"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers"
(2 Cor 6:14 KJV)
How far does the admonition in 2 Corinthians 6:14 go? From the numerous messages preached over the years, depending upon the audience, it applies to:
- Teenagers dating unbelievers
- Young people looking to get married to unbelievers
- Christians doing business with unbelievers
- Christians going into partnership with unbelievers
The operative term seems to be unbelievers. Of course, all the above are proper applications of the passage.
However, each item in the list as well as the list itself does not do justice to the clear exegesis and exposition of the text. We need to consider all the contexts including historical, geographical, textual including the verses, the chapter(s), the book, the New Testament, and the whole Bible. We must not forget the language of the original text, the grammar, and we must use sound principles of exegesis and literal interpretation. This might seem unnecessary given popular teaching. Or it may seem daunting because one might think he/she does not have the tools to do this.
Given the average level of education of Christians today, and the availability of wonderful tools both to purchase and for free, a lack of good study tools cannot be an excuse to neglect due diligence when studying the Bible and teaching others. One does not need to know the Greek language. There are excellent tools from studying the terms and grammar to derive the intended message of the Holy Spirit through the writers. Don't begin by studying what others think about the passage. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide first.
This article conceivably could get very deep. Some would say, “too far out into the weeds.” However, this is not my intent as you will quickly see. I am only presenting sufficient data to establish the principle that being unequally yoked also applies to Christians with Christians.
First, take the concept of believer in the overall context of the New Testament. It refers to one who believes. The meaning is specifically one who believes certain truths, i.e., God’s Word. The term translated, believer, (Present Active Participle) grammatically refers to one who exhibits the character of a believer, i.e., one who is by nature, as well as action, a believer.
Applying the Greek privative, a, to the front of the term, it becomes negative which indicates an unbeliever, or one who does not have the character of a believer. To see the text as referring only to a born-again believer versus one who is not born again, is to miss the broader implications of this text. This is not splitting hairs. As someone has said, one can be an unbelieving believer.
Second, careful observation of the Greek text and comparing the more concordant translations, we notice that, instead of righteous with unrighteous (KJV), it should be righteous with lawless. (NASB) There is no textual dispute here. Anomias refers to being without law.
Are Christians ever lawless? John thought so. “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (anomian, 1 John 3:4). The term, practices, is added for clarity. John is referring to habitual sin. In other words, lacking character because one lacks the moral compass to do what is biblically correct. This is not someone who simply lacks knowledge. It is someone who has the knowledge but refuses to live by it. Can this refer to a Christian? Of course. That is who John is writing to.
In my six decades of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as my savior, both unbelievers and believers have asked me to join with them in ventures that could only be considered to be unequally yoked together: business investments, partnerships, etc. The enticement was to gain monetarily or to fund my ministry. Repeatedly, many of the individual(s) offering such opportunities eventually faced financial ruin because they ignored basic principles of integrity in the matter and God refused to bless their efforts.
Take for instances opportunities to invest in business dealings such as pyramid schemes. Regardless of how much it might have profited me or “promoted my ministry,” I always walked away because Paul’s clear meaning in this passage told me to do so (cf. 2 Tim 2:4). I have had far more opportunities to join with Christians in business than with non-Christians, but refused. In one situation, the professing believer was of a faith with which I seriously disagreed to the point of believing his theological framework amounted to heresy.
More closely with the theme of this article, were times I refused, not because I questioned the individual’s salvation or considered his theology wrong, but because the individual demonstrated a pattern of lacking in sound business practices and/or integrity in his own finances or the way he treated others.
This did not mean I refused to try to help the business succeed. It meant I did not become yoked to the unbelieving believer.
One way to inadvertently become yoked is to write checks or sign legal documents. Often this occurred when I was asked to manage the business in question in an effort to correct the damage to the business caused by poor management or unsound business practices of a brother in Christ. In every case, I refused and explained to my brother in Christ why. By signing a check or any official document, including correspondence, I would become automatically yoked to that business
The third truth to note in 1 Corinthian 6 is the concept of light with darkness. While the metaphor of light and darkness seems clear, it is not so clear in this complex world in which we live. Sometimes it is difficult to discern light from darkness. If we are unable to make this distinction in a matter, we need to walk away.
Many years ago, a member of the church, an excellent mechanic, was asked by a fellow Christian to install a huge engine in a pickup truck for which, by any means, it was not intended. After thousands of dollars and much jerry-rigging, the task was completed. The first attempt to drive the altered vehicle was a disaster. The new motor overpowered the transmission and power train and destroyed the vehicle.
The subsequent conflict resulted in shady financial transactions and a lawsuit. The mechanic was left footing the bill. The universal consensus was that the owner requesting the alteration was at fault and the mechanic entitled to payment for services rendered. The judge did not agree but placed the onus on the mechanic.
How could this be? While the owner of the vehicle requested services that, by any stretch of the imagination, would not lead to a successful outcome and, in the end, manipulated his funds so as to avoid payment for those services, it was the mechanic who agreed to do the work even though it could not succeed. The relationship between Christian brothers was destroyed, the reputation of the church was harmed, and the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ was sullied.
We live in a complex society with many ways to be entrapped by our relationships with others who lack the keen moral compass to guide them through the pitfalls of life. As our Lord admonished, we need to be “shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). We need to develop our own moral compass through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and then live by this and not become yoked to those who do not have the same moral compass.
"And He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed;"
(Luke 12:15 NASB)