Today I want to examine a scripture that is sometimes not read or obeyed as fully in context as it should be. I would say the majority of Christians are familiar with the version of 2 Corinthians 6:14 which says:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
First of all, what does “yoked” mean? A yoke is a primitive piece of farm equipment, which is basically a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals, such as oxen, are joined at the heads or necks for working together. Let’s break down the verse
*Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.
To be yoked with another person means to be bound to them in a partnership that is working toward the same end goal. Some other translations word it in different ways. They say of relationships between Christians and unbelievers: Do not be bound to them, Do not be mismatched with them, Do not become partners with them, even Do not come into close association with them.
Typically, I have most often heard this verse used in the context of dating or marrying an unbeliever. Since marriage is the most binding of all relationships, it certainly applies. And since dating is what leads to marriage, it is imperative that a Christian not even entertain entering into a romantic relationship with a non-believer, even a casual dating scenario.
( The appropriateness of casual dating is another subject for another time. )
However, marriage is not the only type of relationship in which we are to avoid ungodly entanglements. We should also steer clear of business partnerships and even meaningful friendships with those who do not share our faith. Why?
*For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?
Any meaningful relationship is a partnership of sorts. Marriages, business partnerships, and friendships, should have a common belief system as a foundation. Any time a relationship is formed with an unbeliever, there is an automatic inner turmoil that must, because of opposing core foundations, ultimately give rise to conflict. In business, ultimately, an unbeliever will be more easily bent toward corruption or dishonesty. To partner with such a person could lead the Christian to financial ruin or even facing the temptation of breaking the law. It’s hard enough for Christians to be in business partnership together with integrity remaining intact when there is money involved.
I have never known a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever to be one of complete harmony and peace. In fact it is quite the opposite. The lack of common faith is most always for the believing spouse a point of grief, worry, pain, and tumult. Fundamentally the hearts of the two involved in relationship are at war. One partner is bound to righteousness, the other to lawlessness. These two worldviews are not compatible. There can be love, but it can never be fully realized when one of the two has no fellowship with Christ.
*Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
The Greek word Koinonia means Christian fellowship or communion with God, or more commonly, with fellow Christians. There is a fellowship between Christians that is not possible with non-Christians. Have you ever met someone and almost instantly recognized that they are a believer? Or felt an immediate connection to a fellow Christian when you meet them in a crowded room? This is koinonia! Two hearts that are bound to Christ are also bound to each other in common fellowship. What a sad scenario to find ourselves in a marriage or a friendship where this kind of kinship cannot exist! But we can’t have this depth of meaningful spiritual connection with unbelievers. Ultimately light and darkness have no part with each other. We can have no koinonia with those who are not professors of Christ. We don’t share a common bond and there is no unity between those who live in light and those who live in darkness. We either live for Christ or we live for the world. Period. Non-believers can be nice people. They can do good things. But at the end of the day, unbelievers are slaves to sin (John 8:34), and Christians are slaves to God (1 Corinthians 7:22). Some will ask, “So does this mean that I can’t have friends who aren’t saved?”. In a manner of speaking, YES, this is what it means. As human beings alive here on earth, we cannot avoid relationships with the unsaved. We will always have lost people in our lives, be they co-workers, classmates, postal workers, car repairmen, or our hair stylist. So yes, we will always be in positions to have associations with unbelievers. And it’s ok to associate and even be friendly with them on a surface level. However, any connections we have with unbelievers should always have the end goal of sharing the gospel with them and seeing them converted to Christ. That may never happen. Therefore, those relationships can never be koinonia relationships. For Christians, koinonia relationships are our deep friendships, those we are connected with at the innermost, deepest level of fellowship. The fellowship of believers. The oxen who are connected at the head, working together, going where the other goes with the goal of accomplishing a common task. We CANNOT have this kinship with those who live in darkness. It is impossible. There will ALWAYS be a constant struggle, each pulling against the other in the direction that is within them to go. Imagine two oxen fighting against each other when trying to plow a straight line in the field. It would be a mess. Therefore, this is why “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” isn’t a suggestion. It’s a command. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says “Bad company corrupts good character.”. My parents always said that bad friendships will always pull you away from God, not the other way around.
If your friends are partying at the lake on the weekends, if your business partner is trying to find shady ways to get around paying taxes, if your romantic interest is pulling you away from church rather than toward it, you MUST re-evaluate these relationships and find a way to end them, or at the very least, pull away enough to keep the relationship civil without allowing it to remain the same. Share the good news with them and hopefully Christ will save them. But if not, you cannot carry on in an ungodly partnership with darkness.
*NOTE: I am NOT saying that if you are married to an unbeliever you must divorce them. 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 says the opposite:
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband…
Instead, pray for their salvation and live a life that exemplifies Christ so that the unbelieving spouse may see something different in you than what they see in the world.
Another thing worth quickly mentioning is relationships within families. We are born into the families we are born into. This will likely mean our family dynamic will include non-believers. Are we to cut ties with them? I believe the same standard must be met even with relatives. We are certainly to love them and care for them. But there is still going to be an internal disconnect. We can keep a friendly discourse. We can still enjoy family memories and holidays together. But I would steer clear of being “best buddies” with non-believing family members. Any close relationship must be built upon our common faith, or in pursuit of our family member coming to faith.
This verse can tend to be one that Christians try to find a way around obeying because they may have unsaved friends or be in a romantic relationship with an unbeliever. Ending a friendship WILL be uncomfortable. But our utmost goal must be to remain in obedience to God, not live in rebellion because it might be hard to give up certain friends.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.’” John 14:23
God’s commands are for our good. Not to rain on our parade or ruin our fun. A Christian who is bound to unbelievers in ungodly relationships will within himself know he is in conflict with God. There is no greater joy for the Christian than the peace of being in a koinonia fellowship with God, and with our fellow workers for Christ, striving for God to be glorified within godly friendships and marriages. This is good. This is the will of God.