11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange– I speak as to my children– open wide your hearts also. 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 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:1-18 NIV)
This portion of scripture is often pulled out when a child begins dating an unbeliever. I think the principle is applicable to that situation, but I am convinced that Paul is talking about something bigger and more significant. Paul is addressing the relationship between the church and the world. Paul is concerned that this congregation, which he loves has not left behind its love for the world around it. Their love is not the love that leads to attempts to rescue their friends from death, but instead is a desire to join their friends in a lifestyle that leads to death. The Corinthian church is experiencing a fear of missing out.
Paul is not calling us to completely disconnect from the world around us. If we did that it would be impossible for us to fulfil our role as ambassadors for God. We cannot work for reconciliation with people we do not have any relationship with.
It all keeps coming back to the question of what we want. Paul wants to know Christ and that means experiencing all the things he has just described in 2 Corinthians 6:1-10. The Corinthians are living out their desire to remain in a world they should have left behind. I know that I do not fully understand this struggle. I grew up in a Christian home and have had some incredibly positive experiences as a part of the Christian community. I have also experienced some of the things that Paul describes. All my significant relationships are with people who know and love Jesus. Yet I continue to be tempted by the things of the world even though I know if I were to fully pursue them that this pursuit would lead to death. I have a real fear of missing out. Desire for the things that appear real now sometime overwhelms the desire for the infinitely pleasurable reality of the life to come.
I have met many people whose lives were destroyed by the pursuit of this world’s pleasures. Their addictions led them to lose everything and they are grateful that through the process of recovery they discovered Christ and the hope He brings. They understand that they have moved from death to life and yet the pull to return to their previous life always remains and recovery is a lifelong process.
I think the pull is much stronger for those who have experienced the good life without God. They are healthy, wealthy, and surrounded by people they enjoy being with. They are convinced that they are alive and living the good life. They are free to pursue whatever they desire if they can convince themselves that it does not hurt anyone else. Then they hear the gospel message and decide that accepting God’s gift of eternal life would be a good thing. Unfortunately, in many cases they decide to add Jesus to their existing life having no desire to leave it behind. They have changed their mind regarding who Jesus is but have not changed their mind regarding the world and sin.
How can we convince them to leave the old life completely behind when the new life looks like the one Paul describes in verses 1-10? This would require falling in love with God and leaving behind the love of self. This means trusting that God will love them better than they can love themselves. This is a lifelong struggle and can only be successful in partnership with the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8.)
What does this look like for an entire congregation? It is tempting at this point to describe the church that loves the world. It is easy to look around and see example everywhere. What is harder is to describe the congregation that is walking with God and passionately in love with Him. I would expect to see a congregation that was loving one another enough to constantly challenge one another to holy living. It would be a congregation constantly looking for opportunities to serve one another and the community around it. It would be a congregation suffering for doing good and proclaiming the news of the gospel. It would be a congregation that worshipped God 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and gathering to encourage one another and to serve others.
The global pandemic has forced us to take a fresh look at what church really is. My prayer is that out of this time will come a church that is a lifestyle and a worldview, not just a weekly event.