Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18, N.K.J.V.)
I’ve been doing some thinking lately on the question: What exactly constitutes an unequal yoke in the life of the Christian? While I understand that the universally accepted application involves a Christian marrying a lost person, it’s obvious that there is more to the command than that. I mean, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 is a fairly lengthy passage, but it doesn’t even use the word “marriage.”
In case you don’t know, a yoke is a harness device that sits over the shoulders of two livestock animals, attaches underneath the animals’ necks, and binds the animals together for working. It is most often associated with a team of oxen pulling something, but it can be used with any pair of the same type of work animals. An unequal yoke is created when two different kinds of animals are harnessed together. An ox in one ring of the harness and a horse in the other is an unequal yoke. A horse in one ring and a donkey in the other is an unequal yoke. God’s Old Testament law for Israel even included the following specific law:
You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. (Exodus 22:10, N.K.J.V.)
An unequal yoke isn’t an effective way of getting work done because different types of animals are fundamentally incompatible due to their size, strength, step, and mannerisms. You see, the idea behind yoking two animals together is to get them to work as a single, unified unit. That can’t happen, though, if one animal is pulling to the left while the other is pulling to the right. It also can’t happen if the animals don’t pull in synced tandem or don’t drive forward at precisely the same moment to get the weight moving. That’s why you need two like animals in a yoke. As Amos 3:3 says:
Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? (N.K.J.V.)
But, getting back to my opening question, what does an unequal yoke actually look like in terms of the Christian life? To help us with this answer, allow me to offer direct quotes from seven solid Bible teachers. Here goes:
- John Phillips: “This is a wise and wide-ranging prohibition. It frowns upon the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever. It looks with disfavor on a believer entering into a business partnership with an unbeliever. It discountenances a believer joining in a club, society, lodge, or fraternity with an unbeliever. The reason is simple: Before long, the believer and the unbeliever will start to pull in opposite directions — either that or the believer will be dragged into behavior which will compromise his testimony and trouble his conscience.”
- Harry Ironside: “The passage applies to Church relationship, to things in society where you have to be in fellowship with unsaved people, to being in business with unsaved folk. …And, of course, it applies to the marriage relationship.”
- A.C. Gaebelein: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers is often quoted as a prohibition of a mixed marriage. This is no doubt included, but the exhortation means more and includes every form of alliance with the world and ungodly principles. It also includes the so-called ‘religious world’ with its unscriptural practices and denials of the truth.”
- William MacDonald: “It certainly refers to the marriage relationship. A Christian should not marry an unsaved person…In addition to this, it refers to business. A Christian should not go into partnership with one who does not know the Lord. It applies clearly to secret orders and fraternities. How could one who is faithful to Christ consistently go on in an association where the name of the Lord Jesus is unwelcome? Its application to social life would be as follows: A Christian should maintain contact with the unsaved in an effort to win them to Christ, but he should never engage in their sinful pleasures or in any of their activities in such a way as to lead them to think he is no different than they. Then this section would also apply to religious matters. A faithful follower of Christ would not want to hold membership in a church where unbelievers were knowingly admitted as members.”
- Merrill Unger: “Separation is not from contact with evil in the world, but from complicity with it and conformity to it.”
- Oliver B. Greene: “Many commentators apply this command to marriage in particular, pointing out that a believer should not marry an unbeliever. But I do not interpret Paul’s instruction here as having to do with marriage only. It includes many things besides the martial relationship. It extends to all things which would be detrimental to a believer’s testimony — business, pleasure, marriage, religion, or whatever.
- Charles Ryrie: “This injunction applies to marriage, business, and to ecclesiastical and intimate personal relationships.”
And so, by defining the term “unequal yolk” by way of these quotes, we are left with a workable starter’s list of alliances and relationships of which the Christian should beware. I don’t present this list as an end-all-be-all kind of thing, but it’s at least enough to get our minds thinking in the right direction. Therefore, I offer it not only as the conclusion to this post but also as a word of instruction to any Christian out there who sincerely wants to avoid unequal yokes.
- A Christian should not enter marriage with a lost person. Of course, sometimes such marriages come to pass as two lost people marry and one becomes a Christian sometime during the marriage. Also, sometimes Christians simply miss it in regards to who they should marry. In the case of any mixed marriage, God’s rules are laid out in 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.
- A Christian should not enter into what would be considered a binding, “hitched” business relationship with a lost person. It’s one thing for a Christian to buy some gas or eat a meal at a business that is owned by a lost person, but it’s quite another thing for that Christian to literally be a co-owner of that same gas station or restaurant. Somewhere down the line of business, that Christian will undoubtedly be forced to compromise his or her spiritual convictions in the name of profit.
- A Christian should not join any group that requires some type of special initiation if that group does not unashamedly proclaim the name Jesus Christ and adhere to His standards of personal holiness. College fraternities and sororities that major on drinking and premarital sex are unequal yokes for the Christian. The same thing can be said of Masonic lodges and other societies that meet in secret, engage in ritualistic ceremonies, seek divine wisdom apart from Jesus Christ, manipulate worldly power and influence for the purported purpose of doing good, and speak only of a “Supreme Being” or the “Great Architect of the Universe” as opposed to clearly naming the name of Jesus Christ.
- A Christian should not join or remain in a church or a denomination that has doctrinally compromised itself to the point of out-and-out heresy. The Christian should never feel at home anywhere (and that includes churches and denominations) where the plain teachings of the Bible are either casually ignored or blatantly contradicted.