Unequally Yoked – What Does That Even Mean?

One of the phrases we tell Christian single people all the time is to not be unequally yoked. But I think sometimes we take this to mean things that it doesn’t.  If we get this wrong it can lead to a lot of traps both as the person who is “further along” and as the person who is “not quite there” so to speak.

Now this saying comes straight from scripture.  Paul is writing to the Corinthian believers (2nd Cor. 6) who lived in an extremely pagan society.  They were a mess themselves and obviously still working out what it meant to be a believer in such a setting (kind of like us actually).  Paul is talking to them about being holy and set apart in lifestyle, thought, and deed.  He knew it would be easy for them to combine (yoke) pagan ways with their new found faith, and therefore fall away from true holiness.  So he says to them, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

Now you’ll notice of course that Paul did not say, don’t talk to, don’t love, or don’t have contact with unbelievers.  That would be impossible and it wouldn’t advance the kingdom. He is saying we shouldn’t be tied to or partnering in their ways with them.  We are set apart and we need to live that way, not taking on pagan ways.

It’s important to note that this particular scripture was not really talking about marriage. However, there is no way to pretend that this idea does not apply to the main partnership that many of us will have.  Paul says this in 1 Cor. 7 when he says that an unmarried is free to marry but it must be to someone who is in the Lord.

But here is where this gets tricky as a single person trying to navigate dating and the search for a spouse.  We can take unequally yoked to a whole other level.  We can take it to mean that we must be in the “Same Place Spiritually”.  In other words, at the same maturity level etc.  Here’s the problem – What the heck does that even mean?

First of all no two people are in the exact same place in their journey with the Lord. Everyone has a different story, different gifts, strengths and weaknesses and so on.  You are not going to find someone exactly equal to you.  Secondly, people have ups and downs in their journey.  Part of the advantage of having a partnership (marriage or even community) is that you can take turns helping each other when one is down and the other is up.  Finally, our view of ourselves comes into play here.  If I have too much self righteousness going on, I can unfairly judge another’s walk as inferior to mine.  Or if I view myself as bad or not very mature – guess who I will end up dating based on that (future blog on this).  The point is the idea Paul is talking about is not that I need to find someone exactly where I am at – because I’m not going to.

So what is Paul saying?  Really he is saying at it’s simplest form that we need to date (and therefore marry) people who are believers.  I’ll go out on a limb here and take this a step further.  It think it is about direction.  If you are going to make it in marriage, you need to be aiming for the same thing.  In order to be in it together you have to be going the same direction and hopefully pushing each other there.  You need to be good for each other’s walk with Jesus.

Our first call is to follow Jesus, period.  We need to date people that are serious about that call.  If we don’t we are setting ourselves up to be forever single (by the way some of us keep choosing people we know we can’t marry on purpose – even it is subconsciously) or worse, for a really tough marriage.

When you think of being equally yoked, what comes to mind first?  Do you date only people who are good for your walk with Jesus?

10 thoughts on “Unequally Yoked – What Does That Even Mean?

  1. I did a lot of journaling and scripture reading on this topic last year as I was being pursued by a man who went to church and labeled himself a Christian, but the fruit of his life didn’t show a life of someone who really believed. I did finally walk away from him, basically because of what you wrote here, but it was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I knew that dating him would pull me away from my relationship with Christ. I knew that his goals and priorities were very different from mine. I really appreciate your explanation here. I don’t need someone to be at the same place as me, but there is a big difference between saying you believe and actually believing. I tried talking with one of the married leaders at my church, and she totally didn’t understand my struggle. It’s difficult to find other singles, or other married adults who were single as adults who understand what these struggles are like.

  2. My husband was not “as christian” as i was when we started dating and it was a bumpy road. not because we weren’t completely compatible or because he didn’t bear every fruit of the spirit in abundance (because he did). it was difficult because we dated under a microscope where my well meaning christian friends dissected his faith in an attempt to precisely measure his worthiness to share my yoke. i don’t blame them, really, but i will say that some of my christian friends challenged me very well during that time… and some of them just challenged our friendship. now no one questions whether we make a good team, but now we have the luxury of hind sight. Then we were just walking blind by faith, discernment and love.

  3. These are some VERY important points! I would also add – especially for the women – don’t think you are going to change your man. Be able to accept and respect him as he is right now. If he doesn’t pray with you now, he probably won’t magically start praying with you after you get married. Yes, God can help him to grow. But you cannot. If you want a strong spiritual leader, then please choose a man who desires to be a strong spiritual leader.
    These are things that need to be carefully discussed ahead of time – spiritual direction and committment level to Christ – not just assumed!
    Thanks, Justin!

  4. Thanks for the piece Justin.When I was younger (both in age and spiritually), I never quite got the whole “do not be unequally yoked” argument and thought it was much ado about nothing.Now that Iam older and know for sure that I want to live a Christ centered life I appreciate the advice.I am running the race in pursuit of God, I don’t always get it right but I know where I want to be.If I settle for somebody who is not running the same race, I am effectively saying that Jesus is not my ultimate prize anymore and that marriage is.I agree with Peacefulwife when she says that if women want a strong spiritual leader they need to choose a man who desires to be a strong spiritual leader. There is nobody worth losing my salvation for and the promise of what Jesus holds for me,so I will hold out until I find somebody running the same race.

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