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Separating from Unbelievers, Part 2
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
by John MacArthur

(below is an extract from the sermon)

“Do not be bound together with unbelievers for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial?  Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, `I will dwell in them and walk among them and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord, `and do not touch what is unclean and 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.  Therefore having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Now as I pointed out last time, this passage identifies two opposing worlds.  The terminology is clear.  One of those worlds is marked by righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the presence of God. The other is marked by lawlessness, darkness, Satan, unbelievers, and the presence of false gods.  And these two worlds are utterly different and distinct, so much so that they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot work together in common partnership, they cannot fellowship together, they are not in harmony with one another.  One is old, the other is new.  One is earthly, the other is heavenly.  One is deadly, the other is life giving.  One is wicked, the other holy.  One is built on lies, the other is all truth.  One perishes and the other lives eternally.

Paul then is making it clear that believers can’t live in both worlds.  Certainly John said this in his first epistle, 1 John, when he clearly identified this disparity between the two worlds with these familiar words, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Mutually exclusive worlds.  You can’t be in both at the same time.

Then in James we read in chapter 4 and verse 4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God.  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  And later in verse 8 he says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded.”  People trying to live in two different worlds.

In Romans chapter 12, of course that very, very familiar passage that begins the exhortation part of Romans, “I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship, and do not be conformed to this world.”  Make a clean break.

When a person becomes a believer they are transported out of one world into another.  And shuttling back and forth is absolutely unacceptable.  And that is precisely what the Corinthians were trying to do.  Having named the name of Christ, identified with Him, come into the church, they were still hanging on to their own idolatry, their old pagan ways.  They had come to Christ out of idolatry, as it says in 1 Thessalonians, they had come to serve the living and the true God from idols.  But they didn’t make a clean break.  They had been wooed back into the old idolatry, back into the old pagan culture because it was so pervasive, and so dominant and it was so on display and so woven into the fabric of their life, family life, social life, community life.  Corinth was dominated above the city by an acropolis, a high mountain on top of which was the temple to the false deities which engaged itself in pagan ritual and worship and priest…priestess prostitution.  This temple not only was the center of that religion, but from it disseminated its religious viewpoints and ideologies through the entire culture of Corinth.  It was a part of everything in life…holidays, festivals, celebrations and so forth.  And it was a constant pull to the Corinthians to fall back into those old patterns.  And they did.

Additionally, the false teachers had come in and they had brought a quasi Christian syncretism and eclectic religion which took Christianity, a little bit of Jewish legalism, and some pagan religion and melted it all together and offered it as the truth.  And that compromise had found its way into the Corinthian church and found an audience and some of them were listening and believing and accepting it.

You see, the false teachers wanted to make Christianity more popular, less demanding, less distinct, less narrow, less offensive, less different, less exclusive so they’d get more people in on it, so they could get more money, which is always what false teachers want.  And so here is the Corinthian church new and fresh and being assaulted by pagan religion around it.  You couldn’t separate the social life from the religion, you couldn’t separate the historical life of that village in terms of its patterns from the religion.  That village that became a city bore all of the signs of the religion that moved in its growth.  It was a full-blown pagan system down to the very core.  And it was hard to sort it out.  To be involved at all in the life of the culture was to be involved in the paganism, unless you made a very clean break.  The Corinthians didn’t do it. And as I said, then add to that the confusion of the false teachers and you can understand why Paul says to them, “Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”

It’s very much like modern Christianity today, by the way, that seeks to blend Christianity with popular culture, wants to make Christianity more popular, less different, more palatable, less offensive, less narrow, less exclusive.  And the result of it is that true Christianity in the purity of God’s Word gets corrupted by compromise and the church can become useless and shameful and blasphemous in mocking the truth.  For believers there can be no compromise.  We cannot engage ourselves with unbelievers in any spiritual enterprise.  That’s the issue.  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers,” that is he command that sets this text in motion.  And it is an unmistakable call to believers to separate from unbelievers.  No one could miss that that’s what it’s saying. The question is, what does it mean?

And as I said last time, it is essential to understand what it means but first of all what it does not mean.  Paul is not saying, cut off all contact with non-Christians.  He’s not saying that because we have to reach them with the gospel.  That is not the issue.  He’s not saying don’t evangelize the unconverted, don’t confront people in false religions.  He’s not saying that.  We must do that.

Secondly, he is not calling for complete isolation on the part of the church.  We are not to become isolationists.  We are not to be monastics.  We are not to go hide somewhere and pull apart from the world.  Quite the contrary.  We are to find unbelievers and love them and be their friend and set a model of spiritual example for them.

Furthermore, he is not saying you are to divorce your unsaved partner, or to sever all unsaved contacts…all contacts, I should say, with unsaved people in your family.  He is also not saying that you can’t work or play or do business or be engaged in common earthly enterprise with unbelievers.  He’s not saying that, of course you can.  What he is saying is you cannot link up with unbelievers in religious causes…or religious enterprises.  You cannot go to their worship and become a part of it, you can’t make them a part of the Kingdom of God.  You can’t engage them in anything that involves ministry, teaching, or worship.  Where there is ministry, teaching and worship there has to be absolute separation.

So he’s referring in actuality to harnessing up believers and unbelievers in any common religious, spiritual enterprise.  The two cannot be yoked together anymore than an ox and an ass can pull a straight furrow when under the same yoke, as Deuteronomy 22:10 forbids. But that is precisely what the Corinthians were doing.  They were going to the feasts that were involved with the idols and they were trying to still befriend the people in the world and in their families and in their society by attending and being involved in idol festivals and such compromise is intolerable.

At the same time they had invited into the church forms of pagan religion and that was equally intolerable.  There can be no harmony, no fellowship, no partnership, no participation between believers and unbelievers in any religious enterprise.  That is the issue.  Pagan religion, false teaching ruins those who listen to it.  It leads to ungodliness.  It spreads like gangrene and it upsets the faith of people.  Paul directed all of that to Timothy and warned him to warn the church.

The issue then is religious cooperation, religious compromise with false teachers and with heresy and error.  We can have nothing to do with the people involved in that when they are so involved.  And we can allow them to have nothing to do with enterprises that involve the advancement of the Kingdom of God. And yet through the years the church has continued to do this.  Sometimes it’s called cooperative evangelism where an evangelist will come into a city and bring together Christians and non-Christians, those who believe the Word of God and those liberals who would openly deny the Word of God in a common evangelistic enterprise.  That is in direct violation of what this text is teaching.

It happens all the time in common efforts at evangelism.  It happens in educational institutions where those institutions that would claim to be Christians would have on their faculty those who believe the Word of God, those who were born again, and those who are not.  And they are illegitimate linked together in a common spiritual enterprise to the detriment of the church, to the debilitation of the believers and the false assurance of the unbelievers.  True Christians have to separate from unbelievers in matters related to ministry, teaching and worship.  And when I say teaching I’m talking about teaching that relates to God and His truth.

So Paul fixes that principle. And that, by the way, was a brief review of the first message.  But in response to that initial principle he gives us five reasons, or five motives for following this mandate. And I want to approach those motives from a negative perspective…if I might.  To be bound together with unbelievers in any spiritual effort is…number one…irrational, irrational.  The point that Paul is making here is one of congruity.  It is one of simple reason.  And to make this point of the irrationality of such a common enterprise, he asks for rhetorical questions, each of which demands a negative answer.

Here they come, verse 14, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or Satan?  Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?”  And the answer to those is negative.  Righteousness and lawlessness have no partnership.  Light and darkness have no fellowship.  Christ and Satan have no harmony.  And a believer and an unbeliever have nothing in the spiritual realm in common.  That is axiomatic.  An axiom is a self-evident truth that doesn’t need proof.  And that is obvious.  It is obvious that you can’t make opposites the same.  And those are all opposites.

Separating from Unbelievers, Part 2
2 Corinthians 6:14-16
by John MacArthur

Copyright 2007, Grace to You.