Spiritually Compromised Relationships
2 Corinthians 6:11-7:2
This letter was written (in part) to resolve relational alienation between Paul and some of the Corinthian Christians. Remind of definition of "reconciliation." Paul addresses the root issue here (read 6:11-13). He says the reason for alienation is not him, but rather that they are restrained by their affections for something/someone else (COOLNESS FROM GIRLFRIEND WHO LIKES SOMEONE ELSE). We find out who that "someone else" is in the next verse . . . read 6:14.
What Paul is not forbidding
What It Does Not Mean
Many Christians have misinterpreted 6:14a,17 to call for a level of separation from non-Christians that is unbiblical. The New Testament makes it clear that Christians are to be very involved with non-Christians. Paul has just said that our great privilege is to be Christ's ambassadors to non-Christians (5:18-20a). We therefore must reject all forms of separation that hinder this purpose.
Functional involvement (Lk. 3:12-14) vs. AMISH ISOLATIONISM: How can we reach people for Christ if we never associate with them (1 Cor. 5:9,10)?
Cultural identification (1 Cor. 9:19-23) vs. FUNDAMENTALIST LEGALISM: Why should we needlessly erect barriers that God says do not exist?
Relational involvement (Matt. 9:10-13) vs. ENEMY COMPLEX: How will people know that Christ loves them unless we show them his love for them by accepting them and relating to them on a personal level?
Many of us need to be more involved with non-Christians on this level!!
What It Does Mean
But obviously there is such a thing as unbiblical involvement with non-Christians, or Paul would not be writing this passage. Having emphasized our need to be "in the world" as ambassadors, Paul now warns against being "of the world." Paul is speaking of any kind of relationship with non-Christians which involves compromise of our commitment to and witness for Christ. This is made clear by two things:
- The verb "bound together" means literally "unequally yoked." Paul is alluding to the Old Testament command in Deut. 22:10, where God forbade the Israelites from yoking different species together to plow. The point is that the 2 animals were not designed to do that together, so it is injurious to both. In the same way, there are certain things that Christians cannot do with non-Christians without compromising the Christian's commitment to Christ and therefore injuring his witness to the non-Christian.
- The following 5 questions (6:14b-16a) make it clear that Paul is talking about spiritual compromise in our relationships with non-Christians. A relationship in which we compromise ethically (righteousness vs. lawlessness), doctrinally (light vs. darkness), or spiritually (Christ vs. Belial; temple vs. idols) is a relationship that is wrong, because:
- It betrays your allegiance to Christ as the Lord of your life (SPIRITUAL ADULTERY).
- It is unloving to the non-Christian because it communicates an inaccurate message about Jesus Christ--that he is not the One they need because he is not the One you really follow.
- It is hurtful to your own spiritual life because compromise erects a barrier to your personal relationship with Christ (see below).
Common forms of compromise
The application to his audience is evidently religious syncretism.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul had told them that they didn't need to worry about eating meat sacrificed to idols because that couldn't contaminate them spiritually. They seem to have taken this beyond what his intended meaning. There was heavy social pressure for them to dine in the idol temples, which involved praying to and worshiping the idols, and (in some cases) having sex with temple priestesses (see 1 Cor. 10:19-21).
We don't face anything that overt in our own culture, but there is still tremendous pressure to give in to religious syncretism. In a culture as relativistic as ours, it is very unpopular to take a stand that Christ is the only way to God. Are you clear in your stand on this, or do you give the impression that Christ is just the way to God for you?
This principle also applies to romantic relationships. Although he taught that Christians were not to divorce their non-Christian spouses, Paul clearly taught that Christians were to marry only other Christians (1 Cor. 7:39). God forbade the Israelites from inter-marrying with idolaters because it would lead to spiritual compromise.
I think this is the area where Christians are most tempted to compromise, because romantic attraction is such a powerful emotion that it easily clouds our judgment. But the choice to get seriously involved romantically with a non-Christian is wrong.
"I'm helping them to come to Christ." But is that the real reason that you are involved with him/her? The best way to help him/her come to Christ is to put him first in this relationship by taking a stand.
"I'm sure he/she will come to Christ after we're married." This is a disastrous presumption. If he/she does come to Christ, it will be in spite of your compromise, not because of it. And for every case where the non-Christian spouse comes to Christ, there are many more where the Christian compromises his/her walk with Christ even more after marriage.
Make the commitment before Christ that you will seriously date and marry only someone who is a committed Christian!! You may lose romantic opportunities because of this, but you will never regret it. This is where the rubber meets the road in trusting God!
It also has application to business relationships. Consider also the ethical issues in the work-place. How do you respond to corrupt or unethical practices at work? Do you take a stand and refuse to participate in them, or by your participation do you communicate that your relationship with Christ is severed from the "real world?"
It is often unwise to enter into a partnership with a non-Christian. If you are a vital Christian, you will view your job in a very different way than he does. How can he be expected to understand that you want to draw the line on how many hours you work because you value involvement in Christian fellowship and ministry? How can he be expected to understand that you want to use some of the profits of the company to give to Christian work instead of plow it all back into the business or personal use? Yet these kinds of conflicts will arise - unless you conform to standards of this world.
It also applies more broadly to family and friends. Family members sometimes forbid involvement in Christian fellowship, etc. How do you respond? Are you compromising to keep peace? This is not God's way.
As a new Christian, my non-Christian friends didn't care if I had received Christ, as long as it didn't make any difference in what I did with them. But as soon as I quit getting high with them, and wanted to talk about Christ, and made Bible studies and fellowship a priority, they put a lot of pressure on me to "keep it in its place." The truth is, most of them didn't want to be around me unless it involved getting high.
NOTE: This principle applies to relationships with carnal Christians as well . . .
Consider these questions: Are you taking a clear stand for Christ verbally and in your actions? Who is influencing whom? These questions usually get to the heart of the issue . . .
The Remedy (6:16b-7:2)
What if you are compromised? Read 6:16b-7:2. Paul speaks of four practical steps we can take . . .
1. Realize who you are and what kind of life will fulfill you (6:16b,18).
Since you are indwelt by God and Christ is the Lord of your life, the only kind of life that will fulfill you is one that is centered around relating to and following him.
No one is more miserable than the compromised Christian. You can't really enjoy the world because you are a new creature; but you can't enjoy the Christian life because you're not actively following Christ (ME IN LATE '70 & EARLY '71).
2. Put an end to spiritual compromise & make following Christ your #1 priority (6:17; 7:1).
What does this mean exactly? It will mean different things in different situations. In some cases, it will mean ending the relationship; in others, it will mean taking a clear stand. The Holy Spirit will apply this to you if you ask him with the attitude that you will do whatever is necessary. Wise counsel also helps.
NOTE: If you're chronically confused, it is usually because you haven't decided that you want to break free. When you have decided to do this, God usually makes it clear what needs to be done. It's better to be honest here than to deceive yourself into thinking that you have the right attitude but that God is keeping you in the dark. This may be very painful, but God will restore the vitality of your relationship with him immediately ("I will welcome you" versus "You make me sick")--which more than compensates!
"Perfecting holiness" simply means "growing spiritually." "Fear of God" means respect for him, meaning business with him--not playing games, but giving him his rightful place in your life. It is the attitude that says, "I am willing to sacrifice other things for my spiritual growth. I am unwilling to sacrifice my spiritual growth for anything."
3. Form and/or reestablish close relationships with vital Christians (6:11-13; 7:2).
The alternative to being "unequally yoked" with non-Christians is to have vital Christians as your "true yoke-fellows" (Phil. 4:3). Remember, this passage is book-ended with an appeal by Paul to resume a close relationship with him, one characterized by love and openness.
Who are your best friends? You cannot live an effective Christian life without forging your closest relationships with other vital Christians that are centered around spiritual growth and serving together. This provides replacement for the stimulation of spiritual compromise, and accountability to nip it in the bud.
Home groups provide a great context for this to happen.
Some of you have alienated yourself from Christian friends like the Corinthians did with Paul. Return, acknowledge your fault, and seek reconciliation.