What Does It Mean To Be Unequally Yoked
Topic: Christian Living Passage: 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1
Grace Community Church
February 7, 2021
What Does It Mean To Be Unequally Yoked?
Good morning! If you have your Bibles turn with me to 2 Cor. 6 and we’re going to start with verse 14 and though we’re only going to get as far as verse 16, for the sake of getting the context we’re going to read through 7:1. I’m reading from the NIV:
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 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.” 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
7 Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1
A lot of Bible scholars are surprised by the sudden, even violent, interruption of Paul’s train of thought. He goes from “my heart is open to you, open your heart to me” to “don’t be unequally yoked…rather come out and be separate unto God”, and then in chapter 7 back to “make room in your hearts for us”. Is this a random interruption of Paul’s train of thought or is there a common link tying all this together?
I think the common link is that this section, like the passages on either side of it, is all about relationships. Paul warns us not to form ungodly relationships, then reminds us of God’s awesome promises to enter into close and loving relationship with those who separate from ungodly relationships and pursue Him. We start with the warning in verses 14-16 not to form ungodly relationships.
“Do not be unequally yoked”. We’ve probably heard that most often to warn a Christian not to date or marry someone who isn’t a Christian. But is that what Paul had in mind when he wrote it? What does it mean to be unequally yoked with unbelievers? We know an unbeliever is someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But what does it mean to be yoked with an unbeliever?
Is Paul telling us that we are to cut ties with anyone who isn’t a Christian and have little or no association with them? Is it wrong for a Christian to have friendships, at least close friendships, with non-Christians?
It’s doubtful that’s what Paul means because he says in chapter 5 that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, reconciling those alienated from God back to God through faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a ministry that is hard to do from a distance – leading someone to faith in Christ often takes building a relationship of trust and caring with them and that sounds a lot like friendship.
Speaking of friendship, remember the Pharisees called Jesus a “friend of sinners” cause he hung around sinners and enjoyed their company. The Pharisee’s meant it as a slur but Jesus wore it as badge of honor. So to be yoked to an unbeliever must mean something other than being friends, even close friends, with an unbeliever.
The word “yoke” is a farming term describing two animals yoked together to plow a field. In the OT God commanded the Jews not to yoke a donkey and an ox together because it would be a mismatch. For one thing, an ox was ritually clean and the donkey unclean. But they would also be mismatched in strength and size and eventually one or both would chafe as they did not pull equally or in harmony.
So the idea of being yoked to someone refers to a close partnership, a deep bond that unites two people closely in their life’s direction and labor. For a believer to enter such a deep union with an unbeliever, while it may seem to work for a while, will ultimately chafe both parties as they are pulling in different directions, living by different priorities, serving different kingdoms, and loving different masters. Eventually the believer will be pulled towards compromise, worldliness and a diluted Christian witness.
In the context of 2 Corinthians, it’s clear Paul doesn’t have marriage or business partnerships in mind. What is on Paul’s mind is the attempt to unify the Christian faith – to yoke it - with other religious beliefs or a false version of the Christian faith. Specifically there are self-proclaimed apostles in Corinth who are actively trying to influence them away from Paul’s teaching and towards their more enlightened version of Christianity. But it’s not Christianity at all. Later Paul will warn they are preaching a different Christ and then he says they masquerade as apostles of Christ the same way that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.
Satan is an angel of darkness. Complete, utter, wicked, cruel and murderous darkness. There is no light, none at all, in his soul. So when he appears as an angel of light, he is pretending to be the opposite of what he really is. Paul says these false apostles are deceitful workers. They masquerade as all about Christ, but the reality is the opposite. They are dragging souls away from Christ. To be yoked to them is to be pulled away from Christ to one’s eternal jeopardy.
Christianity can’t be yoked to other religious or spiritual beliefs and still be Christianity.
We’ve all seen the bumper stickers that spell out “co-exist” using the symbols of different faiths. If by “co-exist” they mean the freedom for different faiths to be allowed to worship freely, that’s something we can heartily agree with. But if by “co-exist” they mean all religions are the same and should be morphed together, the Christian faith can’t do that and still be Christian.
Jesus doesn’t play well with other faiths. He claimed to be the only way to God the Father. No other way, no other path, no other teaching, no other Savior. The exclusivity of his claim is at the core of what it means to be a Christian. The minute you say believe in Jesus as one way to get to God but not the only way, you reject Jesus’ own teachings about himself. When someone rejects Jesus’ teachings, but claims to accept Jesus, what they have is a false Jesus. Jesus wasn’t open minded about how we get to heaven – he clearly claims to be the one and only way to heaven and to God. And all the Bible points to Jesus being the only way. You can accept that or reject it, but you can’t say you accept Christ and reject his teachings at the same time. If we try to yoke Christianity with other religions or spiritual practices, we lose Christ.
The world will put more and more pressure on Christians to make Jesus more cool and more acceptable by making him one of the religious gang, but we need to resist that pressure no matter what! Jesus is the only way – the only name under heaven – by which man can be saved!
So Paul is thinking of yoking the Christian faith with other religious or spiritual beliefs.
But what about other applications of this warning not to be unequally yoked, such as marriage and business partnerships? There is no doubt this principle applies to other areas in our lives. Let’s consider three other valid applications.
- Marriage - the Christian shouldn’t pursue or enter into a marriage relationship with an unbeliever. Marriage is one of the most intimate and spiritual of all human relationships, so much so that the Bible tells us it’s a picture of Christ and the church. Two people might seem compatible in other ways, but if one is a follower of Christ and the other isn’t then they will be pulling in different directions spiritually. This can become particularly painful when kids enter the picture. A Christian should not pursue marriage with an unbeliever – that would be being unequally yoked. However, if someone finds themselves in a marriage with an unbeliever they shouldn’t leave that marriage if the unbeliever consents to be with them but should actively trust God and love and pray for their spouse and believe God to save their children through their witness (1 Cor. 7).
- Business partnerships – there are some business relationships where a Christian and an unbeliever can enter into a partnership without it compromising the witness or values of the Christian, but there are some that do. Care should be taken to evaluate before entering into a business partnership with an unbeliever.
- Friendships – I said earlier that friendships can and should be promoted between believers and unbelievers. We should, like Jesus, be friends of sinners. Friendships should be genuine, respectful, never condescending, full of affection. So why am I including friendships as a potential example of being unequally yoked? James warns us that friendship with the world is enmity with God. If a friend or friendship is influencing us away from Christ, and into spiritual adultery, into worldliness, then that friendship is spiritually dangerous to our souls and we need to break it off.
To reinforce this warning, Paul contrasts five opposites, and I want to warn you: these contrasts are very uncomfortable because they go to the heart of the difference between believers and unbelievers.
For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. Vv. 14-16
We can accept that righteousness and wickedness have nothing in common. We have no problem accepting that Jesus and Satan don’t hang out together. Light and darkness can’t co-exist in the same place at the same time. We get that. But then Paul applies the same principle to believers and unbelievers and I don’t know about you, but that makes me a little uncomfortable.
If you aren’t a Christian and you’re here in the service or you’re watching online, this contrast of believers being in the light, righteousness, and Christ category, and unbelievers being in the darkness, wickedness, and Satan category might make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. And I don’t blame you. It sounds a bit like spiritual snobbery. But hang with me over the next few minutes because this not only reveals one of the deepest truths about the human condition, but it also offers the greatest invitations ever. So hang in with me.
Some of the most wonderful, kindest, most generous people I’ve met in life have been Christians. And some of the meanest, unkindest, most miserable people I’ve met in life have been unbelievers. It’s true. But it’s also true that some of the most wonderful, kindest, most generous people I’ve met in life have been unbelievers. And some of the meanest, unkindest, most miserable people I’ve met in life have been Christians. That’s also true.
This isn’t about Christians being amazing, beautiful people and non-Christians being horrible, terrible people. This isn’t to claim that Christians are superior to non-Christians in any way but one. We aren’t superior people, we aren’t necessarily better people, but we have a better hope. We have a better Savior.
Listen to Eph. 2’s description of the sinful, dead state of all humankind. Not some, all.
2 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
We were all once spiritually dead. Not sick, dead. The state of humankind is spiritually dead in sin. And then Paul describes what sounds to me like a massive tsunami that was carrying us inexorably in the course of the world and the devil. Even our own nature was a part of that tsunami working hand in hand with the devil and the world to carry us unstoppably to eternal death. We were without hope and without God.
Then Jesus entered that tidal wave of death to rescue us from its deadly power.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
God, being rich in mercy, snatched us from death and made us alive in Christ! He took us from being swept into hell and raised us up to heavenly places! Our destiny went from being separated from God forever to forever being a display of God’s grace.
God Himself came to live within us through the Person of the Holy Spirit, and we became the temple of God. The place where God lives. Now this is the most important part:
And none of this is because of what we did or because we were better people. All of this is the gift of God and the grace of God. That gift, that grace, is offered to every person to receive or to reject.
But now we see why the believer and the unbeliever – in terms of spiritual life, light, and direction, have nothing in common. An unbeliever and a believer may be in exactly the same place in terms of moral character, in fact the unbeliever may be in a better place, but one is being swept towards death and the devil, and the other is being swept towards life and God.
Only because of Christ.
If you aren’t a Christian, the most important question you will ever answer is this: what will you do with Christ? He offers you rescue, he offers you life, he offers you a relationship with God. He offers it as a gift to be received, or a gift to be rejected.
Will you receive Christ as your Savior today? Will you believe in him? He offers you a new life, a new power, a new relationship with God – all as a gift – will you say yes to his gift of life? That’s the most important question.
For believers: is there a relationship that is influencing you away from God and towards worldliness? Is there a bond that has you chafing because it’s pulling you away from God’s will and God’s work? Don’t be unequally yoked, take that yoke off and put Jesus’ yoke back on, to serve and love and labor for his will. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.