What Does it Mean to be "Yoked"?
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.
"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." What does that mean?
I know if you've spent any time in church at all you have probably heard someone say, "don't be unequally yoked with an unbeliever," and almost exclusively that reference is made in the context of dating or marrying a "non-Christian". But is that it? Although I think that it is Godly wisdom to avoid such relationships and that this concept is included in Paul's admonition I think when we limit it to this application we miss so much of what God's Word is trying to teach us.
As is often the case context is everything. The historical context is that Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and he's not trying to confront some rash of devotionally "mixed marriages". He is writing to a church that has struggled with being sucked into ideas and practices that are counter to sound Gospel teaching. They are connecting with and adopting the belief systems of those around them who don't know Christ and have not conformed to Christ-like principles. As David Guzik says in his commentary on 2 Corinthians it is about influence:
It really applies to any environment where we let the world influence our thinking. When we are being conformed to this world and are not being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2), we are joining together with unbelievers in an ungodly way. This speaks especially to the issue of influence. Paul is not suggesting that Christians never associate with unbelievers (he makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). The principle is that we are to be in the world, but not of the world, like a ship should be in the water, but water shouldn't be in the ship! But if the world is influencing us, it is clear we are unequally yoked together with unbelievers.
There is another interesting contextual note that leads us to an understanding that Paul is confronting the adoption of anti-Christian philosophy as the real issue. When Paul chooses the word "yoke" it carries with it, in a first century mindset, the idea of philosophical teaching. You see, as young Jewish men would come of age they would tend to find teachers, or rabbi's, who's interpretations of the Torah they would follow. Each rabbi had their own added commandments and regulations and a rabbi's own particular interpretation of the Torah was called that rabbi's "yoke." When Paul makes this reference he's saying "you can't yoke the teachings of Christ to the teachings of those who are driven by a worldly philosophy, they are incompatible."
This teaching is not simply about being married to an unbeliever but it is a warning to all Christians to make sure we are not melding our Christ given "yoke" with a "yoke" born of worldly values. A Gospel born philosophy of selfless love and sacrifice with a "yoke" of greed, pride, self pleasure and preservation. This is a warning that I think is particularly poignent in our American church culture. May we adopt Christ's "easy yoke" and reject the corrupting influences of worldly philosophy that is found far too often in the hearts and churches of American Christians.