#8) What do you consider “fellowship” and how often do you have it?

October 7, 2008

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God said:

‘I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be my people.’

Therefore

‘Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.’
‘I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and
Daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.’”

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

There is a thin line to walk considering the text that Paul has brought to light in the second letter to the Corinthian church. He does not merely say, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” and then move on. He follows this seemingly straight-forward statement with, [1] “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?”
[2] “What communion has light with darkness?” [3] “What accord has Christ with Belial?” [4] “What part has a believer with an unbeliever?” [5] “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? Just incase the first question is misunderstood, Paul followed up with four more questions, using different examples to represent the same spiritual context. What began possibly as something that could be debated, ended with a crystal clear depiction of what it means to “not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

What exactly does Paul mean? The first thought or comparison made by many Christians [including myself], is in the context of marriage. Of course no one expects a Christian man to marry an unbelieving woman or vice versa. Marriage is reflected in the context of two people becoming one for the rest of their lives on earth. It is beyond a commitment or partnership, but a covenant. The husband must be able and willing to essentially love and lead his wife, while willing to sacrifice his life for her sake. The wife must be able and willing to respect and succumb to her husband’s leadership. That is understandable.

What does is mean to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers”? The doctrine of justification generously explains and answers the series of Paul’s questions, demonstrating the difference between one who is justified and one who is not [or the difference between a believer and unbeliever]. In Romans, Paul speaks of the faith of David and Abraham:

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness from works:

‘Blessed are those whose lawless
deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord
shall not impute sin.’”

Romans 4:5-8

Speaking of the faith of Abraham,

“He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.”

Romans 4:20-25

When Paul speaks of righteousness vs. unrighteousness and light vs. darkness, it is not comparing the good with bad people. Neither is it comparing one person who has sinned more or less than another. Rather, it is comparing someone who is dead to one who is alive; one who has been made alive to Christ and one who is not [Ephesians 2:1]. This explanation leaves no room for a ‘middle ground’ defense or compromising effort when being unequally yoked with unbelievers. For, one is either living in the darkness or the light as one is either dead or alive. There is no such thing as ‘somewhat alive’ or ‘basically dead.’ The main and fundamental difference is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, which is the only decree that causes a sinner to ultimately live. Otherwise, we are all infinitely dead in sins.

If one has received the righteousness of Christ by faith [justified by faith/born-again], then they will in essence be drawn or led by the Holy Spirit to ‘bear witness’ with other believers that have the same status with God.

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors-not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

Romans 8:11-17

Because Jesus Christ is the only one to live a perfect life and never sin, there is no boasting amongst the ones who are justified by faith. It is not our own righteousness that is imputed or glorified, but Christ’s alone. The implication of this status is monumental because it sets the soul into stark contrast to the rest of the world. The soul that has life is dispersed amongst souls that remain dead. Just like we obtain certain attributes from our earthly fathers, we obtain the exact [imputation] righteousness from our ‘Abba Father’ in Christ. It is due wholly to the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and His resurrection [Romans 8:11].

Those who are justified before God have a different relationship to sin than those who do not. The unjustified sinner loves his sin. The justified sinner is learning to hate it more and more. In Matthew 18, Jesus is teaching on what to do with a sinning brother, one who is professing to be in the faith.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
If one is a brother, then he is to be treated as a brother. Namely, you fellowship with and enjoy each others presence and words because you are both justified and ‘bear witness’ with one another. However, the presence of public sin presents the issue of an unrepentant heart. Jesus explains that even after appearing to him with a couple of witnesses and before the church, to “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” These are extremely harsh words coming straight from the Son of God regarding sin. At one point in fellowship, we are to treat someone as a brother, and the next as a heathen and a tax collector? One may say, “Blame the church!” or “Why would you sacrifice fellowship with someone who apparently needs it?” That is just it. They do not want fellowship. Jesus said, “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, ‘that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’ [v.16]” and “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” [v. 17]. Tax collectors and heathens do not want to hear the rebuke to repent because they spurn it rather than simply ‘not repent’.

If we are to discontinue fellowship with professing believers after display of [public] unrepentant sin, then how much more important is it to be in fellowship with ones who are overcoming sin by the Grace of God and displaying His Glory? The sheep must and will be separated from the goats, just as the wheat from the tare. Peter explains sharply,

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

Now

‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’”

1 Peter 4:17-18

It is difficult enough for a saint to be in the world but not of it. Despite the attempts to fit in and fellowship with those who have not yet been made alive by the Spirit, it is unfruitful and impossible to be encouraged to live by someone who is dead. When Jesus walked this earth prior to His crucifixion, He called his disciples individually to simply “follow Him.” They immediately left everything to follow Jesus. So it must be with every Christian in order to be saved from their sins. They must not only leave and despise their sin, but flee those who hate God because they enjoy and relish in sinful lifestyles. It is the utmost hypocrisy to love God and sin, just as it is impossible to love God and to continually fellowship with unbelievers. Apart from the preaching of the Gospel, what commonality can you find with words? With the infinite number of sins and struggles that can be expressed and confessed affectionately among believers who have been changed by Grace [bearing witness], what are these things to one who cares not to change? One lives his life to glorify his Creator and to ultimately commit his spirit to Him. The other wants to live for what his eyes see and enjoy his sin in the meantime. One clings to the ever-present thought and eternally changing destiny of, “The Creator of Heaven and earth came as a man to shed His blood and die to save me from my sins and eternal death,” while the other has no concept of it and in fact hates the very utterance. What do you have in common?

Live with those who live and preach life to those who are dead.

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