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Rev. Matthew DeBoer, pastor of Edgerton PRC in Edgerton, Minnesota

 

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

II Corinthians 6:17, 18

In II Corinthians 6:14-16, Paul commands Corinthian believers not to fellowship with unbelievers because of God’s covenant of grace. He says in verse 14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The apostle gives the reason halfway through verse 16: “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The words, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” are the words God uses throughout Scripture to describe His covenant. With these words known as “the covenant formula,” Paul is indicating that believers may not be friends with unbelievers because believers are God’s friends.

Verse 17 begins with the conjunction “Wherefore,” or “Therefore,” showing that verses 17 and 18 give the conclusion of this section in which Paul calls the church to flee fellowship with unbelievers. Believers must “sep­arate” from the wicked and “touch not the unclean thing” to the praise of their gracious Father and Friend.

The covenantal basis

As verse 16 shows, the basis for the command to separate from the unbelieving wicked is God’s covenant with us, but what is the covenant? It is first a relationship of friendship. The language of the covenant formula in verse 16 is the language of love. “I will…walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” The covenant is a relationship of friendship that is established by God. We do not come to Him first and make the relationship. In Genesis 17:7, God says to Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee…” God does not say, “Please agree to be my friend,” but He makes certain people His friends. Those people are His elect. Genesis 17:7 says that the covenant promise was made to Abraham and his seed. Galatians 3:29 shows who that seed is: “And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” The covenant is with those who are Christ’s, namely, the elect for whom He died. The covenant is the relationship of friendship established by God with His people based on Christ’s work. Without Jesus, we sinners cannot be friends with the holy God. However, because of Jesus’ work, we are perfectly righteous in God’s sight, and thus we can dwell with God in friendship. Thank God for Christ!

An essential aspect of the covenant is the antithesis, which is living a life that is opposed to all that God op­poses. In Paradise, God called His covenant friend Adam to live antithetically. Adam was not only to do what God said and eat of the tree of life, but He was also to reject the tree of knowledge, opposing what God opposes (Gen. 2:16-17). God could have simply not created the tree of knowledge, but He created it because He is greatly glori­fied when His friends reject what He rejects. This is how God has determined that we reveal our love for Him.

God called His covenant friend Adam to live anti­thetically in the Garden, but the antithesis was even more pronounced after the Fall. In Genesis 3:15, God said, “And I will put enmity between thee [Satan] and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Two different peoples would exist on earth on opposite sides. There would be the seed of the woman, Christ and His people, and on the other side would be the seed of the serpent, Satan and his people. God put enmity, or ha­tred, between these sides.

We believers now must actively stand on God’s side, opposed to the Devil and his side. Verse 17 says we must “separate” from “them,” the “them” referring to “unbe­lievers” (v. 14). An unbeliever is someone who does not believe in Jesus for salvation. He lives in “unrighteous­ness” (v. 14). In Paul’s day, unbelievers surrounded the Corinthian church. Verse 16 implies that Corinthians worshiped idols, and we know from ancient writings that they especially served Aphrodite, the Greek god­dess of love and pleasure. People would travel to Corinth, known then as “Sin City,” to satisfy their lusts at Aph­rodite’s temple where there were more than 1,000 pros­titutes. In verse 17, Paul is quoting Isaiah 52:11, where God commands the Jews to depart from Babylon. By quoting Isaiah, the apostle indicates that Corinth was like wicked Babylon, a type of the antichristian king­dom (Rev. 18). Like Babylon in Daniel’s day, Corinth did not persecute believers immediately, but first offered them the pleasures of sin. We live in Babylon today, a world where people seek their own sinful pleasures. Many openly walk in sexual sin, and others view forni­cation on their private screens for entertainment. Men make, listen, and dance to music that has filthy lan­guage and presents ungodly views of sex, women, suc­cess, and wealth. People do as they please on the Lord’s Day, worshiping themselves, instead of worshiping God with His people. “The Lord” commands His covenant friends, people bought by Christ, to separate from the world and their ways to His glory.

The divine command

With the command, “Come out from among them,” in verse 17, Paul was telling the Corinthians, “You used to dwell in oneness with the world, but now you must leave that fellowship behind.” The apostle added, “Be ye separate,” meaning, “Withdraw from unbelievers and their lifestyle.” We must do the same.

God is not calling us to a physical separation from the world. This has been tried. Some have been her­mits, living a prayer-focused life in a cave apart from all others. Monks have gone to monasteries. The Amish and Hutterites set up their own communities to flee the world. However, groups that separate from the world physically do not succeed at separating from the world’s sins. One of the reasons is that there are always unbe­lievers in the church that withdraws itself. Also, there is ungodliness in everyone, for each takes a sinful nature wherever he goes. We are to be in the world, but not of it. God says to the church in Philippians 2:15, “That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, with­out rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse na­tion, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” We may not live apart from all others in the world since God’s purpose is that the light stands in contrast to the darkness to His praise.

What God is calling us to do in the text is separate spiritually from the world. The separation unto which we are called begins in the heart. We must have a love for our covenant God and a hatred for the world’s sins as David did (Ps. 139:19-21). The people of the world are determined to enjoy life to the fullest, do as they please, and set up a kingdom for man and his glory. We, God’s friends, must hate the world’s wicked walk, love God, and seek His praise. Then, we must live spiritually separate from the world by fleeing from their ways.

This calling to separate spiritually has physical im­plications. Coming out from among the wicked world means that we do not hang around with worldly people. We must talk to unbelievers around us and help them with their needs, but we must speak to them and assist them with the goal of witnessing to them. We may not be friends with them in the sense of going to their homes or out with them to join in their activities and entertain­ment. We may not physically go to any place where we will view or listen to things that are displeasing to God.

Verse 17 adds to the command to come out from among them and be separate when it says, “And touch not the unclean thing.” This is a quote from Isaiah 52:11 where God reminded the Jews to touch no un­clean things. In the Old Testament, God called certain things “unclean,” like dead bodies and lepers. If the Jews touched these things, they became ceremonially unclean, a picture of spiritual uncleanness, and they were kept from temple worship for a time.

We now may not touch unclean things from a spiritual point of view. The world corrupts things, making them dirty with sin. It corrupts songs, movement to music, and moving pictures on a screen. When we touch these things in the sense that we join in listening, watching, and danc­ing, we become defiled. Our minds are filled with wrong thoughts, and our mouths imitate what we hear. This af­fects our worship at home during the week and at church. It is hard to meditate on Christ when you were living like the world the night before. So, God’s command to His friends is, “Do not touch the unclean thing!” Keep these things from entering your homes through the TV, computer, or phone. Avoid friendships with people that will bring these things into your lives. And, do not try to get as close to unclean things as possible, and then say, “What is wrong with this?” That question points one in the wrong direction and often leads to defilement. Instead, ask, “How does this help me glorify my God?” and if it does not, separate! Evaluate your TV, computer, and phone use, your friends, and what you do for fun, and put away the unclean thing.

This calling to separate must be given because Bab­ylon looks so good to us who have a sinful nature. It is tempting to befriend a worldly person who is physically attractive and shares our interests. Babylon’s shows and music are so entertaining and pleasing to the flesh. Ex­cuses come easily. “My parents used to listen to things like this when they were young, and they turned out fine.” Or, “There is some good in that movie.” We must stop the excuses and separate in grateful obedience to our covenant God.

A sure promise

After issuing the command to be separate, our covenant God promises at the end of verse 17, “and I will receive you,” meaning “I will open my arms to you and treat you with favor.” He adds in verse 18, “I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters….” The text does not mean that separating from the world is a condition we fulfill to be treated with favor and brought into Jehovah’s family. Verse 16 shows that the believers whom Paul commands to live antithetically were already in God’s covenant family.

What the text is teaching is that separating from the world is the way in which we believers enjoy family life with God. Those who do not separate from the world but continue fellowship with them are associating with the Devil, and feel far from Jehovah. However, as we separate from the world in gratitude for God’s friend­ship, thinking on Christ and the covenant, we enjoy our Father’s friendship and favor. We who separate from the world by God’s mighty work in our hearts will enjoy His fatherly embrace forever in heaven.

This is amazing. We are weak sinners who deserve nothing from Almighty God. Yet, He forgives us, His friends, for Jesus’ sake. He strengthens us to separate from the world and, in that way of separating, causes us to experience His loving embrace.

This promise that we who separate will enjoy cov­enant family life with God is sure. It is sure because it is given by “the Lord Almighty” (v. 18). Nothing can keep Him from bringing us who separate to enjoy His covenant friendship. May this promise encourage and strengthen us to live antithetically.