Summary: Paul asks us to stop being yoked with unbelievers. However, he does NOT ask us to stay away from them. Why? Jesus wants us to be holy, and he invites us to join in with his mission to reach sinners!
Paul has been telling the church that he and his fellow worker Timothy fix their “eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4: 18)
Paul longs for his heavenly dwelling (5:2) but in the meantime makes it his goal to please the Lord (5:9).
God has called Paul to be a minister of reconciliation (5:18). He and Timothy are “Christ’s ambassadors” (5:20). They are called to appeal to men and women to be reconciled to God. Brothers and sisters in Christ so are we! We too are called to appeal to men and women to be reconciled to God.
Paul was no great preacher! (See 2 Cor 10:10). We are not all preachers, but we are all ambassadors!
As ambassadors for Christ Paul and Timothy have endured massive trouble, hardship and distress (6:4) including beatings, imprisonments and hunger (6:5).
Belonging to Jesus Christ brings us every blessing in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 1:3). However, as the suffering Church throughout the world display, being an ambassador for Christ comes with a physical health warning. Earthly lives have been lost this week.
Paul loves the Corinthian church dearly. He has opened wide his heart to them, and he has opened wide his affection towards them (6:11-12). In his speech he is open, holding nothing back. He has no secret agendas, and no hidden motives; but sadly the church in Corinth was not responding to his Christ-like love. Paul’s love for the Church was unconditional. However, the members of the Church are withholding their love towards him.
Friends, are you withholding your love towards anyone? The New Testament Church in Corinth was experiencing various difficulties and challenges. One such problem was that Christ-like love was going from person A to person B; but it was not being returned! When that happens, the Church is not joining in with the love of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit where the three exist in a relationship of love. Each loves the other without reservation.
When Christ-like love is not returned there is a mismatch. Confusion, resentment and relationship breakdown can often occur.
…and so we come to 2 Corinthians 6:14.
We are going to hear a piece of scripture (6:17) which has sadly been misused to sometimes insist upon, or try to create a kind of evangelical monastic existence full of ‘Thou shall not’ commandments.
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” This verse can be wrongly used to squash or bring an end to friendships where one person is a Christian and the other is not. When linked with verse 17, “come out from them and be separate”, it has been used by some Christian communities and Churches to retreat into a ‘ghetto’ where no one has friends outside of the Church; no one reads anything which has not been written by the Church; no one does anything, says anything, goes anywhere without the agreement of the church; & just in case other churches have people who are not real Christians, we won’t associate with other churches, unless our church says it’s OK! It is for this reason that some churches have failed to grow and have in fact begun to shrivel.
…and yet we must be faithful to God’s word. As part of the Church of Jesus Christ we must handle the word of God carefully!
So just what is Paul saying here? What was he thinking, and how does it apply to us today?
Almost certainly Paul has in mind Deuteronomy 22: 9-11, “Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled. Do not plough with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.”
These rules were given to the people of God as reminders! The reminder is more important than the rule because they all served to remind God’s people not to mix their worship. They were to worship God alone, and not to mix their worship with any other foreign god with a small ‘g’.
On a practical level it was not good to place a yoke on an ox and a donkey and try to plough a field like that. The yoke meant that the two animals were bound to one another; they were forced to travel in the same direction, but they were not suited as ploughing partners! An ox and a donkey would go at different speeds; they were built differently; and also the ox was considered clean whilst the donkey was considered unclean.