“She tries constantly to get me to give up church. Every Wednesday night she tries to throw up obstacles to keep me from coming to prayer service. Every Sunday she tries to come up with some reason why I should blow off attending the service. She constantly disparages Christians. She calls [my church] a cult. There is a constant tension in the house… We have agreed to share the house…mostly for financial reasons. There isn’t a day I don’t pray for her salvation. And there isn’t a day I don’t wonder if her animosity toward me is not hindering her salvation. I still care an awful lot for her. It breaks my heart to see her shake her fist in God’s face. There isn’t a day I don’t pray just for peace in my house. If nothing else, just peace. But I will not give up Christ to get it. To anyone who is considering becoming yoked to an unbeliever I can only offer my story as a cautionary tale.”
That was the conclusion of the testimony I just received recently from a believer currently married to an unbeliever.
Frequently we in the church throw around the words, “unequally yoked” when we speak of this situation. A yoke is a wooden object that is placed around the neck of two animals, locking them together side-by-side, making them more effective to perform a function such as pulling a carriage or plowing a field (cf. Dt. 22:10). The Apostle Paul used the term in 2 Corinthians 6:14 where he told believers to “not be yoked together with unbelievers.” While his immediate concern was that Christians should not become partners with those who teach a false gospel (“unbelievers”), the concept has application to the most significant human relationship we have this side of heaven: marriage.
Now I must admit that I have witnessed “Christian” marriages that are a living disaster. I have also seen marriages between two unbelievers that appear to be harmonious and fulfilling. I am simply coming at it from the perspective that when a Spirit-filled believer marries another Spirit-filled believer he or she is doing the Lord’s will and has the greatest possibility for maximum joy. Let’s see if I can prove that.
1. Stick to the Bible. God gave us the Scriptures so that we might be blessed. Blessing comes when we obey the Lord’s revealed will, both in a desire to honor Him and also that it might go well with us. The instruction on this one is clear; believers are only to marry believers. “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).
This is a policy God began with the Israelites, His covenanted people. They were forbidden to marry “the daughter of a foreign god” (Mal. 2:11). After the exile were rebuked for taking “some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands” (Ez. 9:2). According to Nehemiah they had “committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women” (Neh. 13:27).
Should we forsake these commands and incur the Lord’s anger in favor of an emotional drive for human intimacy with an unbeliever?
2. Share your ultimate interests. If you are a Christian, there is no doubt that your greatest interest is Christ. After all, anything less would be idolatry! And if you have a vibrant, intimate and personal relationship with your Savior, how could you not want to share that with the one on a human level that you love the most?
Consider the problems that unequally yoked couples are guaranteed to face: Disagreements are unavoidable on parenting goals, church attendance, forms of entertainment, approaches to solve problems, financial spending, occupational involvement and ethical decisions. Why would anyone willingly chose to either compromise their faith or live in this continual state of tension and turmoil for the rest of their lives (Mt. 19:6)?
One individual that has sought to minister to hundreds of unequally yoked couples over the years remarked, “Once married, the differences in beliefs are no longer simple date discussions, but rather full-out spiritual warfare, where the children are often dragged through the middle of it. I have had letters about husbands who have purposefully destroyed their wife’s Bibles, forbidden them from going to church, and many, many times, abused their wives and/or children physically and emotionally. I have also had many letters from Christian men. These are very troubling. These men are extremely frustrated as they must rely on non-Christian wives to raise their children.”
As J. Budziszewski said, “In the one thing that matters most of all, the believer and the unbeliever are tragically divided. No marriage can paper over that division! If they marry, it will always be like a canyon between them. The more the believing spouse grows in the love of Christ, the wider and deeper the canyon will grow” (How to Stay Christian in College, 2004, p.116).
3. Scrutinize the dangers. It is not only easier, but also more common for the unbeliever to pull the believer his or her way. “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
This is witnessed throughout the Bible regarding the unbelieving nations that lived among the Jews. It is also spoken of specifically in relation to unequally yoked marriages. “For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you” (Dt. 7:4). How can we not recall the great king of Israel, Solomon? “Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin” (Neh. 13:26).
Compromise, stifled growth, backsliding and outright denial of the faith are all legitimate possibilities.
4. See the person as God does. While some may find this thought offensive, all people considering marrying an unbeliever must see that person through the lens of God. While God expresses a common love on all people, according to the Bible, those without Christ are spiritually “dead” (Eph. 2:1), “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), children of the devil (Jn. 8:44) and “enemies” of God (Rom. 5:10). On the contrary, the Christian is a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17), “born again” (Jn. 3:3), adopted by God (Gal. 4:6) and indwelt with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). You can see why Paul would argue, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:14-16; cf. Eph. 5:11).
So why would you wish to be united with someone diametrically opposite from you? Why, beloved by the living God, would you wish to become “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) with someone opposed to His will (2 Chron. 19:2) and presently on the broad road leading to destruction (Mt. 7:13)?
5. Savor the blessings. While this loving restriction to be unequally yoked preserves two Spirit-filled believers for God’s greatest blessings when they unite, too often we focus on the negative reasons why believers should not marry unbelievers. So let’s end with the positive benefits that come when Christians choose other Christians for their spouses.
They can grow with each other as they grow together in Christ. Both will share a common interest in prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, serving and evangelism. They can discuss together what they are learning from the Lord. Their home can be a sanctuary from the distresses of the world as Christlike attitudes and actions are promoted. They can love each other with the very divine love they both receive from the Holy Spirit. Together they can raise their children toward godliness. They can successfully illustrate Christ’s union with the church by cheerfully implementing biblical roles and behaviors. And there will be mutual encouragement and mutual accountability and mutual unity as they share the same overall goals and desires.
For a variety reasons, some Christians are presently in an unequally yoked marriage relationship. With Christ they can be given the grace to make the most of their situation (1 Cor. 7:14). But if you are a believer and not yet married, save yourself the anguish and pray the Lord blesses you with someone who loves Him more than he or she will ever love you. Make a resolution not to marry, better yet, not to even date an unbeliever. Why put your deceptive heart to the test? Why experience the unnecessary sorrow when the relationship needs to be ended? Wait on God as you pursue His very best in a desire to glorify Him and enjoy His richest blessings.