2 Corinthians 6:14-18

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Either/Or

People tend to hate ultimatums. When a boss, for instance, says, “It’s my way or the highway,” he’s just tempting the employee to quit. Egging him on really. No one likes to be handled that way. Moreover, in our pluralistic society, one way or even two ways to skin a cat just won’t cut it. We need many ways, many truths. Or if not many ways, then how about a middle way? That sounds most balanced, doesn’t it? Hence the appeal of Buddhism or Aristotelian ethics. In our verses today, we see two ways to live, two worldviews that are hostile to one another. One cannot live at peace with the other. Either/or. Take one and leave the other. Clearly, Paul is not advocating both ways. You’ll need to leave one behind, and it’s the one of the Serpent that will need to bite the dust. Paul’s telling us that there’s only one real option for those who love Jesus, and it’s God’s way.

Here’s the contrast laid out in vv. 14-16a.

God’s Way Devil’s Way
Righteousness Lawlessness
Light Darkness
Christ Belial/Beliar
Believer Unbeliever
God’s temple Idols

 

The contrasts are clearly perceived. A law cannot be seen as both righteous and lawless in the same sense. If you have darkness exposed to the light, the dark areas are no longer dark. Christ does not commune with Belial (a word associated with wickedness and worthlessness: Deut. 13:13; Judges 19:22; 1 Sam. 1:16; 2:12), which is another name for Satan. How dare we think that the God who commands that we have and make no idols would be associated with idols! Paul is dipping into the rich history of the Old Testament holiness code in Leviticus 26:12 in particular, and highlighting the themes of clean v. unclean, separation v. participation, righteousness v. unrighteousness, and God as our dwelling-place (cf. also Isa. 52:11; Ezek. 11:17; 16; 37:27; etc.). With Paul’s catena of OT allusions and quotations, you can hear the covenant Lord’s command, “Be holy, as I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). We’re called to holiness.

It’s important to see the connection between these verses and the preceding context, because the connection may not be initially obvious to all. Looking back in the previous section, we remember that Paul is defending the apostolic ministry of the New Covenant, and his own inclusion as Christ’s ambassador and minister of it, and he’s making an appeal to receive him as his heart is wide open to them (2 Cor. 5:11-6:13). G.K. Beale connects the two sections thus: “This is not a general exhortation to separate from the world; rather, Paul likely has in mind that the readers are to separate from the world by not evaluating Paul’s apostleship according to the unbelieving standards of the world.”[1] In other words, the Corinthians will demonstrate their separation from the world, their disassociation from Satan and his “super-apostles,” by acknowledging Paul as an authentic New Covenant minster and apostle (cf. 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:1-4, 13-15, 20-23; 12:11-21). If they reject Paul as an apostolic authority, what they’re saying is that they reject God. They’re denying that God has spoken to them through Paul. The word from Paul is no word from God, they’d say. It is not for them. Perhaps true for others, but not for them. This was the perspective of the false apostles that were against Paul and who were influencing the Corinthians to leave Paul in the dust. Such is the way of the world, and Paul was no stranger to this kind of opposition. He dealt with a similar expression in his letter to the Galatians. The question for the Corinthians (and all of us, really) is this: Will we receive this letter as the Word of God? There are some truths that won’t go down smoothly, but can they be digested with faith? We may not care for Paul’s weak style, but can we get on board with God’s modus operandi as he takes the folly of the cross to shame the wise?

We must be reminded that we are a temple of God, that God’s Spirit indwells us (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 3:12). We must be reminded that our church body is a temple of the Holy Spirit in us (1 Cor. 6:19). Don’t be yoked unequally. Don’t partner with lawlessness. Don’t fellowship with darkness. Don’t associate with the Devil. Don’t commune with unbelievers. This does not mean that we can’t spend time with them, evangelize them, love them, have friendships with them, etc. But it does mean that we don’t view them as brothers and sisters in Christ, for they are without God. It does mean that we don’t unite ourselves with them in a common bond of Christ apart from the gospel. Christless unity is not worthy of the name. God dwells with his people, so do not dwell in unity with those who are not his people. Be separate from those outside of the Lord. Be not associated with anything morally unclean and impure.

God is your Father, you are his son or daughter, so be holy as your heavenly Father is holy. That’s the command. The illogicality and irreconcilability of the two ways of living force us to choose this today whom we will serve: Righteousness or lawlessness? Light or darkness? Trinity or idols? Christ or Beliar? Jesus the true temple is the way (John 14:6). Believers likewise are called the temple of the living God (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:14). Reasonably, therefore, those in him must follow the Way. It’s not shocking to learn that the early Christians were called the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23). The applications for us Christians today are limitless. Rather than particularizing them, let me simply encourage you to ask a few questions as you seek to apply these verses to any specific possible endeavor.

  1. Is what I’m considering thinking or doing a departure from the clear, authoritative Word of God?
  2. Is what I’m considering a compromise of the gospel?
  3. Is what I’m considering doing justice to God’s clear command to separate myself from all evil, impurity, and fellowship with sin and evil?

[1] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New, 716.

     
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