6:14-18 Do not allow yourselves to become joined in an alien yoke with unbelievers. What partnership can there be between righteousness and lawlessness? What fellowship can darkness have with light? What concord can there be with Christ and Belial? What share can the believer have with the unbeliever? What agreement can the temple of God have with idols? For you are the temple of the living God, even as God said, "I will dwell in them and I will walk in them, and I will be their God and they will be my people." Therefore, "Come out from among them and separate yourselves," the Lord says, "and, have no contact with impurity, and I will receive you, and I will be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me," says the Lord, the ruler of all. So then, since we possess these promises, let us purify ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, and let us thus make holiness complete in the fear of God.
We come now to the passage which we omitted previously. There is no doubt that it comes in very awkwardly where it is. Its sternness is at odds with the glad and joyous love of the verses on either side of it.
In the introduction we saw that Paul wrote a letter prior to First Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 5:9 he says, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men." That letter may be altogether lost. Or it may be that this is a section of it. It could easily happen that, when Paul's letters were being collected, one sheet could get misplaced. It was not until A.D. 90 or thereby that the collection was made, and by that time there may well have been none who knew the proper order. Certainly, in substance, this well suits the letter referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 .
There are certain Old Testament pictures behind this. Paul begins by urging the Corinthians not to be joined to unbelievers in an alien yoke. Undoubtedly that goes back to the old commandment in Deuteronomy 22:10 , "You shall not plough with an ox and an ass together." (compare Leviticus 19:19 ). The idea is that there are certain things which are fundamentally incompatible and were never meant to be brought together. It is impossible for the purity of the Christian and the pollution of the pagan to run in double harness.
In the demand, "What has the temple of God to do with idols?" Paul's thought is going back to such incidents as Manasseh bringing a graven image into the temple of God ( 2 Kings 21:1-9 ), and, in the later days, Josiah utterly destroying such things ( 2 Kings 23:3 ff.). Or he is thinking of such abominations as are described in Ezekiel 8:3-18 . Men had sometimes tried to associate the temple of God with idol worship, and the consequences had been terrible.
The whole passage is a rousing summons not to hold any fellowship with unbelievers. It is a challenge to the Corinthians to keep themselves unspotted from the world. It has been well remarked that the very essence of the history of Israel is in the words, "Get thee out!" That was the word of God that came to Abraham as the King James Version has it. "Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred and from thy father's house" ( Genesis 12:1 ). That was the warning that came to Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. ( Genesis 19:12-14 ). There are things in the world with which the Christian cannot and dare not associate himself.
It is difficult to realize just how many separations Christianity meant for the people who first accepted it.
(i) Often it meant that a man had to give up his trade. Suppose he was a stone mason. What was to happen if his firm received a contract to build a heathen shrine? Suppose he was a tailor. What was to happen if he was instructed to cut and sew garments for priests of the heathen gods? Suppose he was a soldier. At the gate of every camp burned the light upon the altar sacred to the godhead of Caesar. What was to happen if he had to fling his pinch of incense on that altar in token of his worship? Time and time again in the early Church the choice came to a man between the security of his job and his loyalty to Jesus Christ. It is told that a man came to Tertullian. He told him his problem and then he said, "But after all I must live." "Must you?" said Tertullian.
In the early Church a man's Christianity often meant that he had to get out from his job. One of the most famous modern examples of this same thing was F. W. Charrington. He was the heir to a fortune made by brewing. He was passing a tavern one night. There was a woman waiting at the door. A man, obviously her husband, came out, and she was trying to keep him from going back in. With one blow of his fist the man felled her. Charrington started forward and then he looked up. The name above the tavern was his own, and Charrington said, "With that one blow that man did not only knock his wife out, he also knocked me clean out of that business forever." And he gave up the fortune he might have had, rather than touch money earned in such a way.
No man is keeper of another man's conscience. Every man must decide for himself if he can take his trade to Christ and Christ with him to his daily work.
(ii) Often it meant that a man had to give up social life. In the ancient world, as we saw when studying the section on meat offered to idols, many a heathen feast was held in the temple of a god. The invitation would run, "I invite you to dine with me at the table of our Lord Serapis." Even if that were not so, a heathen feast would begin and end with the pouring of a libation, a cup of wine, to the gods. Could a Christian share in that? Or must he get out and say good-bye to the social fellowship which used to mean so much to him?
(iii) Often it meant that a man had to give up family ties. The pain of Christianity in the early years was the way it split families. A wife became a Christian and her husband might drive her from his house. A husband became a Christian and his wife might leave him. Sons and daughters became Christians and might find the door of the home shut and barred in their faces. It was literally true that Christ came not to send peace but a dividing sword upon earth and that men and women had to be prepared to love him more than their nearest and dearest. They had to be prepared to get out even from their homes,
However hard it may be, it will always remain true that there are certain things a man cannot do and be a Christian. There are certain things from which every Christian must get out.
Before we leave this passage, there is one point we may note. In it Paul quotes scripture and his quotation is a mixture of a variety of passages, none quoted accurately, from Leviticus 26:11-12 , Isaiah 52:11 , Ezekiel 20:34 , Ezekiel 37:27 and 2 Samuel 7:14 . It is a fact that Paul seldom quotes accurately. Why? We must remember that in his time books were written on papyrus rolls. A book the size of Acts would require a roll about thirty-five feet long, a very unwieldy thing. There were no chapter divisions; they were inserted by Stephen Langton in the thirteenth century. There were no verse divisions; they were inserted by Stephanus, the Paris printer, in the sixteenth century. Finally, there was no such thing as a concordance until the sixteenth century. The result was that Paul did the only sensible thing--he quoted from memory, and so long as he got the substance right he did not worry about the actual wording. It was not the letter of scripture but the message of scripture which mattered to him.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)