May 14, 2011

The Unequal Yoke

I write a regular column for a local Christian newspaper, and recently one of our readers posed the timeless question, “What does it mean for a husband and wife to be equally yoked?”  Well, I believe the best place to start in answering this question, is with the Bible verse that provoked it:

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial [Satan]? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. (2 Cor. 6:14-16)

First, what is a yoke?  It’s a harness built for two, that they might work together for a common purpose. When you’re plowing a field you don’t want to hitch a full-grown ox on the left and a goat on the right. For if you do, you will soon find that they are not equally matched to the task at hand. Most farmers prefer to plant their crops in straight rows, and this team will never get you there. Somehow I doubt that the Lord looks upon such inefficiency as a sin, but at best it will mark you as a poor steward of the resources that he, in his generosity and grace, has bestowed upon you.

Now back to Paul’s symbolism in his letter to the church at Corinth.  In the immediate context, I believe, it has to do with the society in which we live; that is, we all live amongst unbelievers who can lead us into unfruitful labors or even into sin; to share a yoke, means that two people are walking together for a common goal.  What kind of people do you let in as your closest friends? Who are the greatest influences in your life, who color your opinions and actions? If they’re not fellow Christians, who share in your values and purpose (Mark 16:15), then you might be asking for trouble.

So, how about marriage in particular? I think it’s safe to say that if you’re married, your spouse is probably your closest friend and single greatest influence. You share experiences and secrets among yourselves, which are rarely (if ever) shared with anyone else. To be equally yoked with a spouse, has to mean that you bear the same yoke. That is, you have the same Master (Jesus), the same beliefs, the same convictions, and the same commitment to God. You attend the same church, receive the same teaching, and work together to evangelize your community.

I have known (and still know) many married couples who follow different religions (including different Christian denominations).  In every case, after I get to know them for a while, it becomes evident that neither one is really staying true to their own convictions.  Sooner or later, one or the other ends up compromising their commitments for the sake of family harmony. And their kids grow up thoroughly confused, not knowing which way to turn.

Having said that, chances are that someone will read this story and think, “What’s the problem?  They all believe in Jesus, and they’re doing the right thing by going to church.” Yes, I get that response all the time.

But have you ever studied church history? It’s not for nothing that we have thousands of denominations in the world today, perhaps dozens represented in our small valley alone. They divided one from another through the ages because they disagreed on some important teaching or practice. Would you believe that there are “Christian” churches out there that don’t believe Jesus had a physical body? Some that welcome people into membership without asking them to repent of their sins? Or some that routinely baptize unbelievers, or don’t baptize at all? Or that don’t recognize Bible authority for their doctrine or lifestyle?  Yes, it’s true. Technically, yes, they “believe” (John 3:16), but do you really think that’s enough?

Year after year, statistics show that in most churches, over 80% of their new members are either children of existing members, or transfers from another congregation. Your church might be growing numerically, but that doesn’t mean your community is getting saved. Verily we live in a world of friends of neighbors and colleagues who need to hear the Gospel preached. And we must reach out to them. For if you only live and work and socialize among like-minded fellow believers, then where’s your ministry?

But when you seek out a yoke-fellow, choose wisely.

No comments:

Post a Comment