I was inspired to write this post after a conversation with a friend on the topic of unequally yoked relationships. I was able to give her my take on the topic based on what I knew off of the “top of my head” but for anyone who knows me, you know I do not like to give opinion when it comes to the things of God but would rather like to keep it strictly biblical. So as a result I believe the Lord laid it on my heart to study the topic out through His Word and share the results with all who are willing to listen. Have you ever heard that Christians should not “yoke” themselves with unbelievers and wondered, “What exactly does that mean?” Have you ever thought to yourself “could engaging in an unequally yoked relationship really be that bad, I mean they are a good person”? If so, I want to take some time to explore the topic from a biblical perspective without any judgment or opinion; just the pure, infallible, true, Word of God.
What does it mean to be “unequally yoked”?
The term comes from 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 this passage Paul is speaking to the church at Corinth who were largely Gentiles surrounded by idolatry and immorality. He was admonishing them not to “yoke” themselves with unbelievers. For clarity’s sake, let’s define unbeliever. An unbeliever is defined as “one who does not believe; a non-Christian”. Paul was telling the new believers in the church at Corinth not to yoke themselves with those who were non-Christians. So what is a yoke? “A yoke is a wooden crossbar linking two load-pulling animals together; figurative of bondage or linkage between two people”. In Paul’s analogy of unequal yoking, the people of that time would have understood that he is referring to two animals pulling a load where one animal (usually an ox) is stronger than the other (maybe a donkey or a weaker ox) which consequently causes trouble for the load they are carrying, which further leads to a slower pace, to maybe the weaker animal stopping in mid task, and the job that they were intended to perform together never being accomplished.
What Paul did not mean in this passage:
Paul never intended for Christians to take this passage (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) to mean that we should have absolutely no dealings with unbelievers. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5: 9-10, Paul states: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” More importantly if we were to take this passage to mean we should never associate with unbelievers we would be unable to faithfully live out the great commission committed to us by Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). I think sometimes it is easy as Christians to run away from anything that is “anti-God” , but how are we ever sharing the sweet gospel and gift of salvation to those who are lost, if we are unwilling to even speak with unbelievers?
What Paul absolutely did mean in this passage:
Paul was saying to the church of Corinth, do not enter into close relationships with unbelievers, such as business partnerships, close friendships, and marriages. He is saying that they should be careful because they could be easily influenced to compromise their views by engaging in close relationships with those who did not have the same values and beliefs. Paul was warning the church of the dangers of temptation to weaken their Christian commitment, integrity, and standards if they started to become like the unbelievers instead of simply being among them. In the NLT translation of 2 Corinthians 14, it says “don’t team up with those who are unbelievers”. The word team used here is translated in Greek as “Koinonia”, which means “fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse;
- the share which one has in anything, participation
- intercourse, fellowship, intimacy
- the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office)
- a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment and proof of fellowship”
This definition really helps us to understand the earlier illustration of sharing in the carrying of a load with a weaker animal, which in this case would be the unbeliever. To team up with an unbeliever would mean to be sharing in fellowship, intimacy, and participation. Do you really want to share the innermost parts of yourself, whether platonic or intimately, with someone who could never match your effort? I think for most of us that would be a resounding no! I want to take time now to focus on the importance of this scripture for the implication of marriages.
God’s Heart behind the Command:
At some point in time during your Christian walk, I’m sure you have had the thought “it’s just a lot of rules and some that I really do not understand”. I am with you! I think back on my own past and I wonder if I would have made half of the foolish mistakes I had, if I would have known the “why” behind the command or rule. If I would have just been able to fully discern God’s heart behind a “no” or “not yet”, would that have been enough to turn me away from what I was pursuing. In this case of unequal relationships it is imperative for us to look deeper into the heart of God, His protection, and His guidance in inspiring Paul to write that we should not be yoked with unbelievers. In order to see the “why” behind the command, I decided to take a look at examples from the bible of men who engaged in relationships with unbelievers that forever changed the trajectory of their entire lives for the worse.
Samson was born during an oppressive time for the Israelites. The Israelites had done wrong in the LORD’s eyes yet again and He responded by giving them over to the Philistines for 40 years. Samson was born to parents who were hopeless when it came to childbearing until they were told by and angel of the Lord that they would have a son who would be dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. This son would not only be dedicated to God from birth but he would play a part in beginning to rescue Israel from the Philistines. Samson anointed by God, with supernatural strength that was tied to his long hair which he had strict orders to never cut since birth, still allowed his own wants and desires to overtake him. He was attracted to the Philistine women (unbelievers and idol worshippers) in the camp and allowed them to tempt him so much that he wanted to enter into marriage. One marriage was thwarted when Samson was embarrassed at the wedding celebration and angrily went back home to live with his parents. When he came back for his bride he was told that she was married off to someone else. After this Samson slept with a prostitute who was also an unbeliever and then eventually some time later began to pursue a relationship with another Philistine, named Delilah. Delilah was propositioned by some rulers of Philistine to find out the source of Samson’s strength and tie him up securely. She took them up on their offer and after a few failed attempts was finally able to get Samson to reveal his secret, that his strength came from God and lied in his hair. Delilah cut his hair and he was seized by the Philistines and thrown in jail. He later asked God for strength one more time to kill all of the Philistines in the temple they took him to, to entertain them. Samson’s prayer was answered and he had strength to destroy the temple and everyone in it, including himself. (Story found in Judges 13-16)
Ahab was a Jew who became king after the death of his father, Omri. Ahab did evil in the Lord’s eyes, more evil than any other kings before him. He married a pagan (unbeliever) woman named Jezebel, who led him to practice idol worship and bow down to Baal. He could have been led by the prophet Elijah and had the pleasure of leading the people back to God, but instead he was led by his wife and her god’s “prophets” who polluted his mind and aided in turning his heart completely away from God. Ahab allowed his wife to influence him to steal property and attempt to kill Elijah. (Story found in 1 Kings 16:28-22:40)
Son of King David, a handsome, promising young successor. In his youth he heeded the words of his father to fear God and follow His commands. Solomon had the privilege of building the temple for God, which his father wanted to do. In his humility he asked God for wisdom which would undoubtedly enable him to make thoughtful and sound decisions. Solomon began to marry many wives which was against God’s commands (Deuteronomy 17:17). This led to God’s prediction coming true (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon attempted to please his wives by sacrificing to a false god. He suffered great consequences for his disloyalty to God. The last book that God allowed Solomon to write, Ecclesiastes, Solomon warned others “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the full duty of all mankind” (12:13). (Full story 2 Samuel 12:24-1 Kings 11:43)
These are just the stories of a few men that yoked themselves with unbelievers and the results were disastrous. These were powerful men who had promising futures and the ability to be used by God. However, their desire to please their flesh and go against God’s command led to their demise. In all three of these examples the “light” was overpowered by the darkness which is supposed to be the other way around. It is in these stories that I see God’s heart and the “why” behind the rule. God knows what it will do to His people and His purposes for them, if they yoke themselves with unbelievers. Some of you may think these are extreme examples but they really are not all that farfetched. In today’s time, these examples may look like conflict in the home when it is time to raise a child and teach them a religious practice, or when job loss, death, sickness and other life events strike and the believer is standing on the Word with no help from the unbeliever, or when you want to go to church as a family but he or she just is not willing. It could be a number of things in today’s day and age but the bottom line is “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” (Amos 3:3). We have to be firm in our stance to believe in God’s way no matter how much it may hurt or seem like you are missing out on. An unbeliever is anyone who is not a Christian, so it does not matter what he or she may tell you they believe in, if His name is not Jesus, you have to be willing to walk away.
Well I pray you learned something from my study on unequally yoked relationships. Love you all and I am praying for you! Until next time, whatever you do, do it ALL for the glory of God!