By Paul Williams
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14, NASB) In the margin of the NASB there is a note concerning the words “bound together” which states, “Lit., unequally yoked,” and this is how the phrase is translated in the King James Version.
This verse does not mean that a person married to an unbeliever is sinning by being married to him. This is clear from what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:12-13: “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away.” Paul’s instructions to the one unequally yoked to an unbeliever are: “Therefore, ‘come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:17) If one is unequally yoked to an unbeliever, one must come out from that yoke and be separate; however a believer yoked to an unbeliever in marriage is to remain in that marriage if the unbeliever is content to allow the marriage to continue. Therefore, being married to an unbeliever is not, in itself the unequal yoke Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 7:14.
However, marriage to an unbeliever can become an unequal yoke. This is what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 7:15: “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” Under certain circumstances a Christian married to an unbeliever must choose not to continue in that marriage. This happens when the marriage is an unequal yoke.
I know a young woman who is planning to marry a man who opposes the church of the Lord and has told her that he will not allow her to go to church after they are married. If she marries him she will have entered into a yoke which will require her to do evil in order to stay married. If she marries the man under these circumstances she will be rebelling against God. If after she marries she repents of her sin, and the man will not change his opposition to the Lord, she will have to insist on going to church even if it means he leaves her. Following Christ is more important than keeping a marriage together!
In Columbus, Ohio I called on a member of the church who had not attended services in the years she had lived in that city. She explained that she was married to a Roman Catholic. He insisted that the children be reared as Catholics and did not want her to go to church. She explained to me that since it was important for her to obey her husband she was sending the children to a Catholic school and not going to church herself. That woman was doing evil in order to obey her husband even though the apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) What she should have done was to choose to obey God. If her husband would not then allow her to live with him, she should have “let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (I Cor. 7:15).
Therefore 2 Corinthians 6:14 applies to marriage just as it does to any other relationship. When a Christian is forced to do evil in order to keep any relationship from breaking up that Christian is unequally yoked, and if a Christian is unequally yoked he or she must come out of that relation-ship. If you have to lie in order to keep your job, you must refuse to lie and must let your boss fire you. If your parents command you to do wrong, you must refuse even if they disown you. If your husband demands that you not follow Christ, you must follow Christ even if he divorces you.
I knew a woman in Columbus, Ohio who was fired when she refused to give to the Community Chest. I know a young man in South Africa who refused to lie for his boss over the telephone and was fired on the spot. I know a number of young people who have had to leave home because their parents will not let them stay at home unless they worship ancestors. A young girl had to leave her mother because her mother insisted that the girl commit fornication with a certain man. These Christians obeyed God rather than man and came out from unequal yokes. Working for a boss is not an unequal yoke unless it causes you to do wrong in order to keep the job. Having parents does not cause an unequal yoke unless the parents insist that the child does evil. Marriage is not an unequal yoke unless one partner insists that the other disobey God. But when any relationship becomes an unequal yoke, the believer must obey God rather than man even if obeying God destroys a precious relationship.
Paul wrote, “the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15) The woman who obeyed her Roman Catholic husband by sending her children to Catholic schools and staying home from church misunderstood the nature of her bondage to her husband. We are not under bondage to anyone that we should sin. We have never been under such bondage. Even in marriage we are not under bondage to keep the marriage together at the price of sinning against God.
But don’t read more into what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 7:15 than what he actually wrote. The verse does not say that the believer is free to remarry if the unbeliever departs. The only thing Paul says is that the believer must not feel guilty if, by following the Lord, he or she causes the unbeliever to leave. Paul already told the Corinthians what the divorced person must do. “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away” (1 Cor. 7:10-71). The only time a divorced person has the right to remarry is when the person divorces his or her mate for the cause of fornication (Matt. 19:9). All other divorced persons do not have the right to remarry and must “remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.”
How careful we should be, therefore, when we plan to get married. We must understand thoroughly that no matter what happens we must obey God. If this leads to trouble in the marriage, we have no choice. God must come first. Therefore we should be as careful as we can be to marry one who will assist us in obeying God, not to hinder us. It is sinful foolishness to think that love will overcome all obstacles. If you marry an obstinate unbeliever, you are either going to disobey God or be left by the unbeliever. Be as sure as you can. Don’t enter into the yoke of marriage if there is the likelihood that it will become an unequal yoke.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: No 19, p. 20-21
October 7, 1993