2 Corinthians Chapters 6-8: Working With Nonbelievers
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
In the second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul models the kind of integrity and attention to relationships that God calls all Christians to embody.
2 Corinthians explores various means of building good relationships, including transparency, integrity, and accountability. But Paul clarifies that we cannot achieve good relationships through skills and methods alone. What we need above all is God’s help. For this reason, praying for each other is the cornerstone of good relationships.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of 2 Corinthians Chapters 6-8, we will open with Psalm 107 in prayer.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,
3 And gathered out of the lands,
From the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south.
4 They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way;
They found no city to dwell in.
5 Hungry and thirsty,
Their soul fainted in them.
6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He delivered them out of their distresses.
7 And He led them forth by the right way,
That they might go to a city for a dwelling place.
8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
9 For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
Bound in affliction and irons—
11 Because they rebelled against the words of God,
And despised the counsel of the Most High,
12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor;
They fell down, and there was none to help.
13 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
And broke their chains in pieces.
15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
16 For He has broken the gates of bronze,
And cut the bars of iron in two.
17 Fools, because of their transgression,
And because of their iniquities, were afflicted.
18 Their soul abhorred all manner of food,
And they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He saved them out of their distresses.
20 He sent His word and healed them,
And delivered them from their destructions.
21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
22 Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
And declare His works with rejoicing.
23 Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
29 He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
30 Then they are glad because they are quiet;
So He guides them to their desired haven.
31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
32 Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people,
And praise Him in the company of the elders.
33 He turns rivers into a wilderness,
And the watersprings into dry ground;
34 A fruitful land into barrenness,
For the wickedness of those who dwell in it.
35 He turns a wilderness into pools of water,
And dry land into watersprings.
36 There He makes the hungry dwell,
That they may establish a city for a dwelling place,
37 And sow fields and plant vineyards,
That they may yield a fruitful harvest.
38 He also blesses them, and they multiply greatly;
And He does not let their cattle decrease.
39 When they are diminished and brought low
Through oppression, affliction, and sorrow,
40 He pours contempt on princes,
And causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way;
41 Yet He sets the poor on high, far from affliction,
And makes their families like a flock.
42 The righteous see it and rejoice,
And all iniquity stops its mouth.
43 Whoever is wise will observe these things,
And they will understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 6
We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says:
“In an acceptable time I have heard you,
And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
3 We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. 4 But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, 5 in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; 6 by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, 7 by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
11 O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. 13 Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
18 “I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 7
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
2 Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.
5 For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.
8 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 12 Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.
13 Therefore we have been comforted in your comfort. And we rejoiced exceedingly more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14 For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I am not ashamed. But as we spoke all things to you in truth, even so our boasting to Titus was found true. 15 And his affections are greater for you as he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling you received him. 16 Therefore I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.
2 Corinthians 8
Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: 2 that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. 3 For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, 4 imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. 5 And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. 7 But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also.
8 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
10 And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; 11 but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. 12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.
13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
16 But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. 17 For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. 18 And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, 19 and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, 20 avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us— 21 providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
22 And we have sent with them our brother whom we have often proved diligent in many things, but now much more diligent, because of the great confidence which we have in you. 23 If anyone inquires about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you. Or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 Therefore show to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf.
Working With Nonbelievers
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on 2 Corinthians
The question of being mismatched (literally unequally yoked) with non-Christians has implications for working relationships. Up to this point, Paul has vividly portrayed the importance of good relationships with the people with whom we live and work. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:9–10 that we should work with non-Christians, and he discusses how to do so in 1 Corinthians 10:25–33.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14–18, Paul cautions us about working arrangements with non-believers, invoking a reference to Deuteronomy 22:10 which warns against plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Perhaps this is because the donkey would struggle to pull the ox’s load and the ox could not go at the donkey’s faster pace. In 2 Corinthians, Paul seems to be talking about a deeper spiritual reality, advising God’s people to be wary of yoking with people who serve lawlessness, darkness, idol worship, and Satan himself.
While we’re clearly called to love, serve, and work with non-believers, Paul says not to be unequally yoked with them. What does it mean to be unequally yoked? The answer lies in the contrast to being yoked with Jesus, who says, “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matthew 11:29). One part of the yoke is around us, and the other is on Jesus’ shoulders. Jesus, like the lead ox in a team, determines our bearing, pace, and path, and we submit to his leadership. Through his yoke, we feel his pull, his guidance, his direction. By his yoke, he trains us to work effectively in his team. His yoke is what leads us, sensitizes us, and binds us to him. Being yoked to Jesus makes us partners with him in restoring God’s creation in every sphere of life. No other yoke that would pull us away from the yoke of Jesus could ever be equal to that! “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:29. Yet the work we are doing with him is no less than the transformation of the entire cosmos.
When Paul tells us not to be unequally yoked in working relationships, he is warning us not to get entangled in work commitments that prevent us from doing the work Jesus has for us or that prevent us from working in Jesus’ yoke. This has a strong ethical element. “What partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness?” Paul asks in 2 Corinthians 6:14. If the dictates of a work commitment lead us to harm customers, deceive constituents, mislead employees, abuse co-workers, pollute the environment, or such, then we have been yoked into a violation of our duties as stewards of God’s kingdom. Being yoked with Jesus leads us to work to reconcile and renew the world in light of God’s promises of the kingdom come.
To be unequally yoked with unbelievers, then, is to be in a situation or relationship that binds you to the decisions and actions of people who have values and purposes incompatible with Jesus’ values and purposes. We probably would—and should—do all we can to avoid working with those who would force us to act against our beliefs. But short of that, many of the motivations, values, and working methods of our supervisors and colleagues in most workplaces may not be compatible with our beliefs as Christians. And the environment and beliefs of those you work with may have a negative influence on your faith and experience of the Christian life. Nonetheless, most of us work among unbelievers, which as we have noted, Paul assumes is the normal situation for Christians. Then how are we to apply his prohibition against unequal yoking?
Let’s begin by looking at employment. Employment is an agreement in which you do the agreed upon work in return for the agreed upon remuneration. To the extent that you are able to voluntarily and justly terminate this contract in the event it becomes damaging to you or others, you are free to un-yoke. How do you know whether it is necessary to un-yoke or end an employment arrangement? We will look at two very different situations.
First, imagine you are employed by an organization that is generally ethical, but you are surrounded by people who do not believe as you do and whose influence is damaging your own faith life. This discernment may be different for different believers. Some are able to maintain their faith in the midst of temptations and unbelief all around them, and others are not. Temptations such as money, power, sexual immorality, and recognition can be overwhelming in many work environments, and Paul’s prohibition would suggest that it is better to remove yourself from that employment “yoke” than be defiled in body and spirit or to compromise your relationship with the Lord. On the other hand, others are able to work in the midst of those temptations as a witness to the truth and love and hope of the gospel. Usually they need someone outside the temptations of their workplace to help them maintain their faith.
Esther is an interesting example of this kind of situation. In Esther 4:12-16 God called her into the harem of King Ahasuerus so that she would be able to serve as protector of her Jewish people. The temptations of that work were to protect her status and privilege as the king’s chosen queen. She might have succumbed to the temptations of that luxurious life if her uncle, Mordecai, hadn’t checked in with her daily to guide her and eventually summon her to risk her life to save her people.
Esther had considerable influence with the king but was also extremely vulnerable to his displeasure. This would seem to be a clear case of being unequally yoked. Yet in the end, her yoking to God proved stronger than her yoking to the king because she was willing to risk her life in order to do God’s will. This suggests that the more willing you are to suffer the consequences of saying no when called upon to violate your beliefs, the tighter the relationship you can take on with unbelievers, yet still remain yoked to Jesus. An important implication of this is to refrain from becoming so dependent on a job that you can’t afford to quit. If you take on expenses and debts up to, or even above, your level of income, any job can quickly become a kind of unequal yoking. Adopting a more modest standard of living and building up ample savings—if possible—may make it much easier to remain yoked with Christ if things go bad at work.
A second example of unequal yoking might be a business partnership with an unbeliever. It would be a much more equal partnership in terms of power, but equally risky in terms of ethics. When one partner signs a contract, spends money, buys or sells property—or violates the law—the other partner is bound by that action or decision. This kind of partnership could be more like the ox and the donkey – two partners pulling in opposite directions. Moreover, we know from experience that even partnerships between two believers also include some risk, given that Christians continue to be sinners too. All business partnerships, then, require wisdom and discernment and both the ability and the willingness to terminate the partnership if necessary, even if doing so would be very costly. Paul’s prohibition in 2 Corinthians 6 should, at a minimum, serve as a cause for prayer and discernment before entering a partnership, and perhaps to including contractual limitations to the arrangement.
There are many other kinds of working relationships, of course, including buying and selling, investing, contracting and subcontracting, and trade associations. Paul’s warning against unequal yoking can help us discern how and when to enter into such relationships, and perhaps more importantly, how and when to exit them. In all these relationships, the danger increases when we become more dependent on them than on Christ.
Finally, we must be careful to not turn Paul’s words into an us-versus-them mentality against nonbelievers. We cannot judge or condemn nonbelievers as inherently unethical because Paul himself refused to do so. “For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12–13). The truth is that we ourselves need Christ’s grace every day to keep us from leading others astray by our own sin. We are called not to judge, but to discern whether our work is fulfilling the purposes and ways of Christ.