As much as I wasn’t willing to hang around for a situationship, I was hoping that the breakup wouldn’t last forever. The actual day of the breakup was awful. However, a few months later, he mentioned that he’d left my particular denomination. At that point, I had to process that we could never get back together again.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, KJV)
It’s interesting that Paul starts chapter 6 by urging the Corinthians not to receive the grace of God in ‘vain.’ In other words, it was bestowed purposefully and they must utilise it. In verses 3-13, he then openly describes the hardships that he endures in ministry. Although verses 14-18 are often quoted in isolation, they are linked to the earlier portion of the chapter. An unequal yoking of people (allusion to animals – see Leviticus 19:19) could cause a believer to squander the grace of God. In addition, it may also impede their ability to weather the hardships of ministry (albeit not necessarily to the same extent as Paul).
Unequal yoking includes, but is not limited to, marriage.
The majority of commentaries that I read stressed that that marriage isn’t the only application for this scripture; nevertheless, that is the lens that this blog post will be looking at it through. In a general sense, Paul is advising that it isn’t wise to be ‘too close’ to unbelievers. This counsel is pertinent for marriage and in other spheres e.g. business. Of course it is impractical to steer completely clear of those whom you need to reach; therefore, you must establish appropriate boundaries.
Believer vs Unbeliever
The words which Paul uses to differentiate believers and unbelievers demonstrate that there should be a stark difference between the two groups of people:
- Believers = righteousness, light, Christ
- Unbelievers = unrighteousness, darkness, Belial (Satan)
The Greek word for unbeliever is apistos which means ‘without Christian faith.’ However, it takes more than simply identifying as a Christian to be a believer. It’s interesting that there are many Christians who are unrepentant about their unrighteous acts, yet they would still call themselves Christian. Demons believe in God, too (James 2:19)! However, that doesn’t make them believers.
Spiritual compatibility should be a universal non-negotiable.
Theoretically, an equally yoked marriage should be better than the very best unequally yoked marriage. Even if the person you’re interested in ticks every other box, you can’t compromise in this area if they happen to be non-Christian or atheist. Don’t let the prospect of losing a ‘good’ unequally yoked relationship, prevent you from a superior equally yoked relationship. Marriage is hard enough without the potential addition of future struggles due to spiritual incompatibility.
Whilst Paul refers specifically to an unbeliever and a believer; the underlying principle is that of incongruity. Therefore, if that principle is applied laterally, it can also include an incongruous relationship between two believers. The categories below are relative as it’s difficult to define weak and strong in spiritual terms.
1. Strong & Strong
This is the ideal and it fosters an environment whereby both individuals can mutually uplift and encourage each other. In other words, one individual isn’t significantly ‘more spiritual’ than the other.
2. Strong & Weak
This form of yoking is concerning because whilst there is a possibility that you can transition into category 1, you might end up in category 3… At the very least why would you settle for someone spiritually ‘weaker’? It’s admirable if you see it as an opportunity to help them grow; however, that task can be accomplished in a friendship. A significant other’s relationship with God should exist independently of you i.e. a breakup shouldn’t reverse the growth.
3. Weak & Weak
This is certainly not what Paul had in mind when he spoke of equal yoking! Spiritual weakness isn’t just damaging for you: it’s damaging for those around you. More so, a significant other. Your spirituality impacts every area of your life, including relationships. It’s impossible to have a Christ-led relationship with little to minimal contact with Christ.
Unequal Yoking: Denominations
In my case, although we were both believers, the change in his theology suddenly meant that we believed different things. We certainly still had plenty of things in common (theologically). However, in my mind, that didn’t negate the possibility that the differences could cause future friction. To be clear, his ‘announcement’ wasn’t in any way related to a potential reunion, but it did allow me to stop hoping. It was a strangely bittersweet realisation: this was the end.
I was frustrated with him for ‘changing,’ but simultaneously happy that that he was now content. My spiritual life wavered as I tried to understand how someone so committed to one denomination could suddenly switch. Was I in the right denomination? What happens if the next guy also decides to switch denominations? Does God even exist? If not, then denominations are irrelevant anyway. As dramatic as these questions sound, they accurately reflect my thinking at the time. It’s ironic how his peace prompted my crisis…
- Don’t marry non-Christians! – on a micro level, you mustn’t just settle for a nominal (weak) Christian. What is their faith actually like? Do you share the same beliefs? In the case of males, can he be the priest of the home?
- Be a true believer – this benefits you and your future spouse (see Becoming One).
- Be intentional about building friendships with ‘potentials’ – that’s not to say every friendship you have with the opposite sex should be motivated by their suitability for marriage. However, you’re more likely to have an unequally yoked marriage if you exclusively surround yourself with unbelievers/nominal Christians.
Unequal yoking is ill-advised. However, equal yoking is more nuanced than a mere union between two ‘believers’; one must consider the ‘strength’ of an individual’s relationship with Christ. Lastly, I would argue it is also beneficial to court intra-denominationally as opposed to inter-denominationally.