The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 43; 2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7.1: "Paul's Frontal Attack"
The Corinthian Correspondence, Part 43; 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1 "Paul's Frontal Assault" A private school in Manhattan warns against using sex-based terms because they make assumptions about people. Grace Church School explained in its "inclusive language guide" that the school "can do more than ban hateful language; we can use language to create welcoming and inclusive spaces." Rather than using the words "mom and dad" to describe a child's parents, the guide recommends saying "grown-ups, folks, or family." It even warns against using the word "parents," though the guide itself uses the word. It also discourages against the words "boys and girls." In lieu of those titles, one should say, "people, folks, friends, readers, mathematicians..." And instead of using "a boy/girl pattern" to line students up, teachers should "group by types of shoes" or by alphabetical order. "Families are formed and structured in many ways," the guide states. "At Grace Church School, we use inclusive language that reflects this diversity." The guide also references the "Genderbread person," which offers a progressive understanding of "sexual orientation," "gender identity," "gender expression," and "sex characteristics." The school released a statement this week, defending its decision to promote the "inclusive language guide," claiming to be a victim of "the culture war storm." "We know that policing language demonstrates more concern for getting a community to use the right words than for cultivating a sense of belonging for its members," said Head of School George Davison. "That is not how we do things at Grace, and that is why our Inclusive Language Guide does not ban any words. At Grace we understand the power of language both to include and to cause alienation. We also know that it is our job to give community members resources to allow them to make informed and generous choices. He went on to say the guide is "designed to help the adults in the community find words to affirm and unite." "So if the boorish 'cancel culture' press wants to condemn us a newly dubbed 'Woke Noho' school of politeness, dignity, and respect, then I embrace it, and I hope you will, too," Davison added. This story highlights the power of cancel culture and political correctness that seem to have taken over not just our country but practically everywhere. This story reported loud and clear that this religious school has buckled under the power of PC-even claiming that they are victims of the culture war. I find it refreshing when Christians, live according to courage of their convictions, unlike the head of Grace Church school. Those who live out their convictions may pay a price, but they will not be silenced, like Canadian Pastor Coates who is sitting in jail right now for refusing to go along with the mandate severely restricting the number of people who could attend worship services. The Lord Jesus was not silent either. And, politically speaking , the price he paid was his life for bearing witness to the truth, even as he said in John 18:37: "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth." In our passage for today, 2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1, we will also see the apostle Paul doing the same thing. He bore witness to the truth regarding 2 groups of people: the false teachers and his beloved Corinthians. Earlier in this chapter we saw Paul making an urgent appeal to the Corinthians. But again let me give you just a little backstory. Several years prior to this appeal, he came to Corinth and proclaimed the gospel: "Christ crucified." Through the power of God's Holy Spirit, a church was born. After spending about 18 months training the new disciples of Jesus in the ways of the Lord, he left there to proclaim the gospel in other places. But they were not far from Paul's mind and certainly they were in his heart. He caught wind of some people who showed up in the church and tried their level best to win the hearts and minds of the Corinthian believers. These false teachers brought a false gospel with them. And they were having a strong effect on the Corinthians, so much so that they came to the crossroads of their spiritual experience: would they join the false teachers and all they offered? Or would they stay with the truth of the gospel of Christ Paul preached? Earlier in this chapter, we heard Paul telling the Corinthians: "Don't receive the grace of God in vain." In other words, "don't walk away from Jesus." In him alone there is salvation. Last week, we saw Paul give the Corinthians a massive list of his character qualities, almost as if he and his friends were submitting a resume as to whom would be best qualified to lead the Corinthians. As we discovered, Paul and company stood head and shoulders above the qualities of these false teachers. Once again, Paul and even the Lord himself were in an all-out spiritual war to win back the hearts and minds of the Corinthians. Today we are going to see Paul throw aside his pleading with the Corinthians. We will see him pull out of his arsenal weaponry suitable for a spiritual frontal attack. And with the help of God's Spirit, Paul was determined to win the war. So, in our passage we are going to see Paul lob one verbal missile after another toward these false teachers. Then, we will see Paul vigorously reminding the Corinthians of who they are in Christ. Implicitly he is telling them, "be reconciled to God; don't receive the grace of God in vain." And we will see as well the Lord himself calling the Corinthians to return to him and away from the false teachers who carried a false gospel, one that does not save. So, what were Paul's weapons? The first one, directed at the false teachers, was exposure. He set about the task of exposing to the Corinthians exactly who the false teachers were. We will see this in vv.14-16. The second weapon Paul used was a reminder of who the Corinthians were. What a powerful weapon this is! The enemy of our souls will do anything to distract us and divert our attention away from who God says we are. When that happens, Christians become prone to Satan's withering attacks. So Paul drives home in the hearts of his beloved Christian brothers and sisters exactly who they are. The apostle does this in vv.17-18. And finally, Paul, the ever practical Christian worker, tells the Corinthians to be doers and hears of truth in 7.1. Let's read vv.14-16: Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? Let Paul's words sink in for a moment. What labels did he use to expose the false teachers? Paul here was not exactly loving. And if he were here today, he would probably get cancelled, and I would imagine even by many churches. But no matter. Paul would not be stopped. So let's walk through the labels Paul uses against the false teachers. The first is Unbelievers-don't be yoked (partner) together with them. Those who have not placed their faith in the crucified, resurrected Christ as Lord and Savior. We would say, "these people need to get saved. They are on their way to a Christless eternity in hell." But the Corinthians were believers. By the way, the context is specifically about Christians partnering together with false teachers. But this can apply to any kind of partnership where there is an official, close association. And Paul says, "don't go there." Do not partner with unbelievers. To include marriage. "Missionary dating" or even a Christian marrying a non-Christian in hopes that the Christian can lead the non-Christian spouse to the Lord is begging for trouble! Christians are to marry only Christians! The second label Paul pinned on the false teachers was those who practice lawlessness. Apparently, the view of the false teachers was "anything goes," especially in the moral realm. They believed they were forgiven so they could do what they wanted. Well, Jesus has something to say about that. In Matthew 7.21-23 we hear words from Jesus' own lips, accurately written down by Matthew which ought to deeply frighten those who refuse to submit to the way of Jesus. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' Paul called these false teachers workers of lawlessness, and are excluded from the Kingdom of heaven-they are not Christians. The 3rd charge Paul levied on the false teachers was they lived in moral darkness. Without God. Paul said earlier in this letter that God has shone in the hearts of those who have the truth to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God has not shown the false teachers the light of the knowledge of God in their hearts. Now, devastating charge number 4: Paul identifies the false teachers as those who have an accord with Belial. This is about as opposite as they could get from Christ. Belial is a synonym for Satan himself. This name literally means "worthless." Makes sense, doesn't it? Christ who is all worthy, pitted against the devil who Paul described as worthless. Then as though Paul is driving home the point, he labels the false teachers as unbelievers a second time. What a character sketch! Short and devastatingly to the point. These people, though image bearers of God are thoroughly wicked. Unworthy of following. Oh, but so enticing to many, including the Corinthians. Why would that be? Indeed, why would anybody at any time be tempted to place themselves in a position to fall under the influence of any religious teacher like Paul describes? Well, think the Garden of Eden and all that went on there. Eve was innocent and listened to the lie from the serpent. Think of the satanic spirit influencing religions then and now communicating to the leaders that their followers must sacrifice their children. The high priests in temples called Planned Parenthood, for example, call out, in the name of freedom of choice, "give me your unborn children. You know you don't want them. I will take them." I recently read an article published by One News Now about a certain religious group which desires to make actual abortion procedures part of their child sacrifice rituals, under the guise of freedom of religion. The group? The Satanic Temple. They are suing the state of Texas to secure this. This is just one example of satanically motivated religious practices that people fall for in our world. Let me mention for you a few practices which do not agree with the truth of Scripture. Though most of us would agree to what I'm about to tell you, it is difficult to hear. There are billions of people on the planet right now who have committed themselves to these spiritual ways but are on their way to a Christless eternity. Every person caught up in these religions is a valuable image bearer of God. It gives me no pleasure to go down this list. But all those fully committed to them will die condemned. Every person in these religions-or no religion at all-will stand before the one who has all authority, and who died and rose again so that the ultimate wrath of God will not fall on them. If only on this side of the grave they would repent of their sin and believe the gospel of Christ. In our day, there are cults like Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses, with their millions of followers. World religions like Hinduism, Islam, Roman Catholicism with all their baggage (let me emphasize that-there are many saved Catholics), and non-Messianic Judaism put the number of precious souls way over multiplied billions of people. Add to that legalism in many churches-strict adherence to religious rules as they try to somehow earn favor with God. And on the other side, the many who practice sinful lifestyles and call it freedom. Add it all up and, as Jesus said, "few there be that find eternal life." My friends, do you see how serious this is? The enemy does his level best to distract and divert attention away from the need for all people everywhere to repent and believe the gospel of Christ. The false teachers in Paul's day are no different than in ours. But doubtless there are more now than there were 2,000 years ago. Having seen Paul use his first weapon with devastating force in exposing the false teachers, now let's turn our attention to see how the apostle uses his second weapon, that of a reminder of the Corinthians' identity: "Who are you in Christ, Corinthians?" Let's read vv.16-18: 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. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; 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." So, who are the Corinthians? Let's paint a picture. First they have a living relationship with the living God-the only God there is. This relationship, this "environment" between them and God is described as that of a temple. Why temple? In terms of relationship, this is where God dwells. There are many statements in Scripture which say that God is not limited by time or place. Indeed, God is such that the earth is his footstool! Here is what God says through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 66:1: Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?" Let's continue with the picture of God's people, particularly the Corinthians, being a temple for the Lord. Not only in terms of God dwelling among his people, but now, also in terms of holiness. This word means different. Separate. Set apart. Special. All God's people are to live in a holy, exclusive relationship with God and His people. He described this as a family, as sons and daughters in relationship with the Heavenly Father. The Corinthians were in the family of God. They had a living relationship with the living Lord. But they stood on the brink of throwing it away. They were God's people but they were "that close" to walking out the door. Paul reminds them, "Let's remember who we are, Corinthians. I am part of the temple of God, and so are you. God has established a covenant relationship with us. The blood of Jesus is the foundation of the Covenant. Because we are God's people we are to now live like it." Indeed, the Corinthians, and our relationship with God is as sons and daughters. Let me remind us of the culture of the First Century. Regardless of how we see family relationships, even if in our experience we do not have a good father, shame avoidance back then was at the top of the list of priorities. Children would rather die than to bring shame to their father. And Paul reflects this kind of thing in Ephesians 5.1: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. The way we as children of God are to avoid shame in our relationship with our perfect, heavenly Father is that we, his children imitate him, literally mimic him. On the basis of a genuine love relationship with Father God, we are to live our lives in sacrificial love for others, dying, or saying "no" to our own desires, and saying "yes" to the needs of others. This is what Jesus did-he gave himself up for us. Paul called this a fragrant offering and sacrifice in v.2. Then in v.3 of Ephesians 5, Paul gives the Ephesian Christians further instructions about what it means to mimic their heavenly Father: their moral behavior. In short, Paul says, "Because of who you are, or more appropriately of whose you are, live the way God tells you." Remember your relationship, then "do as you're told" to the glory of God. "If you love me," Jesus said, "Keep my commandments." Well, it was not lost on God the Father what the Corinthians were up against. The false teachers were strong in their satanic enticement to win them. God now, through Paul, told them to repent. Let's look again at v.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." Paul quotes several passages of Scripture as sort of a mashup, building his case to let the Corinthians know that God was telling them to turn away from the false teachers. "Go out from their midst." "Be separate from them." "Touch no unclean thing." Notice what God said through Paul in describing the false teachers. He calls them unclean. He implies that the false teachers are defiling the Corinthians. But the Corinthians are not victims here, unlike Grace Church school in New York which claimed victimhood of the culture war. It was they who put themselves in the position to be influenced by the false teachers. That is why God commands his people to repent: to turn away from them and their teaching, to separate themselves from the false teachers and return to God. And should they repent what will God do? Welcome them back as sons and daughters. They will again bring honor to the Father when they do this. Their repentance from the false teachers will prove they are really sons and daughters of God. I'm reminded of what Detrich Bonhoeffer said: that our faith in Christ and obedience to him go together: "only the one who believes, obeys," and conversely that "only the one who obeys, believes." What do we have so far? Paul devastates the false teachers. He calls the Corinthians to live like the sons and daughters God declares them to be. Now in 2 Corinthians 7.1, Paul gives strong encouragement to press on in their walk with the Lord. 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. As children of God, Paul gives them a word of encouragement and a command. We can call these the promises and purity. But all of this is for a purpose. First the promises: "Corinthians, you are sons and daughters of God. When you repent, he will welcome you back into the family. The Lord is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness"-literally the Lord is loyal to his covenant. It is amazing to me how quick the Lord is to forgive sins. I can stand here all day and tell you about how merciful and forgiving the Lord continues to be for me. And I'm sure you can, too. The bottom line is simply: God will receive us as we return to him. Corinthians, return to the Lord so he can bless you. God does not break his promise. That's such good news! So, because God has given his people his "welcome home" promises, what is to be their response? In a word, bring honor to the Father. In a word, purity is the name of the game. God's people are to cleanse themselves of every defilement of body and spirit. Notice how Paul words this. God's people are to cleanse themselves of every defilement of body and spirit. How can anybody do that? Let me illustrate. For the past few days, Kitty and I have been hard at work, painting our front room. We decided to paint over the varnished wood of which there is a lot of. This required us to use oil based primer. Silly me. I did not use gloves. And the smell of the primer was horrid! My hands were eventually covered with blue primer. Very difficult to remove. But I had to remove it! How would it be if I kept it on my hands? I would have defiled a lot of what I touched, to include my bedsheets. So how to do it? It took a lot of soap, waterless hand cleaner, and a lot of scrubbing. After a long time, I was able to remove the primer. I used gloves the next time! But how did I remove it? I applied the cleaner. It was not me that removed the primer. I could not do it. It was the cleaner. In the same way, we are called to apply the cleanser the Lord has given us to cleanse our souls: repentance and confession. 1 John 1.9 is reserved for those in the family of God and it goes like this-recite it with me if you know it: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. After we have confessed our sins and repented of them, then we adopt the attitude Paul had. In Philippians 3, Paul's testimony is that he forgets what lies behind and reaches forward to what lies ahead. In my early Christian experience, we brothers continually reminded ourselves of this phrase: "fess and press." Confess my sin and press on. How often do we beat ourselves up over our sins, even after we have confessed and repented of them? We think we need to somehow punish ourselves over our sin and when we sufficiently beat ourselves up then we can feel forgiven. But gloriously, which ought to greatly humble us, Christ took all of our punishment. And by his grace, we can say that we are forgiven. Completely. So, what's the watchword when it comes to sin? Fess and press on. Finally, what is the purpose Paul proclaimed to the Corinthians regarding the cleansing of themselves of all defilement of body and soul? It is to perfect holiness in the fear of God. What is up with that? Simply put, all of us who are in God's family through repentance and faith in the gospel of Christ are continually training ourselves for godliness as we look forward to Evaluation Day. We practice holiness by being doers of God's word and not hearers only. Remember what the Scriptures do? 2 Timothy 3.16: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. This statement tells us that Scripture-God's word-accomplishes for us 4 things. First, it teaches us the way of the Lord-the path of righteousness. Second, it reproves us-it shows us when we have gotten off the path of righteousness. Third, it corrects us-it shows us how to get back on the path of righteousness. And fourth, it further trains us in righteousness-it gets us farther down the path of righteousness. In short, God's word helps us to train ourselves for godliness, even as Paul told the Philippians to work out-or exercise--our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure. Ok, so what? Why is it that we as Christian are to perfect holiness in our lives? The answer? It is found in the last phrase of this portion of Scripture: "in the fear of the Lord." Now, where have we heard this before? 2 Corinthians 5.10-11: Paul says that he makes it the aim of his life to be pleasing to the Lord on this side of eternity, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." In other words, we practice righteousness to get ourselves ready for the day when we stand before the Lord. All of us will be there. The books will be open, as will the book of life. All of us will be judged to receive what is due for what we have done with our lives, whether good or evil. And the book of life will be opened. Whether or not one's name is written in that book will determine whether a person will go into eternal life with the Lord, or into eternal death, unending suffering in eternal fire. Hear the horrifying words of Revelation 20:15: And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Absolutely sobering. Please, I implore you, if you are not absolutely certain that your name is written in the book of life, make certain. Jesus gives us the way, because he is the way. We repent-that is, we turn from our sin. We embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. He the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who came to earth through a virgin named Mary. He lived a perfect life. He suffered an agonizing death on the cross, taking upon himself our sin. He was buried and rose again 3 days later. He appeared to his disciples and ascended to the right hand of the Father. One day he will return to rule and reign on earth. And we will all stand before him for he is the judge of all people. And he has the authority to say, "enter into the joy of your Lord," or "Depart from me for I never knew you." So, in the immediate, today, what can we take away from this message? Two things. First, don't believe everything you hear in the world. Only believe what God's word says. As Christians, we cannot train ourselves for godliness if we are uncritically watching stuff on the tube, or mindlessly listening to podcasts of our favorite music, even if it all comes under the banner of Christian. Remember the false teachers made their appeal through their own brand of religious beliefs and practices. The bottom line here is, know the word of God and measure everything you hear, read or see by it. If you need help to know how to understand and study the Scripture, please let me know. I'd be more than happy to help. Let's be like the noble Bereans. Luke in Acts 17.11-12 tells us about them: Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. These Bereans did not take Paul's word for it, just because he said it. They investigated it and compared what he said with the plain teaching of the Scripture. They made sure that what they heard from Paul checked out with God's word. We are to do the same. Finally, let's face it. Major storms are coming. Our world is about to shake. It may not shake tomorrow. It might be next month, or next year or 5 years from now, or even longer. But Jesus himself promised it would happen. He described it as the worst tribulation in the history of the world. We read that flood was bad, but that will be nothing like the Great Tribulation! He said that if the days of the tribulation would not be cut short, no one would survive. But at the right time, the Lord will return to put an end to the tribulation. He will save his people, destroy his enemies and set up his throne. And I can't wait for that day! In the meantime, let's get ready. I mentioned it earlier: we are to be hearers of God's word and doers of it. For it is in the doing of God's word that prepares us for the coming storms in this life and in the next one when we will stand before him. Let me give you the words of our Lord, in the conclusion of his most famous sermon as we read it in Luke 6:46-49: "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great." So, when we, as his disciples diligently apply the word of God, 2 things happen. First we are prepared for the storms of life, to include the biggest storm there will ever be. And second, we will have less of a traumatic time at the judgment seat of Christ. But let's leave this message on a good note. Let's remember Christ's words that he spoke to his men the night before he went to the cross. Jesus predicted that they were going to temporarily fall away. But they would repent and return to him. Let's take comfort in these words: John 16:31-33: Jesus answered them, "Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." In the midst of the tough choices we all must make to follow Jesus day by day, let's take advantage of the peace that he alone offers. Paul attacked the false teachers because he loved his brothers and sisters. Let's join in the battle, dying to ourselves, at every crossroad in our followership of the Lord Jesus. Let's promote the truth of who we are because we loyally follow him. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us!