Paul’s words, through the Holy Spirit, today speak of two sharing a burden or path in life. Many have used this passage to reference a believer and an non-believer marrying one another. That is not the entirety of his meaning.
Those of us who aren’t farmers have a harder time with the concept of “unequally yoked.” A yoke is an apparatus that binds two animals together to share a job that is too difficult for one animal alone. This works best when the animals are of the same type, general size, temperament and training. The burden of work is equally shared between the two like animals and is easily accomplished.
When two dissimilar animals are yoked together several things can happen. When there is a training difference, the inexperienced animal lags behind in understanding the required task. This is the easiest unequal yoking to address. This is also a preferred method of training an inexperienced animal but the more experienced animal and the task suffers until the second animal learns its role.
If there is a size difference, one animal is carrying more of the responsibility for the task. One is working harder than the other causing undue stress on the larger animal.
Temperament inequality can be very challenging. Imagine the trouble one would face in asking a stubborn donkey to work alongside a gentle one. If one is unwilling to work the other, no matter how willing, is rendered useless. The task is at the mercy of the whim of the stubborn animal.
The most familiar unequal yoking is probably the mismatch of type of animals. A donkey and a camel may both be beasts of burden but they don’t share much more. They don’t think the same way, act the same way, or even use their body’s resources the same way. The weaker of the two would dictate the work of the team. The stronger or larger one would also be carrying the larger burden of the task.
None of these parings are ideal for the farmer. All of them present problems he will have to overcome. So most farmers will wisely choose to avoid such a situation.
Paul’s message here was not directly addressing marriage when using this concept but that paring does fall under its purview. Paul was more likely addressing the division in the believers that was plaguing the Corinthian church. Those that were still refusing to follow the correction given to them earlier were being assumed to not truly be believers. Paul was telling those who were listening that it was time to separate from them.
Paul was NOT telling them to not love them and pray for them though. We are to continue to do the same for those who are nonbelievers. But we are to be separate.
So what does that look like? If you have been in the church for any length of time, you already understand this command to mean that believers and non-believers should not date or marry. Solomon’s story alone should bring this concept home to you. The wisest man ever was led astray by wives who didn’t share his belief system. Solomon let his “love” for the women corrupt all of Israel.
Another separation should be in business. I’m not saying a believer should only shop in business owned by other believers but going into business with non-believers can take you into areas you shouldn’t be going. In business, both partners have a say in the direction and basic philosophy of the company. When one partner thinks nothing of lying to get what he wants, the other partner’s reputation suffers along with it.
The church body is Paul’s original intended focus. We have so many different religions and denominations today that it would probably make Paul’s head spin. I don’t believe Paul was referencing some of the smaller differences, like musical instruments in the church or how baptism is conducted, but the foundational truths instead. The foundation of Jesus as the only way into Heaven. Or Jesus as the Son of God. And eternity in Heaven or Hell. These foundational pieces will and should separate us. Do not join yourself to others who do not share Jesus as their Lord and Savior. No matter how “nondenominational” the church is, if the foundation is not Jesus, RUN the other way.
Can God redeem the mismatched yoked couple? Does God still bless endeavors where one isn’t a believer? Can a believing spouse lead a non-believing one to Jesus? The answer is yes to all these questions. BUT it is more likely that the non-believing one can lead the believer into compromising his belief instead. Take a lesson from Solomon and don’t go down his path.
Father God, I need to take Paul’s advice here. I’m referencing business dealings in particular. I don’t know the hearts of all men like You do but I haven’t been diligent in looking either. Does this include believers working under non-believers? I have been fairly blessed in that respect over the years and am thankful for those jobs. I definitely saw a difference in relationships on the job when You were present in both lives.
As for my spouses, I believed the first when he professed to have given his heart to You but his behavior over the years didn’t match up with it. At the time I was more in love with the idea of being in love that I didn’t question or really even look very closely. Thank You for Your grace regarding that relationship. Thank You for bringing me together with a truly believing man.
Remind me again of this lesson Lord when I look for future endeavors. Please forgive me for forgetting this lesson and protect me in my current ventures. Let me be a witness for You instead of being swayed by the others.