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2 Corinthians 6:14-7:16

I.               The New Covenant Life: an Exhortation to Holiness - 6:14-7:1

[The authenticity of 6:14-7:1 and its place in the context of 2 Corinthians have been questioned. Three arguments are often used to prove that this paragraph did not originate with Paul, or at best was inserted by the apostle after the original composition of the letter: (1) the presence here of many words not found elsewhere in the NT; (2) the disjunctive exclusivism of the "flesh" and "spirit" contrast in 7:1; and (3) the obvious relation between 6:13 and 7:2 which makes the intervening paragraph seem like an unnatural intrusion in the flow of Paul's argument. Let me respond to each of these arguments in turn. (1) A rich diversity of vocabulary in a section such as this is no more than a reflection of Paul's academic and literary skill. Furthermore, there are 50(!) words in 2 Corinthians that appear nowhere else in the NT. (2) The "flesh/spirit" contrast is hardly a reason for rejecting this text. See Col. 2:5; 1 Cor. 5:3; Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 7:34. (3) "No doubt, smoother and more logical sequences may be devised here and elsewhere in the Apostle's writings through manipulations of the text, but in doing so it is all too easy to forget that, after all, what we are dealing with is a spontaneously dictated letter and not an academically sophisticated essay in logic. It is, besides, characteristic of Paul to 'digress' either briefly, as here, or at some considerable length, and then to take up his previous theme again at the point where, whether premeditatedly or not, he had left it" (Hughes, 243).]

1.              The command - 6:14a

The situation Paul has in view here was earlier described in 1 Cor. 6:12-20 and 8:1-11:1. Some in Corinth were visiting the temple cults of any number of the pagan religions in the city, perhaps even engaging in the sexual activities (temple prostitutes, etc.) associated with their "worship". This problem was most likely the reason for Paul's emergency second visit to Corinth and the follow-up "Severe Letter" (see 2:1-4; 10:1-6; 12:20-13:2). Therefore, the "unbelievers" that he describes in this passage were most likely unconverted Gentiles who were involved in worship at the Greco-Roman mystery cults of Corinth.

See Deut. 22:10 ("Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together"); Lev. 19:19 (prohibition of crossbreeding of animals). The goal is to strike a balance between pharisaical isolationism, on the one hand, and promiscuous over-involvement, on the other. Some areas of application for today:

·          marriage between a Christian and non-Christian (1 Cor. 7:12-15,39; what God has joined together we should not put asunder; but also what God has put asunder we should not presume to join together)

·          litigation (1 Cor. 6:1-8)

·          participating in a "worship" service of a non-Christian religion

·          eating idol-meat in the home of an unbeliever (1 Cor. 10:27ff.)

Some areas of mis-application:

·          he is not forbidding or condemning all contact and association with non-Christians (1 Cor. 5:9-13); indeed, he anticipates the presence of unbelievers in the worship services at Corinth and instructs them not to do anything that might drive them away (1 Cor. 14:22-24)

·          he is not forbidding or condemning business relations with non-Christians [you can do business with a non-Christian, but should you go into legal partnership with one?]

·          he is not forbidding or condemning friendship with non-Christians [but should you go on vacations together? how close is too close?]

·          he is not forbidding or condemning association and cooperation with other Christians who may disagree with you on secondary issues (but see Mt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1ff.; Titus 3:10; Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; Gal. 1:6ff.)

·          he is not instructing believers to withdraw from their marriages to unbelievers (1 Cor. 7:12-15).

As far as contemporary application is concerned, the separation Paul has in mind is between Christians and non-Christians. Furthermore, the separation is spiritual, not spatial. The principle is this: enter into no relationship or bond or partnership or endeavor that will compromise your Christian integrity or weaken your will for holiness or cast a shadow on your reputation. See James 4:4-5. Questions you must ask yourself:

·          "When I am with these non-believers, do I find myself in situations in which I am unduly and dangerously exposed to temptation that may get the better of me?"

·          "When I am with non-Christians, do I find it easier than at other times to compromise on ethical matters? Do I find myself judging as 'grey' what I would call 'black' if I were with Christians?"

·          "Does my association with non-Christians tend to make me less vocal about my faith, less visible in my stand for Christ?"

·          "When I am with non-Christians, does conversation focus primarily on things of the world, or is there also opportunity for discussion of spiritual matters?"

·          "Does my association with non-Christians serve as an offense to others or a cause of reproach to the gospel?"

2.              The confirmation - 6:14b-16a

Here Paul snaps off five pointed, rhetorical, questions designed to explain why it is important for believers to be cautious about too close association with non-believers.

a.              righteousness and lawlessness have no partnership

b.              light and darkness have no fellowship

c.              Christ and the devil have no harmony with one another

This is the only place in the NT where the word "Belial" occurs. Its Hebrew counterpart occurs in the OT with the meaning "worthlessness" (e.g., Deut. 13:13; 15:9; 2 Sam. 22:5; Ps. 18:4). In the inter-testamental literature it was used to describe a personal opponent of God.

d.              a believer and non-believer have no spiritual common ground

"The unbeliever's life is centered on self, the believer's on Christ; the treasure of the one is here on earth, of the other in heaven; the values of the one are those of this world, of the other those of the world to come; the believer seeks the glory of God, the unbeliever the glory of men" (Hughes, 251). However, as Calvin wisely reminds us, "when Paul says that the Christian has no portion with the unbeliever he is not referring to food, clothing, estates, the sun, and the air, . . . but to those things which are peculiar to unbelievers, from which the Lord has separated us."

e.              the temple of God has no agreement with idols

See 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19f.; Eph. 2:20f.; 1 Pt. 2:5. If the OT prohibited the introduction of idols into or even near the temple in which God resided, how much more horrendous is the introduction of idolatry and sinful bondage with unbelievers into the individual believer who is himself now that very temple.

3.              The Consequences - 6:16b-18

The point is that to withdraw from the sinful ways of the world is to draw near to God. To be shunned of the world is to be accepted by our heavenly Father. Thus, "the Christian life is seen to be no barren renunciation, for the believer is separated from the world for no less a purpose than that he may enjoy friendship with God in the blessed company of other faithful people" (Tasker, 100).

a.              fellowship - v. 16b (Lev. 26:11-12)

b.              lordship - v. 16c (Jer. 24:7; 30:22; 31:33; 32:38; Ezek. 37:24-28; Hosea 2:23)

c.              acceptance - v. 17 (Isa. 52:11; Ezek. 20:34,41)

d.              sonship - v. 18 (2 Sam. 7:8,14; Jer. 31:9; Isa. 43:6)

4.              The cleansing - 7:1

Several important points to note:

·          The call to cleansing is based on the reality of what we have in Christ ("having these promises") and with a view to heightened intimacy with our heavenly Father.

·          The terminology of "cleansing" and "defilement" appears "to clinch the case that this whole passage is directed to the Corinthians' involvement in the various Greco-Roman and mystery cults of the region" (Barnett, 356).

·          We have a personal responsibility ("let us cleanse ourselves") to take whatever steps are necessary to be cleansed.

·          The cleansing is to be extensive ("all"). There can be no compromise or cutting of spiritual corners.

·          The cleansing is from everything external ("flesh") and internal ("spirit"), both seen and unseen, both public and private.

·          The perfecting of holiness is our goal.

·          The fear of God is our motivation.

K.            The New Covenant Life: the Reconciliation Completed - 7:2-16

1.              Paul's appeal - 7:2-4

2.              Paul's affliction - 7:5

a.              no rest for the flesh (cf. 2:13)

b.              afflicted on every side

1)             conflicts without (disharmony in the churches of Macedonia, persecution by enemies, etc.)

2)             fears within (anxiety over the situation at Corinth)

3.              God's comfort - 7:6-7

Simply put, Paul was depressed over the situation in Corinth and his relationship with the church there. The word "depressed" (NASB) is literally, "humble," i.e., one who is lowly of spirit. Here it is used, not in an ethical sense, but in a psychological sense . . . emotionally lowly, downcast, despairing. But God ministered to Paul by . . .

a.              the coming of Titus - v. 6

b.              the news of how the Corinthians responded to Titus - v. 7a

c.              the news of how the Corinthians responded to Paul - v. 7b

1)             your longing

2)             your mourning

3)             your zeal

4.              The Corinthians' sorrow - 7:8-11

"The Apostle sets us an example here, of the rarest and most difficult virtue, when he goes back upon the story of his relations with the Corinthians, and makes the bitter stock yield sweet and wholesome fruit" (Denney, 253).

a.              the "sorrowful letter": its purpose - v. 8 (cf. 2:4)

b.              the "sorrowful letter": its effect - vv. 9-11

1)             godly sorrow - v. 9

2)             godly repentance - vv. 10-11

Excursus on Repentance

What is repentance?

1.              RECOGNITION

I.e., an awareness of having defied God by embracing what He despises and despising what He adores. Repentance involves confessing from the heart:

"I have sinned."

"This is wrong."

"God is grieved."

The antithesis of recognition is rationalization. . . .

"True repentance only begins when one passes out of what the Bible sees as self-deception (cf. Js. 1:22,26; 1 Jn. 1:8) and modern counselors call denial, into what the Bible calls conviction of sin (cf. Jn. 16:8)" (J. I. Packer, Rediscovering Holiness, 123-24).

Remember:

"Confession by itself is not repentance. Confession moves the lips; repentance moves the heart. Naming an act as evil before God is not the same as leaving it. Though your confession may be honest and emotional, it is not enough unless it expresses a true change of heart. There are those who confess only for the show of it, whose so-called repentance may be theatrical but not actual" (Jim Elliff).

2.              REMORSE

Repentance is never a pleasure. It always entails pain. It demands brokenness of heart (Ps. 51:17; Isa. 57:15). But remember: repentance is more than a feeling. Emotion can be fleeting, whereas true repentance bears fruit.

Here we encounter the difference between “attrition” and “contrition”. The former is regret for sin prompted by a fear for oneself: “Oh, no. I got caught. What will happen to me?” The latter is regret for the offence against God’s love, the pain for having grieved the Holy Spirit. In other words, it is possible to "repent" out of fear of reprisal, rather than from a hatred of sin.

This distinction is described in our passage in 2 Corinthians 7.

As we have seen, due to the insidious influence of the false teachers (self-proclaimed "apostles") who were undermining Paul's apostolic authority, as well as for other reasons, the apostle was forced to write the sorrowful letter to the church. Paul initially regretted causing them grief by this letter, but later rejoiced when he saw the fruit in their lives that the letter produced. Paul speaks of godly sorrow in v. 9 and the godly repentance it produces in v. 10.

Godly sorrow (v. 9) - Lit., "according to God", i.e., sorrow that is agreeable to the mind and will of God; sorrow prompted by recognition that one's sin has offended God. Worldly sorrow (v. 10) is born of self-pity and anger for being exposed. The test that distinguishes the two is simple: Does your sorrow lead to repentance?

Godly repentance (vv. 10-11) - note its fruit:

earnestness (to do what was right)

vindication (of themselves, not in denying they had done wrong [cf. vv. 9-10], but in being roused to a concern for their reputation lest they bring reproach on Christ and the gospel)

indignation (with themselves, for having allowed the situation to develop as it did)

fear (of God and of Paul [see 1 Cor. 4:21])

longing (as in v. 7, to be reunited)

zeal (for Paul; cf. v. 7)

avenging of wrong (their desire to see that justice is done by bringing the guilty person(s) to discipline)

Paul's statement that such repentance is to salvation (v. 10) points to the fact that "the nature of their response to Paul's letter was in itself a sure indication that they were, as they professed to be, genuine Christians, and not dissemblers [i.e., hypocritical pretenders]" (Hughes, 272).

Remorse, regret, sorrow, and the pain provoked by sin will only increase and intensify the longer we are Christians. Maturity in the faith does not lead to less sorrow over sin, but more. The pain does not diminish; it deepens. Says Packer:

"It is, in fact, a law of the spiritual life that the further you go, the more you are aware of the distance still to be covered. Your growing desire for God makes you increasingly conscious, not so much of where you are in your relationship with him as of where as yet you are not" (138).

3.              REQUEST

We must ask God for forgiveness and for strength. In Psalm 51, vv. 7-9 = his request for forgiveness, vv. 10-12 = his request for strength.

4.              REPUDIATION

We must repudiate all sins in question and take active, practical steps to avoid anything that might provoke stumbling (cf. Acts 19:18-19). I.e., there must be a deliberate resolve to turn around and away from all hint or scent of sin (Ps. 139:23).

Paul writes: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Rom. 13:14). If, in our so-called "repentance", we do not abandon the environment in which our sin first emerged and in which, in all likelihood, it will continue to flourish, our repentance is suspect.

5.              REFORMATION

There must be an overt determination to pursue purity, to do what pleases God (1 Thess. 1:9).  

5.              Paul's motivation (for writing the "sorrowful letter") - 7:12

"I wrote the letter to awaken you to what I knew all along was in your heart. You really do care for me. You really do know in your heart that I am your apostle. I wrote the letter so that you would have to acknowledge this not only to yourselves but also to God."

6.              Titus's joy - 7:13-16