God Wants More For You. So Do We.

What Does it Mean to be Unequally Yoked?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 40

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, everybody, welcome back. We’re here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, what does it mean to be unequally yoked? And that’s a good question. This is another one of those questions where you might be tempted to tune out or you might be tempted to turn this episode off and just wait for another question because you assume that you already know the answer to this question. But I’m going to encourage you to just bear with me and keep listening because you might actually be surprised.

You see, most people, when they hear the phrase unequally yoked, they immediately think it refers to mixed marriages, that is, marriages between believers and unbelievers. Therefore, they believe that the command, do not be unequally yoked, means that Christians should not mix and not marry non-Christians. But is that what this is actually referring to? That’s what we’re here to find out today. So as always, we have to turn to scripture and see what the Word of God has to say about this issue. This phrase occurs in 2 Corinthians chapter 6 in verse 14. The full verse reads, do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness or what fellowship has light with darkness. Now admittedly, on the surface, I can see why many people would believe that this is talking about marriage. This verse on its own reads as though Paul is warning believers against entering into marriages with unbelievers. But as I always say, context is king. And so, if we want to know what this verse means, we have to understand the context of this verse. Specifically, we need to understand the historical context of 2 Corinthians or its occasion, basically why Paul wrote the letter in the first place. And we need to understand the literary context, meaning what is Paul talking about in the surrounding passages of this verse? Because when we understand those contexts, we can understand what this verse is actually communicating. So, let’s start by first considering the historical context or the occasion of this letter. What’s going on in the church in Corinth at the time Paul’s writing this letter? Why did he write it in the first place? Most scholars believe that Paul most likely wrote 2 Corinthians during his third missionary journey. He was in Macedonia at the time of writing and he was actually on his way to Corinth. But as he is on his way, he sends a delegation of believers ahead of him. But that’s because Paul had already sent another letter to the Corinthians that we don’t actually have any more today. And in that letter, he wrote some pretty hard stuff. He was calling them out on a bunch of sin and he didn’t really know how they were going to receive that letter. And so, he sent people ahead of him to find out how they had received the letter. And to his great joy, Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians chapter 7 verses 6 through 7 that Titus brought back good news to him of the Corinthians’ penitence.

Basically, though the things Paul had mentioned in the letter were hard for them to hear, by God’s grace, they had actually responded with repentance. And so, Paul is joyful about how they’ve responded to the letter, but there was still a problem. You see, Paul’s ministry was not outwardly impressive to others. He actually spends the entirety of 2 Corinthians chapter 11 talking about this. His ministry was not a showy, impressive ministry. He even admits that he isn’t the best public speaker. In some false apostles, whom Paul sarcastically refers to as quote unquote, super apostles, they rose up in Corinth and they were trying to lead the Corinthian believers astray. They were making fun of Paul and putting him down and his ministry down, and they were encouraging the Corinthians to reject Paul and follow them instead. Because they had a flashy, outwardly impressive ministry. And so, they were basically saying, okay, who do you want to follow? Do you want to follow this guy who is not even good at public speaking? He doesn’t have an impressive ministry? Or do you want to follow us? Because look how flashy and impressive our ministry is. Look how great we are at speaking. And these, again, quote unquote, super apostles, they were teaching a different Jesus and a different gospel than the true gospel. And so consequently they were leading many of the Corinthian believers astray. Paul even goes on in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 to say that this should not surprise us because Satan and his demons, they often masquerade as angels of light. And so that is the historical context of this letter. That is the occasion that brought about Paul’s writing of 2 Corinthians. And this leads us directly into the literary context.

Since these false apostles were leading people astray, Paul spends the first few chapters of 2 Corinthians explaining the nature of true faith and what it looks like to follow Jesus. He says it isn’t impressive or flashy to follow Jesus. It’s a life of sacrifice and suffering and hardships. He even goes on to explain in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 that as Christians, we are ambassadors for Christ here on earth and that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, he begins chapter 6 by encouraging believers to go forth boldly with the gospel because he says today is the day of salvation. He encourages believers to keep this high calling of being an ambassador for Christ in mind as we face the sufferings and hardships that we are sure to face in this life as Christians. He’s essentially saying you’ve got this great calling. Yes, life is going to be hard. There are going to be oppositions. There are going to be people who are opposed to you and your ministry, but keep pressing forward in the faith. Keep pressing forward with gospel proclamation. And this leads directly into the command not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. But what comes after that verse?

This is what we need to understand. It’s not just that verse. We cannot rip that verse out of its context. We need to understand what comes after that command. So, this is the full passage, 2 Corinthians chapter 6 verses 14 through 18. The Bible says, do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. 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? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said, I will make my dwelling with them and walk among them and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing. Then I will welcome you and I will be a father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty. Now, as you can tell, Paul is contrasting righteousness with lawlessness or holiness with sinfulness. And he’s saying that the two do not go together at all and they cannot be in cooperation with each other. In that passage, in fact, he quotes Leviticus 26 and Isaiah 52 at length in order to demonstrate that because God is holy and because he dwells with his people and because God himself has nothing to do with darkness or sinfulness, God’s people should also have nothing to do with darkness or sinfulness either. He literally says that we are to go out from their midst and be separate from them, meaning that we are to be distinct from unbelievers and from those who propagate a false gospel and false teaching. There should be no partnership there at all. So given the historical and literary context of the command not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, the direct application for the Corinthians as well as for Christians today is to never join ourselves with or have partnership with those who propagate false teaching or preach a false gospel. Essentially, he’s saying not to join yourselves to false teachers. For the Corinthians, he was saying y’all need to break away from the quote unquote super apostles. Y’all need to reject them in their teaching and not partner with them in their ministry.

For Christians today, the application is very much the same. Paul isn’t saying that we should never have anything to do with unbelievers because he had literally just said in 2 Corinthians 5 that we are to go to unbelievers as ambassadors for Christ. Rather, the application for us today is to reject false teaching and false teachers, to have no partnership with them, not to support them or promote them at all. For instance, we have a library at our church and I usually go through there every so often and get rid of any books that might be there that were written by false teachers. And I believe that to be in obedience to this command because I never want to promote false teachers. I never want someone from our church to go in there and see that book in our library and think, oh, this is someone that the pastor endorses and someone he trusts and agrees with what they’re saying. So, I’m going to pick up this book and I’m going to read it. I would never want to encourage our church to go to any conference that was put on by a false teacher like Joel Osteen or Kenneth Copeland or Joyce Meyer or any other false teacher. I would never let someone come and speak at our church who holds to any other gospel than the true gospel. I would never let a health and wealth speaker come and speak or someone who holds to open theism or literally any other heresy.

In fact, we can get even more practical in our application as Christians today. You see, I know people personally who are Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and there have been times when they have wanted to partner together in ministry because they believe, well, we’re all Christians. We all read the Bible. We all believe in Jesus. However, both Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to false doctrines and false gospels that do not accord with the biblical teaching. So, I have turned down their offers because we are not to partner together with those who claim to be of Christ while also holding to a false gospel or promoting a different Jesus than the one we read about in scripture. So, this command specifically prohibits Christians from partnering with false Christians in ministry efforts, from submitting to their false teaching and from promoting their false teaching. So, one final question on this topic, is it a legitimate application of this command not to marry unbelievers or have business partnerships with unbelievers? And I would actually say no, those are not appropriate applications of this command. Both of those things are discouraged in scripture and you have to go somewhere else to prove those points. But I would say that they are not legitimate applications of this command for at least two reasons.

First, the unbelievers mentioned here are not those who know that they are unbelievers and outwardly profess to be unbelievers. They are not those who claim to be unbelievers. The unbelievers that are referred to here are like the quote unquote super apostles who profess to be Christians while actually being unregenerate. They are those who believe themselves to be true Christians just like the Mormons do, just like the Jehovah’s Witnesses do, but they hold to a false gospel and false teaching and they promote a false Jesus. Second, the command specifically relates to partnership in ministry efforts. The Corinthians were submitting to the false teaching of the quote unquote super apostles and they were beginning to hold and promote the false teaching of those quote unquote super apostles. Therefore, Paul says not to be unequally yoked with them. The picture is of a team of oxen who would carry a yoke together. However, if you can imagine, imagine if one of the oxen was replaced by say something like a sheep, they would not be successful in carrying that load. They would be unequally yoked. Well, in the same way Paul is saying that Christians cannot possibly accomplish the will of God when they partner together with unbelievers because they are unequally yoked. They have two different aims, two different motives, two different purposes. And so, the command not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers means not to join together with false Christians in ministry efforts. Don’t submit to them or their teaching. Don’t promote them or their teaching and do not encourage others to do so either. For we are the temple of the living God and God dwells among us and he has nothing to do with darkness or sin.

So, I hope that you have learned something from this answer. I hope that you have found it helpful and as always, thanks for the question. I look forward to answering more in the future.