We are susceptible to faulty thinking when we begin to align with our culture over the message of God’s kingdom.
2 Corinthians 6:14-16 – Do not try to work together as equals with unbelievers, for it cannot be done. How can right and wrong be partners? How can light and darkness live together? How can Messiah and the worthless one agree? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? How can God’s temple come to terms with pagan idols?
In this writing to the Corinthian congregation, the apostle Paul fires off a rapid-fire set of questions to illustrate the incompatibility of believers with non-believers. This is not meant to be a statement of withdrawing from all worldly interactions, but to avoid being, quite literally, “unequally yoked” together with those who are not in agreement with the biblical worldview.
In ancient agriculture, yoking two animals together to do the necessary work, whether pulling a cart or a plowing implement, would have the potential to double the output or ease the burden of just a single animal. However, if the animals were of different sizes or temperaments the unequal pairing became difficult to manage and the animals would not work in unison as anticipated. Even today in sled dog teams in the far north, it is important for each dog to be compatible with all of the others so that they work together to successfully pull the sled and obey the commands of the owner.
To further make his point, the apostle then quotes from some of the prophets to illustrate his point further.
- Jeremiah 31:1 – “At that time, says Yahweh, I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.”
- Isaiah 52:10-11 – Yahweh has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out thence, touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her, purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of Yahweh.
- Isaiah 43:5-7 – Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, every one who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
- Hosea 1:10-11 – Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Sons of the living God.” And the people of Judah and the people of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head; and they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.
Interestingly, all of these passages refer to the great regathering of Israel from among the nations prophetically in the future (from the standpoint of the prophets). These prophecies were written at a time of dispersion of God’s people from the physical land of Israel. They are urging separation and cleansing from the cultures to which they have been dispersed in order to demonstrate the glory of God.
Paul is using this emphasis on the uniqueness of the calling of God’s people as a substantiation of the encouragement to the holiness and separation of the believers in his day. He is equating the corruption of the worldly cultures where Israel had been scattered as a spiritual equivalent of the corruption to which the believers in Messiah were being exposed in his own day. The contrasts are stark: right and wrong, light and darkness, temple of God and temples of idols. Messiah is contrasted with the worthless one, sometimes associated with a popular deity at the time, the “Lord of the Forest,” or sometimes the Accuser (Satan). These would have been recognizable contrasts to his first century audience and would underscore the necessity to maintain spiritual purity in a world of wickedness.
In like fashion, we today would do well to heed the apostle’s advice. As God’s people scattered around the world, we are exposed to all kinds of cultural distractions and potentially spiritually harmful activities that are every bit as corrupting. We need to ensure that we are not trying to fit in to our culture or to somehow appear “culturally relevant” when our worldviews are complete opposites. For us to compromise who we are as the people of God for the sake of notoriety or trying not to “rock the boat” is a strategy that is doomed to failure, and ultimately dishonors the name of the holy God whom we serve and represent as his people in this world.
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