“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” - 2 Corinthians 6:14
Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you probably know who Shaquille O’Neal is. Shaq was one of the most dominant NBA centers of all time, helping to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to three NBA championships. He’s in the Hall of Fame. But have you ever seen a picture of Shaq standing next to his girlfriend? She’s a lovely woman—but Shaq looks like a giant standing next to her. The top of her head is barely higher than the crook of his elbow! I guess when you’re 7-foot-1, it’s hard to find a girl your height.
Have you ever looked at a couple and thought, “They just look mismatched?” You might see a woman who’s much taller than the man she’s with … or who’s so stunningly gorgeous that you might be tempted to say, “She’s way out of his league!”
My point is this: There are certain couples that we look at and say, “They’re just not compatible.” Sometimes we’re proven right when they have a bitter breakup six months later. At other times, we find ourselves 10 years down the road say, “Huh! I never thought that relationship would work, but I guess I was wrong. They’re still together and they seem happy enough.” Of course, we’re not the best judges of anyone else’s relationship—or even our own. So, let’s take a close look at what God’s Word teaches us about compatibility.
When we talk about compatibility in Christian circles, we usually quote 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” When the apostle Paul wrote these words, he was speaking to Corinthian Christians who had allowed false teachers to come into their church and persuade them to water down their teaching. So, first and foremost, he was warning the Christians not to get so chummy with false teachers who could lead them away from Christ. However, this verse provides a timeless principle that applies to every relationship Christians are in—including business partnerships, dating relationships and marriage.
So, let’s take a closer look at the term “equally yoked.” When Paul used the term, he was referring back to Deuteronomy 22:10, where God gives the Jewish people the law, “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.” You might wonder, “What the heck kind of a law is that?” But as any farmer who doesn’t own a tractor can tell you, teaming up an ox and a donkey is a really bad idea. The average donkey weighs about 500 pounds. The average ox weighs about 2,000 pounds. How can you plow a straight furrow if you’ve got an animal on one side of the yoke that is four times heavier than the animal on the other side? You can’t. God knew they could not work together in harmony. So, He said, “Don’t yoke them together. You’re asking for trouble.”
Interestingly, there was one other problem with yoking an ox and a donkey together. According to Jewish dietary laws, an ox was a “clean” animal. The Jews were allowed to eat it. But they weren’t allowed to eat a donkey. It was an “unclean” animal. So, this obscure law about being unequally yoked wasn’t just for farmers. It provided this timeless principle for all God’s followers: Those who are “clean” should never be yoked together in close relationships with those who are “unclean.” Or, to say it more simply, those who LOVE God should never enter partnerships with those who DON’T LOVE God.
When a believer marries an unbeliever, a game of spiritual tug of war begins, because they are unequally yoked. And guess who wins the game nine times out of 10? The unbeliever. Why? Because it’s the path of least resistance. It’s just easier for the believer to cave. It’s like the Old Sunday school illustration. One child stands on top of a chair while the other one stands on the floor. They join hands and start pulling. Who almost always wins? The child who’s pulling the other one down. What’s true of kids on chairs is equally true of Christians in marriages that are unequally yoked. The believer has already compromised by choosing a spouse who turned their back on God. So, it’s pretty easy for that believer to compromise a bit more by turning his or her own back on God. Remember, it’s always easier to pull someone down than to pull someone up.
There is no doubt that when it comes to choosing a spouse, God commands us in Scripture to choose a fellow believer. Now, if you are already in an unequally yoked marriage, you’re probably wondering what God wants you to do. If you were a Christian on your wedding day and you knew your fiancé wasn’t a Christian, you need to humbly admit to God that you sinned and ask Him to forgive you. And regardless of whether you were a Christian on your wedding day or became a Christian at some later date, you need to follow what God tells you to do in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Long story short: Don’t divorce your unbelieving spouse. Husbands, pray for your wife’s salvation. Wives, pray for your husband’s salvation. And ask God to open opportunities for you to lead your spouse to Christ so that you CAN be equally yoked.
Ultimately, a marriage is most compatible when we follow the principles established by God—the Creator of marriage. According to God’s Word, compatibility boils down to three things: values, beliefs and goals. The most successful, happy Christian marriages are those where a husband and wife are on the same page with their values, beliefs and goals. That’s what it truly means to be equally yoked.
Dane Davis is the pastor of Impact Christian Church in Victorville. Join us at Impact for Sunday services: in person at 9 a.m., or online at 10 a.m. on YouTube or Facebook. For more information, visit www.GreaterImpact.cc.