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The following is an excerpt from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6.

for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (6:14b–15)

For believers to join with unbelievers in a common spiritual effort makes no sense. To demonstrate that reality, Paul makes four rhetorical common-sense contrasts, each in the form of a question that assumes a negative answer.

Question 1

What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? (6:14b)

Metoche (partnership) appears only here in the New Testament and is a synonym for the word koinonia (fellowship), which appears in the next question. A related word is used to speak of Peter’s partners in the fishing business (Luke 5:7), of believers’ sharing in a heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), and of their union with Christ (Heb. 3:14). It thus describes being involved in a relationship of common life and effort.

Obviously, righteousness and lawlessness are opposites. Righteousness is obedience to the law of God; lawlessness is rebellion against His holy law. Righteousness characterizes believers (Rom. 4:7; Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Heb. 8:12; 10:17), because Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to them (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:19; 1 Cor. 1:30; Phil. 3:9) and because they are born of God and therefore possess a new nature, which is made righteous (Rom. 6:19). Unbelievers, on the other hand, are characterized by lawlessness, since that is the nature of unredeemed sinners. The apostle John made the difference unmistakably clear:

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:4–10)

Anomia (lawlessness) characterizes all the unregenerate, since all rebel against God’s law, though not always visibly, and some are more lawless than others. Jesus strongly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, who were noted for their external righteousness and observance of the Law: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27–28).

Ultimately, those who are lawless face eternal punishment in hell. In one of the most sobering passages in Scripture, Jesus warned of what His judgmental response to such people will be: “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ ” (Matt. 7:23). In Matthew 13:41–42 He again described the terrifying fate that awaits those who refuse to repent of their lawlessness: “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Because they refuse to believe in Jesus as “God and Savior” (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1), they will “die in [their] sins” (John 8:24).

The righteous and the rebellious cannot partner in any common spiritual enterprise because of this absolute contrast between them. They are as separated as sin is from virtue.

Question 2

What fellowship has light with darkness? (6:14c)

It is self-evident that light and darkness are mutually exclusive; thus, this contrast is a common biblical metaphor (cf. Isa. 5:20; John 1:5; 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; Acts 26:18; Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:8, 11; Col. 1:12–14; 1 Thess. 5:5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 1:5; 2:8–9). Intellectually, light refers to truth, darkness to error; morally light refers to holiness, darkness to evil. Those who are righteous in Christ walk in the light (John 8:12; 12:35; Eph. 5:8; 1 John 1:7); those who are unrighteous are part of Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Luke 22:53; Eph. 6:12; Col. 1:13). The ultimate destination of the righteous is the eternal light of heaven (Col. 1:12; 1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 22:5), that of the unrighteous the eternal darkness of hell (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17). To expect the children of light to work together with the children of darkness is as foolish as to expect it to be both light and dark in the same place at the same time.

Question 3

What harmony has Christ with Belial? (6:15a)

The first two rhetorical questions focused on the radically different natures possessed by believers (righteousness, light), and unbelievers (lawlessness, darkness). Paul’s third rhetorical question showing mutual exclusivity deals with the leaders of the respective kingdoms. Obviously, there is a fundamental and eternal antagonism between Christ, the ruler of the kingdom of light and righteousness, and Belial (an ancient name for Satan), the ruler of the kingdom of darkness and lawlessness. Belial (Beliar in the Greek text) is used only here in the New Testament. The Hebrew phrase “sons of Belial” (the nkjv translates this phrase “corrupt” or perverted” men, while it is translated “worthless men” in the nasb; e.g., Deut. 13:13 [13:14 in the Hebrew text]; Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 2:12; 2 Chron. 13:7) appears more than a dozen times in the Old Testament. The term “Belial” is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls in reference to Satan. The title is a fitting one for him, because he is the utterly and supremely worthless one. To assume that Christ and Satan could cooperate in any common spiritual effort is utterly absurd.

Since harmony (sumphonesis [“to agree with”], from which the English word symphony derives) between Christ and Satan is impossible, so also is cooperation in spiritual matters between his children and God’s. Believers, who “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), cannot join forces with the sons of disobedience, who walk “according to the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). The children of God have nothing in common with the children of the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10).

Question 4

What has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (6:15b)

This question sums up the first three, reinforcing the obvious truth that a believer has no common spiritual ground with an unbeliever. Faith has nothing in common with unbelief; the faithful and the faithless are committed to mutually exclusive ideologies and energized by opposing powers. As God asked in His maxim to wayward Israel, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3 nkjv).

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