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Question:

What does it mean to be “unequally yoked”? We generally hear this in the context of marriage but what does it really mean, and how does it apply to life in general?

Answer:

The primary verse in question is 2 Corinthians 6:14 and even though we hear this most often associated with marriage, the verse in context is not specifically about marriage:

2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (NKJV)

Since it is a direct command (“do not be…”) followed by some stark comparisons (righteousness vs. lawlessness; light vs. dark), we are compelled to fully understand it’s meaning and know how it applies to us today on a daily basis.

What Do Eggs Have to Do With It?

Despite my attempt at humor, it has nothing to do with eggs (spelled “yolk” if you’ve missed my lame joke).  Officially the definition of yoke is: stable gear that joins two draft animals at the neck so they can work together as a team.

The best way to define it is to show you what it is:

yoke

A yoke is a harness that ties to animals together so that their pulling strength is combined. In this arrangement, it could also be that one animal’s strength is doing the work for both, or helping the other.  This is more the context of Jesus’ words here:

Matthew 11:29-30 – 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.” (NKJV)

When we yoke ourselves to Christ, we harness ourselves into his plan, his power… he guarantees we have the necessary power required. We follow his direction. We are controlled by the same “driver”.

It is interesting to note that another definition of yoke is: an oppressive power. This makes Matthew 11:29 even more appropriate because the yoke of Jesus is the opposite of oppressive; it is empowering.  Consider this verse also, one of my favorite:

2 Peter 1:5 – But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, (NKJV)

“Giving all diligence” would be communicated today as “trying as hard as you possibly can”.  The picture here is that God requires our very best effort while we know that the real power and success comes from God. Together with Matt 11:29 you would have a principle that goes something like this:

“Yoke yourself to Jesus. You’ll still try with all your might, but the power of Christ guarantees your success as a  Christian. The burden is ‘light’ because we know that our effort is never in vain and God sees to every detail. The yoke is ‘easy’ because it only requires our childlike complete trust in the Lord.”

What a beautiful thought. No wonder there is rest for our souls when yoked to Christ.

Unequally Yoked With Unbelievers

What does that mean, “unequally yoked to unbelievers”? In context of 2Cor 6:14, it specifically means not to be tied together with the unsaved, the world, those who reject God in such a way as to be:

  • heading the same direction
  • trying to accomplish the same things
  • yoked to them instead of to Christ (they are more important)
  • depending on our power and theirs, instead of God
  • being controlled by what they are being controlled by (the oxen are reigned by the farmer)

Okay, that’s fine and dandy but what does that mean on a practical level to my everyday life? How can we apply it? Listing some examples will give you a better picture than if I just try to explain it.  But first, understand this… we have to live in this world. So being unyoked from the world does not mean we are to live in a cave. Consider Jesus and Paul’s words:

John 17:14 – I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (NKJV)

Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)

We are to live in this world, that is a foregone conclusion of human existence, but we are not to be OF this world embracing what unbelievers embrace… in other words, we don’t YOKE ourselves to the world. We live in among the world but we don’t harness ourselves to it.

The Christian must be able to discern the difference. What is being “part” of this world (but not yoked) versus being “of”this world (yoked to it)?  Some practical examples give us the clearest picture.

Practical Examples of Being Yoked

Example “in” the world (not yoked) “of” the world (yoked)
Marriage Married, but to a Believer
  • Married to an unbeliever
Business Employed at a business owned by unbelievers
  • Starting/Partnering/Owning a business with an unbeliever
Money Earning income not specifically doing “Christian” work or selling “Christian” products to believers or unbelievers
  • Earning income that promotes something sinful such as a Internet porn or a money-making “gimmick”
  • you could be unequally yoked to a business system or monetary philosophy that does not glorify God
Sex Enjoying sex within marriage
  • Enjoying sex outside of marriage and having the world’s view of it
  • you could be unequally yoked to someone who does not hold to God’s standard of purity
Parenting Parenting children, school choices, electronic games, activities that may or may not be specifically “Christian” (ie. football or public school)
  • Raising your kids by the world’s standards of status, entertainment and priorities (ie. popularity, fads, materialism, etc);
  • you could be unequally yoked to a worldly standard of parenting that disagrees with or confuses Scripture
Self Improvement Exercise, education and achievement that enhances your ability to live and demonstrate the Christian life
  • Exercise, education and achievement for personal glory, adoration, increased status and to fulfill the desires of the flesh
  • you could be unequally yoked to a humanistic system of self improvement or to a person who teaches self improvement with no understanding of God
Time Spending your time in activities other than “church” or Christian service such as sports, hobbies, leisure always keeping in mind that we are to be good stewards of the time God has allowed us
  • Spending your time impulsively or selfishly on whatever you feel like doing, believing it is YOUR time to use as you please without regard to God
  • you could be unequally yoked to a goal, hobby or activity that also consumes the time you should set aside for God
Goals Having a goal that is not specifically “Christian” such as owning a nicer home or being a good golfer
  • Having those goals for the wrong reason; wanting a nicer home to show off how “successful” you are, or being a good golfer to the extent it monopolizes your time for God and family
  • you could be unequally yoked to a worldly goal that causes your Christian walk to suffer or keeps you from growing spiritually
Focus You could be focused on something of this world such as sports or education without letting it compromise your Christian walk.
  • Focusing on something of this world that is either unGodly or pulls you away from God
  • you could be unequally yoked to a sport, a leisure activity or a business that requires you neglect God in order to achieve success in it.

It is important for us to understand what this means to be “unequally yoked with unbelievers”. We must continually evaluate our life to make sure we are not “unequally yoked” in any way. Why?

2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (NKJV; emphasis mine)

To be unequally yoked with the world is to mix opposites to our own detriment. Light and dark cannot coexist together in cooperation. Good and evil cannot walk hand in hand.  Mixing opposite or contentious elements will cause us to stumble, be deceived, stagnate and waste resources (time, emotion, energy, money, etc).

To put Paul’s words (“For what fellowship has..”) in modern language we might say “Are you nuts? Do you want to cause a bunch of unnecessary hardship and trouble in your life? Do you want to make your Christian walk hard, or even impossible?”

Remember, God’s “rules” are not constraining or kill-joy. The Creator gave us an Instruction Manual because He loves us and knows how we should operate to have the greatest success, fulfillment, joy and blessing in this life.  He tells us not to be unequally yoked… that is not a way to rob us of choices, but to direct us to the most rewarding ones.

What are your questions about living the Christian life?

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