Whose Yoke Do We Bear? – 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1


Download audio

Download text

“Whose Yoke Do We Bear?”
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1
March 19, 2017
Faith Presbyterian Church – Evening Service
Pastor Nicoletti

It’s been about six months since I’ve preached from Second Corinthians – an occasional series I’ve been slowly working my way through. My last couple sermons have been from other books of the Bible.

But I thought it was time to return to Second Corinthians tonight, and something mentioned by Pastor Rayburn last Sunday evening seemed to me like a good transition back to Second Corinthians.

Last Sunday evening Pastor Rayburn mentioned three books that have been discussed a good bit among pastors and theologians the last few weeks: Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, and Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes.

All three books wrestle with the question of how the Church as a whole, and Christians as individuals, should live out their faith in the midst of an increasingly post-Christian culture – a culture that is increasingly hostile to elements of what they believe.

I’ve just begun working my way through that list of books, as well as a few others that I think are relevant to that question. I imagine many pastors, especially many pastors my age, are doing the same. Conversations have been going on on blogs and social media about it – some generating more heat than light. But Christians, and especially Christian leaders or aspiring Christian leaders, are asking that question right now.

And I suspect we will be working on how to answer that question for some time. I think the wave of books that have recently come out will be an important starting point for our future thinking and discussion – but I doubt that these books will be the final conclusion. I’m not sure any of them would even claim to be. Which means that these are challenges the American Church will wrestle with and be thinking about for years to come.

Most of us do not currently have a master plan – a solidified and complete strategy. And that’s probably okay.

But, just because we don’t have a full picture of how to handle the years ahead does not mean that we don’t already know a lot of what we need to do. We do. God is faithful. Yes, he calls on the Church to struggle and wrestle to lay hold of the wisdom it needs from one age to the next. But much of what we need is also handed to us in a straightforward way in his Word.

And our text tonight, the next text in my series in Second Corinthians, is one of those texts that gives us a piece of what we need. It doesn’t present a system, or a detailed plan for the decades ahead. But it does give us a solid building block to use. It tells us solid truths that are vital for living out our faith in a hostile culture. We may not know exactly where that truth will fit into an overall future strategy or pattern. But we can be certain that it will.

And that should not surprise us. The Church of Jesus Christ was of course born and raised in a hostile culture. It is the story we read again and again, from Genesis to Revelation. And first century Corinth was no exception.

And our text tonight, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, is, I think, especially relevant to these questions – though not in the way we may think at first. But I’ll explain as we get to that.

So with that in mind, please hear from our text, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth:

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.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
7:1 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.

This is God’s Word.

Paul here is addressing a concern he has for the Christians in Corinth – a threat he sees and is warning them against, and he then lays out for them why and how that threat is to be resisted.

I want to look closer tonight at what his concern is, and what his solution is. And to do that, I want to ask four questions for us to consider tonight:

First: “What is the threat that Paul is concerned about for the Christians in Corinth?”

Second: “How does that threat play out in their lives and in ours?”

Third: “How is that threat resisted?”

And fourth: “What are the goals of resisting that threat?”

So what is the threat, how does it play out, how is it resisted, and what are our goals in the struggle?

Let’s consider those four questions now …

So first: What is the threat that Paul is concerned about for the Christians in Corinth?

What is the actual thing he is worried about?

We get it in verse 14 – he is concerned that the Christians would be “unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Okay. Good. That is the threat he is concerned about.

But of course we still need to ask what that really means. It’s a metaphor. So then what does it mean to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers”?

I think there are two major interpretations of what Paul is getting at:

The first interpretation is that Paul is concerned about too much relational intimacy or social proximity between Christians and non-Christians. He is worried that Christians are getting too close to non-Christians, whether in friendships, in business associations, or in other relationships, and he thinks that such relational intimacy is itself a threat to the Christians in Corinth, and (so says the first interpretation) that is what he is talking about here.

Now – there are elements of that view that we find in the Bible. Wisdom literature surely warns us to be careful about who we allow to influence and shape us – whose counsel we attend to and receive. And Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 7 clearly states that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. Those are important teachings in God’s word.

But it seems unlikely to me that that is what Paul is addressing here in this text. It seems unlikely that the threat Paul is zeroing in on here is too much relational intimacy or social proximity between Christians and non-Christians, for a couple reasons.

First, we do not see such a pattern in Paul’s own life and ministry. As we watch Paul’s work and ministry, he is thoughtful and he is discriminating about who he works with in ministry, but we do not see him actively avoiding engagement with or involvement with non-Christians in the world. Instead we see him talking and engaged with non-Christians all the time. It is his life and ministry.

But more than that, if the strong antithesis that Paul makes in this passage, the list of comparisons he draws, is about the need for social and relational distance between Christians and non-Christians, it would seem to contradict the very advice he gave to the Corinthians in his earlier letter.

In 1 Corinthians we see Paul address several topics on how to relate to non-Christians, but he never orders a sort of blanket social or relational separation. It’s actually closer to the opposite.

In 1 Corinthians 10:27, when addressing the question of how Christians should handle an invitation to dinner from an unbeliever, Paul doesn’t even pause to give guidelines as to whether a Christian should attend such gatherings. He moves right past that question, writing, “If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go,” and then Paul goes on to give advice on how to handle it when they are offered meat that may have been sacrificed to idols. But his focus is on the meat and the idols, not the unbeliever.

In 1 Corinthians 14:22-24 Paul is discussing issues in Christian worship, but he assumes that outsiders and unbelievers may be present in the worship service.

But most clearly, in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 Paul clears up a misunderstanding the Corinthian Christians had over some of his earlier advice, and he writes this to clarify – he says “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” Paul was concerned about the influence of hypocrites who professed to be Christians – but he makes it emphatically clear that his charge to avoid such hypocrites did not imply severing social ties with non-Christians, even greedy, swindling, sexually immoral, idolatrous non-Christians.

Paul does not call Christians to “go out of the world.” He finds the point so obvious that he doesn’t even engage with it. It seems false on its face to him.

And so it seems unlikely he is suddenly making that argument here in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. While Paul is clear on marriage, and on the question of who we allow to influence us, Paul does not call for Christians to withdraw from the non-Christian world, or to cut social ties with unbelievers in the broad way some have taken this text to imply.

What then does Paul mean?

Commentator Paul Barnett makes what I think is a convincing case, that Paul’s concern here is in the realm of worship, rather than social ties. Barnett argues that Paul’s main concern, the main threat he sees, is that Christians in Corinth need to be diligent to separate themselves from the idolatrous temple cults in Corinth. There are a number of reasons this fits well with the text.

First, Barnett points out that Paul had needed to give that same exhortation about avoiding idolatry to the Corinthians before, and some of his language here in our text mirrors the language he used in those arguments in First Corinthians – especially in chapter ten. [Barnett, 341]

And that same antithesis between Christ and demons, and between true worship and idol worship, seems to be at the center of this passage as a whole. Barnett points out that this is where the text goes in verses 14 through 16. Paul says that Christians are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. We might ask what that means. And he goes on to ask a series of five questions that build up to and climax at the fifth, and that in effect answer the question of what he means. He contrasts righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial (an alternative name for Satan), a believer and an unbeliever, and as a climax he asks: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” That last item seems to be the focal point of Paul’s concern. He is worried not about Christians joining non-Christians in general, but about Christians specifically joining non-Christians in idolatrous worship. [Barnett, 346]

And a couple other aspects of the text strike me as well as supporting this view.

First, when Paul references a text from the Old Testament, he usually has in mind much more than just the words he is citing. Peter Balla points out that this is no less true in 2 Corinthians 6. In other words, when Paul cites the Old Testament, the context of that Old Testament texts also “fit[s] the main thought of Paul in 2 Cor. 6.” [Balla, 771]

Paul draws together and melds a number of Old Testament texts in verses 16-18. They include verses from Leviticus, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and 2 Samuel . There’s a lot going on there. But one thing to note is that the majority of the texts he cites here come in the context of God dealing with Israel’s idolatry, and specifically their idolatry after Israel had been removed from social proximity to pagans, but when they had still brought the idols and the idolatry along with them.

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on what Paul is likely emphasizing when he chooses the word “yoke.” The word is used only a handful of times in the New Testament, and it’s focus seems to almost always be on whose burden the person wearing it is bearing. So Paul uses the term in Galatians 5 to describe submission to the laws of the Judaizers as “a yoke of slavery.” In 1 Timothy 6 he uses the phrase “under a yoke” to describe those who are literally slaves. In Acts 15 Peter also uses the word to describe the religious and ceremonial demands of the religious Judaizers. And in Matthew 11 Jesus uses it to describe becoming a bondservant to him, saying “Take my yoke upon you […] For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In other words, when the New Testament speaks of yokes, the emphasis seems to be on whom they cause us to serve: whether a slave serving a master, an individual serving the demands Pharisaical Judaism, or a disciple serving Christ. It’s not used as a metaphor for social or relational intimacy, but as a metaphor for whom we serve. For who owns us.

And so it seems that the point Paul is making here is not about our relationship to unbelievers so much as our relationship to their gods. The question is how we relate to their idols. Are we worshiping them? Are we serving them? Are we allowing ourselves to take up their yoke, to serve those idols alongside unbelievers?

That is the threat Paul is addressing here in this text.

Okay. If that is the threat Paul is concerned about, then that leads us to our second question: How does that threat play out? What does it look like?

And here we need to be aware of how thoroughly idolatry was woven into every aspect of the Greco-Roman world. Idolatry was everywhere, and connected to everything. And so it was usually a smooth transition from engaging with God’s good gifts to engaging in idolatry. It wasn’t an abrupt transition.

Idolatry was woven into the marketplace. We read in 1 Corinthians how the meat market was all tied up with sacrifices to idols, but it was true of employment as well. Guilds were not secular institutions, but had a religious component too. Social life was often tied up with pagan idol worship. Family life was integrated with worship of household gods. Political life included not only worship of the emperor, but of a local pantheon for the neighborhood as well. Idol worship was a part of community solidarity. The Greco-Roman world did not have the concept of a secular/sacred divide like our culture does. The Christians did not need to seek out idolatry; it was everywhere, and the line between engaging with God’s gifts and engaging with the idolatry built up around those gifts was often difficult to navigate.

And we can hear that, and hear what the Greco-Roman world was like, and that world can seems so different from ours, that we begin to wonder if this text has much to say to us at all. If we are not wandering into temples of other religions and worshiping other gods, if we are not supporters of a sort of religious relativism that sees all religions as the same – as merely different paths to the same God, then we are not engaged in the type of idolatry that Paul is concerned with, right? End of sermon.

Well, not really. Because even though we live in a secular age, it is not an age without gods – or at least it is not an age without idols.

A few people have commented that a recent book by R. R. Reno, the editor of First Things, titled Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, should be part of that group of books that are guiding us in understanding our cultural moment and the Church’s place in it.

In the book Reno gives his analysis on where we are as a culture. And one of the things that he points out in the book, and also elaborates on in a lecture he recently gave about the book, is that to understand the moral sense of our culture right now, you need to understand its gods.

We often talk about our culture promoting moral relativism, but that’s not really accurate, Reno explains. It may be right to say that our culture promotes a sort of nonjudgmentalism, but in terms of how people make moral decisions, and how they tell their children to make decisions, they are actually following a complex system of honoring their gods.

Reno points out that we have softer idols today. He writes that our culture “lacks the theatrical bombast of Nazism or the theoretical relentlessness of communism. We do not worship Blood, Soil, or the Proletariat. The idols on offer are softer and smaller. They are the smiling hearth gods of postmodern materialism – health, wealth, and pleasure.” Later, Reno adds (for those who can afford it) a fourth idol of success, or achievement.

Health, wealth, achievement, and pleasure. These are the hearth gods, the soft idols of our culture. And our culture’s ethics is based on the difficult task of balancing our service to each of them. So our culture expects people to serve the god of pleasure. But, Reno points out, most communities are not truly relativistic. They don’t teach their children that anything goes. They don’t encourage them to be hedonists. Instead they urge them to make “healthy choices.” By which they mean that they must be careful that their devotion to the god of pleasure does not compromise their devotion to the god of health, or wealth, or achievement. Devotion to one god is used to curb excessive devotion to another. And on the other side of the equation, when students are run into the ground with worry an busyness, when they are told their worth hangs on their achievement, when they are serving that pitiless god relentlessly, they find release from the demands of that harsh god of achievement by throwing themselves at the god of pleasure on Friday night. Devotion to these four gods of postmodern materialism find their starkest form on many college campuses, but they shape the world around us too.

And just as in the Greco-Roman world, they are so integrated into our culture that we can smoothly transition from engaging with God’s good gifts, into idolatry, almost without noticing it.

Because we do struggle with these idols, don’t we? I mean, none of these are bad things. It is good to be healthy, it is a blessing to have wealth, it can be good to achieve, and pleasure, rightly experienced, is a gift from God.

But each of these things can become an idol. Each of these things can become, to use Paul’s metaphor, a yoke – an idol we serve, a hearth god whom we worship, and a master whose demands we take upon ourselves.

We become unequally yoked when we join unbelievers in their idolatrous service to these gods.

The Christian who places their achievement, their status at their job, the sense of significance or meaning their job gives them, over the wellbeing of their marriage or their family has taken on the yoke of the god of achievement. Whether he or she works among pagans or among fellow Christians is not the issue. If he is serving the idols of the unbelieving world, then at work he is being unequally yoked, even if the office is filled with fellow believers.

The Christian who engages again and again with pornography, without seeking help or repentance, has taken on the yoke of the god of pleasure. Individuals in our congregation started the great Genesis 39 ministry we now have here because they began to recognize that men and women in our congregation needed help in battling this idol. We recognized that many in our number had struggled with that yoke, and that it is a demanding yoke that one usually cannot break alone.

And the same is true with the gods of health and wealth. The Christian parent who is more concerned with the physical effects of this or that sin on their child than they are concerned with its spiritual effects. The Christian who gazes at homes they wish were theirs online, or who sees how another is doing financially and is filled with covetousness, or who has wealth already, but guards it selfishly and fearfully.

We Christians today are not so unlike the Corinthian Christians. We slide quite easily into the idolatry of the world around us.

And that, of course, is always a problem. It is always a serious danger. But our cultural moment makes it even more of a problem today.

Because our cultural moment means that those idols can be used against us when the culture turns against our faith.

Now, it doesn’t seem we are anywhere near a place where our health or physical wellbeing will be threatened for denying the secular orthodoxies of our day. But wealth and achievement are increasingly on the table.

As not only the state, but increasingly employers, demand that all affirm certain secular orthodoxies contrary to the Christian faith, one wonders how being a Christian could affect one’s career. Patrick J. Deneen summarizes Rod Dreher, writing that Dreher concludes one chapter “with the bracing observation that the seed of the Church in modern America will not necessarily be the blood of martyrs, but a smaller paycheck from a less prestigious job, a path to neither reputation among one’s peers, nor perhaps even sainthood among the faithful.” [Deneen, 52]

Of course no one wants to lose income or social standing. That is not itself the issue. The issue is how we will respond when those things are threatened. If we see them as good gifts being taken away, we may mourn the loss of them, but we will be able to maintain our faithfulness to Christ. But what if they are our idols? What if we bear their yoke? What will we do then? Rod Dreher is concerned. He writes, “Given how much Americans have come to rely on middle-class comfort, freedom, and stability, Christians will be sorely tempted to say or do anything asked of us to hold onto what we have. That,” he writes, “is the way of spiritual death.” [Dreher, 193]

There is a lot that we do not know of what is to come and how we will face it. But one thing we can know, one thing we can do, is take an assessment of where our loyalties are. We can look to our shoulders, and ask what yokes we may be bearing.

What could the world threaten to take from you that would cause you to hesitate in your Christian confession?

And when you ask yourself that, when you examine your heart, I’d urge you to do it with an imagination tuned to the mundane and ordinary. It’s one thing to imagine being dramatically confronted with some harsh penalty, while others look on, and needing, in defiance of snarling authority figures, to confirm your central faith in Jesus Christ. Thinking of such scenes often inspires us. It is the stuff of good movie trailers. But it may also motivate us by pride.

So do not imagine such a situation. It’s unlikely to come about. But what if it is something more mundane? A push not to deny the deity of Christ, but still to deny the express command or teaching of God in his word. You’re not asked to make the denial in a grand gesture, but in a small one. And not on a stage, but in a private office with a bland-looking supervisor, and no one else looking on. And your wealth or prestige are on the line. And you know that if you just give in no one will probably hear much or say much about it. But if you take a stand, probably more people will misunderstand what you meant by it than will understand your intention. Put yourself in that situation, or something like it. And suddenly a whole lot of rationalizations can come to mind. Especially the more you think about the idol you might lose if you don’t give in.

Idols can always be taken from us. Threatening them is a great way to pressure someone. Faithful witness, perseverance under persecution, and maybe especially what some have termed the “polite persecution” that we are more likely to face in our setting – these require us to renounce our idols.

One of the first steps in being a faithful Christian in a hostile culture is to renounce the idols we have shared with them.

Which leads to our third question: How do we do that? How do we resist being unequally yoked? How do we resist the yokes of the gods of the world around us?

Paul’s answer to the Corinthians is that we must recognize the presence of God among us, his people. We must recognize that, as he says in verse 16, “we are the temple of the living God.” That is the theme of what Paul quotes from the Old Testament: From verse 16, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” From verse 17-18: “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.”

And then in 7:1 he says, “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.”

In other words, it is the closeness of God among us that makes it possible, that motivates us, to resist these idols, to shed their yokes.

And that makes sense, doesn’t it? If you have a greater good, it relativizes lesser goods.

You see this in marriage and family. Getting married and having kids changes people – it changes their priorities. Things that used to be important to them may not go away, but they often become less important. And usually that is a good thing. That is supposed to happen. Hobbies are good, but hobbies get relativized when a spouse comes into the picture. And they get even more relativized when kids come into the picture. Hobbies often cease to exist at that point. But while annihilation of other things is not the goal, they are supposed to be relativized. Because something better and more important has come into the picture. So everything else gets downgraded. And overall, it’s not an act of oppression when that happens, it’s a joy. You might miss the things that get downgraded sometimes, but you’d never go back. Your wife or husband is worth so much more to you than that thing that got downgraded. Your kids mean so much more than the hobby you don’t get to as often as you used to.

Paul’s point is that this is infinitely more true with God. If God, the Creator of the universe, the Maker of all things, the immortal, invisible, only-wise God, has, as verse 16 says, made his dwelling among us and walks among us, if he is our God and we are his special people, if he has welcomed us, and called us his sons and daughters, and urged us – us – us little and pathetic and often petty and selfish creatures – he has urged us to call him our father, then what does a job title mean anymore? What does a bigger house or bigger bank account matter? How important should a more sculpted body or access to fancier food and drink be to us? The presence and intimacy of God relativizes all of those things.

They are still good things. They are still good gifts from God. But when seen in proportion to God Himself, they can take their proper place in our hearts. They are a gift, and no longer a yoke. A created thing and no longer an idol.

Of course, that fact is one of those things that is much easier to agree with abstractly, much easier to say, and, honestly, much easier to preach about, than it is to actually do. Which is frustrating.

So, just briefly, how do we actually do it? How do we know God’s presence with us, not just cognitively but on a deeper level? How do we know it at the same gut level that we know we want our idols? How do we bring that knowledge as deep as our idol worship, so that knowledge can push our desire for our idols out?

In a lot of ways, that’s another sermon, but briefly we should remember that that is where prayer, and Scripture, and worship come in. Prayer and Scripture and worship are where we hold in front of us what is real. We practice it. And it sinks a little deeper down into our hearts and our guts. But if we are not holding it in front of us, again, and again, and again, then it will not sink in.

None of us are as good as we should be at those things, though some are much farther along than others. Many of us have a lot of growing to do. I know that I do. We can struggle to do these things. We can feel like there is no point: Why read the same Bible story again that I have already heard before? Why pray about the same things I have already prayed about before? Why sing the same hymns, and go through the same liturgy, that I have already gone through before?

But it is then that we need to remind ourselves that we are not just gathering information. We are, as one 17th century writer has put it, “practicing the presence of God.” It takes practice to be aware of God’s presence. And we need lots of it.

So – what have we said?

The threat Paul is concerned about is that Christians are taking the yoke of idols onto themselves. The way it plays out is as we smoothly slide from engaging in God’s good gifts, to engaging in the idolization of those good gifts. The way we resist is to be more and more aware of God’s presence among us, his chosen people.

That brings us to our last question: What are the goals of resisting the threat of the yoke of idols? What is the point of it all? Why engage in the struggle?

There are lots of good answers to that. At least one is explicitly stated in our text. We are to seek to bring “holiness to completion in the fear of God,” in 7:1.

Of course, we want to express our love and devotion to God, our thanks for what he has done for us. We want to persevere in the faith, to attain to the resurrection of the faithful. We want to strengthen ourselves against the “polite persecution” that may be coming our way in the future, as we have said. We want to experience more purely the joy of bearing the yoke of Christ without the interference of the oppressive yokes of idols. All those things are true, and many more reasons exist.

But I want to point out one other goal that is more implicit than explicit in our text.

It is interesting to look up the Old Testament verses Paul draws on in this text – those that he mashes together in verses 16-18. It is instructive. It reinforced that theme of idolatry in Paul’s mind. But it brings up another theme too. Repeatedly, those texts that Paul is quoting were concerned with what picture Israel’s condition would present to the unbelieving Gentile nations around them about who Yahweh, their God, was. It comes up again, and again, and again. In Ezekiel 37:27 it’s the theme of the very next verse. In Isaiah 52:11 it’s the verse right before it. In Ezekiel 20 it comes up more than once. God’s dwelling with his people, and their turning to him and away from idols is again and again aimed at what it says and what it preaches about Yahweh to the unbelievers around them.

And if that was true for Israel, it is even more true on this side of Pentecost. Because while God was always concerned with the nations, the gospel has gone out to them as never before, since Pentecost. And it doesn’t go out only to friendly cultures. In fact it often makes amazing progress in especially hostile cultures.

And we need to recognize that. Our situation is not that unique. God has done far more amazing things than if he were to forge renewed paths for the gospel in our culture.

And it is with a view to being instruments his work in our culture that we are to pursue him and shed our idols. We need to make sure we are not unequally yoked alongside unbelievers, not only for our own sake, but so that God might use us as instruments in removing the yoke of idolatry from the unbeliever as well, and that he or she might exchange it for the yoke of Christ.

This is another reason why it seems to me a misreading of our text to see it as being primarily concerned with severing social ties with non-Christians. It’s not social ties we are called to sever, but idolatrous ties. And freed from those, we are to engage with unbelievers around us, not withdraw, so that they too might be freed.

Such a call is not easy. I don’t mean make it sound that it is. And I don’t intend to imply that we’ll see a lot of fruit right out of the gate. As Charles Chaput points out, we are not to have some sort of naïve optimism. But we are to have Christian hope.

In Chaput’s book, he directs the reader to several paragraphs of a work by Jorge Bergoglio, better known to us today as Pope Francis. In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) he writes:

“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into […] disillusioned pessimists […]. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centered lack of trust.
[…]
“In some places a spiritual ‘desertification’ has evidently come about, as the result of attempts by some societies to build without God or to eliminate their Christian roots.
[…]
“Yet ‘it is starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!” [Evangelii Gaudium, paragraphs 85-86]

God is in our midst. He has called us to be faithful to him, both for our own good, and for the life of the world. And “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.”

Amen.

This sermon draws on material from:
Balla, Peter. “2 Corinthians” in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Edited by G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007. 753-785.
Barnett, Paul. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.
Chaput, Charles J. Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. New York, NY: Henry Holt, 2017.
Deneen, Patrick J. “Moral Minority” First Things. April, 2017. 49-54.
Dreher, Rod. The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. New York, NY: Sentinal, 2017.
Pope Francis. Evangelli Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2013.
Reno, R. R. Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society. Washington, DC: Regnery Faith, 2016.
Reno, R. R. “Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society” Lecture given on September 20, 2016 at the First Things editorial office in New York City. https://vimeo.com/184413952. Accessed March 19, 2017.