The Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was primary focused on defending his position as a minister of the gospel. There was a faction in the congregation at Corinth who denied that Paul was truly an apostle of Jesus (Introduction to the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians). Paul asked the Corinthians, “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul argued that the proof of his apostleship was the result of his ministry. Paul had established the church in Corinth during his first stay there and was responsible for its early growth. Paul was offended that the Corinthians had doubted his apostleship and stated, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown and yet well known; as dying, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).
Paul went on to explain that the Corinthians minds had been contaminated by their interaction with unbelievers. Paul cautioned the Corinthians against forming relationships that compromised their faith. Paul said:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
Paul used the term unequally yoked to describe relationships between believers and unbelievers. This might have been Paul’s way of saying that the Corinthians were getting involved in illegal activities, but more than likely the point Paul was trying to make was that there would be diminished productivity if believers worked with unbelievers. The term unequally yoked means that two different kinds of animals are being forced to work together to pull a load (G2086). The stronger animal is hindered by the weaker animal and the difference in strength creates friction between them.
Paul used several words in his argument against being unequally yoked that were connected with the early church’s growth and development. Paul asked the Corinthians, “what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). The words partnership, fellowship, accord, portion, and agreement all imply that a spiritual union of some type has taken place. A key word that was used by the first Christians to describe their association with each other was koinonia (koy-nohn-ee’-ah). The Greek word koinonia means “partnership, i.e. (literal) participation, or (social) intercourse” (G2842). Koinonia is derived from the word koinos which means common. Koinos was used figuratively by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians in reference to “those who eat meats offered to idols, partakers or companions either with God or with demons (1 Corinthians 10:18, 20)” (G2844). This relates back to the practices of the Israelites who were commanded to separate themselves from the people and things around them that would cause them to be unclean or spiritually contaminated.
Leviticus 11:1-3 states, “And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.'” The LORD went on to say that certain animals were from a ceremonial or moral sense considered to be contaminated and would defile a person if they were eaten (Leviticus 11:24). The key point in the concept of becoming defiled was physical contact. Leviticus 11:26 states, “Every animal that parts the hoof but is not cloven-footed or does not chew the cud is unclean to you. Everyone who touches them shall be unclean.” This was illustrated in the book of Genesis when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped by Shechem. It says in Genesis 34:2, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her” (KJV). God’s justification for keeping the Israelites uncontaminated was they were expected to be holy because he was holy. He said:
“Every swarming thing that swarms on the ground is detestable; it shall not be eaten. Whatever goes on its belly, and whatever goes on all fours, or whatever has many feet, any swarming thing that swarms on the ground, you shall not eat, for they are detestable. You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them, and become unclean through them. For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:41-45)
The Hebrew word that is translated holy in Leviticus 11:44, qadowsh (kaw-doshe’) is “an adjective meaning sacred, holy. It is used to denote someone or something that is inherently sacred or has been designated as sacred by divine rite or cultic ceremony. It designates that which is the opposite of common or profane. It could be said that qadowsh is a positive term regarding the character of its referent, where common is a neutral term and profane a very negative term. This word is often used to refer to God as being inherently holy, sacred, and set apart (Psalm 22:3; Isaiah 6:3; 57:15); and as being free from the attributes of fallen humanity (Hosea 11:9). As such, God instructed that humanity should be holy because He is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2)” (H6918).
Paul’s message to the Corinthians focused on the separation that was necessary for God’s people to achieve holiness. Quoting Isaiah 52:11, Paul stated, “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18). The Greek word Paul used that is translated be separate has to do with physically separating yourself from someone (G873), but it could be that Paul was trying to convey the idea of being stand-offish or you might say emotionally distant in that you no longer consider yourself to be in a close relationship with that person. Paul told the Corinthians, “Since we have these promises, beloved. let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Defilement refers to pollution in a moral sense (G3436). In order to cleanse ourselves from moral pollution, we need salvation. We need the blood of Jesus to cleanse us from all sin (1 John 1:7). It says in the book of Hebrews, “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:13-14).
Paul’s concern for the Corinthians’ moral purity was based on his conclusion that they were being taught incorrect doctrine. Paul told the Corinthians, “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3). Paul’s emphasis of the importance of our thought processes in keeping us devoted to Christ made it clear that spiritual warfare was a key factor in believers becoming spiritually contaminated. Paul indicated that our thoughts can lead us astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. The Greek word that is translated thoughts, noema (no’-ay-mah) means “a perception” (G3540). Paul used the word noema five times in his second letter to the Corinthians. The first time Paul mentioned noema was in 2 Corinthians 2:11 when he was talking about being outwitted by Satan and the need to forgive the sinner. Paul said, “I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his designs” (emphasis mine). Satan’s designs could be mental tricks that he uses to get us to perceive things incorrectly so that God’s word doesn’t seem practical or necessary in our lives. Paul said that the minds of unbelievers are being blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14) by the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that we need to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis mine).
The Greek word that Paul used in 2 Corinthians 11:3 that is translated led astray, phtheiro (fthi’-ro) is translated corrupted in the King James Version of the Bible. Phtheiro has to do with the ruin that comes as a result of negative moral influences and generally means “to bring to a worse state.” It can also mean “to corrupt, with the meaning of to subvert or corrupt opinions” (H5351). With regard to corrupt opinions, Paul said, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4). What Paul meant by you put up with it was that the Corinthians were giving him the impression that they were fine with the false doctrines that had been infiltrating their church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to realize that they were to a certain extent being raped by these false teachers because their devotion to Christ was being questioned by other churches such as the Macedonians (2 Corinthians 8:24) and Paul himself was at risk of being humiliated by their behavior (2 Corinthians 9:4).
Paul understood that the real source of the Corinthians spiritual contamination was demonic forces and it was likely that they did not have the spiritual strength to defend themselves. Paul tried to expose the enemy’s activities in a way that would make the Corinthians more aware of the devil’s tactics. Paul said, “And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Greek word that is translated disguising, metaschematizo (met-askh-ay-mat-id’-zo) means “to transform, change the outward form or appearance of something” (G3345). Paul used the word metaschematizo in his letter to the Philippians in connection with believers spiritual transformation after death. Paul said, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:17-21, emphasis mine).
Satan’s ability to disguise or transform himself into an angel of light is the primary reason why it is so difficult for believers to recognize and to separate themselves from his activities. Paul contrasted his experiences as an apostle with those of the Corinthians in order to point out that our perception of what life is supposed to be like as a Christian is often skewed in the wrong direction. Paul declared:
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
Paul elaborated on his list of personal afflictions in his second letter to the Corinthians. Paul said, “Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” (2 Corinthians 11:25-31).
Paul’s experience of being associated with Christ’s gospel is consistent with many of the Old Testament prophets that were faithful to God’s word. One of the difficulties that Christians face in their attempt to avoid spiritual contamination is that they will likely be mocked and mistreated by the people that are closest to them. Before David became king of Israel, he was hunted and nearly killed by King Saul on multiple occasions. His hopeless situation brought David to the brink of despair. When he ended up in the hands of a pagan king that had no regard for him or the God that he served (1 Samuel 21:10-13), David wrote Psalm 56, his personal testimony about God’s love and faithfulness to those who serve him. David prayed, “Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:1-4). King Saul’s hostility toward David was evidence of the spiritual conflict that was going on behind the scenes. David was able to transcend his circumstances and seemed to realize that his physical separation from Saul made it possible for him to be closer to God. David wrote:
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life. (Psalm 56:8-13)
David’s recognition that he must perform his vows to the LORD was a direct result of the spiritual union he had with his Savior. David knew that he didn’t have a chance of surviving when the Philistines seized him in Gath (1 Samuel 21:11). Therefore, he needed the LORD’s protection and had to make sure that his heart was right before God. The Hebrew word that is translated vows, neder (neh’-der) means “a promise (to God)” (H5088). David’s spiritual devotion may have been called into question when he fled Jerusalem and sought refuge in the land of Gath, but David made it clear that he hadn’t compromised his relationship with the LORD. David remained loyal to God’s calling and “departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam” (1 Samuel 22:1) in order to keep himself from being spiritually contaminated by living with the Philistines.