old Testament is irrelevant or archaic Paul is using the rich culture and history of purity and defilement to make a crucial point.
Although Jesus has fulfilled the sacrificial requirements of the law so now everyone can gain access to the temple, it was not like that prior. For anyone to be in God’s presence and join the assembly of God’s people, earlier on in the tabernacle, then later on in the temple (hint, v. 16), they need to enter in ritual cleanliness because God is holy. What he deems unclean, either certain behaviour from everyday life, from food we eat to birth, death, sex, and everything in between would make someone unclean for a period of time and not be part of the community. Violating these ritual laws in fact could get you permanently kicked out of community. Hence this unequally yoked imagery carries with it great meaning about how Paul sees the unbelievers which are part of the believers in the church of Corinth’s life, but they are now set apart for God, and therefore certain boundaries must be set. Now it makes sense why Paul use a series of five contrasts (on the screen) for his point:

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,

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
We can go into a whole sermon just explaining all the differences between those on the left in blue, and those in the right in red. They all begin with a word which is meant to be unifying, like partnership, or fellowship, but I want to hone in on one set: What accord has Christ with Belial?
The Greek word for accord is symphonesis from which we get the word “symphony.” Now a symphony is a harmonious music composed of different families of instruments played together like the strings with the woodwind, or brass (Ben, correct me if I am wrong). But what symphony can Christ play with Belial, a name of the god of the underworld which is another name for Satan? The cosmic battle between God and the one who oppose God and lure his creation astray can never play any composition together! This brings to light the five contrasts have, righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, believer and unbeliever. It’s all about the impossibility for us as Christians to have anything to do with someone who is lawless (open defiance to God’s law), darkness, sings with Satan, and worships idols! The answer to Paul’s rhetorical question ought to be NOTHING! We ought to have nothing to do with such a person or culture.
But it’s here we need to hold a tension which is the most difficult part, because you would be right to object, “well if you are so clean cut with an unbeliever, how can you do evangelism? How do you share your faith with them, if you can’t be close to them?” And there lies the tension, remember in we have been given the new vocation of being a minister of reconciliation? You can’t reconcile someone to God without being in their lives, right? To be their friends, to earn their trust. So here lies the tension. What do you do?
You can’t apply this without the context. It was about temple prostitution, worshipping idols, and eating food sacrificed to idols, so in other words, Paul is saying those things which is knowingly sinful we don’t make an excuse in order to be a Christian, I am going to cross the line. We can’t participate in things which are illegal, immoral, sinful just so we can get close to unbelievers, however good our intentions might be. Not individually, and definitely not as a body, which is what Paul is referring to. The whole church. When one person sins from the body, the whole body is affected. Just look at how an affair between two Christians who are already married can destroy not just the reputation of the church, but cause division and rumours and gossip. Or how shady business practices and underhanded ways and cutting corners, even mistreating your brother or sister who may work for you by exploiting their love for God as overtime hours. Which brings Paul to the main point, we are the temple of the living God. He mentions that in 1 Corinthians 3:16 after talking about unity and 6:19 after he instructed them on sexual immorality. This is where Paul then expands into the promises we receive as God’s temple.


“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.”

First, you may ask, where is this coming from in the Old Testament because clearly it’s formatted in a certain way to indicate it’s different. Well, it’s actually not one quotation but a blending and editing of four quotations from various parts of the Old Testament. Second, as you can see, there is a chiastic structure going on here. For those who need a refresher, a chiastic structure simply is a poetic device in Hebrew poetry which, instead of rhymes with the last word making the same sound like a limerick (this is a man, and he has a pan), Hebrew poetry uses parallelism of ideas. Verses 16 and 18 echoes one another, I will make my dwelling and walk among them parallels I will welcome you (which is technically verse 17 still). Being their God parallels with being their father. Being his people parallels with being sons and daughters. What about verse 17? The theme we spoke of earlier, the theme of separation and holiness is evident with the verbs “go out,” “separate,” and “do not touch.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Le 26:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Paul, through the inspiration of the Spirit, built this beautiful poem to uplift the promises God has for those who would be set apart from the world! If you compare the original verses where he took them from, you will even see how he has change it to no longer apply just to the people of Israel, but to the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers as well, how we now inherit the promises made to Moses, David, and the prophets.
says, 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.
 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Le 26:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Le 26:11–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;

touch no unclean thing;

go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,

you who bear the vessels of the LORD.

The third book in the Torah, Leviticus, is the book Moses wrote o instruct the people of Israel how they are to relate to their God as those set apart in their way of life, from sacrifices to laws of ritual and practical purity. On the surface, they seem identical except Paul dropped “and my soul shall not abhor “loath” you” which are very strong words. Taking those away doesn’t negate the full meaning. The promise to the people of Israel was he was going to be present to them through the tabernacle (that’s what the verb to dwell) and later the temple, but as God’s living temple, the people of Corinth, and by extension all of us inherit the promise to be the dwelling place for God, not confined by buildings and locations, but by the limitless possibility of the Spirit of Christ. We also are to be the people of God, where God would walk with us as he did with Adam and Eve in the cool of the garden, with Moses his servant who spoke to God face to face provided we separate ourselves from idolatry and defilement (becoming unclean), which is what Leviticus was about. So not only is it explicitly said we need to separate from them “worshipper of idols” in verse 17, even the verse Paul has chosen to modify carries with it the same original intention.
Next, beginning of verse 17: (show slide)
One possible allusion of this verse can be from Ezekiel 20:41

41 As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations

Now Ezekiel is the book of pre-exile around 571 B.C., when the prophet provides warning of the impending judgment of God to send a foreign nation to bring the rebellious people into exile in Babylon. The glory of God has departed the temple, but within it are the promise of one day a new temple and recalling a people of God. Chapter 20:41 seem to be diced up to fit the context, “I will accept you” is similar to “then I will welcome you,” except one introduces God initiating the acceptance, whereas Paul seem to indicate a condition to being welcomed, if you do this and that. God says he will “bring you out from the people and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered” (exile language indicating living in a foreign land), whereas Paul turns this verse on its head to indicate a command from God to tell his people it’s time to “come out and be separate,” leaving “their midst” which is a bit vague (can be a people or a country, but now can also fit the context of a way of life or a lifestyle or culture). Why? Ezekiel says so that God can manifest his holiness to the nations, so Paul’s careful selection of Old Testament passages echo the themes he want to convey in very subtle ways.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;

touch no unclean thing;

go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,

you who bear the vessels of the LORD.

Paul next draws from , which is another prophetic book written earlier then Ezekiel by 200 years roughly (740 B.C.) which also warns of God’s judgment to the people of Israel, with a focus on the holiness of God. Right before the chapter of the Suffering Servant of , we find this warning which echoes Paul’s writing, again, with the theme of fleeing in haste, do not soil yourself or defile yourself, and the call to purity, because they are carrying vessels in the temple which only those who are designated like the Levites can carry. We must by now see a certain theme here of holiness, separation, being clean and purification!
Lastly, we time travel even further to , and though this is not the only verse which echoes this intimate relationship God pledges to have with his chosen son.

14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

This is Nathan the prophet foreshadowing a son in the line of King David who will be treated by God like a father to his own son. Not only will God love him faithfully and not leave him, but he will also discipline him should he rebel against God. How has Paul changed this line? Drastically, but by doing so he has grafted us the church into his royal promise! God will be a father not only to a king in the line of David in an intimate, protecting, caring, and disciplining way; everyone of us who his sons and yes, Paul includes daughters as well explicitly, will be treated as his own flesh and blood in this way.
Now we can count the promise for those of us who would set ourselves apart, be holy, be clean before God:
We would be God’s people as the Israelite were and are, and he will be our God.
We would be set apart for his purpose which means we have to renounce our old way of living and cultural influences which muddles our witness.
We would be his sons and daughters, imagine, the living God who created us and gave life to us, would be a father to us, and we have a royal inheritance in the kingdom of God.
And now we come back to the beginning of the journey in full circle, back to chapter 7, verse 1:

7 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.

This is why we need to choose to be cleanse, like every Israelite did before they gather before God’s presence at the tabernacle, and we have to be thorough in every way as to how we treat our physical body and how we think, what we say, and how we behave, because of those promises to be God’s holy, royal, sons and daughters.


What an extravagant inheritance!
What an incorruptible identity!
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.YOU
What an awesome privilege!


Paul, however, is not unrealistic about our sanctification. He knows “bringing holiness to completion” doesn’t mean we will be completely sinless, have incorruptible integrity or perfect morality in this side of heaven. But we are moving in that trajectory more and more each and everyday, towards its intended goal.
So having said all that and breaking down this wonderful gospel truth, how ought we to live?
For some of us, our cleansing and purifying may mean we have to look at what we put into our minds and thoughts, and how it might affect how we behave.
There use to be a time where I get pretty road rage-y when I am exiting Sheppard southbound on Hwy 404. These cars coming from behind me take advantage of the merging lane to skirt into the exit lane, and I hate it so much because it just doesn’t seem fair. Here I am, obeying the law by not using the merging lane to be a shortcut to the exit lane until you are suppose to exit, and all these lawbreakers just flippantly disobeyed the rule. Now you might say, Freddy, it’s stupid. Just do what they do! Or maybe the odd one out there might say, Freddy, that is so correct, you have every right to be angry. Righteous anger, right? Unfortunately, I didn’t do it to set myself apart to the bad behaviour of others, because it cause a worse behaviour in me as I get angry and I kid you not, curse at those lawbreakers! Then one day, God said to me, your refusal to break the law while commendable, made you self-righteous and angry, which ends up being just as much a sin as breaking the law. So God told me to change one behaviour and instantly, my anger was gone. He told me, “don’t look at the rear mirror all the time and count how many people took advantage of you, just stay in your lane and when you do need to come out, then take a quick glance at the rear mirror, and come out.” When I applied that, no longer comparing to others and thus make myself feel better than them while at the same time being angry, when I don’t look at the rear mirror and focus on my own behaviour, the conflict disappeared. I suppose this may be an illustration of what living in the in-between looks like. You don’t get corrupted by either other’s misdeeds by joining them or wallowing in your own self-righteousness. You choose to live rightly because it pleases your heavenly Father who has promised you a better identity as a holy, royal son or daughter.
So back to our question, how can you, how can we live a more holy lifestyle, uncorrupted by the world and its identity shaping influences?
Is it something to do with your spending? Have you got caught with keeping up with the jones? Are you envious of what your neighbour, or dare I say, your brother and sister has?
For those who are students, is there a peer group you know is not helping you, but draws you further and further away from God by competing with time you spent with knowing and loving God, or drawing you into dangerous, compromising and destructive behaviours?
For those who are older, are you associating with people who only tears others down all the time, maybe its your boss, your co-workers, or is kind when they are in front of them and stab their back when they aren’t looking?
Canadians are not nearly as steeped in politics as our American counterpart, but we generally have certain ideology attach to certain parties. How might our identity be swept up into being left or right, conservative or liberals, that we lose our primary calling to love as called out people regardless whether we align with them politically?
With a bit of time remaining, can we just pause and give this moment to God, see if he may raise up in your mind a person, or a group who wants you to take on their identity, rather than being set apart as a holy, royal son and daughter of God, ask him to give you the courage to no longer be controlled by their way of life.
Closing Prayer
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