“Don’t be yoked together with unbelievers” – but how?

Tons of people are “unbelievers,” who don’t believe what Christians believe, including one’s own husband or wife perhaps, or one’s own children and other family members. And the neighbours next door yelling at each other at midnight probably aren’t Christians either, nor are the people at work who tell unsavoury jokes, nor is the Bank clerk sniggering at the state of your savings account, and nor, perhaps, is the girl you’ve been dating who doesn’t want to go to church with you. So should all these people be avoided and relationships with them broken off because Paul says in 2 Corinthian 6:14 we shouldn’t be yoked with unbelievers?

But Paul does say “yoked,” like two horses yoked together pulling a plough, meaning they can’t avoid each other and they can’t break off their relationship. They are stuck with each other, which creates a real problem if they’re very different. If one horse pulls much harder the plough veers off course. If one horse is much taller the yoke doesn’t sit right and it rubs and hurts them both. A farmer with any sense, therefore, would not hitch two very different animals together, because it simply doesn’t work.

But why would Paul use that analogy for Christians living in Corinth? Because Corinth exerted a powerful pull in a totally different direction to Christianity. It was a different horse all together. It built temples to other gods and worshipped man-made idols. Their year revolved around festivals and “sacrifices offered to demons, not to God” (1 Corinthians 10:20). To hitch oneself to a typical Corinthian in an unbreakable relationship, therefore, was taking a huge risk, because you could end up being “participants with demons” (verse 20).

To wake Christians up to that danger, Paul quotes Isaiah 52:11, which The Message translates as, “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you.” In other words, don’t get stuck in a relationship with someone that you know will pull you in a direction you don’t want to go in as a Christian. You know because the signs are obvious – the other person isn’t the least bit interested in Christian principles, and he’s constantly yanking at the yoke to get you to live like him. But you can’t live like him, so you yank in the opposite direction, and now the yoke is rubbing and hurting both of you.

The simplest way to avoid that situation in the first place is to remember that we’re God’s children now and we’re linked, or yoked, to him (2 Corinthians 6:18). So concentrate on being in step with him, rather than getting stuck in relationships that will constantly be yanking us away from him.