2 Corinthians 6.14-18. "Come out from among them and be separate." What does it really mean, and how does it apply to life?
Background and context of the verses
Go through the text a piece at a time.
Questions that arise:
2 Corinthians is about the difference it makes to have God in you.
Chapter 1: We have comfort, not despair, because God’s life is in us. The Holy Spirit is in us, guaranteeing what is to come. It makes us able to stand firm no matter what is going on.
Chapter 2: We are ministers of the new covenant privileged to bring life wherever we go.
Chapter 3: With this life, we bring glory and hope from God. We are being transformed, and we bring this same power wherever we go.
Chapter 4: We have spiritual light in us, and that’s what we preach: glory, truth, and hope. It’s an inward, daily renewal. We learn to focus on what is eternal, not on what we see around us.
Chapter 5: We don’t think like people any more, but instead like children of God. We regard nothing and no one from a worldly power of view. We are new creations. And we are agents of reconciliation to preach a message of truth, hope, love, salvation, and reconciliation.
Chapter 6: We possess the wealth of the universe, and it’s our role to share it, but not only share it, but to share it from a place of devotion, not hypocrisy (6.3).
Then in the text we’re talking about today. I think it’s that if anyone wants what he’s been talking about: this unparalleled understanding of life, the perspective on the other side of the wall, the inner peace like nothing else, and an honest relationship with God, then there’s another wire that needs to be unplugged. When I think about God, honestly, if He exists as the Bible says He does, which of course He does, then we’re talking about an absolutely unbelievable power and knowledge and love. We’re honestly talking about a presence so overwhelming and life-changing that He’s only comprehendible by his revealing himself—certainly not by our efforts to reach him. His Word is filled with clues, both baffling and illuminating. But one thing we know: we have to detach from all that deceives and misleads, and plug into the Source Himself. Imagine—a human plugging into the Power of the universe. Do we need buffers to survive? Does he have to have a transformer to “step down” so that we can survive the connection? No to all of the above. It was by coming in the flesh that he made the connection—an act so bold and perfect that he himself became the buffer without having to “step down.” He was 100% God and 100% man (bad math but good theology). And then as the Spirit He indwells us in all his power (read Eph. 1) with the Spirit absorbing all the differences, infusing us with the full power of the Almighty without killing us. Having become human makes it possible for Him to accomplish this. It’s the perfect plan.
Back to where we were. If we want this connection, we have to unplug from all that deceives and misleads and choose to plug into Him. If you want the light, you can’t be plugged into the darkness. If you want the presence of God (the Temple), you can’t be messing with the imposters (idols). But if you will plug into God—the most amazing connection in anyone’s wildest imagination—He will live with you (16), walk with you, and be your God. If you will disconnect from the world of facades and mirrors, he will receive you (17). And then the words every human being longs to hear: “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” Comfort, relationship, inheritance, a family bond, belonging, significance, peace, connection.
You know what? I can’t plug in fast enough. That’s for sure what I want out of life. If that’s available, honestly, it’s worth ANY unplugging.
Through the Text a Piece at a time.
At the beginning of chapter 6 that he doesn't want anything to interfere with one's relationship with God, whether it comes from "the world," "the church," or from inside us. We need to let nothing sidetrack us from our calling and our walk. No stumbling blocks. Endure hardship. Even in 2 Cor. 6.12 he seems to be saying not even to let friendships, feelings, or relationships get in the way. All that matters is God's will and God's kingdom. From there he launches into the "different yoke" talk. He's obviously talking about relationships (14, 15, 16, 18). While marriage is not mentioned, it's one of the most important relationships we have.
What Paul's main point seems to be is that our relationships have great spiritual import. He seems to be speaking personally, and not abstractly. We tend to become like the people we respect and spend time with. We shape our lives according to the influences we choose to surround ourselves with. A passage like this is instructive to teach us that in our relationships we have to make sure that we are salt and light, and not the victims seduced into apostasy—that we enlighten others rather than being darkened by them, that we infuse others with godliness rather than be infected by their ungodliness. Therefore we must be ultra-wise about our alliances and commitments, only engaging in what will lead ourselves and others toward holiness.
V. 14: Unequally yoked.
2 Cor. 6.14-16 is not specifically addressing the subject of marriage, but of the incongruity of believers being paired with unbelievers, in any variety of situations. We are left to interpret the ways in which that takes place, but I believe that marriage is one of them because marriage is one of the primary "fellowships" and "in common" relationships we have. If a believer has nothing in common with an unbeliever (6.15), how can two become one if they are different in kind? And since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, how can we unite with someone whose body is not? Isn't that the mixing of temples (2 Cor. 6.16)?
Paul’s issue is not in Christians doing business with non-Christians, and not only with those who might be pulling in a different direction, but instead with people who would rob the cross of Christ of its power, who would mangle our relationship with God, and who would compromise our witness in the world. We can never be a “team” with such people.
“For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?”
Pertaining to busines dealings, he is not forbidding Christians from doing business with non-Christians. Instead, he is talking about Christians participating in dishonest, abusive, oppressive, or unfair business practices that would compromise his Christian integrity or witness. Paul certainly bought tent fabric and thread from people who weren’t Christians, and sold them to people who weren’t Christians, so that is not what is in view here. Paul has also already approved buying meat in the market that has been offered to idols. He’s not talking about tastes, pursuits, ventures or projects. Rather, Paul’s contrasts show he is not just talking about business dealings, political associations, or relationships with any non-believers. There’s a vast difference between breaking bread (association) and breaking faith (participation). Instead, he’s specifically referring to any alliance that brings a righteous person to a place of wickedness is what is being condemned.
V. 16: “For we are the temple of the living God.”
This is not just “God lives in us” as we are so used to hearing. As the temple of God, this is where atonement happens, where the mediation happens, where God reveals himself, where God engages with people. If we are the temple of God, this is a dynamic relationship of meaning and significance.
V. 16: “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”
When I stop to think about it, this is an odd statement. He has always been their God, since Adam, Noah, and especially Abraham. They have always been his people. But he makes it sound as if it is only a conditional possibility for the future. How does that work, since He has been the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob since more than 1000 years before this?
I understand this to mean that God will start acting like a God “should” act (no more exiles, no punishments, no judgments, but love, protection, and blessing) and the people will start acting like a people should act (no more rebellions, no more ignoring God).
All it means is that we are very capable of grieving God (Gn. 6.6; Eph. 4.30) and bringing out the sides of his character that he would prefer not to show. All of us who are parents understand this quite well. I never enjoyed punishing my kids, but I knew I had to do it if they were going to grow up as wonderful as they are now.
Here in the Bible these statements are an eschatological statement that the relationship, in the end, when we get to heaven, will be as it should be: no more barriers or problems, just open love as it's supposed to be. In the eschaton, all that will stop and the relationship will be as it should be.
What God is offering is a reciprocal relationship of mutuality. What he desires is love and acceptance in both directions. It’s like when our kids grow up and we become friends more than we are parents and children.
The point in Jeremiah and elsewhere is that you don't have to wait for the eschaton. You can have that now.
v. 17: “Come out from among them and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing.”
He’s talking about a spiritual separation that only sometimes requires a physical separation.
God cares about your heart, your mind, your relationship with Him, and your witness in the world. Separation is necessary where any of those are in jeopardy. But any place where one of those elements is being compromised is where separation must take place. “If your eye offends you, cut it out.” It’s OK to eat meat offered to idols, or OK not to. You must follow your conscience. But if your relationship—where marriage, friendship, business, or political—is creating an unclean heart in you, it must be cut off.