Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’
‘I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ This is a beautiful verse, guaranteed to makes us feel warm and fuzzy, because naturally we read it as being about us. We are God’s people, and God is our God; God loves us all and we love God. All of which is wonderful good news that we should never forget. You might, however, sense that there is a ‘but’ coming.
Paul quotes these words to support an argument which, at the very least, we might find problematic today. ‘Do not be mismatched with unbelievers.’ Does that mean those of us in the Church should separate ourselves from everyone else? Paul asks ‘what does an unbeliever share with a believer?’ Well, there are plenty of things they might have in common, and to suggest that a Christian shares nothing with their non-Christian neighbours doesn’t ring true. You may, like me, have neighbours, friends and family members who either follow other faith traditions or have no religion. I certainly know many wise, kind, and compassionate people not motivated by faith, who show more evidence of loving their neighbour than many Christians.
We as Christians are not cut off from the world, but part of it, and our churches are embedded in diverse local communities. Sometimes we may want to oppose the values of our society and challenge injustice, while on other issues (such as around sexuality and gender) the Church is behind and needs to catch up. To quote the song ‘French Disko’ by the band Stereolab, ‘Though this world’s essentially an absurd place to be living in, it doesn’t call for total withdrawal.’ Rather we’re called to be in the world with all its complexities, joys and problems. As Paul reminds us elsewhere, God’s people are not us, or people like us, but everyone, even the ones who disagree.
Gracious God, we give thanks that you have called us to be among your people, and to be in the world. Help us to remember that your love is for everyone, and guide us to spread your values of peace and compassion, and to care for everyone in our community, whatever they believe.
The Rev’d Dr Nick Jones is minister of Heswall URC & St. George’s URC, Thornton Hough