Series on II Corinthians I Dedication of Paul to the Ministry, F, Sacrificial, 2. Separation from Unbelief, Text 6:14-7:1, Title: How Easy the Yoke.


In the first part of chapter six the apostle Paul reminded us of the sacrificial nature of his dedication to the ministry by enumerating his sufferings.  Paul, armed with the righteousness of God, faced the heaviest trials and made them seem light by comparison with the blessing of God's presence and favor.  He said he was sorrowful but always rejoicing, poor but making many rich.  He could only say these things because God was the center of his life. Now in this latter part of the chapter Paul is talking about separation from unbelief, but let us not be misled.  The main thought is being joined to the Lord.  In the opening sentence of our passage Paul says Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. the converse is be yoked to the Lord.  Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. You see how this is the same thing Paul has been talking about.  Notice at the end of chapter 4 that Paul had said, our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. The burden is light, the yoke is easy, but only when the Lord is at the center of our lives.  Consider with me the contrast, the covenant, and the cleansing.

I The Contrast

Paul’s metaphor of verses 14 and 15 goes back to the Old Testament prohibition in Deuteronomy 22. You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together. Paul says Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? The yoke will be unequal.  And so we are not to be yoked with unbelievers, whether in marriage, or Christian service or public witness, because in what really matters we are different.  Notice Paul says righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common and a believer has nothing in common with an unbeliever as light has nothing in common with darkness and Christ has nothing in common with the devil. The name used for the devil here, Belial, means the state of being without a yoke or lawless.  The Greek indicates this division by four different words. They are not part of one another, they do not share anything, they have no fellowship and they do not agree. Forcefully, by the language and by the imagery, Paul conveys this truth.  Now believers and unbelievers have a lot in common, they're born, they grow up, they work, they marry, they raise families, they suffer, and they die.  Jesus says God sends the sunshine and rain upon the just and the unjust. We call this common grace, because both believers and unbelievers enjoy these blessings. So how is it that Paul can say we have nothing in common?  Simply put, in that which matters most we are different, that is, in the direction of our lives. The problem with most people who get involved in unholy alliances is that they're looking at what we have in common instead of what we don't.  Paul is saying what we don't have in common is the only thing that really counts. The point here is to take the difference seriously and stop acting as if there was no difference.

II The Covenant

The difference is in direction and the heart of direction is our covenant relationship to God. Paul quotes several Old Testament passages but he begins with the very heart of the covenant as originally expressed in Leviticus 26.  In verse 16 we read, As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” God graciously redeemed his people, He chose them and called them and delivered them, In return He says you belong to me and you are not belial you are yoked.  I will dwell with you we will be yoked together. Most of us are unfamiliar with yokes, but I'd say that there is probably no concept more offensive than being yoked together with someone you don't want to be with.  A yoke is a very intimate thing. Two individuals joined at the neck.  Paul then turns to the prophets in verses 17 and 18, and quoting Isaiah and Jeremiah he says, Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. The Lord with whom we are true yoke-fellows, says come out from them, from the unclean, from sin and unbelief, and I will receive you and be your Father.  These passages were addressed by the prophets to a people who had disobeyed. They had adopted the gross wickedness and idolatry of those around them and therefore were carried off into captivity.  God is saying to us don't be like them. You cannot be part of my family and share in the gorging and gluttony of this world.  Being in the family of God means walking with the Father. The image here is that we are the temple of God. That's not really popular.  People like earthly temples. They are reluctant to give them up even though God has banished all of them including his own temple at Jerusalem.  People like to think of their churches as houses of God or temples, but God says I will dwell with you. That's uncomfortable. People like God to stay in certain places. if God is safely ensconced in  a temple, or a synagogue or a church, they can keep him there and visit on their holy days, then the rest of the time they can do what they like.  One of the hardest, unbiblical ideas to consign to the trash bin is the idea that God has some earthly building where He dwells. I suggest to you that the folly of clinging to that mistaken idea is rooted in our sin.  God says I am with you, I am here,  I am tied to you, I am in your midst, I am in your heart, I am in your life.  We are yoked. No Siamese or conjoined twins were ever this close.  Therefore come out from idolatry and lawlessness. So isn't it really stubborn of us to make unholy alliances, whether in marriage, or in business, or in politics, or in pleasure?

III The Cleansing

But we do become unequally yoked, and therefore the Apostle speaks of cleansing in 7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. The motivation for cleansing is that we have the promise of God's favor and presence, as the Scriptures Paul has quoted from the Old Testament teach us. I will be your God, I will be your Father, I will receive you, therefore let us cleanse ourselves, body and spirit. In outer contacts and inner thoughts let us be constantly perfecting holiness in the fear of God. This is not the first time Paul has mentioned fear in this letter, rendered reverence here.  Fearing God means fearing not knowing him or not having Him for our friend, and surely if we ignore him, we cannot have any confidence that He loves us.  But the fact that we are perfecting holiness and that we need cleansing shows us that we have not arrived. This is a high and holy ideal, this loyalty, this allegiance, this yoke with God. We never fully achieve it in this life, but we pursue it, and while we are pursuing it we are not only cleansing ourselves, we are being cleansed.  The reason is that before God put the yoke on our neck he put the blood of Jesus on our souls.  We need to repent daily acknowledging that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. Perfecting holiness is a process filled with many bad judgments and many sins and errors, but let us not abandon our covenantal obligation to God because it's hard. We separate ourselves from sin and unbelief in order to be blessed by God's presence and favor. The promise makes it worth the effort.