5.13 2 Corinthians -- The Flip Side

As we mentioned in the prior section, reconciliation has limits.  In 2 Cor 6, Paul defines those limits explicitly:

           Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?  What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?  What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?  For we are the temple of the living God....
          "Therefore come out from them and be separate,"  says the Lord.  "Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you" (2 Cor 6:14-17).

           Here, Paul quotes from the Old Testament -- first Isaiah 52, then 2 Sam 7.  The image of being yoked with unbelievers comes from Deut 22:10:

          Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.

          This mixed pair would make for very uneven rows.  Paul is not concerned with farming, but with purity and unity in the church.
    
One of the characteristics of racist societies is that the churches often make common cause with nonbelievers who share the skin color of the church members.  We see this most plainly in two examples from American history:

          a. the alliance of white churches, businesses, and local governments in enforcing Jim Crow laws against African-Americans throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century.  In this case, white church members joined nonbelievers in discriminating against black believers -- a clear violation of this Scripture.

          b. the promotion of "the Black Community" in the latter half of the 20th Century.  This "community" brought together Christian and non-Christian minorities in a loose association to achieve common economic and political goals.  These two groups have little in common but skin color and history, which are irrelevant to the New Covenant.  In all essentials, according to Paul's teaching, African-American believers are the allies of white believers, and believers of all other races, and this inter-ethnic association constitutes the Christian community.

          

This Scripture also shows us how little Biblical basis there is for the modern understanding of  "tolerance."  The Bible is consistent in its opposition to this civic "virtue" in both Old and New Testaments.  You can't get more intolerant than to insist: "Come out from them and be separate."  Who are believers to separate from?  Unbelievers and idolaters.  But do not take the further step many Christian activists take.  The Bible does not say to hate the unbelievers, return their hostility, and boycott their businesses.  After all, a community that is based on love and reconciliation discredits itself by becoming just another aggressive social faction clamoring for political favors.  The context here is that believers are not to make common cause with people who do not share their faith or principles. 

            "Paul is content to state a general principle that needs specific application under the Spirit's guidance" (2 Corinthians, Expositor's Bible Commentary, p. 359).

             This is exactly right, it is not justification for a new legalism.  Remember, it was Paul who elsewhere commanded believers to pray "for kings and all those in authority" (1 Tim 2:2).   All of these were unbelievers, but Paul urged prayer on their behalf, not anger.