It’s one of those words that could be called Christianese. I suppose if people were to picture “holy” people, they would imagine people with a literal halo over their heads and shining with the glory of God.
But holiness simply comes down to two things: purity and being set apart for God. And as Christians, that’s what we’re called to be. We can’t just blend in with this world to the point that they can’t tell the difference between us and them. They need to see a difference in our attitudes and our actions.
But blending in is just what many Christians do. And one reason that happens is that they do not live lives that are set apart for God. Rather, they let themselves be influenced by the people around them.
And so Paul says,
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. (14)
What does it mean to be yoked with an unbeliever? The picture comes from the Old Testament where God commands the people not to yoke a donkey with an ox. (Deuteronomy 22:10). And that comes right smack dab in the middle of two other laws that condemned the mixing of things that were different: the sowing of two different kinds of seeds in a vineyard, and the mixing of wool and linen to make clothes.
Why did God give these laws? Primarily to make a point about purity. They were pictures that the Jews were to be a pure people.
Why did Paul bring this up in II Corinthians as an illustration rather than the mixing of seeds or fabrics? Probably because he could see further application beyond purity.
When a donkey and ox were yoked together, the donkey had a significant influence on the ox. The ox might want to go forward, but if the donkey were stubborn and refused to move, the ox would find it difficult if not impossible to move forward. Or if the donkey tried to move in a different direction, the ox would have to make one of two choices: either follow the lead of the donkey, or again try to force the donkey to follow its lead.
I think the picture Paul is giving here is to not so tie ourselves to unbelievers that they can influence us. That can be true in any relationship. More than one Christian businessman has found himself in trouble because he partnered with an unbeliever who proved to be less than honest in his dealings. We can also be influenced by the friends that we look to for our advice.
Now some of the advice unbelievers give can be good. But at other times, they will give us advice that goes contrary to scripture, but sounds good to them and us.
“Go ahead. Move in with your girlfriend. You love her, right?”
“Hey, sometimes to get ahead in life, you have to bend the rules a little.”
And if we are tied to them to the point that they can influence us, they can lead us into sin, well-meaning though they may be.
But this should not be. We are to be the influencers not the influenced.
Am I saying that we should cut ourselves off from all non-Christians then?
Of course not. But for every relationship we are in, we need to ask, “Are they having too much of an influence in my life? Are they causing me to compromise my purity as a Christian? Are they causing me to compromise my life as one called to be set apart for God?”
If they are, then we need to start putting some distance between them and us to the point that they can no longer do so.
This is getting long, so we’ll talk more on this next time.