2 Corinthians 6:1-7:1
In the last study we saw how Paul spoke about the wonderful message of reconciliation – a message we should share with the world. In this section, in some ways the underlying issue is reconciliation with Paul (so 6:11-13, or look on to 7:2); that is a key issue throughout the letter, key because Paul sees that if they distance themselves from him, as Christ’s apostle, then they are distancing themselves from Christ (he is after all “Christ’s ambassador”). The appeal in 5:20 was actually as much to them, as well as being characteristic of his appeal to non Christians. Paul fears they might “receive God’s grace in vain” (6:1) if they continue to turn their back on Paul and are drawn to a worldly kind of Christianity being offered by some teachers in Corinth and start being indifferent about sin. Those seem to be his concerns in the letter – the appeal of super-spirituality, which looks much more impressive, and a lax attitude to sin – and they lie very much behind this passage.
Some in Corinth sought to commend their ministry through their letters of recommendation (3:1), being outwardly impressive (5:12), and ecstatic experiences (so eg ch.12), but Paul insists on pointing to something very different to commend his ministry – endurance in the face of all manner of troubles and hardship. The mark of authentic Christianity is not sailing though life without any problems or difficulties, far from it, for the messenger of the cross will be marked by the cross; there will be suffering, but they will endure. So often in Paul’s letters the power of God is evidenced especially in endurance. And godliness (v.6). And … well read on through the list, there’s much to challenge about what authentic Christianity looks like. It’s a demanding portrait, and yet an appealing one too, is it not, for it must remind us of Christ.
The likely background to vv.14-16 is an issue raised in 1 Corinthians – sharing in feasts at the pagan temples. Paul had said it was ok to buy meat in the market, though it had very likely been previously offered to idols, but sharing in feasts in the temple would be to share in idolatrous worship, which would be utterly inconsistent for the Christian. But how should we apply these verses to us today? How might we “be yoked together with unbelievers”? The imagery of being yoked might suggest being so tied that you have lost the ability to dissociate yourself from what another is doing. It could be applied in all sorts of ways (not simply marriage, though this verse has often been used as a proof text against marriage to a non Christian.) Mostly, though, these verses are simply speaking about the utter incongruity of sin for the Christian – as incongruous as light and darkness. It is utterly inconsistent for a Christian to bow the knee to the gods of this world – to think we can serve both God and Money / Career / Family / etc. We are the temple of the living God, we must not entertain idols, and we must not be careless about sin, any sin. Consistent Christianity is marked by scrupulous holiness.
But Paul gives a further motivation for why we should be careful be holy in everything. As well as a concern for consistency, we should be spurred on by the great and precious promises of God. The promise of His presence – “I will live with them and walk among them …” (v.16). And the promise of his loving relationship with us – “I will be their God …” (v.16), “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (v.18). Such promises should motivate us to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit” (7:1).
Paul has been speaking of his ministry of reconciliation – a word ministry, in which he sets forth the truth plainly (4:1) and as persuasively (5:11) as he can. This passage will teach us that how we live matters as well as what we say