Pastoral Perspectives

“Do not be unequally yoked…” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

Last Sunday I preached on Ezra 10:1-17 and have tried to address the issue of “Unequally yoked”. With the limited time allowed and not being able to interact in a worship setting, it is best that I give a little more input into this topic and not putting some of you on a guilt trip. Many of us struggle with what it means to be unequally yoked. Does it pertain to marrying or dating non-believers? Is Paul thinking of business partnerships? Is it in reference to spiritual matters only, or something else?

John MacArthur explains that in 2 Corinthians chapter 6, the apostle Paul is exhorting the Church in Corinth who were struggling greatly to make a clean break from the idolatrous and immoral lifestyle of their past. Though they had professed faith in Christ and become part of the church, some of them were still clinging to elements of their pagan religion. The lure of their former paganism, which permeated every aspect of life in Corinth, had proven hard to shake off. Today, are we not in the same dilemma as the Corinthians?

To make matters worse, the false teachers who had come to the Church in Corinth brought with them a quasi-Christian syncretism of gospel truth, Jewish legalism, and pagan mysticism. They were eager to stay connected to the Corinthians’ former behavior, to make themselves more popular and, thereby, more prosperous. (This was what happened to the Israelites who returned during Ezra’s time.) Hence Paul gave this mandate to separate.

2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul states, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Ronny Kurtz suggests Paul followed this imperative with a series of five questions to draw a contrast, saying,         

“For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?

Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

What accord has Christ with Belial?

Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

What agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

Kurtz writes that the image of a yoke draws to the mind an agricultural and farming metaphor. He states that “John Calvin’s interpretation of this passage was “to be yoked with unbelievers mean nothing less than to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, and to hold out the hand to them in token of agreement.” Simply, it is understood ‘”as a prohibition to partake in idolatrous and ungodly living and worship that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ and forsaking any partnerships that would encourage such evil.”

          In the context of separation, Macarthur writes: “The separation demanded here does not refer to refusing association with those who do not follow a certain set of rules for living the Christian life, as many legalistic Christians have advocated. It does not mean refusing to cooperate with those who teach the truth but do not agree with all the distinctives of one’s own theology or ministry style. Nor does separation mean retreating completely from the world into monasticism. And separating from unbelievers does not, as some at Corinth imagined, mean divorcing an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor. 7:12–13). Biblical separation certainly does not cancel the church’s responsibility to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).”

          As mentioned in my sermon, Paul drew his analogy from Deuteronomy 22:10 which warns against plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together. Perhaps this is because the donkey would struggle to pull the ox’s load and the ox could not go at the faster donkey’s pace. Those two animals do not have the same nature, gait, or strength. Therefore it would be impossible for such a mismatched pair to plow together effectively. Believers and unbelievers inhabit two opposing worlds. They view life from opposing perspectives. Consequently, relationships between believers and unbelievers are at best limited to the temporal and external. They may enjoy family ties, work at the same job, share in business relationships, live in the same community, experience the same hobbies and pastimes, and even agree on certain political and social issues. But on the spiritual level, believers and unbelievers live in two completely different worlds.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul is largely dealing with a disobedient church—the Corinthians— Paul is concerned that the Corinthian church is eager to partner with whatever apostle or teaching that seems to give them cultural esteem. The Corinthians desired vain success and worldly gain, if yoking themselves to a non-believing partner could deliver this promise, the Corinthians were interested. This imperative is also true for us today. The Church needs to be aware of the broader application of Paul’s instruction – so, while not marrying an unbeliever or potentially straying from an unbiblical business venture might be proper deductions of wisdom from this text. In doing so, may we be found not yoked to idols but to Christ. Putting aside whatever biases or questions you may have on this issue, Who you choose to marry will have a profound impact on your future. To be unequally yoked with unbelievers, then, is to be in a situation or relationship that binds you to the decisions and actions of people who have values and purposes incompatible with Jesus’ values and purposes. You probably would—and should—do all you can to avoid starting a relationship with those who would force you to act against your beliefs. It’s a choice you can’t take lightly — second only to your decision to follow Jesus. So we urge you to be cautious and prayerful. Be humble, and listen carefully to the advice of those who know and love you best. You won’t regret it.

For the imagery of “yoke” , Jesus tells us that we can avoid or lessen being unequally yoked together if we “… Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident missionary to SQ)

April 15, 2021