Today’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 6
In today’s chapter, Paul introduces us to a very important word, yoke. Listen to what Paul warns about it:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, TNIV)
This principle was familiar in this agricultural culture. Listen to what the Old Testament said about a yoke: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10).
A yoke is a crossbar with two U-shaped pieces that encircle the necks of a pair of work animals that force them to work together as a team. It was essential to put together in it two of the same animals in size and species, like two oxen or two donkeys. You could not yoke two different animals like an ox and a donkey, because they were not like-minded and had different strengths. Both animals had to be the same so they could drive forward as one.
In today’s passage, Paul switches to putting different things inside the yoke—the believer and the unbeliever, because this is important for a successful future. Another way to define a yoke is it means to be stuck together for the journey. You are in a relationship through a device that says you can’t go where you want any longer.
Paul warns against being yoked with an unbeliever, someone who has not made Jesus Christ the Lord of their life. What kind of relationship could Paul be referring to? I believe this is true in dating and marriage. Yoked together has the idea of a long-term relationship, one that can’t be easily exited from—it can be in business, marriage, investment, partnerships. And Paul is warning us that to be unequally yoked with someone who does not let the Word of God have the final say in their life is a train wreck waiting to happen.
Paul adds four questions to this argument:
What do you have in common?
What harmony can there be?
Is there any agreement between you?
What kind of fellowship?
These are the four key words of being yoked to the unbeliever.
Let’s be practical for a moment. Remember we are dealing with believers in Jesus and unbelievers getting stuck in a long-term relationship, which cannot be terminated easily. In a dating relationship, the believer wants to wait to have sex in the context of marriage, while the unbeliever does not see a reason to wait. In a business deal, the believer may have ethical standards based on doing things with honesty and integrity, whereas an unbeliever sees the bottom line as the reason for doing something regardless of what they have to do to make money. In a marriage, how does a believer and an unbeliever raise their children? There is a conflict of values.
Paul is in no way saying we aren’t to have contact with people who don’t believe in Jesus. He is speaking specifically to the yoke—to a relationship in which you are stuck together, going somewhere together, but you have two different types of species in the yoke—one who says, “Jesus is Lord,” while the other says, “I am in charge of me.”
We live with people who don’t believe in the resurrected Jesus, go to school with them, see them at our children’s events, sit with them at football games. Those are not yokes. Having lunch, getting ice cream, doing dinner with a couple who are not Christians—that isn’t a yoke.
When I do things with unbelievers, I am not thinking fellowship, I am thinking ministry. I am thinking I want them to know about the greatest Person in the universe who loves them so much. It may take some time to introduce Jesus, but when the focus is ministry and not fellowship, then I look for opportunities. It’s about distinguishing between fellowship and ministry.
My job with unbelievers is not to be yoked with unbelievers, but I want to find a way to get them ready for heaven. As J. C. Ryle said, “The highest form of selfishness is that of the man who is content to go to heaven alone.” Let’s take a bunch of people with us today. But until they become believers, let’s not yoke ourselves with them.