Unequally Yoked

Unequally Yoked

by Mike Riccardi

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
2 Corinthians 6:14, ESV

Over the past two weeks, we’ve been considering whom the faithful Christian minister may properly partner with in ministry. Two weeks ago we briefly surveyed the history of the ecumenical movement in order to vividly illustrate the terrible consequence of disobedience to Scripture on this matter. Last week we oriented ourselves to the key text I’m focusing on, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, considering the context in which it comes. I won’t rehash all of that here, so if you’ve missed it please click over to read those two introductory posts.

But today we come to consider the actual prohibition that Paul gives. It comes in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” Now, this term “to be unequally yoked with,” is a translation of the compound word heterozugeo, which is made up of the familiar term heteros—“different”—and the word zugos, which is the word for “yoke.” This is an agricultural image. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that a farmer would fasten over the necks of animals, which is then attached to a plow or a cart that animal would pull. There’s a double yoke, which sits on the necks of two animals as they plow side by side in the same direction. And the idea is: “Don’t get into a yoke with an animal that requires a different kind of yoke than you do,” or, “Don’t yoke together two different animals who are going to be pulling in two different directions.”

And the imagery that Paul draws from comes from the Old Testament. The only other time Scripture uses the term heterozugeo is as an adjective in the Greek translation of Leviticus 19:19, where God commands Israel: “You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together.” When set alongside the prohibitions to not mix seeds or mix fabrics, this command is seen clearly to prohibit the cross-breeding of animals of different kinds. If you translate the Septuagint literally into English, it says, “You shall not breed your cattle with an animal that uses another yoke.” The same concept is repeated in Deuteronomy 22:10: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” In other words, don’t put an ox and a donkey in the same yoke and expect them to pull that plow in a harmonious, cooperative way. They have different levels of strength, different manners of walking, and very different constitutions—the donkey, of course, being much more stubborn than the ox! These two different kinds of animals are a mismatched pair, and it would be impossible for them to plow together in an effective manner.

By using this imagery, Paul is saying the same thing about partnership between believers and unbelievers. Just as yoking together two fundamentally different kinds of animals will result in incongruity and discord, so also are believers and unbelievers two fundamentally different “breeds”—fundamentally different kinds of people. Any intimate association or spiritual partnership between them will eventually only result in dissonance and difficulty. Believers and unbelievers are moving in different directions; we live in two different worlds; we’re energized by different powers, and motivated by different passions. To partner them together and expect them to plow in the same direction is ludicrous, and will only end in spiritual disaster.


Not a Call to Isolation

Now, it’s important to state clearly what this call to separation from unbelievers does not mean. It does not mean isolationism. It does not mean that Christians are to cut off all contact between ourselves and the world, and retreat into monasticism and live as hermits in caves. It doesn’t mean that we withdraw from society into our little Christian bubble, where we live in a housing development or an apartment complex populated only by Christians, in a house that we bought from a Christian real estate agent, and drive a car that we bought from a Christian car dealer, a car that’s insured by a Christian insurance agent, a car in which we drive our kids to and from their Christian school, and only shop at a Christian grocery store, and on and on it goes. Not being unequally yoked with unbelievers doesn’t mean retreating into a Christian commune where you’re cut off from the world.

It can’t mean that, because the same Paul who wrote 2 Corinthians 6:14 wrote 1 Corinthians 5:9–11, where he anticipates this sort of misunderstanding. He says there, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous,” et cetera. More than anyone who’s ever lived, Paul has modeled the exact opposite kind of lifestyle. Paul was no monk! He traveled the known world, marching right into the middle of pagan society and depraved human culture, in order to preach the Gospel to every creature in obedience to the commission of Christ. This is the one who became all things to all men, so that he may by all means save some (1 Cor 9:22). The Lord Jesus taught us that we are the light of the world, Matthew 5:14, and no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. We are to let our light shine before men so that they glorify God who is at work within us.

And besides the obvious necessity of evangelism—engaging in the ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ—in 1 Corinthians 10:25, Paul assumes the Corinthians will shop in the marketplace where the rest of the unbelieving city shopped. And in 1 Corinthians 10:27he encourages believers to accept an unbeliever’s invitation to his home for dinner. So there is no sense in which the call to separation in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is a call to monasticism or isolation from the world.

What Does It Mean to Be “Yoked” Together?

So what is it then? Well, it’s not a geographical or spatial separation, but a spiritual and moral separation.

The most common application of this text is that Christians should not marry non-Christians. And while Paul isn’t thinking about marriage in this text, certainly the principle would apply to marriage. What more intimate of a spiritual partnership is there than marriage? If believers and unbelievers can’t do ministry together, certainly it’s asking for trouble to bear the common yoke of marriage together. That doesn’t mean Christians ought to divorce their unsaved spouse (1 Cor 7:12–14), but it does mean that no Christian can enter into marriage unless his spouse is “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39).

So, while this call to separation applies to marriage, its most primary application is to partnership in worship and ministry. No Christian is to take up common spiritual cause with a non-Christian—even a non-Christian who calls themselves a Christian, but who denies their profession by their life or their doctrine.

There can be no commingling of worship or of ministry among genuine regenerate Christians and false converts. Believers cannot take part in a worship service of an apostate church—such as a Kingdom Hall meeting, or a Roman Catholic mass, or an Eastern Orthodox liturgy. A true believer cannot stand together with an unbeliever in any form of evangelistic ministry. And they certainly cannot pray together. This is the primary application of this command.

John MacArthur comments,

“[Satan] does not want to fight the church; He wants to join it. When he comes againstthe church, it grows stronger: ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ When he joins the church, it grows weaker. And undiscerning believers think that’s an evangelistic strategy and embrace it. What folly. It’s not an evangelistic strategy, it’s slow suicide.

“Truth and error cannot go together.  They are opposite in nature; they are pulling in opposite directions; they are headed toward opposite goals; they are motivated by opposite desires, and they’re controlled by enemy leaders. We have to separate from non-Christians in every activity that has anything to do with the advancement of the gospel.  They can have no part, except to be on the receiving end of our evangelism.

“Undiscerning believers who join in a common spiritual cause with unbiblical forms of Christianity or other false religions open the door wide to satanic infiltration and forfeit the blessing of God. Further, embracing those heretical systems falsely reassures their followers that all is well between them and God, when actually they are headed for eternal damnation.”

And he’s absolutely right. The Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:29 that coming to Him in saving faith is to take His yoke upon us,” as He is our Master. But those who bear Christ’s yoke cannot share it with those who, in unbelief, refuse to take His yoke upon themselves. As one commentator put it, “Those who harness themselves together with unbelievers will soon find themselves plowing Satan’s fields” (Garland, 331). And we’ve seen that very thing take place throughout the history of the ecumenical movement.

But are Christians really that much different than non-Christians? Are we really two different breeds unable to bear the same yoke? After all, aren’t we both made in the image of God? Don’t we share a common human nature? Stay tuned. We’ll examine this issue next week.
 
Original post found here.


What should a believer’s relationship be to the Word of God?

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In Colossians 3.16, Paul says to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” This is Scripture, the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, the word of revelation He brought into the world. “Dwell” means “to live in” or “to be at home,” and “richly” may be more fully rendered “abundantly or extravagantly rich.” Scripture should permeate every aspect of the believer’s life and control every thought, word, and deed (Ps. 119.11; Matt. 13.9; Phil. 2.16; 2 Tim. 2.15).
This concept is parallel to being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5.18 since the results of each are the same. In Ephesians 5.18, the power and motivation for all the effects is the filling of the Holy Spirit; here it is the word richly dwelling. Those two realities are really one. The Holy Spirit fills the life controlled by His Word. This emphasizes that the filling of the Spirit is not some ecstatic or emotional experience, but a steady controlling of the life by obedience to the truth of God’s Word.

Read more…