In Part 1, we looked very briefly at the idea of what being holy or separate is all about. In 1Peter 1:14-17, Peter quotes Leviticus 20:7 that we are to be holy as God is holy. We took time in the first post to pose some ideas about this that might often get overlooked. In more fundamentalist circles, separation or holiness is defined as a litany of outward restrictions, with many (if not all) of these restrictions given the moniker of being “sin”. The more right angles that my life and behavior can conform to, the more separated I’ll be (or, at least this is the general idea). Yet, in the last post, we saw that if we are to be holy as God is holy, then we need to understand how it is that God is holy. While we are worried about smoking and tattoos to be identified as holy, God is demonstrating His holiness in His redemption, mercy, goodness, truth, longsuffering, graciousness, and so on (Exodus 15:11; Exodus 34:6-7). Therefore, if we are to be holy in the same manner in which the Lord is holy, then to the extent we are likewise emanating redemption, goodness, truth, longsuffering, mercy and graciousness, then we are holy like God is. This is what makes God distinct from other gods and therefore as believers, we should likewise find our distinction not in outward alignment exercises of the flesh, but in, as the Bible speaks of it, the circumcision of the heart – a transformation of the heart that becomes a fertile garden of mercy, grace and truth.
In this post, I want to continue looking at what makes us separate/holy and focus on the passage from 2Corinthians 6 where Paul tells the Corinthians to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. This passage is often cited to teach about believers not dating/marrying unbelievers primarily, and secondarily, you’ll hear this passage cited from a business context – that a believer should not enter into a business partnership with an unbeliever. As usual, context actually sheds some light on what Paul is tracking on. While I wouldn’t say that we can’t take wisdom from this passage as it relates to marriage or business relationships, I would say that we shouldn’t completely ignore the context in order to make those points. In those points, there are some general truths, but, they may not be entirely universal in nature (thinking of 1Corinthians 7 as background to that statement).
What is being unequally yoked and why is this a matter of separation?
When Paul gets into chapters 3 and 4 of 2Corinthians, he is laying out the reality that some people blind themselves to the glorious message that stands before them. He starts with the children of Israel who saw Moses’ shining face couldn’t look up on it. Moses had a message – the 10 Commandments – and after he descended from the mountain, he had to veil his face because of the radiance he bore. The children of Israel were essentially blinded to the radiance of Moses. In order for the children of Israel to consider the message of Moses, Moses veils his face to douse the beaming radiance. Likewise, Paul says that many in their day have been presented with the glorious truth of the new testament in Christ and likewise, they hid the truth of that message from themselves – they veil their hearts from hearing and believing. Paul says that the folks who willfully hide this truth from themselves are lost. If Paul’s gospel is hidden, he says, it is hidden to them that are lost – to them who hide it from themselves because he is speaking plainly and openly in all his message. The word lost only shows up in Paul’s writings one time and it’s right here, and notice that the context are not people born into Adam’s sin. Paul is not making a sweeping statement upon humanity’s state without Christ but is making a specific statement about those who have been confronted with the message of Christ and have chosen to blind themselves to the message. They have allowed not the God of Paul’s gospel to shine unto them, but have yielded to the god of this world. This will be important when we get to “unequally yoked.”
2Corinthians 3:6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 3:7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
2Corinthians 3:12 Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: 3:13 And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: 3:14 But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. 3:15 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. 3:16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
2Corinthians 4:1 Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 4:3 But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4:4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
Despite the fact that there are those who have blinded themselves to Paul’s message of Christ – people who were likewise having some influence upon the Corinthians – Paul goes on to talk about the surety of his future and destiny. Even though there are evil worker out there, Paul is nothing more than an earthen vessel that houses the treasure of God’s glory (chapter 4) but more so, even if this earthen vessel (his body) were destroyed, his earthen body will be remade into a heavenly body (the “incorruption” Paul speaks about in other passages concerning our bodily resurrection). Therefore, as the love of God constrains him in light of he being a new creature in Christ, he is going to continue to preach the reconciliation of Christ (chapter 5) so that all will know that Christ became sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God, in Him. When Paul gets to chapter 6, he pleads with the Corinthians that they recognize how open he has been with them and that the turmoil and distress he has faced, as a minister of Christ, is an expression of his devotion and love for them. He wants them to likewise have the same openness and love and devotion to those around them.
2Corinthians 6:11 O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. 6:12 Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. 6:13 Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.
So, this is the context we must work with when addressing being unequally yoked – the fact that there are some who allow the god of this world to blind them from the glory of the truth so, as believers (these Corinthians), they are to likewise minister the same glory to those around them yet not just simply welcome all people into fellowship with them.
2Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 6:15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 6:18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
It shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but nowhere in the context of this letters to this point has marriage been a point of teaching, nor business relationships. Paul is balancing the need to likewise be open with the need to be wise. And, he is doing so by invoking a lot of information from the Hebrew Scriptures. A yoke is a device that gives the ability for two animals to work together as one. It is a wooden device that goes over the necks of both animals and is fastened underneath. In Deuteronomy 22:10, Israel is told to not plow a field with an ox and a donkey together. This would be an unequal yoke as both animals are not unified in their abilities. The ox is much bigger and stronger and would invariably drag the donkey around. As a side note, this is a very important principle to God. Some look at this and simply see the practicality of this but miss the deeper heart of God. Even in an agricultural world, God is protecting the weaker from being overtaken by the stronger. It isn’t just to submit a donkey to that kind of work. Now, even though you find a few instances in the Law about the yoking of animals, the idea of a yoke is also used metaphorically. In Leviticus 26:13, Moses likens the slavery/bondage of Israel in Egypt as a yoke. In Egypt, Israel was the “beast of burden” as slaves who helped build the empire. As a nation, they were yoked, under the oppressive and watchful eye of their taskmasters.
Being yoked successfully, or equally, demands those yoked be unified in their abilities. This is what fellowship is – a unification – a joining together – a coupling. When Paul and Peter are in fellowship in Galatians 2:7-8, it is because they have come together in Christ and are unified in their ministry. When the creatures in Ezekiel 1:9 have their wings joined together, it is so that their movement, albeit guided by the Spirit, is unified. In Deuteronomy 18:11, Israel was not to engage in divination–they were not to seek out the services of a charmer or one who joins themselves with the dead. This is fellowship – a joint effort that by nature demands that both be equal. Therefore, Paul tells these Corinthians that while they are to have an open mouth (to preach) and an open heart (to love), they need to be careful that they are not joining in partnership with those who are not believers. They are to have no part with those who have yielded themselves to the god of this world. What fellowship–what partnership–exists between righteousness and unrighteousness? What communion (“common union”) is there with light and darkness? What concord–what agreement–is there with Christ and Belial? Amos 3:3 suggests that two or three can not walk TOGETHER except they be AGREED. Belial is a Hebrew word that means “wicked” or “worthless”. It is an allusion to Satan himself – the chief opponent to all that is of Christ. In Deuteronomy 13, we find warning about those who attempt to present themselves as prophets and dreamers and use that to lure Israel to serve other gods. Deuteronomy 13:13 says that these types of people are the offspring of Belial. If wickedness could produce literal offspring, people who are ministering the things of darkness are its children. There is no agreement with the children of Belial and the Christ, the Child–the Son of God. Further, what part has a believer with an infidel–what portion that is the believer’s is shared with an unbeliever? There is no sharing because they are not sharing in the same things. Can the temple of God have fellowship with idols? Idols were fashioned objects that were used to house deity. God forbade them, not even of Himself. In 1Samuel 5, we see a reverse situation, but the same outcome where God rejects the idol. When the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant, they took it into their pagan temple, before their idol of Dagon.
1Samuel 5:1 And the Philistines took the ark of God, and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. 5:2 When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon, and set it by Dagon. 5:3 And when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the LORD. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again. 5:4 And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him. 5:5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon’s house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day.
Paul further makes the point that the idea is that WE are the idols of God. We are the objects, fashioned out of clay, that houses deity – God Himself. Therefore, come out from among the idols and the idolaters and be ye separate. Touch not the things that are deemed unclean by God and God will receive you. In Hosea 4:17, Ephraim is indicted for having joined himself unto idols and God tells Hosea to leave Ephraim alone–in other words, have no fellowship with him. In Isaiah 52:10 (where Paul is quoting from), it is in the conversation about the world seeing the salvation of God and that they would witness the redemption of Israel, having come out from the bondage their idolatry had subjected them to.
Isaiah 52:9 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. 52:10 The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. 52:11 Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD. 52:12 For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward. (rereward = rear guard. In other words, God has Israel’s six, in tactical terms)
How fitting that Paul is drawing on these ideas when teaching the Corinthians how their hearts and minds are to be tempered when taking the message of salvation to those around them. Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation (2Corinthians 6:2, quoting Isaiah 49:8) and as we labor to bring this message to the world, our partnership should not be with those who have already submitted themselves to the god of this world. This by no means teaches us not to attempt to rescue folks out of the snare of Satan, yet, it does teach that while folks are snared, they are not to be brought into fellowship with us–not as a matter of prejudice, but of practicality. There is no fellowship/partnership with light and darkness. These Corinthians should yoke with themselves as they advance Christ. In this, they are experiencing separation/holiness in their ministering. This isn’t about not dating someone who isn’t a believer or not starting a business with an unbeliever. This is about recognizing the futility of partnering Christ with the god of this world and how we are to take that same reality into how we invite others to join us in God’s work.