Enemies - Avoid or Love Them?|
Q. I'm confused. Jesus said to love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Yet, we are also told not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). How do you reconcile these two things? I work around a colleague who calls me "stupid," "simple minded" and "crude" because he is an atheist and I am a believer. Am I supposed to try to avoid him or put up with his verbal abuse?
Unbelievers Avoid Criminals
I know these two passages seem like a contradiction. But, they really do not contradict one another. For example, I'll bet the unbelievers you know don't associate with murderers or con artists, do they? I'll bet they avoid drunkards, drug addicts, and child molesters.
Paul Advises Avoiding Dangerous Believers
In the same way, Paul's writings tell Christians to avoid people who are arrogant, conceited, angry, abusive, greedy, gossipers, slanderous, and so forth. (See 2 Timothy 3:1-5). But, Paul is not telling Christians to avoid all unbelievers - just to avoid Christians who are disruptive and abusive.
Bad Company Drags Us Down
In general we need to understand that associating with people who are angry or abusive, immoral, or dishonest drag us down. This is true whether or not they are Christians. Paul advises,
"Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals'" (1 Cor. 15:33).
The passage from 2 Corinthians about being unequally yoked has to do with an Old Testament illustration regarding the field work of different animals. Different animals hitched together don't work well in the fields. In this way, Christians are warned not to engage in businesses or partnerships which could reflect poorly upon the church. This could be a business partnership or a marriage, for example.
However, Christians cannot pick and choose their persecutors as they would a business partner or marriage partner. Jesus told us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us, thus earning a great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12).
Don't Avoid Suffering
Peter warned Christians that as they try to live faithfully in a pagan and a hostile society, they would be persecuted by slander, unfair police actions, and by social ostracism. Suffering is not seen as something to be avoided, however. Rather, we are told the suffering that comes from persecution purifies the church (1 Peter 4:7-19).
Christians are to be a good witness to unbelievers. Often we are the only "Bibles" they will ever read. Paul says,
"You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men, being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor. 3:2-3, NASB).
Associating with Non Christians
Last, Paul clarified:
"I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people. I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world…for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person…" (see 1 Cor. 5:9-13, NASB).
If we "walking Bibles" never ventured outside our churches, very few would hear about eternal life obtained through belief in the Lordship and redemptive work of our Lord. The world depends upon our courage to hear the Good News.
That is why we are told to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).