NOTES II Corinthians
6:11-18 (click here for
In chapter six of 2 Corinthians Paul openly pleads with the Corinthian Christians to believe him, to be vulnerable to him and open to him as he has been to them. The false teachers who had infiltrated the Corinthian church were trying to convince the new believers that Paul was untrustworthy and could not keep his word. He is appealing to their previous relationship with him when he lived among them and taught them for 18 months. He reminds them that he has always "spoken freely" to them. He has never deceived them or manipulated them. He is risking baring his feelings to the Corinthians even though he knows many of them are confused about him because of the gossip and rumors his detractors have been spreading.
Paul has not held back his own feelings of responsibility and connection and love for these people he helped birth into eternal life. Although the new birth was entirely the work of the Holy Spirit in them, Paul was their spiritual "midwife". He taught them the gospel; he nurtured them as they made their decisions to follow Christ. He taught them how to live a life controlled by the Holy Spirit, learning to renounce the practices of their pagan past and to embrace the discipline of God in their lives as he taught them to live for Him instead of for themselves. Paul has spent himself on these people, not holding his heart at arm's length, but allowing himself to love them as he also loved them for God.
Now he is alarmed because they are showing signs of not taking him seriously anymore. Paul knows that if the Corinthians question his own authority as a true apostle of Christ, they will by natural extension begin to question the pure gospel as well. The false teachers who are poisoning their hearts against him are not teaching truth, and Paul fears that the Corinthians will turn away from him as a true messenger of Christ and ultimately turn away from the free gift of grace they have received from Jesus.
Paul's appeal to the Corinthians to "open wide your hearts also" is an appeal to truth. He knows that by shutting down their vulnerability to him, they are simultaneously squelching truth and the discipline of God in their lives. They would not be able simultaneously to embrace truth and the pure gospel and also pull away from Paul. Their pulling away from Paul was a result of lies they were hearing about him. Because they allowed themselves seriously to consider the rumors and gossip they were hearing about Paul, the Corinthians were also choosing to ignore what their own experience with him had taught them about his integrity. They couldn't both trust and not trust him at the same time. Either they would choose to believe the truth they knew about him, or they would choose not to believe and thus distrust him.
The Corinthians' withholding affection from Paul meant they were shutting their spiritual eyes to truth. A person cannot be deceived (willingly or unwillingly) in one area of one's life without that deception affecting all other areas. The Corinthians were choosing to ignore their own experience with Paul in favor of the articulate flattery and persuasion of the false teachers among them. This compromise with truth would affect their response to truth in all other areas of their experience. Paul is calling them back from deception. He's asking them to open their hearts again to the truth they already know. He's asking them to open themselves to him and accept again the miraculous simplicity of the gospel of grace. He's calling them back to purity of commitment and to loyalty. He's asking them to remember first of all that they belong to Christ, and their loyalty needs to be to the things and the people of Christ.
Verses 14-16 contain one of Paul's most powerful instructions to the young Christian church, yet it has been one the most misused admonitions found in the New Testament.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers," states verse 14, "for what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"
The King James Version of the Bible reads, "Be not unequally yoked together." People with personal agendas for power and control have used this clause to forbid everything from interracial marriages to interdenominational marriages to segregation. In many of our own backgrounds, this verse was the authority behind the strict teaching that a Seventh-day Adventist should only marry an Adventist. It would be an unequal yoking to marry a different race or a different religion. This passage, however, is not about race or denominational differences. It is about the fundamental division between those who are new creations in Christ, born of the Spirit, and those who are not.
The Old Testament contained strict prohibitions against "unequal yoking". When Abraham was old he sent his servant to pick out a wife for his son of promise: Isaac. "I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac." (Genesis 24:3-4)
Abraham's instructions presaged God's command to the children of Israel as they were driving out the Canaanite nations from the Promised Land. He told Israel they were to destroy the pagan nations totally, and they were to "make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy." They were not to "intermarry with them" or give their sons or daughters to them for their sons and daughters. Israel was to "break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire." (Deuteronomy 7:1-5)
God knew that Israel would quickly be sucked into idol worship and become pagans themselves if they were to intermarry with the pagan nations and make political alliances with them.
"For you are a people holy to the Lord your God," he told them. "The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession." (Deut. 7:6)
Exodus 34:15-16 contains almost identical instructions. "Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same."
From the earliest days of God's nation Israel, they were not to become assimilated among the pagan nations of the land God was giving them. A person honoring God cannot compromise his loyalty to truth and to God's love and goodness by making deals and becoming intimate with those who serve evil.
When the Pharisees accused Jesus of doing his miracles by the power of Beelzebub he replied, "How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand." (Mark 3:23-25)
A house or nation or group cannot be divided in its loyalty to God and to evil and be successful.
Besides the laws against making contracts between Israel and pagans, God also gave Israel laws about not mixing other unequal things together. Deuteronomy 22:9-11 states, "Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled. Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together."
God was emphasizing that when He established his own people and identified himself with them, they were fundamentally different from others. He wanted Israel to internalize the fact that when he prohibited intermarriage and political agreements between them and the pagans, these prohibitions were more than arbitrary, superficial rules. He wanted Israel to appreciate that what he made was unique, and his identity of his own creations could not be subsumed into an amalgamation of themselves and others. Israel was to represent God in the world. God cannot be modified or blended with false gods. He is sovereign; he is Lord over everything. His people could not be mixed with pagans and continue to represent him.
The prohibition against plowing with an ox yoked to a donkey had greater implications than not mixing crops or yarns. Besides the mixed nature of the team, a donkey and an ox do not function the same. They would be unable to work as a team because their temperaments and strengths are completely different from each other's. Trying to get unity of speed, action, and purpose from a donkey-ox team would be similar to trying to get unity of purpose and action from a team of a God-fearing person and a godless person.
Believers and Non-Believers
Paul admonished the Corinthians in their first letter to guard their associations. "You must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat."
In this passage Paul is warning the Corinthian Christians not to allow professed believers to remain in fellowship if they are indulging in blatant sin. Living in a way that flaunts God's call on one's life gives a bad name to Christians. In fact, claiming the name of Christ and refusing His call to submit to the Holy Spirit's work in oneself is a way of taking God's name in vain. Paul is clearly asking the body of believers to discipline those who claim faith in Christ if they refuse to live as Christ calls them to live.
In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul is calling Christians not to make close alliances with unbelievers. A definition of "believer" might help clarify Paul's intent in this passage.
Acts 16:31 clearly states that a person who believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved. Acts 15:14 further explains how a person becomes a believer. The leaders of the church in Jerusalem were in sharp disagreement over what they should require from new Gentile converts. Peter addressed the men and said, "[God] made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith." He further said they should put no yoke of Jewish legalism on the necks of the Gentile disciples. Paul and Barnabas followed Peter's plea by explaining how God had poured out his spirit among Gentiles when they heard the gospel from the two apostles.
When Paul and Barnabas were finished speaking, James spoke up: "Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself" He continued by stating four simple principles of holy living which the Gentiles should have-and no more. They were to abstain "from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15:20)
In this passage is the remarkable insight that every part of being and becoming a believer is a gift from God. God, Peter said, purified the Gentiles by faith just as he had believing Jews. They did not purify themselves by deciding to exercise their faith; rather, God placed faith in their hearts, and thus they were purified. James further emphasized this remarkable truth by saying that God took from the Gentiles "a people for himself". The Gentiles who became believers in Jesus did so by the sovereign saving grace of God who chose them from the creation of the world. (Revelation 17:8)
Jesus further clarified the mark of a true believer. To Nicodemus he said, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:5-6)
A body of believers will have in it both those who are born again and those who are not. (see Matthew 13:24-30) Jesus's parable of the weeds makes it clear that we are not to root out the false believers from among the fellowship of believers because we might root up true believers in the process. The final judgment of a person's authenticity is saved for Jesus who will send his angels to weed evil out of His kingdom. At the same time we allow God to be the judge of who is true and who is an imposter, however, we are also to exercise discenrment.
In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul is stating that believers should not enter into trusting relationships with unbelievers. The context of this passage is still the reality that the Corinthians are being seduced by false teachers. The false teachers among them appear to be believers. They are proclaiming words that sound like the gospel, and they appear to be godly. They are not, however, telling the truth.
Paul is unhesitating in his declaration that righteousness cannot mix with wickedness. The false teachers, in spite of their apparent holy fervor, are choosing to speak lies instead of truth, and Paul is telling the Corinthians that they must not yoke themselves with this wickedness. People who operate deceptively do not walk in the light; they are not true believers. This passage is a warning to the Corinthians not to be yoked in relationships of trust with people who are not trustworthy because such relationships are spiritual compromises. One cannot treat a dishonest person or a worldly person as an "equal" without temporizing one's own integrity.
Unequal yoking today could take many forms. Business ventures between believers and unbelievers often are untenable because the unbeliever may be willing to compromise or manipulate in order to make money while the believer may believe such dealings to be dishonest. Because of the partners' different moral bases, such opposing viewpoints cannot be negotiated.
Close friendships are likewise not really possible between unbelievers and believers. A true believer has a new, different reality-a spiritually alive, eternal reality, and an unbeliever does not share it. The things that are important to a believer are things a nonbeliever will not understand. True depth and intimacy and accountability are not possible between a person who is spiritually alive and one who is not.
Aligning oneself with a religious teacher who does not respect the integrity of the word of God or who does not respect biblical teaching also puts one in spiritual danger. One cannot mix the gospel with ANYTHING and have the truth. A person can be loyal only to Jesus, not to a teacher or preacher. Only in Jesus is there truth and spiritual integrity. He will bring true fellowship into his followers' lives, but their ultimate loyalty must be to Him, not to another they admire.
Christ-followers risk their spiritual health and integrity if they form close, trusting alliances with people who are not also born again. The Old Testament warnings to stay separate still have meaning today, but the meaning is expanded. Israel understood that they were to be separate from the pagans, unmixed in bloodlines, politics, and religion. We in the new covenant understand that we are to guard our hearts and not compromise with evil. Today we understand the differences between good and evil are not external; they are deep and fundamental. Believers are born again; they have a literal new reality and a new heart. They are one with God. They cannot align the indwelling God with people who are loyal to evil. The two cannot mix.
Temple of God
In verse 16 Paul emphasizes his point about not being unequally yoked by reminding the Corinthians that they are the temple of God. "What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God." This passage emphasizes the corporate nature of the temple. The whole body of believers is the temple of God, the body of Christ on earth. The reason the church can be described as God's temple is that each believer is filled with the Holy Spirit. In fact, each believer is also described as God's temple.
In his earlier letter to these same people Paul also stressed their corporate responsibility to protect the body of Christ as God's temple. "Don't you know that you yourselves [plural in Greek] are God's temple and that God's Spirit live in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." (1 Cor. 3:16-17)
Later in the same letter he further defines each individual as being the temple of God. In a passage in which he admonishes the Corinthians to be sexually pure he ends his plea with these words, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
When we understand that we are each a temple of the Holy Spirit and that corporately Christ-followers are the temple of God, we begin to see that every decision we make impacts our own spiritual health as well as that of the people in our lives. Further, each decision impacts our relationship with Jesus who is in us and longs for us to live in acknowledgment of that intimacy.
We become God's temple when we receive the Holy Spirit poured out by Jesus when we accept him. (see Acts 2:33) The Holy Spirit brings us to life spiritually and redefines our identity.
Peter describes us as becoming" living stones" when we come to the "living Stone" who was "rejected by men but chosen by God." (1 Peter 2:4) As living stones we are "being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5)
As Christ-followers we are yoked together by our Father to become his holy temple. The Holy Spirit is the mortar that unites us and gives us unity of purpose and the willingness to become part of God's spiritual house and his holy priesthood. Before we are born again these callings are not possible nor even desirable to us. We have an obligation to God who calls us not to yoke ourselves in intimate, cooperative ways with non-believers. We compromise our strength as living stones in God's house when we expend energy cooperating with those who do not share our new identity or eternal purpose.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes Christ-followers as being no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household who are being built into a dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22) From a human perspective, Christ-followers appear to be the foreigners and aliens on this earth. From God's perspective, however, those who remain dead in their sins, even though that condition is the natural condition of humanity, are the true aliens and foreigners. God is sovereign in the universe, and life is the ultimate result of God's love which is the most powerful force in all of reality. Those who are spiritually dead are living in an alien condition in God's universe. They are enthralled by evil, a cosmic power, to be sure, but one far less potent than God's love. Evil is already defeated; death is doomed. The dead are the true aliens in creation. Life is of God, and the living belong to him. His presence dwells wherever he has brought spiritual life.
As living stones in the temple of God we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1) We also offer praise-possible only when we are made alive by the Spirit-as sacrifices to God. When we are made alive by the Holy Spirit living in us, our lives become dedicated to honoring God. We offer ourselves to him, submitting to his call and to his work which he gives to each one of us. Our hearts, alive in God's presence with the concealing veil of works removed, rejoice and praise him for his love and power and goodness.
As living stones comprising God's temple, we cannot compromise with evil. We belong to God; he literally lives in us and has brought us to life. To align ourselves with evil is to disrespect Jesus' sacrifice for us and his power in us. We cannot embrace alien goals-material wealth, power, lust, amusement-without diluting our response to the power of God in us. We cannot serve two masters without destroying ourselves and becoming useless as living stones in God's building.
The early church experienced temptation by many kinds of compromise-temptations which assault us today. The Corinthians struggled with jealousy, factions, and quarrelling. They also had sexual sins and incest among themselves, lawsuits and cheating between each other, and temptations to return to their former practices of immorality, homosexuality, thievery, drunkenness, greed, slandering, and swindling one another. (see 1 Cor. 3:3; 5:1; 6:7-11; 10:21) They were also succumbing to the temptation which triggered this warning in 2 Corinthians: they were becoming unequally yoked with people who masqueraded as godly men but were truly deceivers and ultimately unbelievers.
The church in Galatia struggled with adding works to the gospel. They were being tempted to add rules and regulations from the Jewish law to their practice of Christianity. They were being seduced by Judaizers to observe special days, months, season, and years as well as circumcision as required in the Mosaic law. Paul equated the addition of the law to grace with their returning to paganism. (Gal. 4:8-11) Jesus had set them free, and they were to cherish their freedom and refuse to add works to the gospel of grace.
The Colossians also were tempted to add ceremonial requirements to their practice of Christianity. In addition, they were beginning to embrace mystical beliefs that exalted angels and degraded the centrality of Christ. Paul warned them not to let anyone judge them by what they ate or drank or by religious celebrations including Sabbaths. He also warned them not to let people who delighted in "false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize." Further, he challenged the Colossians by asking them why, since they had died with Christ, they were still submitting "to the basic principles of the world'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!" These prohibitions, Paul further declared, "have an appearance of wisdombut they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." (see Colossians 2:16-23)
No matter how "healthful" or self-protecting certain dietary and lifestyle restrictions might appear to be, those restrictions do not contribute to a person's holiness. Self-denying eating habits are not what make a person's body a fit temple for the Holy Spirit, as many of us were taught. We are God's building, his temple, because he chooses us, not because we fit ourselves for the job. When we accept the sacrifice of Jesus and the new birth from the Holy Spirit, we are God's temple, regardless of our healthiness or our eating habits or our exercise regimen. The "health message" many of us learned is not "the right arm of the message." It has absolutely nothing to do with godliness or holiness. It is merely a distraction to make people feel as if they are improving themselves and making themselves more worthy of God.
As Paul told the Colossians, however, such restrictions "lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." People who practice rigid health laws still are plagued with lustful desires. Perhaps, in fact, very rigid lifestyles often cover out-of-control private thoughts and fantasies and practices. In fact, obsession with clean and restrictive diets and health practices may be a way some people try to "cleanse" themselves from deep feelings of shame and from carefully hidden temptations and indulgences.
James, the writer of the earliest epistle in the New Testament, addressed his letter to the first converted Jews who were scattered throughout the middle east after the miracle of Pentecost when 3,000 Jews visiting Jerusalem for Passover were converted as Peter preached. He admonished those first believers who had no scriptures but the Old Testament to be humble and wise. He warned them that if they harbored "bitter envy and selfish ambition" in their hearts they were nurturing things that came from the devil. Where envy and selfish ambition run rampant, he said, there also is "every evil practice." Wisdom from God, on the other hand, "if first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:13-16)
Christ-followers are to focus their loyalty and attention on Jesus, not on purifying themselves, on pushing themselves forward into material success or power, or on observing laws and regulations. They are not to align themselves in trusting or vulnerable ways with unbelievers because their unbelieving friends' values and morals will not mesh with their own. Instead, all their attention is to be directed toward honoring and loving Jesus. His Spirit will guide them and teach them and replace their old loyalties with his own presence as they submit themselves to His love and truth.
Paul juxtaposes his reminder that Christ-followers are God's temple with God's promise to Israel given in Leviticus 26:12: "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.' " (v.16)
God promised Israel that if they obeyed his demands and decrees, he would walk among them and be their God, and they would be his people. (Lev. 26:12) In Deuteronomy 32:21, God further explained his purposes when he said Israel angered him by following idols. "I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding."
God clearly differentiated between "His people" and those who were not his people. In fact, he referred to the pagans who would attack Israel as "those who are not a people." Those pagans were divided into clearly defined nations, but nationality was not what God meant. Israel, those he called and formed, those who were sons of His promise and not sons of Hagar the slave woman, were the people God formed for himself. They were a specific group who were to keep themselves pure and separate from those who were "not a people." Israel was created to bear the truth of God and to be the people among whom God himself would dwell. They were never to violate that sacred calling and intimacy by following pagan gods or by aligning themselves with the political or spiritual or financial purposes of the self-serving pagans.
God did dwell among Israel until the nation apostatized repeatedly. He did fight their battles and preserve the royal line of Judah which descended from King David. God's promise to dwell among them, to be their God and to claim them as his people was fulfilled from the time he led them out of Egypt by the cloud of His presence. God's presence resided in the wilderness tabernacle and in the temple of Jerusalem until the people finally spurned God repeatedly and his cloud left during the time of Ezekiel.
God's immediate fulfillment of his promise to Israel, however, is not the whole fulfillment of this promise. God gave Isaiah prophesies about the doom of Israel. He foretold their utter apostasy and their disintegration as a nation. He foretold the restoration of Jerusalem and his ultimate faithfulness to his promises to Israel, but he also hinted at "new things." In Isaiah 42:8-9 God said, "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you."
Again in Isaiah 48:6-7 God said, "From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, 'Yes, I know of them.' "
Paul links these promises of "something new" hidden through the ages to the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ. "Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him-to the only wise God be glory forever though Jesus Christ! Amen."
The mystery hinted at to Isaiah was realized in the atonement of Jesus Christ being given not just to the Jews but to "all nations". God's people would become bigger than the genetic line of Abraham and Isaac. God would redeem all people!
Jeremiah had a prophecy that more specifically described the "new thing" Isaiah foretold. " 'The time is coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,' declares the Lord. 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will by my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 31:31, 33-34)
Jeremiah foretold a time that God would establish a new and different covenant with his people than the Mosaic covenant. He didn't explain how it would happen, but he did promise God would write his law on his people's hearts and minds in contrast with the 10 Commandments which were inscribed on tables of stone. "They will be my people, and I will be their God," He told Jeremiah. (Jer. 32:28) The writer of Hebrews repeated this promise in Hebrews 8:10-12 as he explained that Jesus was the initiator of the new covenant that fulfilled these ancient words to Jeremiah.
The New Covenant is an even more complete fulfillment of God's promises to Israel than was his cloud of presence in the midst of their nation. Now, in the "church age", all Christ-followers, whether Jew or Gentile, are individually and corporately God's temple and literally indwelled by the Spirit of God. Christ-followers have an advantage the Jews did not have: the new birth. They are literally changed on the inside. They have God's law in their minds and hearts, just as Jeremiah prophesied. God's people are no longer defined by bloodline; they are defined by spiritual birth. They are children of God's promise and children of faith, just as Isaac was. Unbelievers are naturally born, the product simply of human choice and genetics, just as was Ishmael.
And Still More Promises
Other prophets hinted at eventual fulfillment of God's promises. Hosea 1:10 describes God saying, "Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.' "
Again in chapter 2:23 God says to Hosea, "I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.' I will say to those called "not my people,' 'You are my people'; and they will say, 'You are my God.' "
Paul enlarges on the future hinted in these Old Testament prophecies. In Romans 9:22-26 he says, "What if God, choosing to show his wrath an make his power known, bore with great patience the objets of his wrath-prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: 'I will call them "my people" who are not my people; and I will call her "my loved one" who is not my loved one.' "
Paul also quotes Moses and Isaiah in Romans 10, reminding the Roman Christians that God had said he would "make [Israel] envious by those who are not a nation," and that he would be "found by those who did not seek me." He revealed himself to people who did not ask for him. The mystery hidden from the Old Testament prophets was that God would include Gentiles in his salvation. They, too, could become his people by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.
Peter also emphasizes the new covenant reality of Gentiles being included among God's people. In 1 Peter 2:9-10 he says, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Under the Old Covenant, God's people were the children of promise, the descendants of Isaac, the miracle child of Abraham and Sarah's old age. The descendants of Abraham's firstborn, Ishmael, were not the people God chose for himself. Ishmael was the natural son of Abraham and Sarah's maid Hagar. He was not a miracle child. He was not the product of faith. The Israelites, later known as the Jews, were the descendants of Abraham's faith child. He was born because God ordained it, not because Sarah and Abraham decided to have a baby. Sarah was old and barren; she had never produced a child. Isaac was the son of promise, the result of Abraham's God-given faith.
In the New Covenant, God's people are still the children of promise. No longer are they exclusively Jews; now anyone who accepts Jesus' death by faith receives standing as God's son. God's people now are all those who have been born of the Spirit and cleansed by Christ's sacrifice. Just as Abraham and Sarah were powerless to produce Isaac without a miracle from God, just so we are powerless to become born of the Spirit apart from the miracle of faith by which we accept Jesus and are born again.
Another phenomenon which the Old Testament prophets could not see was that when the Jews rejected Jesus they became, for a time, eclipsed by the Gentiles among whom the gospel spread, and the church grew greatly. God's promises to the Jews are not nullified; rather, the Jews are now reaping God's discipline for rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. As a group they are not responsive to the gospel, and they fail to see that God's temple is now the church. They do not understand the new birth. They are still focussed on the law or are completely secular, and a veil covers their hearts.
Paul explains that Israel is hardened for a time to allow the Gentiles to become members of God's family. "Because of their [the Jews'] transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious," he says in v. 11. Paul continues by warning the Gentiles not to be arrogant. "You will say, 'Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.' Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either." (v.19-21)
He continues by saying that Israel will again be restored. "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be savedAs far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."
A time is coming when the hardness of the Jew's hearts will soften, and they will again, as a people, be given a chance to receive individually the gift of life by faith in Jesus. When that time comes, they will see clearly that their race does not qualify them as the people of God. Their faith in Jesus will be the only thing that will grant them eternity with God. They will also understand that repentance is part of accepting eternal life, and that no person or race is beyond the sovereign call of God.
Chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel contain specific prophecies for the renewing of Jerusalem, for the rebuilding of the temple, and for the return of the Jews to their homeland. God took him in vision to Jerusalem after the city had been besieged and the temple destroyed and gave him a complex preview of the future which he told Ezekiel to relay to the people of Israel. These chapters contain instructions for sacrifices, for distributing the land among the tribes, and for feasts and holy days. They also contain something more.
Chapter 47 describes a river coming from the "south side of the temple, south of the altar." (v.1) As Ezekiel and his guide continue around the temple, the river grows until it becomes so deep and wide that it was "a river that no one could cross." (v.5) This river emptied into the Dead Sea, making the waters fresh. "Where the river flows everything will live," The heavenly guide tells Ezekiel. (v.9) "The fish [in the Dead Sea] will be of many kinds-like the fish of the Great Sea [Mediterranean]. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing." (v.10-12)
Living water flows from God's temple. It becomes such a huge stream that no man can master it. It brings life wherever it flows, even to the Dead Sea where nothing can live. Marshes and swamps, however, which have no input from the living water, remain salty and lifeless.
At the end of chapter 28 Ezekiel describes the gates of the city. There would be twelve gates, three on each side, and each gate would bear the name of one of the twelve tribes. The book ends with these words, "And the name of the city from that time on will be: The Lord Is There." (v.35)
Revelation also contains a similar prophecy. In Revelation 21:12-14 John is describing the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and he says it has twelve gates, each bearing the name of one of the tribes of Israel. In v. 3-4 John says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.' "
God's original promises to Israel have a fulfillment that is yet to happen. When heaven and earth are made new, God will dwell with his people, those who have believed in Jesus and been born of the Spirit, and they will be his people, and He will be their God.
The fulfillment (or fulfillments) of these prophecies will no doubt surprise us as much as the New Covenant with its inclusion of Gentiles came as a surprise to the Jews.
Revelation 20 suggests that there may be another age between ours and the New Earth. The reality of the millennium is unclear to us. No specific details explain exactly how it will work or look. Revelation 20:1-6, however, suggest a scenario quite different from the one most of us were taught as Adventists. Satan, according to verses 1-3, will be bound in "the Abyss" for a thousand years "to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended." During this time of Satan's binding, whether or not the thousand years is literal or figurative of a very long time, "the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the word of Godcame to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years." (v.4-6)
There are three dominant ideas that Christians espouse to explain the millennium: Amillennialism, Premillennialism, and Postmillennialism. In other words, people disagree about exactly what the millennium is and what it will look like. One thing is clear: Christ-followers will reign with Jesus and function as priests of God for a period of time before the final destruction and the creation of the new heaven and earth. During this reign, according to Revelation 20:3, the nations are still on the earth, and Satan is bound from deceiving them. It is possible that the symbolic and somewhat ambiguous prophecies of the Old Testament prophets regarding the restoration of Jews as God's people and the rebuilding of God's city may still have more than one fulfillment in the future. Perhaps the millennial kingdom described in Revelation 20, whatever its reality turns out to be, is part of the fulfillment of Hosea's, Ezekiel's, Isaiah's, Daniel's, and others' prophesies.
In summary, God's requirements for his people have always been the same: love him supremely, and by faith allow him to be sovereign in their lives. His requirement that Israel be separate was for the purpose of keeping Israel from being seduced by paganism and betraying their commitment to Him. His requirement that we as Christ-followers be separate is essentially for the same purpose but with expanded implications. As New Covenant believers, we physically house the Spirit of God in us. By yoking ourselves unequally, we not only betray our commitment to God, but we also disrespect his commitment to us. When we enter relationships that compromise our integrity, we literally defile God's temple. We admit evil into the sacred place in our own spirits where the Spirit of God dwells. We cannot serve two masters; a house divided against itself cannot stand.
God promises to be our defense, our life, our joy, our success, our strength, our support. We distrust his adequacy to be everything for us when we compromise our morals and integrity by making unequal yokes in our lives. As God's people we are the objects of a sacred claim. We have been literally born into his family, and God asks us to trust him enough not to make apparently pragmatic alliances which compromise our intimacy with him.
Many of us who used to be Adventists (and many of us who weren't, as well!) forged various yokes in our past which now are unequal. 1 Corinthians 7 clarifies that if a believing spouse has an unbelieving spouse, he or she is to stay with the unbeliever if the unbeliever wishes to stay. If, however, the unbeliever wishes to leave, the believer is to allow him or her to go peacefully.
Many of us, however, have retained friendships, business contacts of other relationships that compromise us. For some, the unequal yoke is a lingering, quiet loyalty to Adventism (or any other organization that is based on untruth instead of truth). The work of God's Spirit in our lives is the process of developing integrity and trust in us. God ultimately leads each one of us to surrender to him everything that stands in our way of trusting him completely. In his graciousness he does not require that we leave everything behind all at once. Rather, he brings us face-to-face with reality one relationship, one habit at a time.
If God is nudging you to examine some loyalty in your life, don't resist His Spirit's impulse. God is asking you to be willing to let everything go for the sake of being true to Him. He promises to be everything you need: emotional security, financial security, identity, peace, and contentment.
Ask God to reveal to you what you're clutching for the sake of your own security. Ask God to give you the courage to trust him and to give that person or position or habit or reputation to him. God has chosen you to be his temple, and he wants to glorify himself through your life.
God will give you the awareness and the power to release the unequal yokes in your life. The process may be very painful, but God's comfort and peace are certain, and he will more than fill the emptiness you fear. As part of the body of Christ, you have support and fellowship and love available to you that you never had before. Nothing you lose can equal the peace and freedom you find when you trust Jesus with everything in your life.
Praise God for the paradox of freedom-for the richness and peace that result from letting go of the yokes that compromise us. Praise Jesus for destroying the claim of sin on our lives. Praise the Holy Spirit for putting love and peace in our hearts in the place where sin and compromise used to be.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for choosing us, saving us, and giving us a new reality!
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted June 26, 2002.