II Cor.6:14 - Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
The phrase “unequally yoked” would be understood by the readers of that day as they envisioned two oxen, yoked together for work, plowing the fields together, and headed toward the same goal. It is essential that the two beasts of burden plow in harmony and in concert with the guidance and direction of the farmer. To have one oxen veering west and the other east would be unproductive chaos and would not achieve the agricultural goal of straight lines and trenches that were being dug to receive seed and eventually bring forth a harvest. Both oxen must be under the same yoke in order to insure a unified partnership in labor, direction, and overall purpose.
So the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit presents a teaching that runs consistently through the entirety of II Corinthians chapter 6. The chapter begins with addressing us as workers together with Him in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul illustrates the necessity of the coming trials and persecutions that will accompany our labor in the Lord, and his word “together” in verse 1 brings the first shadow of the word “yoke” to which he will later refer. We are all to be yoked together with Christ and in that we are yoked with each other.
But beginning with verse 3 Paul exhorts us to be vigilant in order not to compromise our ministry as believers in Christ. He warns against giving an offense that reflects badly upon the ministry and the different outward expressions that would safeguard the sacredness and authenticity of our ministry. As he gets to verse 14 Paul warns against becoming “unequally yoked” in the work and ministry of the Lord Jesus. All this in the context of being workers together with Jesus Christ Himself. This has been used as a warning to many Christians not to marry unbelievers and the principle does indeed apply, but that is not the primary teaching within the context of chapter 6.
PAUL’S VIEW OF UNBELIEVERS
Look at verse 14 and see the admonition about being yoked in kingdom work with unbelievers. But it is remarkable that in this instance Paul refers to unbelievers as unrighteousness, darkness, Belial, infidels, and idolaters. Why is Paul using such harsh language concerning unbelievers? It is because of the damage that can be done by this unscriptural union.
I. Being unequally yoked with unbelievers can compromise the believer in the way he sees God’s work and in the way he sees the condition of the unbeliever. Many unbelievers are very nice and friendly and even compassionate and yes, even spiritual, and yet still decisively lost. And yet while working with them in some noble humanitarian cause their affability and friendship can sometimes soften the believer’s Biblical view of their circumstance. I have seen this happen when a believer is praying for a person’s conversion and after working with them to help people they have a noticeably different assessment of their spiritual condition. The believer has been compromised because he has disobeyed Paul’s command.
II. Being unequally yoked can compromise the unbeliever in the way he sees himself. Many times such a joint humanitarian venture gives the unbeliever some comfort that he is just as spiritual as his Christian friend in that he cares for the poor (etc.) just like God likes. The Deceiver uses the humanitarian yoke as a blindfold to convince the unbeliever that doing good works, especially for the poor and especially with professing Christians, confirms him as approved of God. I have seen it happen many times and the unbeliever’s spiritual view has been compromised because the believer disobeyed Paul’s command.
III. Being unequally yoked can compromise the way in which the world understands salvation. Imagine two people, one a believer and one an unbelieving person who believes that Jesus was a good teacher, and as they begin to give out food to poor people one person thanks them. The Christian replies that the food comes from Jesus and the unbeliever verbally agrees. What a confusing mess. When the church joins with non-Christian humanitarian organizations they sound an uncertain sound to the lost world which Paul again addressed in I Corinthians. The spiritual view of the world has been compromised because the church disobeyed Paul’s command.
PAUL’S VIEW OF BELIEVERS
Paul list some characterizations concerning believers that are meant to be telling about us and our separation from unbelievers in doing kingdom and gospel work in this sin darkened world. Paul refers to us as righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the Temple of God. The purpose of these terms is to give some perspective to us about who we actually are in Christ and the importance of maintaining that sacred distinction personally, collectively, and to the entire world.
I. We are a royal priesthood, a peculiar people, and a chosen generation before God. God had said to His people Israel that he had put a difference between them and the Egyptians. God commanded them not to intermingle with the idolater and heathen, and even with all the commandments from the Lord Israel still desired fellowship and compromise with their unbelieving neighbors. But remember, we are not just the people of God, we reflect the priesthood that was exclusively given to Aaron’s descendents but now is every born again believer’s birthright. We must carry our ministry on staves of faith, consumed with holding it above the cursed earth, and revealing the untarnished gospel of Christ with our lives and ministry. We must never allow unsaved hands to help carry the ark of God's presence and ministry.
II. We are commissioned followers of the Most High God. We cannot afford detours and dilution, we must boldly go forth without the camp proclaiming His gospel to the entire world. Our charitable works must be many but they must exclusively showcase His glorious gospel and never be mixed with the deeds of unbelievers. We must be viewed as different. Loving and merciful, bold and humble, patient and caring, but all these things will be mired in confusion if we are not different. What then is our difference? It must be and always has been the Lord Jesus Christ. We bear His reproach and if our deeds are refused because of His offense then so be it. Better to be refused because of Jesus than accepted without Him.
III. We are God’s dwelling place, His Temple. We are the living breathing church of the Risen Christ. Our lives and witness is the church where people need to see Jesus the Christ. In our Sunday services we do not have Muslims or Jews or unbelievers take up our offerings or oversee our food banks or any aspect of our ministry. Why? Because they are not the church of Christ, we are. We do not need unbelievers to reach out to people in humanitarian love, we are commanded to do so in Jesus name. We are God’s house and joining with dead shells brings a reproach upon Jesus Himself. Let us keep God’s Temple holy and separate from compromise.
PAUL’S VIEW OF THE CHURCH
Look at verses 16 through 18 and see how Paul sees the church as it concerns her separation from the unclean world. God says that He will be our God and we will be His people and that He will dwell and walk in us. What an unfathomable privilege! And because of that privilege God commands us to come out from among the heathen and be different and separate.
I. Jesus lives in us and walks in us as well. How can the world see Jesus in us if we look, act, and speak just like they do? As followers of Christ we leave our former vomit and seek to emulate Christ and His work. Joining in that endeavor with unbelievers compromises the mission completely because our mission is to preach Christ and Him crucified and risen. We do not primarily seek to feed the poor, we seek to raise the dead by offering them the Bread of Life. The unbeliever stops at earthly bread because that is all he knows.
II. God says He will receive us as we separate ourselves as vessels fit for the Master’s use. The anointing of God falls not on unclean vessels but on sanctified followers whose command is God’s desire. Our separation must not be haughty or self righteous, but it must be revealed in a humble and self denying way. We can still fellowship with the lost in order to shine our lights but we cannot enter into kingdom work with them. Make no mistake, feeding the poor is gospel work when it is done in Jesus name and as a platform for His message of redemption.
III. Finally the Lord says in verse 18 that when we seek Him in this world He will reveal Himself as a Father to sons and daughters. How intimate and wondrous! How can the world ever feel the urge to ask us for the hope that lies within us if they never realize we have a dramatically different hope? How can the world ever smell the fragrance of the Heavenly Father in His children when we are unequally joined with them? We cannot join with infidels who reject the Lord Christ and as a matter of fact the ones who some join with should be the objects of our ministry and surely not our "partners".
Joining “forces” with unbelievers to feed the poor, or heal the sick, or promote peace in an official capacity that recognizes some artificial partnership between believers and unbelievers is a direct violation of Scripture. Of course help put out the fire in your neighbor’s house with the help of unbelievers, of course join with unbelievers to help at the scene of an automobile accident, those and other examples are just straw men that hide the issue. The Church of Jesus Christ can never be unequally yoked with unbelievers in any official kingdom endeavor because it is the souls of those unsaved humanitarians that Christ seeks to save, not enter into a partnership. Let organizations donate food under our banner, but we carry His name and work exclusively for Him and with a pure gospel message. We as the New Testament Levites must minister to God and His work only yoked to the Lord Jesus alone.