On Being Equally Yoked
As a Christian I have often been asked by well-meaning friends why I will only consider marriage or dating to Christian women. Beyond that Christian women with similar views to mine. To them marriage is about companionship. Finding someone to share life with who has similar interests and whose company you enjoy. While no two people are identical in every respect they don’t see why faith should be that big of a requirement. To them it seems unnecessarily unrealistic.
To understand marriage from a Biblical, Christian perspective we must first start with life from a Biblical, Christian perspective. Simply put a Christian is a disciple of Jesus Christ. We follow in his footsteps. We seek to live life according to His will and with the purpose of glorifying Him. As the Apostle Paul wrote, our lives are no longer are own but we are Christ’s “bondservants.” In the Old Testament if someone was a slave, say because they were paying off a debt, when released from slavery they could offer their ongoing services freely as a “bondservant”, and if they did, their ear would be pierced on the doorpost indicating their freely chosen status as a bondservant. That is the word picture of what it means to be a Christian. You freely give your life to Christ in exchange for His forgiveness. It is an act of love not an act of coercion. A good definition for bondservant would be “devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests.” It means we are devoted to God and not ourselves.
Biblical marriage is when two such bondservants join together to more effectively serve God and to enjoy the intimacy that comes from such a shared purpose and life. Clearly that cannot be achieved if one party to the marriage was not a believer. The Bible commands us to not be “unequally yoked.” (2 Corinthians 6:14) The analogy is clear. A team of horses or oxen were often used to pull carts or plow fields. Two oxen would be joined by a heavy wooden collar or yoke. It was essential that the two would work as a team and work in unison. If one pulled to the side instead of straight forward the team would go in a diagonal and not a straight path. If one pulled and the other stood still they would go in a circle or nowhere at all. A good team was one where the pair learned to work in unison pulling in the same direction and the stronger adjusting for the weaker although the best result was achieved by joining to equally matched oxen. So it is to be in Christian marriage. If one spouse if following Christ and the other is going in a different direction that couple will not be an effective team. At least not in serving and glorifying God which is what a Christian’s life should be all about.
Some suggest we compartmentalize our lives and practice our faith in private and see no reason for it to impact a marriage. Such a thing is not an option for a Christian for to do so would be to stop following Jesus or only following him selectively. We are to love and serve God with every fiber of our being in every way on every day. Faith is not a hobby you can take up or put down. It’s not a club you visit when you want but spend time away from. It is a purposeful way of living. It is intentional. How could such a life not affect a marriage? How could a divided couple glorify God? Abraham Lincoln once quoted Jesus when he said “a house divided cannot stand.” His reference was to the country divided as it was North and South. Jesus’ words were in response to the religious leaders who accused him of performing miracles by the power of Satan. Jesus reasoned that Satan’s house could not stand were it divided so how could Satan be at odds with himself? It is equally true that a marriage divided cannot stand.
There are Christians living in unequally yoked marriages. Sometimes a couple marries then later one becomes a believer and the other doesn’t. In such situations the believer is called to live in peace with the non-believer in so far as they are able but if the non-believer leaves they are free to remarry. If you are a Christian though, entering into an unequally yoked marriage is not God’s will. You might make it work but it will never be the kind of marriage God ordained marriage to be. As followers of Christ why would we want such a thing? The message of 2 Corinthians chapter 6 is how Christians need to be separate from non-believers in our ministry. Not as neighbors or family members but in ministry we cannot be yoked. Christian marriage is a ministry. It is a ministry from one person for the other and from the couple to God.
Paul uses the analogy that Christ is the bride of the church. Marriage is a picture of what Christ’s relationship with the church is like. Is the church not made up of followers of Christ? How could that analogy hold true if God allowed for marriage to non-believers?
Marriage is not about finding a cure for loneliness or an activity partner. It is out finding a co-minister. A non-believer cannot co-minister with you. Such a union would also be a poor witness to any children that might be born of that union. What message would it send to them? Do you want to send the message that you are willing to compromise on your faith?
A final word, being equally yoked means more than just marrying a fellow believer. It means finding a fellow believer who will work with you as a team and not all believers would be a good match. Your calling, your gifts, your maturity level may require someone who is aligned with that. It is not a minimum requirement but something to be taken very seriously. It is a decision that will affect the rest of your life and have a profound influence on your ministry.