Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
II Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1
Do Not Be Yoked with Unbelievers
6:14 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? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will live with them
and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they will be my people.”
17 “Therefore come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
18 “I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”
7:1Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
Most of the time when this passage comes up in the readings list, I just skip it and write the day’s Reflection on one of the other readings. That’s easy enough because one of those readings is usually from the Gospel of Luke, and we base more Reflections on the gospels than on other parts of the Bible, for obvious reasons.
But there’s another reason that I usually skip this passage, which is that it’s not clear how we’re supposed to apply it to our lives as followers of Jesus in the 21st century.
My sense is that the most common way this passage is interpreted is as a call for followers of Jesus to marry other believers. Clearly, shared faith is a big help in a healthy marriage, and I’m all in favor of couples practicing their faith together. But I don’t really think that’s what Paul is talking about here when he tells us not to be “yoked together with unbelievers.” He seems to be advocating a more general separation between the followers of Jesus and the rest of the world.
That raises an important issue that’s actually turning into a ‘live issue’ in the church of our time. A few years ago, a Christian writer named Rod Dreher published a book entitled The Benedict Option, which deals with the question of how followers of Jesus are supposed to interact with a culture that does not fully share our values. The title of the book refers to St. Benedict of Nursia, who is generally considered to be the founder of the Christian monastic movement.
Rod Dreher wrote that western culture is “hostile to our faith,” and that we should separate ourselves from it as monastics have. The main example Dreher sees of hostility to our faith is that the culture doesn’t agree with his conservative views on homosexuality.
It seems to me that Dreher confuses conservative social attitudes with the actual teachings of Jesus. (For instance, as far as we know, Jesus never mentioned to subject of homosexuality in his teaching.) I also think Dreher has a shaky grip on the principles St. Benedict set out. But it does seem to me that he raises a question followers of Jesus should think about: What is our place in a culture that doesn’t share our values?
The problem is that once you’ve asked that question, you run into the task of identifying just what those values are. Jesus clearly rejected materialism, but lots of church members believe that material blessings are a sign of God’s favor. And lots of us come close to making an idol of free-market economics. Lots of Christians place a high value on traditional families, where mom stays home and takes care of the kids and the household. But other believers think men and women should play equal roles in the home and family – and in the leadership of the church. Lots of Christians voted for Donald Trump in the last election, and lots others voted for Joe Biden. So what, exactly, are Christian values?
The urge to withdraw from a sinful world has been a part of Christian history since its earliest days. There were monks in the Egyptian desert in the first century. Benedict and the others withdrew from the world later (although not in the hard-and-fast way people like Rod Dreher think).
But is that really how Jesus wants us to live? To put up walls to protect ourselves from being made ‘unclean’? Tearing down walls seems to have been more Jesus’ style. And he told his followers that nothing that comes to us from the outside makes us unclean – that real impurity is something that comes from within us.
When it comes to passages like today’s, we need to remember that Paul was leading a church that included lots of people who had been raised in a pagan culture before they started to follow Jesus. And the pagan culture in the Greco-Roman world included practices like orgies and pedophilia, and religious cults with strange blood rituals. It would seem hard to argue with the assertion that followers of Jesus should not be taking part in practices like that.
As for those of us who follow Jesus in the 21st century, the best we can do with applying what Paul has to say in this passage is to be constantly mindful of how the practices of our culture fit into the way of life Jesus calls us to. Clearly, Jesus calls us to responsible sexual morality. It’s hard to imagine him approving of casual hookups, pedophilia or infidelity. But it’s also pretty clear that Jesus calls us to a distinctive economic morality, too. Exploiting others for our own benefit or working to working to defend our own privileges would be just as distasteful to Jesus.
I don’t buy the idea that we should wall ourselves off from the world. Instead, I think we should keep in mind what Peter had to say – that we should live like aliens in the culture. Peter called us to live in a way that others will respect for its honestly, morality and concern for others. Because as Jesus said, the culture around us cannot make us impure – that’s something we can only do to ourselves.
Let’s pray. Lord, lead and guide us day by day to live within a culture that does not share our values, but help us to be constantly reflecting on the teachings of Jesus so that we can be firm in knowing what those values are, and in living them out in ways that lead others to glorify you. Amen.
(The other readings for today are Psalms 25 and 26; Deuteronomy 13:1-11; and Luke 17:20-37. Our readings come from the NIV Bible, as posted on Biblica.com, the website of the International Bible Society.)