What does the Bible mean by saying we are not to be unequally yoked? What do the Scriptures say this means and why are we commanded to not be unequally yoked.
What is a yoke? A yoke is an implement that is used to harness animals together to pull a load or a plow. The yoke is a familiar and useful tool to agrarian (farming) societies. This device is used to join a pair of animals, like oxen, to work together, simultaneously. They can be used to pull out tree trunks, move boulders, pull logs, to plow fields, or pull a loaded cart. The yoke is often used in the Bible to express the symbolism of having two that are similar in capacity so that they can both work together. Jesus referred to a yoke once when He told His followers to, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). When we are walking with Christ and are in Christ, we can share the load of our life with Him and the walk, although not easy, will be more bearable.
What did Paul mean when he said to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14)? Does he mean with friends or with those we are dating or considering marriage with? I believe it is all of these that Paul was addressing but he may be emphasizing marriage in these texts. In the context we can see that Paul was writing about unbelievers (including friends), those we might consider dating, and those whom we might want to marry. When we read the entire context of 2 Corinthians chapter six, I believe we can see the answer clearly as with any Scriptures. Context is always important. As a rule, I do not like to read just one verse and quote it without reading the entire chapter and possibly the entire book. So let’s see what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial, Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 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.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
In verses 14-16 Paul contrasts light and darkness and righteousness with wickedness. These have nothing in common. Jesus said that “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:16) “but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19a). No one who believes in Christ “should stay in darkness” (John 12:46c).
Also consider, “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial” (2 Corinthians 6:15)? The answer is there is no agreement between the two! Belial is a symbol of a demon or the Devil himself. Belial also means someone who is self-sufficient, truly independent, and has no master. It is no wonder that Belial is a Hebrew adjective meaning “worthless.” We must not be self-sufficient but worship and depend upon our Master…that is Jesus Christ. These two are diametrically opposed and opposites of each other.
We are told that we are the temple of God because God the Holy Spirit dwells in us, therefore there is no place for idols. God must be first and foremost in our lives (Matthew 6:33) but this would be difficult if we marry or have as best friends those who do not believe in God.
Just as God told Israel, “Come out from them and be separate” (Isaiah 52:11) so we too must be separate from unbelievers in close friendships and in marriage (which includes dating non-believers). God is our Father (2 Corinthians 6:18) but the unbelievers have Satan as their father (John 8:44). I know that sounds harsh, but those are not my words, rather, that is Jesus speaking.
Imagine you see a farmer getting ready to plow his or her field. They hook up a powerful ox to one side and on the other side, they hook up a tiny little Chihuahua. Which side is going to work the hardest? Will they plow together in an equal fashion? Can they walk along and carry the load on an equal basis? Of course not! One will likely be dragged along and impede the progress of the other. One may pull to the left and one may pull to the right. The one that is the primary worker will be pulling more than their fair share. The ox will strain because the Chihuahua will want to run away or go the other direction. They can not work together because they are unequally yoked together. They will have little success and the work will either not get done or it will be exponentially more difficult. It is not fair to the Chihuahua or to the ox. This will simply not work. They will eventually have to be unyoked. For some that are unequally yoked, this means divorce. How tragic and how unnecessary; it could have been prevented.
The same principle applies to dating or considering an unbeliever as a marriage partner. Their morals will not be the same, they may have differing principles in child rearing, their television or movie taste will be not be the same, their language, work ethic, just about everything will be different. They will struggle at almost ever thing they do. God commands Christians to not marry unbelievers because it is in their best interests. No marriage is always better than a bad marriage, especially since marriage is intended to last until “death do us part.” Don’t be fooled by thinking that you can convert them after you marry them because it is God who draws people to Christ (John 6:44). Just because they say they believe in God does not mean they believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord for He is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. Even the Devil and his demons believe in God but that doesn’t make them Christians (James 2:19). You will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16, 20) and not by what they say. Time will tell. Jesus meant this when He said, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18) and “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17).
When Jesus said to “Take my yoke upon you,” there is the idea that we can put our heavy loads on His shoulders (which is where the yoke goes on the team of oxen). We must be walking along side of Christ to have the yoke be useful to us. If we walk ahead of Christ, the load will be on us…if we walk behind, we will get no help with our heavy burdens…but if we walk with Christ, we have access to Christ and we can have Him share the load. That is how we can find “rest for [our] souls” for His “yoke is easy and His burden is light.” The same principle applies to those who marry believers. They walk together in agreement. They can share life’s heavy loads together for “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) and “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up” (Ecclesiastes4:10)! Amos 3:3 puts it this way, “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”
Being married to believers is like a three-fold cord because, “one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). Two are able to stand stronger than one against the Enemy but when Christ is in the marriage, it becomes a strong “cord of three strands” which is “not quickly broken.” The idea is that when Christ is at the center of the marriage, the two become stronger because of Christ’s presence and His strength.
I have married many couples who were both believers and I have married couples who were non-believers but I refuse to marry couples where one is a believer and the other is a non-believer. Believe me when I say this that I am trying to spare them much grief and heartache and perhaps prevent a needless divorce.
If You’re Married to an Unbeliever
What happens if you are presently married to an unbeliever? My own opinion is worthless compared to what the Bible teaches. Paul wrote that “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband” (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). It is crystal clear that Paul says not to divorce someone if they are not a believer because you may be an agent used by God to bring that person to saving faith. Paul concludes this thought by writing that such a “person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
There is no doubt that a Christian should not date, become engaged, or marry an unbeliever. They will have trouble in their marriage to be sure, they will be unequally yoked throughout their lives, they will have many disagreements, they will struggle over ethical and moral decisions, they will differ in their child rearing philosophies, but above all God commands believers to “not be yoked together with unbelievers “ because “what fellowship can light have with darkness?“ It is for our own good and God always knows what best for us…more so than we do for He is God and we are not.
Read more about a model for the Christian marriage here:
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