Believers Yoked With Unbelievers

By Johnny Stringer

The Old Testament forbade plowing with an ox and an ass yoked together. It also prohibited other mixtures, such as wool and linen in a garment (Deut. 22:9-11). The reasons for these regulations are not known.

Similarly, the New Testament forbids a type of mixing. For a believer to be yoked with an unbeliever is comparable to an ox being yoked with an ass; it is forbidden (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Unbelievers include not only those who openly deny belief in Christ, but also those whose faith is dead, not made perfect by obedience (Jas. 2:14-26). The term believer is used in the New Testament to denote those whose faith leads to obedience (Gal. 5:6; Acts 2:44; 4:32; 5:14). Believers are not to be yoked with unbelievers, but to come out and be separate (v. 17).

What This Does Not Mean

This passage does not mean that believers must not have any association or contact with unbelievers. Paul refutes such a notion in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10. Such a course would make it impossible to function as salt in the world (Matt. 5:13). We cannot properly influence those with whom we have no contact.

Some think this passage is forbidding the marriage of a believer with an unbeliever, but the marriage relationship is not under consideration. The kind of relationship spoken of in this passage is one that is to be severed (v. 17), but the marriage between a believer and an unbeliever is not to be severed (1 Cor. 7:12-13).

Some (though not all) of those who think the passage forbids marriage between believers and unbelievers have singled out marriage as the one relationship this passage forbids. But there is no reason to single out marriage. One might just as well say that the passage forbids all other relationships with unbelievers. This would mean the Christian could not be in the grocery business with an unbeliever, on a ball team with unbelievers, or in the Lion’s Club or P.T.A. with unbelievers. There is no reason to apply the passage to marriage and not to these other relationships.

The fact is, this passage does not mean that we cannot join with unbelievers in any kind of relationship. If it did, the passage would forbid marriage with unbelievers, but we have already seen that it does not. This passage is talking about the kind of relationship that is to be severed (v. 17); hence, it is not talking about marriage between a believer and an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-13).

What It Does Mean

The passage means that we are not to be associated with unbelievers in their ungodly activities; we are not to join them in the evil they do. This becomes clear as we consider the five rhetorical questions Paul asks. Through these questions he demonstrates the incompatibility of the righteous ways of the believer and the unrighteous ways of the unbeliever. The two ways of life cannot be mixed.

First, he asks what fellowship exists between righteousness and unrighteousness. Obviously, none. The righteous ways of the believer are not compatible with the unrighteous ways of the unbeliever. Hence, believers cannot join unbelievers in unrighteousness. This principle does not preclude joining unbelievers in such relationships as a ball team, the P.T.A., or marriage, so long as there is no unrighteousness involved.

Second, Paul asks what communion exists between light and darkness. Light and darkness are opposites. Walking in fight, therefore, precludes joining unbelievers in their acts of darkness.

Third, the apostle asks what concord Christ has with Belial (a word denoting worthlessness, which came to be used to designate the devil). Christ and the devil have nothing in common, so we cannot follow both. Hence, believers cannot follow Christ and also join with unbelievers in following the devil.

Fourth, Paul asks what the believer has in common with the unbeliever. Obviously, in secular things unbelievers and believers may have a number of things in common. They may work at the same plant, be loyal citizens of the same country, or belong to some of the same civic organizations because of certain common goals. But in views regarding God and spiritual matters, they have nothing in common. In these matters there can be no joint participation and sharing.

Fifth, Paul asks what agreement exists between the temple of God and idols. Since believers constitute God’s spiritual temple, we can have nothing to do with the idols worshipped by unbelievers. This includes such idols as money, popularity, and pleasure. We cannot join unbelievers in serving their gods.

Caution Is Required

Clearly, Paul is discussing the principle of joining with unbelievers in their evil ways. As we associate with unbelievers, and especially as we participate with them in certain relationships, we must be extremely cautious lest we permit them to lead us into evil.

It has happened to many in the marriage relationship. A believer married to an unbeliever can be faithful, but it is more difficult. I wish every believer who marries would marry a faithful Christian. Experience has proved it to be far more likely that the unbeliever will influence the believer away from the Lord than that the believer will influence the unbeliever to serve the Lord. There are difficulties for all of us in our efforts to remain faithful, and it seems most unwise to deliberately put oneself in a relationship which will make it even harder.

There are dangers in other relationships we enter into with unbelievers. One can let an unbelieving business partner lead him into dishonesty. One can permit unbelievers on a ball team to lead him into a scheme to cheat. One can permit unbelievers in a civic club to lead him to participate in club activities that are wrong. Through social contact with unbelievers one can be led to drinking, drug abuse, lustful dancing, etc. But the greatest difficulties in remaining faithful result from marriage to an unbeliever. Beware!

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 19, pp. 579-580
October 1, 1987