On Yokes and Inequality.

I received a wedding invitation lately, one which did not elicit an immediate ‘yes’.  My Christian friend was marrying someone outside the faith.  I was already wary of the relationship when I first found out.  My friend lives overseas and I hadn’t had the chance to speak to her about it.  Now, a year later, she has agreed to bind her heart to a man who doesn’t believe in the things she believes in.  This bothers me, but is not uncommon.

The subject of being ‘unequally yoked’ has been cropping up a lot more often in my conversations.  I have friends who are married / marrying / considering marriage to someone of a different faith.  Then are those who were in a relationship / considering a relationship with someone who does not subscribe to the same doctrine.  So many people have weighed in on the subject, but I want to tackle it in light of waiting on the Lord.  I find that when we’ve been waiting for what seems like an inordinate amount of time, we start to bend the rules or make exceptions.  In such cases, more than anything, I believe it is a question of having faith in – and knowing with certainty – God’s plan.

While we may not know the Lord’s specific will for us, we can always lean on our knowledge of His general will through His word.

Let me start with the verse that often gets used (or misused) in this issue – 2 Corinthians 6:14. Two key words in this verse are unequally yoked.  Question # 1 – do we understand what yoked means?

Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines yoke as to place under severe bondage, affliction or subjection (Old tTestament) or under servitude (New Testament). Once in a while it refers to oxen (either as a collective noun or as an object used for farming). Yoked as a verb (past tense) shows up five times in the English Standard Version Bible. Three out of five it refers to affiliating oneself with a certain belief system or being. (Numbers 25:3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.) The other instance was used in reference to cattle (1 Samuel 6:10), and the final reference was – you guessed it – 2 Corinthians 6:14.

Let’s now see what Oxford Dictionary says –

yoke, verb [ with obj. ]

  • put a yoke on (a pair of animals); couple or attach with or to a yoke: a plough drawn by a camel and donkey yoked together.
  • cause (two people or things) to be joined in a close relationship: Hong Kong’s dollar has been yoked to America’s.

Aha. Now this is getting interesting.

Question #1.a – how does a yoke work?  Two cows yoked together can only walk in the same direction. If they don’t, they either tire themselves out pulling against each other, or the weaker one gives in and follows the stronger one.  In farming, sometimes an older, experienced cow is yoked to a younger, previously unyoked cow.  The older (and stronger) leads the younger, and takes a greater share of the burden.

Question #2 – what does the author (Paul the apostle) mean by unequal?  I am no Bible scholar, and I don’t know the original language used.  But looking at verse in context, I believe Paul was simply pointing out potential conflicts that could arise from differences in belief systems.  Looking further to verse 15 –

What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

The use of portion in the Bible often refers to promise or inheritance, what has been set aside for the future (or in our case, eternity).  It is spoken with sacredness, as being set apart, which is also the translation for holiness.  As Christians, our promise is a glorious eternity in communion with God on the new earth (heaven), because we have claimed our salvation through Jesus Christ.  That is what makes us believers.  Conversely, a rejection of God’s grace makes one an unbeliever, and denies that person the promise of heaven.  In verse 15, the the verb that comes between believer and unbeliever is share.  Paul is saying  – if the promises we claim can’t be shared with an unbeliever, how then can they understand the hope that we have?  How can we relate on the deepest spiritual level, if they don’t share our views of eternity?

So – back to relationships.  Whilst 2 Cor 6:14 doesn’t specifically refer to marriage, it applies to human connections in general.  It is not to say that we should discriminate against unbelievers and isolate ourselves from them.  Instead, we are to carefully weigh our relationships with respect to our personal walk with God. The principle is to be yoked – or connected – with people who will not pull you in a different direction from where God intends you to go.  Why?   Refer to Question #1.a.  As much as we’d like to think we’re stronger, you need to admit that the world is far, far better at influencing how we act, instead of the other way around.

There are constant reminders in the Old Testament against marrying people who worship other  gods.  Often it is followed by the consequence – marrying outside of Israel will cause God’s people to turn their hearts away from Him.  This was how King Solomon strayed in his old age.  On the other hand, there are non-Jewish women who take honoured places in the Bible.  Tamar, Rahab and Ruth were examples of how genuine faith transforms people and makes them co-inheritors in the promise of eternal life.  These women, though Gentile, believed in the God of Israel and were considered righteous.  In the case of Solomon as with the women, God was focused on the heart – whether they turned to him or away from him.  

A recent conversation with another Christian friend revealed her grief over being spiritually stagnant, partly as a result of her marriage.  She had married her college sweetheart, who ascribes to a different doctrine of faith.  She expressed her longing for spiritual nourishment, and her desire for the husband to be the spiritual leader in the household. Whilst they had a Christian wedding (Anglican – but we’ll not split hairs about that), she still has doubts about her husband’s salvation.  I can only imagine how that breaks her heart.  She has no assurance that her husband shares in the promise of heaven.  Meanwhile, she yearns to experience God again on earth, but circumstances pull her away.

God’s will is for us to draw ever closer to Him.  So if you are tempted to consider a significant relationship that may go in the opposite direction – perhaps you should take a step back.  Remember, God only wants what’s best for you.  We may not always agree with His definition of ‘best’, but we can put our faith to work by surrendering our will to His.  God can move mountains; if your heart is pure, He will surely address your longings and ease your pain.  So don’t rush and settle for a less than ideal match.  Continue to wait on the Lord.  Gradually, the act of waiting – in and of itself – becomes a blessing.

For those who wish to explore this subject further, I’ve collected a few links for you.

On Honouring God in Marriage (The Gospel Coalition)
On Dating Someone with a Different Theology (Desiring God)
On Sin and Dating Non-Christians (Desiring God)

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