The Yoke of Fellowship
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14, ESV)?
As the Bible describes it, fellowship only happens among Christians. Fellowship refers to far more than association—and something much deeper than even friendship.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul uses a simple but telling image to illustrate that fellowship, by its very nature, cannot be shared between believers and unbelievers. Imagine two oxen of roughly the same size and strength, harnessed so they work as one. Pulling a plow, they cut a straight furrow in the field.
In contrast, imagine an unequally-yoked team with an ox on one side and a beaver on the other. That pair will not function well! The plow will run all over the field. To plow well as a team requires matched animals in the same yoke.
Consider the application of this picture: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?” You don’t want a believer who is in the light, righteous through faith in Christ, on one side of the plow and an unbeliever who is in darkness, still under the law, on the other side. That unequal partnership can’t work.
Like the ox and beaver, some may find themselves in a spiritually-mixed marriage because they disobeyed this verse. Others may struggle in a strained marriage because they started as equally matched unbelievers, but one came to know Christ. God still shows a lot of grace to people in those tough situations—and an unbelieving partner may yet come to Christ. But hear His warning: Don’t choose an unequal yoke. Don’t assume that just because you’re “in love” you can ignore His clear caution.
Another application of equal yoking involves friendship. A believer’s closest friendships should not be with unbelievers. While we should have friendships with unbelievers—reaching out to others, loving them, and showing them the love of Christ—we should not be getting our primary connection needs met by people who do not know and love the Lord. Our closest relationships, our life-giving friendships, should be with people who know and love Jesus Christ like we do.
Some people still struggle with the idea that fellowship is for believers only. They think, Well, my non-Christian friends and I have a good thing. We have our little circle, and I would feel badly leaving anyone out.
Consider the problem. In order to cultivate deep relationships, we cannot accommodate those who doesn’t know and love the Lord. In order for us to adapt our relationships for non-believers, we have to reduce our interaction to almost nothing of substance. And we can’t settle for surface limitations in our relationships—fellowship is too important to sacrifice for casual friendship.
Conversely, followers of Jesus discover an amazing dynamic when we meet other believers. Even when we connect with someone for the first time, within moments we can talk about the deepest matters of life. The reason? The Lord has fitted us for the same yoke. Having Christ in common closes a lot of distance between people—and unequal yokes can plow lives into disaster.
With whom in your life are you equally and unequally yoked? How do you feel both the fellowship and the limitations in those relationships?
As you consider your relationships in light of the Bible’s teaching on fellowship, how is God prompting you to invest differently in or change your relationships?
Father, Your Son Jesus was a friend to sinners, but He filled His inner circle with those who knew and loved You. I need to see my relationships through Your lens and to follow His model. Forgive me for those times I’ve foolishly tried to be yoked with people who had no interest in You, and for not valuing other believers who could have shared the yoke with me. Help me to invest wisely in my relationships and to cultivate my closest friendships among fellow believers. Thank You for fellowship in the name of Jesus. In His name I pray, Amen.