Can you think of a mismatched partnership?
Perhaps Helen Zille and Julius Malema (very different South African politicians) meeting for a cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich? A Sumo wrestler partnering with petite, ballet dancer on Strictly Come Dancing? A Stormers rugby fan going out with a Sharks supporter?!
Alternatively, one could think of ridiculous partnerships: playing tennis with your dog, taking your cat to the movies, or playing chess with a newborn baby.
It just wouldn’t be good or helpful. It would be mismatched, even inappropriate.
In the church in Corinth there were unhelpful, mismatched partnerships.
Some in the church were partnering with the new preachers that breezed into town.
Corinth was a powerful City where people were impressed with power. Paul’s gospel about a crucified king sounded very weak and his life of hardship and struggle seemed very unimpressive.
The new preachers looked and sounded much more powerful.
Some church members were impressed by the appearances and rhetorical skill of these new ministers.
As church members yoked themselves to the new preachers and their false gospel, it lead them back to their previous sins and old, unhelpful habits.
False gospels always lead to incorrect thinking and wrong living.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”2 Corinthians 6:14
Old Testament background
The thought concept comes from the Old Testament where the Israelites were forbidden to harness a donkey and ox together under the same yoke. The two animals would obviously pull the plow at different strengths and tempo’s.
Nor were the Israelites to mix cotton and linen garments.
Nor were they to plant one field with two different types of seed.
The Israelites were to show by their clothing, conduct, and even agricultural practices that they were separate and different from the surrounding, unbelieving nations.
They were to be a nation set apart for God.
Similarly, Christians are not to be unequally yoked or have mismatched partnerships because we too are set apart for God and called to be different from the unbelieving world around us.
Paul’s not saying that we should not be friends with non-Christians, but that we must not be so emotionally entangled with unbelievers that they hinder our relationship with Jesus.
Paul sets up five contrasts:
For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? (6:14)
What is right has no common ground with what is wrong.
Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (6:14)
Light has no fellowship with darkness. If it’s dark and you put on the light, it’s light. It’s one or the other – no sharing.
What accord (lit: symphony) has Christ with Belial? (6:15)
Belial is another name for Satan that comes from the word “worthless”. Christ and Satan do not sing from the same hymn sheet. They don’t cooperate. They don’t work together.
Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (6:15)
Spiritually speaking, believers and unbelievers share no common ground in terms of priorities, worldview, or motivation for living1.
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? (6:16)
One of the darkest periods of the Old Testament era was when King Manasseh promoted the worship of false gods and even placed a carved image of Asherah (a sensual Canaanite goddess) in the temple of God. It was seen as a very, very great evil.
The true, Living God and idols don’t mix.
The next phrase is surprising:
…For we are the temple of the living God… (6:16)
In Old Testament era, God dwelt in his temple and so the temple was holy, set apart and ceremonially clean.
But now – since the coming of Jesus – God dwells with and in his people, by his Spirit, not in a building.
We, as God’s people, are God’s temple.
We are, therefore, called to be holy, set apart and without sin.
No inappropriate, mismatched, unequal relationships – it’s just not right, good, helpful or appropriate.
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (7:1)
Is there anything in your life as a Christian that’s defiling you and making you unclean, in body or mind? Spiritually or physically? False theology or wrong living?
The Apostle Paul urges you to cleanse yourself, separate yourself, stop doing it, cease from it, desist, run, flee; because God and idols don’t mix.
The Christian and sin (and false theology that leads to sin) have no common ground and no fellowship, not even a little.
Are you listening to wrong theology via podcasts, books or popular conferences?
Are you lapsing into sinful, harmful practices that hamper your walk with God and relationship with others?
Cleanse yourself. Confess it. Turn from it. Ask for God’s help.
Christians can live holy lives because God has already declared us holy through our faith in Jesus.
We can grow in holiness because we are holy in Jesus.
1 This verse is often quoted to dissuade Christians from marrying non-Christians. This is not primarily what Paul has in view here, but I do think it is a valid implication.
Marriage is the most intimate human relationship, Paul would say to a Christian thinking of marrying an unbeliever: “Don’t be silly! Warning! Danger! You’re not singing from the same hymn sheet, you’re inviting unnecessary conflict, and you’re placing the relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend above your relationship with Christ.”
Of course, Paul says elsewhere in the Bible, that if a couple is married and the husband or wife becomes a Christian, they should – if at all possible – stay married to their unbelieving spouse and pray for their conversion.