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Unequal Yoking

Christians are called to avoid associations with unbelievers:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers:  for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?  and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial?  or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?  And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?  for ye are the temple of the living God;  as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them;  and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.   Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing;  and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:14-18).

The Apostle Paul cites here several reasons for separation, all of which stress the extreme differences between believers and unbelievers. His words bring us back to God’s statement to Adam, Eve and the Serpent just after the Fall where He said that He would put enmity between these two seeds (Gen. 3:15). Christians should see the worldly as their enemies! This should not surprise us; one group belongs to Christ, the other to Satan. Are not Satan and Christ enemies? Shouldn’t their followers also be enemies? What do we call a soldier that associates with the enemy? Are Christians that associate with unbelievers traitors to Christ?

Christians know that some of these enemies will become Christian converts and change sides. They also know that they have some responsibility in this. In addition, there is a built-in desire to end controversy, to seek a middle ground, one that can bring peace. These factors tend to temper the enmity but they always involve some give and take, some compromise. This, though, is the very thing God hates and is the reason for the enmity He put in place. His first concern is for the purity of His children; they must become holy as He is holy, which means no compromise, none whatever, with the world. The children are not holy yet and actually are a long way from it; but it must be their goal, a goal they continually work toward. God knows us, His wayward children; He knows that we are still sinners and tells us we must separate ourselves from Satan’s children so that we can become pure as He is pure.

Albert Barnes cogently describes the meaning of unequal yoking:

It is implied in the use of the word that there is a dissimilarity between believers and unbelievers so great that it is as improper for them to mingle together as it is to yoke animals of different kinds and species. The ground of the injunction is, that there is a difference between Christians and those who are not, so great as to render such unions improper and injurious. The direction here refers doubtless to all kinds of improper connections with those who were unbelievers. It has been usually supposed by commentators to refer particularly to marriage. But there is no reason for confining it to marriage. It doubtless includes that, but it may as well refer to any other intimate connection, or to intimate friendships, or to participation in their amusements and employments, as to marriage. The radical idea is, that they were to abstain from all connections with unbelievers – with infidels, and pagans, and those who were not Christians, which would identify them with them; or they were to have no connection with them in anything as unbelievers, pagans, or infidels; they were to partake with them in nothing that was special to them as such.[1]

The expression, “touch not the unclean thing,” harks back to the many Old Testament warnings against contamination by physical or moral disease (Lev. 5:2, 3; 7:19, 21; Deut 14:8; Isa. 52:11). Sin is a disease of sorts, one we all have; it’s not contracted, but is still affected by association with unbelief. For Christians, the presence of the Holy Spirit is a healing influence but, as we see here, the unclean thing is a corrupting influence, one that hinders the work of the Spirit. We too often think too highly of our ability to resist evil influences and fail to give proper heed to such warnings. But God’s words are never idle; they are given for a purpose and, instead of acting as brash fools, we should humble ourselves and just obey. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

It’s really very simple, Christianity is true, therefore unbelief is a lie. Truth and lies cannot coexist without contaminating each other. It is a poor choice to attempt to evangelize by association with unbelievers. We quarantine contagious disease and must do so also with unbelief. We cannot help the sick by exposing ourselves to their diseases. The doctor that must touch, wears gloves and a mask if necessary; others must keep away.

[1] Barnes, Albert. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6:14”. “Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament”. “// 1870.