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Shortly before the Lord Jesus Christ was arrested, he prayed for his church.
He said, /Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth/ (John 17:17).
As he was on his way to the cross, the sanctification, holiness and distinctness of his people lay heavily on his heart.
Do you know what?
These should be our chief concerns, too.
The idea behind them is relatively simple, but we just don’t always give it due consideration.
The idea that I’m talking about is a complete and radical separation from sin and consecration to the Lord’s service.
Jesus himself insisted on this when he said, /If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched/ (Mark 9:43).
As the people of God, you must be willing to take the most extreme measures to root sin out of your lives.
Literally cutting off your hand will not accomplish this, but a radical cutting yourself off from sin will.
But we don’t.
Because we don’t want to.
We would rather hold on to just a little bit of the sin that we cherish.
Today’s text addresses the matter, although in a different way, and it is just as severe.
Here we learn that our distinctness as the people of God has powerful implications for every areas of our lives.
The most common application of our text relates it to marriage, but Paul did not even mention marriage.
He chose, rather, to speak more broadly so that you, as God’s people, might devote yourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
This passage tells you one of the most basic things that you need to know in order to make good use of the Spirit’s sanctifying grace.
Paul’s Love for the Corinthians
II Corinthians itself has one distinguishing characteristic.
It has been recognized down through the years as Paul’s most personal epistle because in it he shared so much of himself.
We see some of this in verses 11–13, where the apostle repeatedly poured out his love and concern for the church.
Paul began by calling the church by name.
In all of his writings, there are only two other times when he did this and each time it was express the strength of his love for the church.
When he heard, for example, that the church at Galatia had drifted from his teaching at the peril of their own souls, he addressed them as /O foolish Galatians/ (Gal.
He referred to the Philippian church by name when he wanted to express his immense gratitude for its super-abounding thoughtfulness and generosity in supporting his ministry (Phil.
Paul seems to have been especially fond of this congregation.
The next thing he said sounds really strange to our modern ears, but there’s no doubt about what he meant.
/Our mouth is open to you/ (v.
11) means that he had spoken the Word of God openly and honestly to them.
He had not concealed anything.
There were no hidden secrets.
Even when the things he had to say were difficult, as was true about almost everything in his first epistle, he never failed to tell them whatever they needed to know.
This is the way that friends deal with friends.
/Faithful are the wounds of a friend/ (Prov.
And not only was Paul’s mouth opened to the Corinthians, his heart was also enlarged toward them (v.
This means that he had an immense compassion toward them.
From its beginning, this church had been plagued with all kinds of problems.
Without a doubt, it was the most problem filled church in the entire New Testament.
Paul had written I Corinthians to address its problems, and by the grace of God most of its problems had been dealt with.
Only a few still remained.
Paul sympathized with the church in its continued struggle.
He watched over it with all the love and concern that a father has toward his children.
One of his fatherly admonitions is stated in verse 12: /Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels/.
In other words, there was no lack of compassion for the Corinthians on Paul’s part.
His heart had plenty of room for them.
He had admonished them with the Word of God.
He had prayed that the Spirit of God would send his sanctifying grace to them through his preaching.
He had done everything humanly possible to help them.
So, any failure in their growth and maturity was not Paul’s fault.
Yet, their growth was impeded.
It was impeded, Paul wrote, because they had no room in their hearts for him or for the call to holiness that he urged upon them.
They had not yet come to the place yet where they could delight in walking with the Lord.
They had restricted the open places in their hearts to the things they liked.
Paul urged them to reconsider this.
As long as they continue to do this, they would be held back from making progress in their sanctification.
So, what’s the answer?
Paul instructed them in verse13 to return the favor that he had shown them and be enlarged toward him.
They needed to open their hearts to the apostle and his ministry of the gospel, just as he had opened his heart toward them.
Paul wanted them to be zealous for that holiness without which no man may see the Lord (Heb.
If they would only enlarge their desire to walk with Christ in faithfulness and truth, most of their problems would be resolved.
In all of this, Paul pled with the Corinthians as a father might plead with a wayward child.
He did not chide them, but he encouraged them.
He sought nothing from them but God’s glory and their own good.
The Lord’s People Must be Distinct in Conduct
What was it that had kept the Corinthians from giving themselves wholly to the service of Christ?
What made them withhold their affections from Paul?
We find the answer to this in verse14.
As I mentioned earlier, the most common application of this passage is to marriage.
A professing Christian, we are told, should not be unequally yoked in the marital covenant to an unbeliever.
While this is certainly true and a valid application of this passage, it really says nothing directly about marriage.
Rather, it prohibits mixing any holy thing with an unholy thing in an improper relationship.
The principle here is soundly rooted in the Old Testament.
Leviticus 19:19 says, /Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee/.
Deuteronomy 22:10 adds, /Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together/.
God gave these commandments to cultivate a sense of purity among the people of God.
They were to be so pure that they, unlike the surrounding nations, would keep even their cattle, their seed and their fabrics separate.
This was to teach them that there should be no mixture in their service of God.
Based on these precepts, Paul instructed the Corinthians not to be (μὴ γίνεσθε; lit.
“do not continue to become”) unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
The context suggests that he had something very specific in mind, viz., a believer pursuing a binding covenant of fellowship with an unbeliever.
Note the unmistakable references to the covenant throughout this passage, but especially in verses 16–18.
In other words, this passage does not prohibit you from having a casual friendship with your unbelieving neighbors (in most cases, you’ll never win them to Christ unless you do so), nor does it bar you from hiring an unbeliever to clean your carpets or repair your microwave.
These relationships are either not binding or they are not covenants of fellowship.
But this passage does forbid you to establish a binding relationship with an unbeliever in which both of you pledge mutual responsible to each other and for each other.
Two situations that come to mind right away are business partnerships and marriage, although it appears that in our text Paul was specifically concerned about religious covenants.
In his first epistle he expressed concern about the idolatry of the Corinthians (I Cor.
10:14), and later in this epistle he warned them of the dangers of fellowshipping with false apostles (II Cor.
He wanted them to stop forming such relationships so that they could devote themselves wholly to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Word of God instructs you not to become /unequally/ yoked together with unbelievers.
You should not conclude from this that there is such a thing as an equal yoke in a mixed relationship.
The Greek word (ἑτεροζυγοῦντες) used here doesn’t have anything to do with inequality.
It literally forbids putting two different kinds of animals in the same yoke.
In other words, it repeats the commandment given in Deuteronomy 22:10, which we looked at earlier.
The law of God forbad plowing with an ox and an ass yoked together because that inevitably involved an unequal relationship.
The ox not only did all the work, but also had to drag the ass around, which only made his work that much harder.
But Paul’s reason for repeating this commandment has nothing to do with animals.
It’s about human relationships.
When a believer is yoked together with an unbeliever in a binding covenant of fellowship, this is itself an unequal relationship that prevents the believer from serving serving the Lord to his fullest potential.
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