Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. This is closely connected in sense with the previous verse. The apostle is there stating the nature of the remuneration or recompense which he asks for all the love which he had shown to them, He here says, that one mode of remuneration would be to yield obedience to his commands, and to separate themselves from all improper alliance with unbelievers. "Make me this return for my love. Love me also; and as a proof of your affection, be not improperly united with unbelievers. Listen to me as a father addressing his children, and secure your own happiness and piety by not being unequally yoked with those who are not Christians." The word which is here used (eterozugew) means, properly, to bear a different yoke, to be yoked heterogeneously.--Robinson, (Lex.) It is applied to the custom of yoking animals of different kinds together, (Passow;) and as used here means not to mingle together, or be united with unbelievers. It is implied in the use of the word that there is a dissimilarity between believers and unbelievers so great, that it is as improper for them to mingle together as it is to yoke animals of different kinds and species. The ground of the injunction is, that there is a difference between Christians and those who are not so great as to render such unions improper and injurious. The direction here refers, doubtless, to all kinds of improper connexions with those who were unbelievers. It has been usually supposed by commentators to refer particularly to marriage. But there is no reason for confining it to marriage. It doubtless includes that; but it may as well refer to any other intimate connexion, or to intimate friendships, or to participation in their amusements and employments, as to marriage. The radical idea is, that they were to abstain from all connexions with unbelievers--with infidels, and heathens, and those who were not Christians---which would identify them with them; or they were to have no connexion with them in anything as unbelievers, heathens, or infidels; they were to partake with them in nothing that was peculiar to them as such. They were to have no part with them in their heathenism, unbelief, and idolatry, and infidelity; they were not to be united with them in any way or sense where it would necessarily be understood that they were partakers with them in those things. This is evidently the principle here laid down, and this principle is as applicable now as it was then. In the remainder of this verse and the following verses, (2Co 6:15,16,) he states reasons why they should have no such intercourse. There is no principle of Christianity that is more important than that which is here stated by the apostle; and none in which Christians are more in danger of erring, or in which they have more difficulty in determining the exact rule which they are to follow. The questions which arise are very important. Are we to have no intercourse with the people of the world? Are we cut loose from all our friends who are not Christians? Are we to become monks, and live a recluse and unsocial life? Are we never to mingle with the people of the world in business, in innocent recreation, or in the duties of citizens, and as neighbours and friends? It is important, therefore, in the highest degree, to endeavour to ascertain what are the principles on which the New Testament requires us to act in this matter. And in order to a correct understanding of this, the following principles may be suggested:
I. There is a large field of action, pursuit, principle, and thought, over which infidelity, sin, heathenism, and the world as such, have the entire control. It is wholly without the range of Christian law, and stands opposed to Christian law. It pertains to a different kingdom; is conducted by different principles; and tends to destroy and annihilate the kingdom of Christ. It cannot be reconciled with Christian principle, and cannot be conformed to but in entire violation of the influence of religion. Here the prohibition of the New Testament is absolute and entire. Christians are not to mingle with the people of the world in these things; and are not to partake of them. This prohibition, it is supposed, extends to the following, among other things:
(1.) To idolatry. This was plain. On no account or pretence were the early Christians to partake of that, or to countenance it. In primitive times, during the Roman persecutions, all that was asked was that they should cast a little incense on the altar of a heathen god. They refused to do it; and because they refused to do it, thousands perished as martyrs. They judged rightly; and the world has approved their cause.
(2.) Sins vice, licentiousness. This is also plain. Christians are in no way to patronize them, or to lend their influence to them, or to promote them by their name, their presence, or their property. "Neither be partaker of other men's sins," 1Ti 5:22; 2Jo 1:11.
(3.) Arts and acts of dishonesty, deception, and fraud, in traffic and trade, Here the prohibition also must be absolute. No Christian can have a right to enter into partnership with another where the business is to be conducted on dishonest and unchristian principles, or where it shall lead to the violation of any of the laws of God. If it involves deception and fraud in the principles on which it is conducted; if it spreads ruin and poverty--as the distilling and vending of ardent spirits does; if it leads to the necessary violation of the Christian Sabbath, then the case is plain. A Christian is to have no "fellowship with such unfruitful works of darkness, but is rather to reprove them," Eph 5:11.
(4.) The amusements and pleasures that are entirely worldly, and sinful in their nature; that are wholly under worldly influence, and which cannot be brought under Christian principles. Nearly all amusements are of this description. The rate principle here seems to be, that if a Christian. in such a place is expected to lay aside his Christian principles, and if it would be deemed indecorous and improper for him to introduce the subject of religion, or if religion would be regarded as entirely inconsistent with the nature of the amusement, then he is not to be found there, The world reigns there; and if the principles of his Lord and Master would be excluded, he should not be there. This applies of course to the theatre, the circus, the ball-room, and to large and splendid parties of pleasure. We are not to associate with idolaters in their idolatry; nor with the licentious in their licentiousness; nor with the infidel in his infidelity; nor with the proud in their pride; nor with the gay in their gaiety; nor with the friends of the theatre, or the ball-room, or the circus, in their attachment to these places and pursuits. And whatever other connexion we are to have with them as neighbours, citizens, or members of our families, we are not to participate with them IN these things. Thus far all seems to be clear; and this rule is a plain one, whether it applies to marriage, or to business, or to religion, or to pleasure. Comp. See Barnes for 1Co 5:10.
II. There is a large field of action, thought, and plan, which may be said to be common with the Christian and the world; that is, where the Christian is not expected to abandon his own principles, and where there will be, or need be, no compromise of the sternest views of truth, or the most upright, serious, and holy conduct. He may carry his principles with him; may always manifest them if necessary; and may even commend them to others. A few of these may be referred to.
(1.) Commercial transactions and professional engagements that are conducted on honest and upright principles, even when those with whom we act are not Christians.
(2.) Literary and scientific pursuits, which never, when pursued with a right spirit, interfere with the principles of Christianity, and never are contrary to it.
(3.) The love and affection which are due to relatives and friends. Nothing in the Bible assuredly will prohibit a pious son from uniting with one who is not pious in supporting an aged and infirm parent, or a much loved and affectionate sister. The same remark is true also respecting the duty which a wife owes to a husband, a husband to a wife, or a parent to a child, though one of them should not be a Christian. And the same observation is true also of neighbours, who are not to be prohibited from uniting as neighbours in social intercourse, and in acts of common kindness and charity, though all are not Christians.
(4.) As citizens. We owe duties to our country; and a Christian need not refuse to act with others in the elective franchise, or in making or administering the laws. Here, however, it is clear that he is not at liberty to violate the laws and the principles of the Bible. He cannot be at liberty to unite with them in political schemes that are contrary to the law of God, or in elevating to office men whom he cannot vote for with a good conscience as qualified for the station.
(5.) In plans of public improvement; in schemes that go to the advancement of the public welfare, when the schemes do not violate the laws of God. But if they involve the necessity of violating the Sabbath, or any of the laws of God, assuredly he cannot consistently participate in them.
(6.) In doing good to others. So the Saviour was with sinners; so he ate, and drank, and conversed with them: So we may mingle with them, without partaking of their wicked feelings and plans, so far as we can do them good, and exert over them a holy and saving influence. In all the situations here referred to, and in all the duties growing out of them the Christian may maintain his principles, and may preserve a good conscience. Indeed, the Saviour evidently contemplated that his people would have such intercourse with the world, and that in it they would do good. But in none of these is there to be any compromise of principle; in none to be any yielding to the opinions and practices that are contrary to the laws of God.
III. There is a large field of action, conduct, and plan, where Christians only will act together. These relate to the peculiar duties of religion--to prayer, Christian fellowship, the ordinances of the gospel, and most of the plans of Christian beneficence. Here the world will not intrude; and here assuredly there will be no necessity of any compromise of Christian principle.
For what fellowship. Paul proceeds here to state reasons why there should be no such improper connection with the world. The main reason, though under various forms, is, that there can be no fellowship, no communion, nothing in common between them; and that therefore they should be separate. The word fellowship (metoch) means partnership, participation. What is there in common? or how can the one partake with the other? The interrogative form here is designed to be emphatic, and to declare, in the strongest terms, that there can be no such partnership.
Righteousness. Such as you Christians are required to practise; implying that all were to be governed by the stern and uncompromising principles of honesty and justice.
With unrighteousness. Dishonesty, injustice, sin; implying that the world is governed by such principles.
And what communion, koinwnia. Participation, communion--that which is in common. What is there in common between light and darkness? What common principle is there of which they both partake? There is none. There is a total and eternal separation.
Light. The emblem of truth, virtue, holiness. See Barnes for Mt 4:16; See Barnes for Joh 5:16 See Barnes for Joh 1:4; See Barnes for Ro 2:19 See Barnes for 2Co 4:4. It is implied here that Christians are enlightened, and walk in the light. Their principles are pure and holy-- principles of which light is the proper emblem.
Darkness. The emblem of sin, corruption, ignorance; implying that the world to which Paul refers was governed and influenced by these. The idea is, that as there is an entire separation between light and darkness in their nature--as they have nothing in common--so it is and should be between Christians and sinners. There should be a separation. There can be nothing in common between holiness and sin; and Christians should have nothing to do "with the unfruitful works of darkness," Eph 5:11.