2 Corinthians 6:14 -15 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?
Verse 14 seems to take a radical break in theme from its context. Some interpreters have seen 6:14-7:1 as an interpolation into the letter, possibly part of another letter or something someone put in the letter. Verse 13 ends with the invitation for the Corinthians to open their hearts wide. Chapter 7:2 begins with this same idea. One can read directly from 6:13 to 7:2. However, if we look at the context of the whole letter and what Paul has been writing so far, this section has some overlap with topics that surround it. This passage is a call to holiness. It is the outflow of the transformed life Paul has been writing about. This passage is heavily ethical. Ethics for Paul are always built on theology. He laid out his theology in ch. 5 and has moved on to ethics in this passage.
Paul will use several different comparisons that illustrate the call to be set apart from sin and unrighteousness. First, he gives his basic thesis that believers should not be yoked with unbelievers. For a wagon or plough to be pulled most efficiently, the animals need to be of similar strength and stature. Otherwise, the pull will not be equal and will create many challenges. In the same way, believers cannot compromise their faith and ethics with the world around them. The question of the opening statement is what it means to be “yoked.” At its simplest, this has to do with relationships. These relationships might be in marriage, friendship, business dealings, or other close encounters.
Paul then develops his thesis statement by using a series of rhetorical questions that continue the contrast in this thesis. Each of these questions will have the same answer: there is nothing in common between these two polls. The first question contrasts lawlessness and righteousness. These two cannot have partnership or companionship. There is no place for lawlessness in a business partnership because one party will be cheated. Righteousness is the result of abiding by God’s laws. It is one of the key attributes of God who gives his laws to help people live according to his perfect will. Righteousness is the best way to live because it brings equity, justice, and results in peace.
Second, light and darkness are clearly opposites. Darkness tries to encroach on the light, but light always overcomes the darkness. These terms can be interpreted in an ethical ways, in reflection of the first question. Light would represent righteousness, and darkness represents lawlessness. Or, these terms could be interpreted in a spiritual sense, in preparation for the next question and contrast between Christ and Belial. Christ is the light of the world. Belial leads the forces of darkness and is in spiritual battle against God’s people. Belial can also be spelled Beliar, as in the Greek New Testament. This name represents Satan or is used in intertestamental literature for the enemy of God’s people.
The final comparison makes all of the above contrasts clear and returns to the opening thesis: believers and unbelievers have little in common. There are some places where people may share interests, but deep down, there is a difference between believers are now part of the new creation in Christ. They follow a different set of standards. Everything about their lives should be influenced by their faith in Christ.
The unstated idea behind these rhetorical questions is that we have an important decision to make, reflecting back to 6:1-2. As new creations, are we going to conform to the patterns of this world (Romans 12:1), or are we going to let the Holy Spirit transform us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18)? Paul uses these questions to bring his theology and ethics together in such a way that challenges the Corinthians to look at their own lives and come to the answer that believers in Jesus Christ really are different, and this affects the way they think and act.
Paul is not referring here to the need to be missional and evangelistic and identify with those around us. He takes up that topic in 1 Corinthians 9. There is a time and place where we do build bridges to unbelievers. But these bridges must not compromise the holiness to which we are called as believers who are in Christ.
For older posts, click here.