What does it mean to be unequally yoked? What is a yoke? A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. The two animals have to be of the same kind, for instance two oxen yoked together or two horses or two donkeys, which would make an equal yoke. To be unequally yoked it would have to be two different kinds of animals, for instance a horse yoked with a donkey.

yokeIn a marriage, couples have to be compatible with each other to live in harmony and succeed in the plan of God for their life and their marriage. Imagine a couple yoked together, the wife wants to go east and the husband wants to travel west. It would be a constant tug-of-war between them and if they are equally strong, they would be going nowhere. If one is stronger than the other, the stronger partner would drag the weaker along and they may manage to proceed in one direction, but it would be a burden for the stronger one and despair for the weaker one. Either way it would not be a happy journey.

When a believer marries an unbeliever it is said to be an unequally yoked relationship. 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 among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and 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” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

In a Christian marriage both the wife and the husband have to be believers. When one spouse is unsaved it is a catastrophic relationship. Usually one spouse will comprise in order to have peace in the marriage and in most cases it is the saved one that does the compromising. In every marriage there are spouses that compromise from time to time in order to be in agreement with each other, and it may be alright in certain situations. But when it is a spiritual compromise, it leads to spiritual death. For instance the husband may want to go to Hawaii for holidays and the wife may want to visit Paris. In this situation if one compromises, it’s not the end of the world. But if a Christian spouse compromises on his or her faith, it is eternal death. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (1 John 5:11-12).

Sometimes unbelievers may have great moral principles, live an upright life, and do great deeds of honour, charity and justice. They can be extremely attractive, very successful, exceedingly intelligent, highly educated and incredibly compatible. A believer can be deceived into thinking that he or she has found a perfect match for marriage. But do not be deceived, because no matter how good an unbeliever is, if he or she is not saved, then they are spiritually dead and on their way to eternal damnation. There is no goodness apart from Jesus Christ and no matter how much good deeds a person performs it ends up as nothing, but unrighteousness. Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people (2 Timothy 3:5).

Most single Christians wonder about marriage and are perplexed with the question, ‘Who would be the right woman or man for me?’ God’s answer is very clear to all Christian singles. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. (1 Corinthians 6:14a). For all Christian widows and widowers desiring to remarry, God instructs them to marry someone who is in the Lord. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:39).

It is not God’s will for any Christian to marry someone from another faith or an unbeliever. An unequally yoked marriage is displeasing to the Lord and this union will be disobeying God. We are to love our God above everything and everyone else. Our love for God is expressed by our obedience to His words. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

When God says, stay away from unbelievers and do not marry them, then we should obey God and stay away, because God knows what is the best for us and He instructs us for our wellbeing, and loves and cares for us more than we can understand or realise. He does not want us to carry the burden and tormentation that comes from an unequally yoked marriage. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son (2 John 1:9).

yokedSometimes people think they want to marry an unbeliever because they are in love with them. We can truly love someone only when we know what true love is, and only when we are able to love God, because God is love. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3). If a believer marries an unbeliever, he or she is walking in disobedience to what God has strictly forbidden, and that would be a marriage not out of love, but one that is conceived out of lust. Any action that is done in disobedience to the will of God is not out of love, but out of lust. Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love (Ephesians 1:4).

We are supposed to honour and glorify God in our marriage and not marry in order to fulfil our fleshly desires by marring someone God has forbidden. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot (Romans 8:7). When we love God above everything else, God’s commands will be our primary focus, and we will stay away from what God has forbidden and we will embrace what brings delight to Him. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

Sometimes people think that they are wiser and have made the right decision and consider the unbeliever to be the right person to marry. Solomon was the wisest person that ever lived and in his old age he married pagan wives who led him away from the Lord. No matter how wise you think you are, God is the wisest, and therefore getting unequally yoked with an unbeliever would be a very foolish decision.

There are others that know what they are getting into by marrying an unbeliever, but they think that they are capable of handling the situation. They feel that they will lead the unbeliever to the Lord and make it their mission in life to convert the unbelieving spouse. You are taking on a battle that the Lord has forbidden. You are taken on a mission that is not yours. We are to lead unbelievers to Christ, we are to witness to them and pray for them but we don’t have to evangelise unbelievers by marrying them.

If you wed an unbeliever, you will fight with the devil in your own house and in your own marriage, in raising your children, and it will wear you down to such an extent that, if you are weak you will give up your faith. If you are strong enough to hold on to it, you will spend most of your life just trying to survive being a Christian. You can be a great instrument in the Lord’s kingdom if you are married to a believer, because you need that spiritual support from your spouse, and together you can fulfil God’s will and accomplish His purpose for your lives. After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 10:1). All Christian couples are called to work in God’s vineyard. It could be raising a godly family or witnessing in their neighbourhood and workplace or having a fulltime ministry. If you are married to an unbeliever, you will be busy fighting a spiritual battle that was totally unnecessary, and it will consume most of your life and be a hindrance in fulfilling your divine destiny.

At times Christians marry unbelievers that are willing to convert to Christianity for the sake of being united in a Christian marriage. A Christian is a follower of Christ, a person that believes in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and committed to live a life that is worthy of the Gospel. Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). If a person has no love for God and does not genuinely follow Jesus, but wants to be a Christian just for the sake of getting married to a believer, such a person would be a fake Christian. You may be able to impress some of your wedding guests into believing you have married a Christian, but in reality you still remain unequally yoked.

You may be a person who is already married to an unbeliever, because you were ignorant of God’s word, or you willingly disobeyed but have now come to the realisation of the truth, and are wondering what the will of God for your life is now. No matter what mistakes and wrong decisions you have made, God will always love you. His love for you will never change. He is merciful and He is forgiving. Remain firm in your faith and never compromise your faith. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace (1 Corinthians 7:12-15).

Your unbelieving spouse is made holy because of your faith but not saved. Many believers sometimes nag at their unbelieving spouse so that they can be saved. You cannot harass, oppress, manipulate or forcibly convert anyone to Christianity no matter how much you love them. Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight (1 Peter 3:1-4).

Parents have a great role to play in raising their children in the ways of the Lord. Teach them the consequences of an unequally yoked marriage early on in life. Teach them the precepts of the Lord and let them observe how you as parents live your lives in obedience to God’s word. When they grow up, they will be wise to make the right decisions themselves for their lives.

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