Teaching series from 2 Corinthians

Spiritually Compromised Relationships

2 Corinthians 6:11-7:3

Teaching t08987


Remind that Paul wrote this letter (in part) to seek reconciliation between himself and the Corinthian Christians. "Reconciliation," as we saw two weeks ago, presumes a ruptured relationship. It means not merely effecting a cease-fire; it means restoring a love relationship to healthy intimacy by dealing with the root cause of the alienation.

We saw that this is what God seeks with each one of us. He wants to have a personal love relationship with us, but our sin erects a barrier that alienates us from God. But God, because of his great love for us, sent Christ to pay for the guilt of our sins, and he now invites us to receive this gift of forgiveness and be reconciled to him. Have you been reconciled to God?

But God also seeks reconciliation between his people. Paul is both appealing for this and identifying the root cause of the alienation in 6:11-13 (read). He is saying, "I want to be reconciled with you. The reason why our relationship is alienated is not my restrained affection for you, but rather your affection for someone else." (HIGH SCHOOL STORY) We discover who that "someone else" is in 6:14a (read). The problem is they are relating to non-Christians in ways that have alienated them from Paul (and, more importantly, from God), which is why Paul says 6:14a.

What is Paul forbidding?

Before we go any farther, we need to be sure we understand what Paul is not saying. Down through history, the church has often misused passages like this to call for a level of separation from non-Christians that is profoundly unbiblical. Let's remember that Paul has just declared that Christians are ambassadors for Christ (5:18-6:1)--sent to the people God loves and wants to be reconciled with. So we must reject any interpretation of this passage that hinders this calling.

Some have used this passage to justify physically isolating ourselves as much as possible from non-Christians lest we be spiritually defiled by contact with them (PHARISEES; MONASTIC EXAMPLES; AMISH). But Paul rejects this decisively in 1Cor.5:9,10 (read). How can we help people to get reconciled with God if we never associate with them?

Some have used this passage to justify creating our own "cradle-to-grave" Christian sub-culture/ghetto lest we be defiled by secular culture (Christian music genre and labels; Christian school systems from pre-school through graduate school; Christian TV stations; Christian entertainment industry: theme parks, wrestling federation, etc.; Christian Yellow Pages; Christian-only exercise programs; Christian-only retirement homes, etc.). But Paul decisively rejects this in 1Cor.9:19-23 (read & explain). We should be deeply involved in our culture so we can make the gospel intelligible to the people in it. Many of you (like myself) came to Christ because (to a great extent) other Christians practiced this kind of cultural identification!

Some have used this passage to justify relational distance from non-Christians, so that the idea of building friendships with non-Christians is forbidden. But if this what God wants, why did Jesus defend his friendship with "sinners" (Matt.9:10-12)? How will people know that Jesus loves them and wants a friendship with them unless we initiate with them in this way? How many of you came to know Christ because Christian friends?

The truth is that many of us need to be more involved with non-Christians in these ways! This is one of the key values of Xenos, and I for one will be very grieved if we drift away from this commitment to be deeply involved with non-Christians!

But there is obviously such a thing as unhealthy, unbiblical relationships with non-Christians, or Paul would not be writing this passage. What kind of relationships? Relationships that involve compromise in your commitment to and witness for Christ. The following verses make this clear.

First of all, notice that Paul's command in 6:14a is not "do not associate with unbelievers," but "do not be bound together with unbelievers." 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. What Paul forbids is not a relationship with non-Christians, but a relationship that participates in activities that God forbids.

This is made clear in 6:14b-16a (read). It is not friendship with non-Christians that Paul is forbidding; it is relationships that involve "partnership" with lawlessness, "fellowship" with darkness, "harmony" with Satan, and "agreement" with idols.

I like the way one commentator summarizes Paul's point: "Do not form any relationship, whether temporary or permanent, with (non-Christians) that would lead to a compromise of Christian standards or jeopardize consistency of Christian witness."

Because of the complexity of human experience, Paul does not create a catalogue of prohibited activities. Instead, he enunciates this principle and expects us to humbly ask God how it applies to our personal situations. Having said this, we can at least sketch out some general lines of applicationby talking about common forms of spiritual compromise...

Common forms of spiritual compromise

The primary application to his audience was evidently involvement in forbidden religious practices.

The Christians in Corinth bought their meat in the market place. They had no way of knowing whether or not the meat came from normal sources or was the excess meat from animals sacrificed to pagan gods.

Some were worried that eating meat sacrificed to idols would be spiritually contaminating. Paul told them not to worry about this because there are no spiritual "cooties" in such meat, and because this would needlessly separate them from non-Christians (1Cor.10:25-27).

But others seem to have taken this a step farther. There was heavy social pressure for them to dine in the idol temples, which involved actually praying to and worshipping the idols. Paul told this group that this was over the line (see 1Cor.10:19-22). This was idol-worship, which made them vulnerable to demonic influence and compromised their witness that Jesus alone is Lord.

Some of you face similar temptation to compromise in this way.

You may have family members who insist that you perform certain religious rituals that you know are contrary to God's will (e.g., COMMUNION & CHILD BAPTISM FOR SALVATION; ANCESTOR WORSHIP). Do you go along to keep peace with your family, or are you willing to risk conflict in order to be faithful to Christ?

You may have friends or family members who urge you to be involved in occultic practices (e.g., PRAYING TO ANGELS/SPIRIT GUIDES; SEEKING CONTACT WITH DEAD LOVED ONES; SEEKING GUIDANCE FROM SPIRITUAL ADVISORS). Are you trying to mix this with your commitment to Christ, or are you willing to renounce this?

This principle also applies to romantic relationships.

In the Old Testament law, God forbade his people from intermarrying with idol-worshippers because he knew this would lead to spiritual compromise on their part (see Deut.7:3,4). The next 1000 years chronicled Israel's disobedience in this area and the tragic spiritual decline of the Israelites.

Paul calls on Christians to take this same position. Although he taught that Christians were not to divorce their non-Christian spouses (1Cor.7:12-14), he clearly taught that Christians were to marry only other Christians (1Cor.7:39). People didn't date in this culture, but the spirit of this passage is against serious dating relationships between Christians and non-Christians.

I think this is the relational area where Christians are most tempted to compromise, because romantic/sexual attraction is such a powerful emotion that it easily clouds our judgment and manufactures lame rationalizations.

"I'm helping him 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. First of all, you do not know this (1Cor.7:15). 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 to keep peace.

SINGLE CHRISTIANS: Make the commitment before Christ that you will seriously date and marry only someone who is a committed Christian!! This is where the rubber meets the road in trusting God! You may lose romantic opportunities because of this, but you will never regret it.

This principle also has application to business relationships.

I'm not talking just about jobs which are essentially immoral (hit man; thief; prostitute). You may work with/for someone who subtly requires unethical practices (lying, manipulation, cheating, etc.). You may work for someone who insists on a schedule of work and travel that makes healthy involvement in Christian fellowship and ministry impossible. Of course, the place to start is to explain your position and seek a constructive alternative. But do you have a category for finding another job that allows you to be faithful to Christ, even if it means less income and/or status?

It also applies situations with family and friends. Some of us have relationships with family members and/or friends that are mired in moral compromise.

When I came to Christ, God put his finger on my drug habit and called on me to lay it down. Some of my non-Christian friends respected my choice to do this, but others seemed to take delight in tempting me back into it. I found that there were certain situations I just couldn't handle, and that there were certain friends I needed to avoid because I didn’t have the power to lift them up, but they had the power to drag me down. You may need to make similar decisions.

You may have family members who continue to lure you into pornography, or alcohol or drug abuse, or sick and abusive relating. You may have been lulled into compromising permissiveness with your spouse or children. You may have to set different boundaries for these relationships so that you can maintain the integrity of your walk with Christ and your witness to them.

Is God speaking to you through this passage? Are you enmeshed in spiritually compromised relationships? If so, you are not a helpless victim. God can deliver you, but it will require your cooperation with him by following the remedy Paul prescribes in this passage...

God's Remedy

The first step is to remember who you are and what kind of life will fulfill you. Read 6:16b. When you received Christ, his Spirit indwelt you so you can experience his love, and he became your God to lead you into the way of life for which he designed you. Because of this, the only kind of life that will satisfy you is centered around relating to him and following his leadership for your life.

This is why no one is more miserable than a compromised Christian. You can't really enjoy sin anymore because you are a new creature. But you can't enjoy the Christian life because closeness with requires agreeing with his direction in your life. The way out of spiritual compromise begins by remembering this and reaffirming this before God.

Read 6:17. Paul is simply saying: Put an end to spiritual compromise. What will this entail? Whatever it takes to regain the integrity of your commitment to and witness for Christ. 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 within the relationship. The Holy Spirit will show you if you ask him with the attitude that you will do whatever is necessary. (If you're chronically confused about what steps to take, it is usually because you haven’t yet 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 (read 6:18 - “I will welcome you” versus “You make me sick”)--which more than compensates!

Do you remember how Paul began this passage? By appealing to them to resume a close relationship with him. Notice that he ends this passage the same way (read 7:2,3). This is because Paul knows that for us to overcome spiritual compromise, we need to build and maintain close relationships with other Christians.

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.

PUSH home groups: Here is the context for this to happen.

Now a $3 billion a year industry, according to Newsweek, “God, Mammon and ‘Bibleman,’” July 16, 2001, p.46.

Murray Harris, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), p.359.