If you grew up in the church, you’ve likely heard the term “equally yoked” in reference to relationships. It may even be the only guidance you received concerning how to pick a mate! But what does “equally yoked” even mean?
This qualifier for Christian relationships comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14, which says: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
This admonition by the apostle Paul wasn’t just specific to marital relationships, but to all close friendships with unbelievers. Paul wasn’t saying to avoid friendships with the unsaved; he was reminding us of who we are in Christ. This was a big deal in Corinth at the time. Corinthian Christians had begun making excuses to live immoral lives—and perhaps in an attempt to “win over” their unsaved neighbors, Corinthian Christians became just like them.
Paul’s warning serves to remind us that in Christ, we are new people. We no longer participate in our old, sinful lifestyles. With this in mind, we should be kind and friendly to unbelievers, but should not make them our confidants, counselors or spouses.
Paul used the term “equally yoked” as a word picture relevant to the culture of the time. A “yoke” of oxen is made up of two animals both pulling their weight. When one is weaker than the other, the team is “unequally yoked” and cannot effectively complete the work required of them. In relationships, this equal partnership looks something like having the following three things in common.
Sharing the Same Spiritual Identity
Marriage, and the dating relationship leading to it, should consist of two people pulling together in unison. Marriage is about teamwork. That’s why it’s pivotal that husband and wife share the same spiritual identity. When two people come into a relationship with completely different worldviews, their words, actions and emotions aren’t on the same plane. This might not seem like an issue in the “honeymoon” stages of a relationship, but quickly becomes one as the challenges of life arise. In the difficult moments of child rearing, pain, sickness and loss, it’s imperative that a couple stand on a unified foundation. This foundation is their faith.
Our spiritual identity is something we accept when we embrace what Christ did for us. This identity is holy, pure, godly, faithful and loving. It reflects the character of the God who saves us! A couple who shares this identity will pour those virtues into their marriage, pulling together as the unified team God calls them to be.
Valuing the Same Spiritual Legacy
From the foundation of their spiritual identity, an equally yoked couple has a mutual vision. They want the same things out of life. They plan to make an impact on the world for the kingdom of God, leaving behind a spiritual legacy of truth and love.
These values don’t happen if one party in the relationship doesn’t know Christ. It’s not enough to think Christ was a good teacher or a nice guy; Jesus claimed He was God, and if we don’t believe that, we believe Christ was lying when He testified to His deity. This is an important theological concept to grasp, because when only one half of a relationship believes Christ is God, only that half of that relationship will uphold His values. This doesn’t just affect the individual—it affects the marriage, children and effectiveness of the gospel in the entire family. This is why choosing a spouse is such a weighty decision, to be done prayerfully, carefully and with the wisdom of God.
Pursuing the Same Spiritual Goals
When two people are unified spiritually, they pursue the same goals. They want the same things. Their inspiration for life comes from the Spirit of God in their hearts. When a couple is unequally yoked, that vision is shortchanged and the team cannot form unified goals toward which to strive.
When a couple puts God first in their own hearts, they’re not just drawn near to God—they’re drawn to one another. The Spirit of God empowers them to accomplish work they never could have accomplished on their own! One of the blessings of an equal marriage is that the work is easier when someone is pulling beside you.
It’s not easy to say “no” to a relationship that’s less than God’s intentions. It doesn’t mean the guys you turn down are “bad,” and you should pray for them to know God’s truth! But there is a peace in knowing you are in a relationship with someone who is your spiritual teammate. This kind of relationship encourages us to grow closer to God as we grow closer to our partner, pulling together in the same direction.