The unequal yoke: 2 Corinthians 6

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Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 5-9.

‘Do not form any relationship, whether temporary or permanent, with unbelievers that would lead to a compromise of Christian standards or jeopardize consistency of Christian witness’” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 359).

“Should I marry an unbeliever?”

The Bible never says directly, “don’t marry an unbeliever,” except for the Old Testament prohibition against Jews marrying unbelievers. There is no identical statement in the New Testament, but Paul says something similar when he commands the Corinthians to avoid being yoked together with unbelievers. We know who unbelievers are, but it’s less clear what Paul means by being yoked with them.

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 ? 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. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16

In agriculture, the yoke bound two oxen together to pull a plow or cart. It forced them to work together and move in the same direction. What is Paul’s yoke? It’s two or more parties binding themselves together to work together on some kind of enterprise. It’s an association that has some obligations which cannot be ended easily.

  • a legal agreement between parties
  • a partnership
  • a union
  • a mixing of money

Therefore a yoke might be a business partnership, marriage, political union, or even a spiritual project. The problem in all of these associations is that instead of pulling together in the same direction, the Christian and unbeliever may work against each other because of very different worldviews. There may be opposition to the Christian partner’s faith, or the believer could be forced to act against his Christian beliefs.

What isn’t a yoke? If the association can be ended easily, doesn’t involve any mixing of money, or doesn’t require the parties to work closely together, it isn’t a yoke.

  • Working as an employee isn’t a yoke because the employee can quit the job at any time. However, some say this can become a yoke if the employee is forced to do things he or she thinks are wrong.
  • Buying, selling, and trading aren’t a yoke because there is no ongoing cooperation. However, some would say that the buying or selling of immoral goods involves a yoke.
  • A contract such as a mortgage isn’t a yoke because there is no partnership work, but a mortgage that puts too much financial strain on a family or individual could put them in bondage.
  • Interacting with unbelievers socially isn’t a yoke. Both Paul and Jesus emphasized that we needed to remain engaged with the world in order to witness to the world.

The power of the yoke lies in combining the strength of the parties that are pulling together. When we take Christ’s yoke upon us, we gain all his strength to help accomplish our common goal. A Christian spouse can multiply the power of our work for the kingdom and our own sanctification. If we partner with unbelievers, we may find advantages in worldly pursuits, but not in spiritual purposes.

Paul did say that if believers were already married to an unbeliever, they should stay in the marriage if their spouse was willing. This has led some to say that there is no definite sin in marrying a non-Christian. But the thrust of Paul’s warning is that to do so would be a mistake. More than that, it means denying oneself the power that comes from working side by side with another believer.

A mature believer will want his or her spouse not just to profess some kind of creed or be willing to go to church. What they will want is not just a marriage that is minimally Christian, but a Christian marriage. And a Christian marriage is described in Ephesians five like this. Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. And husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. Now what this means is a Christian woman won’t just look for a man who has a cross tattooed on his shoulder, but a man who is ready to die daily in the sacrificial calling of leading a home. Love as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her. And a Christian man won’t just look for a woman who wears a cross around her neck, but is willing to die as she submits to his leadership in reliance upon Christ. Both husband and wife are engaged in constant self denial as they live out the beauty of the Christian marriage. – John Piper

Image by Jean on Flickr, CC by 2.o

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2 thoughts on “The unequal yoke: 2 Corinthians 6

  1. As you point out:

    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. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. 1 Corinthians 7:12–14

    Is not that the ultimate witness? Bound to each other in love, bringing our spouse to faith in Christ.

    Also we read:

    Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 Corinthians 6: 1

    Free will, cooperation with grace? Amen!

  2. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – The unequal yoke: 2 Corinthians 6 | ChristianBlessings

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