So yesterday we spent a lot of time determining what the passage is not talking about. Paul’s main point is here is not that Christians shouldn’t marry non-Christians, although that’s an ancillary application you might draw from it.
Just in case you’re not familiar with the terminology, we should spend a moment on “yoked together,” or “unequally yoked” as the more traditional translations render it. Usually a farmer plowing a field would have more than one animal pulling his plow. If he yoked together two different types of animals, for example an ox and a donkey, the two animals wouldn’t pull together in sync. One would be faster than the other, or they might even pull against the other. Thus the work wouldn’t get done. You needed the same type of animals, preferably with roughly the same capabilities so they could pull together.
The immediate context of the passage is pretty obvious: He’s warning them against false teachers. Don’t buddy up to them. Don’t associate with them in any way. If you do, you risk being pulled off course. You belong to the Lord, they belong to the Evil One. You belong to the Light, they belong to the Darkness. You and they have nothing to do with each other. All the warnings in today’s passage especially relates to this.
Now although it doesn’t relate immediately to the issue of intermarriage with nonbelievers, I think the principle still applies in an ancillary way. Marriage is the permanent lifelong union of two different people into a symbiosis. A Christian and a non-Christian have different loyalties, and from an eternal perspective they don’t have any permanent common interests. As the prophet Amos put it in a different context, two people can’t walk together for very long unless they’ve agreed on the path and the pace. If they don’t, then eventually they’ll have to part ways. For a Christian to marry a non-Christian is to invite lifelong heartbreak.
The problem I see in interpreting this passage as “Don’t marry unbelievers” is because that way of thinking might seem to forbid any unnecessary dealings with those who don’t know Christ. Why would these warnings apply to marriage and not to friendship? Or to business dealings? Should I buy stock in a company that’s not entirely owned by Christians?
I don't have immediate answers to every possible scenario, but I think some Scriptural context and discernment will help us a lot here. Jesus freely associated with people who were not only nonbelievers but people who were involved in egregiously immoral lifestyles, such as tax collectors and prostitutes. But he didn’t invite just anyone into his inner circle of intimate friends, he didn’t confer with them on spiritual matters, and he didn’t just leave them in their lifestyle where they were. Ultimately, any meeting with Christ forces a decision on you. Fence-sitting regarding Jesus is not a long-term option. In the end, as C. S. Lewis put it, each one of us has to decide if he’s a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord of all. And if he’s Lord, then that means he has claims on you.
I think that a good rule of thumb is that we need to cultivate friendships with nonbelievers as much as we can, without compromising any explicit instructions from Scripture. Jesus told us that we’re the light of the world, and he specifically said that light does no good if it’s hidden under a bowl; it must come into contact with darkness. So I’d say that if they invite us to go to a baseball game (or in my case, a hockey game), we should go. If they want us to go out bar-hopping with them, probably not. That’s when I’d say today’s verses would apply.
One thing to watch out for with friends, however, is the question of influence. It just appeals to common sense for you to ask yourself “Am I influencing them more than they’re influencing me? Am I leading them closer to Christ, or are they leading me away from him?” For more on friends, see here.
I’d apply the same principles to business dealings. As long as you’re not violating explicit instructions from Scripture, I think your business dealings with non-Christians should be a matter of personal conscience, similar to how Paul dealt with eating meat which has been offered to idols.
I don’t pretend to have perfect answers to all the thorny questions raised by this. But I want to glorify and obey my Lord and Savior, and in order to do that I must be in contact with people who don’t know him, without letting them drag me away from him.
Lord Jesus, I want to please and obey and glorify you. Is there someone I need to reach out to in your name? Or am I letting the world’s way of thinking infiltrate my head and heart? Oh, how much I need your wisdom here!
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