Equally Yoked

I had a mini vision; a picture in the mind. I saw a woman calling a man, beckoning him with her hands. He was a few paces away, but not listening. I knew the couple; she was a believer – he was not. The interpretation of the vision was obvious to me; God was telling me to speak to our church about the problem of being married to an unbeliever. And this message is the result.
♦ Let me first speak to the single people. Scripture is very clear about who Christians should marry. It only gives two requirements: The person must be a believer (1 Cor 7:39, 2 Cor 6:14), and the person must be of the opposite sex (Lev 18:22, 1 Cor 6:9). There are no other requirements. It does not matter what race they are, what age they are, how good they are, what education they have, or what their past was like.
The issue I am addressing today is that the person must be a believer.
Paul says “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?” (2 Corinthians 6: 14-16)
Paul is speaking here about a problem that had arisen in Corinth where some Christians were attempting to follow Christ without abandoning their idols. In other words they were dabbling in Christianity as well as other religions. It is in this context that Paul says that they should not be yoked together with unbelievers. When he talks of a yoke he is talking of a partnership, and when he talks of unbelievers he is talking of people of other religions (or no religion ).
A yoke is the pole that goes across the top of two oxen and ties them together so they can pull a cart. It was forbidden in Israel to yoke two different creatures like a donkey and an ox as they would walk differently making life unbearable and even cruel for each other (Deut 22:10). Paul is saying here that you cannot yoke Christianity with another religion because you will be yoking light with darkness and righteousness with wickedness. But he doesn’t just speak of the religions being incompatable, he also talks of the worshipers being incompatible. He says “What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever.” Now it is obvious that a believer can have many things in common with an unbeliever, they may both love football and enjoy the same movies, but he is saying that what they don’t have in common (namely Christ as Lord) is the most important and overriding thing. And without this they should not be yoked together in life.
What Paul is saying here is important. If Christians enter into a close partnership with someone of another religion they will end up compromising Christ. This is especially true of marriage. If Jesus is the most important thing in your life you do need to have him in common with your marriage partner. How can you go through life not being able to share the most important thing in your life with your partner?
Now I know many people reading this will claim to know of healthy marriages where one partner is a Christian. It can work if you are prepared to compromise. It can work if talking about Jesus and living for Jesus at home is not that important to you. But if you are passionate about Jesus and he is the one thing you want to talk about the most, you’ll find it impossible to maintain a marital relationship with someone that does not feel the same.
So to the single people I say, please – for the Lord’s sake, for the sake of obedience to his word, and for your own sake; make sure you marry a believer!

Now let me speak to the married people. Perhaps you are already married to an unbeliever because you became a Christian after you got married. Paul addresses your situation too. He says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).
We need to hear Paul’s tone here. It seems that certain believers in Corinth wanted to leave their unbelieving partners. Their new found belief in Jesus was a problem for their partners but they were not prepared to compromise their beliefs. They were more ready to leave than compromise. This is the way it should be. The only thing we don’t compromise is Jesus. Paul expects them to burn bright for Jesus and if the partner still stays, then fine. But if they want to go, let them. There is very little of this kind of dedication today, but it is what scripture teaches.
Often we see the reverse, we see couples turning to what they call ‘give and take’ – you know, a little compromise on both sides. But we cannot. I’ve seen situations where a Christian woman who is married to a Muslim covers her head when visiting his family. Sorry, but if the reason you cover your head is to please his family, then that is compromise. I have also seen situations where the Christian agrees to their child having an Islamic name. Again, we must not do this. Such a child will grow up believing it is Muslim. We must not compromise Jesus to please people!
But Paul says that if the non-Christian partner is willing to stay while you are uncompromising, then you should let them for “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (16)
Paul’s words are important here; he says there’s no guarantee that your partner will be saved. Some believers today think that because Paul told the jailer in Acts 16 that his whole family would be saved, that God has promised all Christians that their family will eventually be saved. This is not true; Paul’s word in Acts was a specific word to the jailer. Here in the letter to the Corinthians Paul is speaking generally to the whole church and says, ‘How do you know … whether you will save [them]?’ It may happen, but it may not. We must not give fellow believers false hope.
Now a word about those unbelieving partners that are prepared to stay. Many of them are really nice people. They are tolerant and ready to put up with your beliefs. Some of them will be open about the fact that they have no faith in Jesus. But some will end up saying they’re believers just to please you; and they may not even be aware that they are doing it because their desire to uphold their marriage is so strong.
While a strong desire to maintain the marriage is good, having a false faith is not.
You can usually tell if the confession is false because real faith involves a transformation of the heart. Such a person has seen the light and becomes passionate about Jesus. This can only happen where there is personal revelation. I have met too many partners who say they are believers and even attend church but they have no passion for Jesus. The reason is that they have not had a personal revelation of him. Real believers have a heart that has been circumsized by the Spirit. They have a passion to know God, experience God, read the Bible, worship and share their faith with others.
So what do we do when our partner is not a genuine believer? What can we do to help them come to Christ? Here is Paul’s advice to ladies –
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 behavior 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 jewelry 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. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. (1 Peter 3:1-5 )
Here Paul is not telling woman what to wear, he is telling them what to put their trust in. They should not trust in their outward appearance, rather they should trust in their inner beauty. If you want to have a good chance of winning your husband to Christ, make sure your inner beauty burns bright. If your husband is amazed at the wonderful difference Christ has made to your character, he will find resisting Christ a lot harder.
Here is what Paul says to the men –
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body (Ephesians 5:25-30).
Just as with the women, Paul calls the men to greater character. Husbands should love their wives and even give up their lives for their wives. A husband that has become more loving and caring since receiving Christ will have a good chance of convincing his wife about Christ.
Notice that wives are told to win their husbands over without words, and husbands are told to cleanse their wives with the word. This is significant. Most husbands believe or at least sense that they are the head of the home. If their wife begins to lecture them with Scripture it can have an adverse affect; they may feel you are trying to ‘wear the pants’ in the home and be put off Christ. But wives usually see themselves as followers in the home and are more open to being convinced with words (Of course I am generalizing here and there will always be exceptions to the rule).
If you have an unbelieving partner there are four things you can do to make the possibility of them becoming a believer greater:
I. Demonstrate the character of God as mentioned above.
2. Pray for your partners change of heart (The Bible says that the prayer of a righteous man/woman is powerful and effective – James 5:16)
3. Turn the home into an informative environment (a home that has Christian TV, some Christian music and a few Christian books).
4. Where possible introduce your partner to people who have the same interests as they do but are believers (For example: If your husband supports a football team introduce him to a believing man who supports the same team. If your wife is a scientist introduce her to a believing woman who is also a scientist).
Finally, be patient! I know of many partners who have come to believe in Jesus after decades of their spouse practicing these things. It can take a long time if it happens at all, so see it as a marathon and not a sprint.  But if you are still single, please be wise. Before all these problems arise, and you have to find ways to handle the conflict; just choose a believer. Be equally yoked right from the start.

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