God’s Holy Dwelling Place

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God’s Holy Dwelling Place

2 Corinthians 6.14-7.1

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 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.

17Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,

18and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me,

says the Lord Almighty.”

7 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.


Our task this morning – as it is every Sunday morning - is to unpack a text and to apply its meaning. With this text, it by no means lighthearted work, for what we find here is a hard-hitting passage with a clear call to action for believers. Beginning with verse 14, Paul has paused from his flow of thought in chapter 6 (which he picks back up in 7:2), and presents, from 6:14-7:1, a compelling case for why believers should pursue holy living in every area of their lives. Here we have clear instructions about holiness and our relationship to the world and its ideas, its values and its gods (little ‘g’).

And here we have 7 promises about God’s presence in our lives, and in our collective life as a church. We are the Temple of God. We are his present earthly dwelling place. What was alluded to in the Old Testament through the promises and through the physical tabernacle and later through the Temple in Jerusalem, is given its full, opened meaning here. In other words, God, under the Old Covenant instructed the Israelites to build a physical Temple where God would manifest his glory among the people. The Temple represented his presence. It represented God’s promise to dwell among his covenant people. That was a physical illustration of a spiritual truth that would have its manifestation in the New Testament or the New Covenant that was commenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Namely, that God through the work of Christ would indwell his people, the new-covenant people, and manifest his glory through them – through us. Thus, the church (the people, not the building) is the Temple of God. That is a powerful truth and it has powerful implications.

Paul presents that truth as a fact. You are the Temple of God. And, in classic Pauline style, he basis all his admonitions on fact; “You are… now be.” The call is to be holy, and we will look closely at this in a moment. This call is based on the fact of God’s presence. In other words, the fact of God’s presence demands holiness. You are the dwelling place of God. Therefore pursue personal holiness.

So, Lord-willing, we will spend the next 35 minutes or so unpacking Paul’s charge to us and the promises upon which he basis it. It is my prayer that we leave here more dedicated to personal holiness, more dedicated as a church to corporate holiness. And, importantly, I pray that through this passage we become more convinced of his active presence in our lives.

As an aside, and almost as a disclaimer, let me say that this text brought upon me tremendous conviction. I did not expect that when I began the study. I had you in mind, but the Lord put his finger on me – and in a big way. Friday, when I was writing this, I even came to a point when I asked God if I should preach this text. I wondered if I could speak authoritatively and pastorally about personal holiness (let alone corporate holiness), after God had shown me so many areas of my life where I need to better practice holiness. Verse 1 of chapter 7 was my answer from God to that question and it came in two small words; two pronouns. “Since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves.” The Apostle included himself in the admonition. We are all in this together, dear brothers and sisters. I am not preaching to you this morning with a holier-than-thou-smug and a wag of the finger. These admonitions are for us all, and it is with humility that I preach them to you this morning. Receive them that way, with humble hearts eager to learn from the Word of God.

And now let’s get to it. Let’s read 2 Corinthians 6.14-16.

The Unequal Yoke

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 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.

Not just about marriage.

This text is not primarily about selecting a marriage partner, as the majority of the sermons that I have heard on this passage, and all of the classic commentaries that I read while preparing for this sermon have treated this text. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I do believe that that is a valid application from this text. Choosing whom you will marry is serious business, and this text applies to that decision. However, if one wants to develop his theology of spouse selection, he is better served by passages where Paul unambiguously teaches believers to only marry in the Lord, such as 1 Corinthians 7. I do not believe that the text we have before us is primarily directed at that subject, and for several reasons. I’ll name just two.

First, as I said, there are easier ways to say “don’t marry unbelievers”, and when Paul does address that subject, he is crystal clear (cf. 1 Corinthians 7). If this text is only about marriage, then Paul quite uncharacteristically made it hard to tell. Second, the problem that Paul is addressing is active, not potential. The language here is not: do not get unequally yoked, it is do not be unequally yoked and implies for believers to stop being unequally yoked if they currently are. Marrying unbelievers would be a potential problem. But Paul is telling the Corinthian believers to do things now and to stop doing certain things now (do not be unequally yoked, come out from among them, touch no unclean things, cleanse yourselves, and bring holiness to completion). Narrowly viewing “being unequally yoked” as only concerning intermarriage does not make sense in light of those commands. Paul did not have only marriage in mind here. The instruction is to stay away from any association, indeed, all relationships with the world, society or individuals which diminish or detract from one’s devotion to Christ or tempt us to be idolaters. It is important to view this broader than potential marriage partners, because what Paul is dealing with here is massive – and applies to all of us here and now in the 21 century, and in whatever marital status. It has everything to do with rejecting relationships that either 1) diminish our devotion to Christ, or 2) tempt us to become idolaters. All of us, not just the unwed among us, should stop and pay close attention to the charge not to be “unequally yoked” to unbelievers.

In 2 Corinthians 6.14 Paul presents this concept using an illustration that anyone involved with livestock or horticulture would understand (for the rest of us there is The picture painted here is of a yoke – the device that goes over the necks of, say, a pair of oxen. A yoke is attached to a plow and it allows the oxen to pull the plow in unison, doubling the horsepower (cow-power). In this illustration we have a yoke with, on the one side a 1500lb ox (is that a decent size ox?) and next to him is a scrawny little donkey. That is what it means to be unequally yoked. What kind plowing do you think it will it do? Will it go in a straight line? In the same way, if a believer is tethered at the heart-level to people without faith in God, the plowing will not be pretty, and it will not be for the glory of God. That is what Paul is teaching us here.

Not Total Separation

But we must be careful not to go beyond Paul on this subject. Some have taken this to mean that Christians should become recluses without any unsaved friends; that Christians should refrain from social events, they should not participate in government, or in the armed services. They view this passage as teaching that Christians should be totally separate from the world with zero engagement. However, Paul could not have had that in mind, for in so many other places we see that the practice and teaching of Paul was engagement with the world. To win the lost, Paul did missions in the classical way. He sought lost people and he built relationships with them and he persuaded them that Jesus is the Savior of the world. In 1 Corinthians 9:23, Paul wrote: “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might win some.”

There is no way to carry out the Great Commission without engaging lost people in the world. And to communicate with them effectively, one must usually build some level of relationship with them. So Paul could not possibly have meant that believers should disengage from the world. We shop in the marketplace; we eat at the table with unbelievers, we go to the same schools, we play on the same sports teams, and we serve in the same army.

Not Yoked Together

The key to understanding what is at issue here is in Paul’s brilliant illustration. We’re not to be yoked to the faithless. The field which we are sowing is a different field altogether than the one that the world is sowing. Our values have been shaped by the Word of God, our aim and our end is heaven, our ambition is for the glory of God. How then could we be tethered at the heart level to unbelievers who have a totally different worldview? To Paul, the church is a community of faith, and one is either clearly in the community of faith or he is not. The Corinthian believers were surrounded by a pagan community that worshipped spirits and strange gods made from metal and wood. It must have been tempting for believers to just blend in, and not raise any red societal flags – to participate in pagan holidays and rituals because they want to feel normal, and want their kids to feel normal. But just as our pastor put it to me last week, we as believers cannot blend in. There is a community of faith – it is the church – and it should be different. Thus, believers should not tether themselves in relationships that blur the difference between the faithful and the faithless.

The danger of idolatry is just as real for us in 2009 in the United States of America as it was for the Corinthians in AD 56. Our society might be Christianized enough that most do not prostrate themselves before statues and shrines and we still write “In God We Trust” on our money. However the society at large trusts and worships everything but the Lord of Heaven and Earth. It worships materials and money and comfort and the internet and boats and cars and nature and the climate and a million other things. Need an example of the idolatry in America? Here’s one. The people of our country sacrifice about a million of our children to the god of convenience every year. Idolatry is as rife in America today as it has ever been anywhere – only our society practices subtle idolatry; perhaps the deadliest kind. It is more tempting to just fit in. It is tempting to foster relationships with the world and with unbelievers, not for the sake of being a witness, but because we desire to blend.

However the implication in this passage is that believers should collectively form a community of faith. That is, we don’t foster heart-level associations which cloud our eyes to the glory of God or that tempt us to worship idols. Instead, we intentionally build relationships and associations within the community of faith and engage the world as a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this sense, the church is not like a soccer club. We cannot just come to our scheduled practices on Wednesday nights and our games on Sunday mornings and then go back to our separate spheres of life. There are many spheres in our lives; many different circles in which we run (business circles, sports, hobbies, family, etc.). That is good – it allows us to be a light in the world. But for the believer, his overarching sphere of life is the new family into which he was born – the family of God. All the other spheres must fit within that one, and all incompatible ones must be jettisoned. That is the picture I see here in 2 Corinthians 6.14. Further, “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” has a positive implication: be yoked with believers. Plow the field for God’s glory together.

Paul gives reasons why we should do this. He offers five of them, and then talks at length about the fifth one – and we will do the same. We’ll spend most of the time on the fifth reason, which is that we are the Temple of God.

The five rhetorical questions in verses 14 to 16 all require the same answer: nothing or none. Righteousness has no partnership with lawlessness; light has no fellowship with darkness; Christ has no agreement or accord with Belial (Belial is a Jewish name for the Devil). Notice how this progresses. Light has no fellowship with darkness in the same way that the Light of the World – Christ - has no agreement with the Ruler of Darkness – the Devil.

And then Paul gets to believers and unbelievers, who share no portion at all. That is powerful and its meaning is unmistakable. We have no portion with unbelievers. Everything is different. Our view and affection for God is different. Our passion for the glory of God is different. Our commitment to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is different. Our acknowledgement of personal sinfulness and need for a savior is different. Our faith in Christ alone is different. Our desire to see the lost reached with the Good News is different. Our hope for eternity is different. What is left? How can we be yoked together with people who think totally different from that and still plow the field for the glory of God? One writer I read this week put it bluntly. “Those who harness themselves with unbelievers, will soon find themselves plowing Satan’s field.”

The Temple of God

The last rhetorical question is a bridge to the rest of the passage. What agreement has the Temple of God with idols? The answer is just like the others: none whatsoever, and then Paul brings us to his destination. 2 Corinthians 6.16b says “For we are the Temple of the living God.” In massive contrast to dead idols, we, believers, are the Temple of the God who is living.

The significance of being the Temple of God is wrapped up in the meaning of the Temple itself. And Paul explains that by giving us a few passages from the Old Testament. One of the reasons that the Old Testament is still vital to Christians is that it lays the ground work for many of the concepts of the New Testament. This one, the Temple, is case in point.

In the Wilderness, after God had delivered Israel from Egypt, he gave instructions for the Israelites to build a special tent – the tabernacle; where God would dwell with his people. Later, when the people were in the Promised Land, God laid it on Solomon’s heart to build a permanent replacement, the Temple. The Temple was not only a place to come and worship. It was a place that represented the presence of God among his people. God, who needs no physical home, purposed to make his dwelling in a building made with hands. So, when people came to Jerusalem and looked up to the mount and saw the Temple, they knew that it represented the presence of God who dwelt with his Covenant People. That was the significance of the Temple. The Temple equaled the manifestation of God’s presence. No Temple, no presence. That is why we see the anger of God kindled in the book of Haggai when the people refused to rebuild the Temple and yet worked diligently on their own homes. They were more concerned with their own comfort than they were for the presence of Almighty God.

But the point is, the Temple represents God’s presence. Let’s read verse 16 and 17 again.

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.

The Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. If you fire up Google Earth after church today and look at Jerusalem, and zoom in on the Temple mount, you will notice a shiny golden round thing that is NOT the Temple of God. It is the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim mosque. The Temple is gone. The Romans razed it in 70AD. The Jews go to the Western wall and lament the Temple’s absence because to them, people who do not understand the New Covenant, no Temple equals no divine presence.

But God’s promise of dwelling with his people was not limited to a physical building on Mount Moriah. That was only a picture of what was to come under the New Covenant. Because of the atonement, because of Calvary, God would indwell believers permanently, making them – the church – the earthly manifestation of God’s dwelling place. For God has promised; “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Paul reveals the mystery that this promise in Leviticus was not limited to Israel and the Temple on Mount Moriah, but that the promise would be more fully realized in the hearts of those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – for they would become God’s Temple.

Be Holy

Does the Temple concept have practical application for us today? Paul seems to believe that it does. Let’s read verse 7.1 again.

7 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.

The command in this passage is clear; we must cleans ourselves and be pure and bring holiness to completion. Two things we should notice about this command. First, it is based on promises. We’ll go through these promises. Second, it is in the fear of God. We do not have here a system of legalistic requirements. We have our means – God, and living in awe of God, as the Good News Bible puts it, propels us to be sanctified.

Paul almost always lays down a set of facts or promises before he implores us to do anything – he did that in Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and he does that here. The promises referred to in 7.1 are the seven which are listed in verses 16-18 of chapter 6. They are promises, made by God – absolutely trustworthy. They are these:

1.God makes his dwelling with us.

2.God walks with us.

3.God is our God.

4.We are His People.

5.God welcomes us when we determine to live holy.

6.God is our Father.

7.We are His sons and daughters.

(Here is excellent material for your devotions for a week; take a promise a day and meditate on it).

In light of these promises the command seems reasonable? Live a holy life, because God dwells with you. Be holy, because God walks with you. Be holy because He is your God. Be holy, because you are his. You are… now be. These seven promises compel us to live differently than the world does. They compel us to strive after personal holiness, and to foster holiness as a church. In other words, the gospel radically changes our lives. God invades us, and makes us different.


There is a lot in this text for us to take home today. I see two major ones. First, there is the charge not to foster relationships and associations with the world, society or individuals which diminish or detract from our devotion to Christ or that tempt us to be idolaters. By implication; we are to foster relationships and associations which help us to deepen our devotion to Christ, and to throw off the subtle idols of our day, and to worship the Lord in holiness. Does this describe how you live?

The second application that I see clearly from this text is that we should strive as a church and as individuals to live holy lives as a result of God’s presence. That means to be separate, to be set apart. I’m on this journey, and so are you. Let us strive to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Why? Because we are the Temple of the Living God - God's Holy Dwelling Place.

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