By Phillip M. Way

Do Not Be Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers – 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

We would all be quick to affirm the truth that we are commanded to fellowship with one another within the church. However, as we have seen, defining fellowship tends to be problematic. Many have come to think of fellowship as any social activity with other people who are members of our church or who present themselves to us as fellow followers of Christ. The truth that seems so evasive is that fellowship is a very specific set of actions that must be motivated by love for God and for each other within the Body of Christ. And we must not forget that for all we seem to not know about fellowship, it is a duty assigned to us by Christ that must be fulfilled if we are to be obedient to Him.

We learned in our last visit that in order to understand and apply what the Bible tells us about fellowship it is necessary for us to see that there are several foundations of fellowship. Each foundation helps give us a more clear idea of what exactly we are commanded to do for one another in the church. The first foundation of fellowship we reviewed was the basic understanding that we are many members but one body. We strive to be unified because we are one body and members of each other. That is why we must be humble, esteeming others as better than ourselves. By not having too high a view of ourselves we are allowed to enjoy genuine, unpretentious fellowship. Remember, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 tells us:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “ I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Therefore “ Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

How often have we heard these verses quoted? Usually it is limited to the context of dating, courtship, and marriage! We tell our children and the singles in our church that they must marry a Christian because the Bible forbids marrying a non-believer. We must never even think about becoming yoked together with a lost person for then we would be violating the command, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”

Is this true? It is true that this is but one text we can use to show that believers should marry only other believers – marrying “in the Lord” as Paul puts it – but to stop there is to miss the entire context and application of these verses. We, as disciples of Jesus Christ, should not be yoked or joined together with anyone who is an unbeliever within the realm of spiritual intimacy or ministry pursuits. But then I am getting ahead of myself. Before we delve further into what the context tells us about this command, let us spend just a moment to investigate what this principle does NOT mean.

This principle cannot be taken ever in any way to proclaim that we should have no contact or friendship with people who do not know Jesus! This is not a banner verse for setting up a monastery or a Christian social club (which is what many “churches” have indeed become) to function in such a way that we never ever have contact with anyone outside the faith.

Our proof is found in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, which hardly needs explaining:

I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”

We see then that the unbeliever is not to be avoided at all costs as if he really were unclean. No! Instead we see that while we are given the command to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers we are to be in the world as ambassadors for Christ preaching and living the message that God has sent His Son to seek and save that which was lost and to reconcile sinners to Himself.

We see that this command is at it foundation task oriented. It is built off of the command found in Deuteronomy 22:10 which tells us, “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” This deals with work, with accomplishing tasks, with being closely tied together in the pursuit of a common goal. If we take a big, strong ox and yoke him to a smaller yet stubborn donkey what kind of furrow can we plow? There could not be any cooperation because these two animals by nature are different. This is how we understand the second foundation for fellowship. Two people who are different by nature, one born again the other lost in sin, cannot undertake successfully plowing a straight row, so to speak.

We have already defined fellowship as “to share in or with; participate; take an interest in; partner with; be connected; or to share in a common pursuit.” So how is it that we can befriend the lost and still fulfill this command not to be unequally yoked together with them?

The context of 2 Corinthians 6 helps us see that the command is given in light of spiritual pursuits, ministry, and intimacy. How can two people pursue spiritual things on a common level if one of them is still a “natural man”? (1 Cor 2:14). If a person is saved they have put off the old, natural man and are a new man in Christ! How can there be any deep unity in a spiritual pursuit between one who is alive spiritually and one who is still dead? In fact, how can they minister together? This is the primary error of ecumenism – thinking that we can work together in ministerial pursuits with those who do not even believe the basic fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The truth is that there can be no real spiritual intimacy at all between two people who are members of different spiritual kingdoms.

This is exactly what the text we are examining goes on to prove. Let us look at the differing aspects of this truth – we must not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers because:

What Fellowship has Righteousness with Lawlessness?

Again, the term fellowship means “to share in or with; participate; take an interest in; partner with; be connected; or to share in a common pursuit.” How in the world could we ever be talked into believing that righteousness and lawlessness partner with one another in a common pursuit? What common pursuit has righteousness and lawlessness? This sounds so simple and obvious, but think about it. How often do we and people in our churches pursue righteousness and lawlessness at the same time? This would be illustrated by doing the right thing in the wrong way.

The term righteousness means a state of being right with God. The term lawlessness means literally “no law.” How do we figure that we can be right with God and at the same time live with no law? “Ah ha” says the antinomian, we are free from the law and under grace. This of course misses the whole use of the Law, and it presumes that the Law has no bearing whatsoever on the life of the believer. It is a viewpoint that ignores all the commands (Law) given us in the Old and New Testaments. It is blatant licentiousness – using the liberty we have in Christ as a license for fulfilling the lust of the flesh.

The truth is that there is no righteousness without the Law for the Law tells us explicitly what it is to be righteous! And here we have it laid out plainly that a right relationship with God cannot include participation with living with an absence of the Law. The Law, to be sure, does not justify or save us, but we know that the reason we are justified by faith in Christ is because Christ kept the Law and has imputed His righteousness to us! And after the Law points us to Christ (Gal 3:24) we know that it continues to give us guidelines for godly living (1 Tim 1:5).

What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? Consider these verses:

I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. – Romans 6:19

You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” – Hebrews 1:19

We understand that we cannot be unequally yoked together with unbelievers because we are slaves of righteousness and they are slaves of lawlessness and sin. There can be no cooperation, no common pursuit between the two for even if we have a supposedly common goal our motives and means will be opposed to one another.

What Communion has Light with Darkness?

Further, we see the impossibility of yoking believers with unbelievers in a different light – that is, what communion does light have with darkness? If it is dark, there is no light. If it is light, there cannot be darkness. The two do not co-exist! The term communion helps us further understand fellowship. It means intimacy, referring to a close relationship. How close a relationship can light have with darkness?

Here is why we cannot fellowship with the lost – they are darkness and we are light. Note, the Bible does not say we were in darkness and are now in the light. No, we were darkness and now we are light in the Lord. What cooperation, what spiritual intimacy, what common pursuits can believers have then with unbelievers? Men without Christ are the absence of light. They are unholy, depraved, dead in sin, bound to sin, slaves of sin, able only to sin and unable to not sin! They are deep and utter darkness, void of the light of truth.

1 John 1:5-6 tells us, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” God is light. We, before Christ, are darkness. Opposite ends of the light spectrum. We have no light in and of ourselves.

Consider the difference between light and darkness within the context of believers and unbelievers found in Ephesians 5:8-14:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says: “ Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”

There is the command again, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Sounds cooperative doesn’t it? What level of intimacy can we achieve with one whose fruit and way of life we by our very life in Christ exposed? If we are walking in the light as He is in the light then our lives will reflect Christ. And that reflection will expose, it will manifest and reveal the sinful walk and ways of those who have not trusted Christ.

It is not that we work at exposing their sin by gossip, slander, or ridicule. It is that our life of holy obedience and spiritual fruit is in such stark contrast to a life without Christ that their sin is made that much more blatant and hideous. If we try and hide the light or attempt to live around the lost in such a way that we do not expose their sin then we are living in sin! We are fearing men more than we fear God. And we are denying the power of the gospel through our testimony to be used by the Holy Spirit to call people to Christ for salvation. Do we really want friends so badly that we hide who and what we are so that they cannot see the truth and be saved? How utterly selfish is that kind of life?

The fruit produced in our lives is different. The believer produces good fruit, the fruit of the spirit. The unbeliever produces bad fruit, the works of the flesh. And light and darkness cannot have communion. There is no common ground, there is no meeting in the middle. Light always exposes what is hidden in the dark or darkness always extinguishes the light.

What Accord has Christ with Satan?

In our text Satan is referred to as “Belial”. It is a word that means “the worthless one.” That is a fitting name for the devil, is it not? And we are asked what accord Christ has with Belial. Christ, the most worthy of all (Rev 5:12), is here presented in contrast to Satan, the worthless one. The term accord means agreement. What agreement can there be between Christ and Satan?

There is a progression here that we need to note for a moment. In defining the idea of not being unequally yoked together with an unbeliever we have seen Paul use the illustration of righteousness and lawlessness and then light and darkness. But here there is no confusion whatsoever – what agreement does Jesus have with the devil? Jesus, the anointed Messiah, God in the flesh, the Son of God, perfect in holiness and righteousness, Himself the Light of the world in contrast to Satan, the worthless one, a fallen angel, the father of lies, lawless, and while parading as an angel of light is actually “the prince of darkness grim.” How could these two work together in a common pursuit, on intimate terms, in cooperation?

In 1 Corinthians 10:7-21 we read about idolaters. These worship false gods. They worship themselves. Is this not Satan’s first sin? He desired to be like the Most High, coveting the Throne of God. He wanted to be God, thus committing the ultimate idolatry. We see here that all false religion, all idolatry, the worship of anything or anyone other than the True and Living God is in reality the worship of demons! False worship is demonic.

There is no connection, no agreement, no cooperation between demons and Christ. They are subject to Him and must obey Him as He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The point here is that we cannot “partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.” Yet so many try to do God’s work the worlds way and they ultimately corrupt the worship of God and find themselves sitting at the table with demons. We cannot obey the Word of God or work to advance His Kingdom and grow His Church by siding with the Enemy. It is impossible to live a life that exalts the worthiness of Christ all the while we are serving the purposes of the worthless one.

What Part has a Believer with an Unbeliever?

What part, that is, what portion does a Believer have with an Unbeliever? What do they share? One trusts Christ. One has believed to the salvation of his soul. The other does not believe. He is an unbeliever. He has no saving faith and he does not know or trust Jesus Christ. The believer is a new creation in Christ, having been given a new heart, a new mind, and a new life. The unbeliever is dead in sin, a slave of unrighteousness, with a futile mind, a hard heart, a darkened understanding, and a seared conscience.

Here are those in the faith and those who have no faith. What can they share? Proverbs 11:6 says, “The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust.” A believer will find deliverance through faith, the unfaithful will be caught by their own sinful desires. This relates specifically to how we would be motivated to pursue a common goal. As I have already stated, the motives and methods are substantially different. If we attempt to cooperate in a common pursuit we who have trusted Christ will not be thinking, speaking, or acting in the same way that those who do not believe.

The lost man cannot have right motives. Think about this. Can someone who is dead in sin, a member of the kingdom of Satan, who is unfaithful, who does not believe or trust in Christ have a right motive? We as Christians often struggle wanting to do the right thing but going about it the wrong way. How much more is this the case with an unbeliever who is incapable in his very nature of overcoming sin and lust on his own?

This is also a very strong contrast. Paul is not leaving any opportunity for the reader to believe that these two being contrasted have anything at all in common. There is no place here for intimacy in spiritual pursuits.

What Agreement has the Temple of God with Idols?

The word agreement means giving approval. So the question here is, “What approval does the Temple of God give idols?” Likewise, does Satan approve of the things of God or does he instead attempt to tempt us and lure us away from obedience to God’s Word? This is the height of ecumenism – joining together with those of other “faiths” (who in reality worship demons, whether they know it or not) with the hope that we can impact our communities or our churches for the better when in reality if we are holding to the gospel then one who would deny the gospel should find no approval from us whatsoever.

The Temple here refers to where God dwells. Can idols be there? What happened throughout the Bible when idols were introduced in the Land of Israel or at the Temple? The Land and the Temple were defiled. The idolaters were speaking out against the very presence and Person of God.

The next verse, 2 Corinthians 6:16, tells us then, “you are the temple of the living God.” God dwells in us, in His church! If we have trusted Christ, God is IN us. He has sealed us and fills us with His Spirit. We are the temple of God. We are where He dwells, in the midst of His people. In the Old Testament the people came to the Temple, in the New Testament we are the Temple.

What approval then does the household of God give to idols? God says,

I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore “Come out from among them and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,” says the LORD Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

We understand that we are not to have fellowship with unbelievers, because righteousness does not have fellowship with lawlessness, light does not have communion with darkness, Christ does not have an agreement with Satan, a believer has no part with an unbeliever, and the Temple of God has no approval to give the household of idols.

Friendship with the World – James 4:1-6

In light of all of this, in order to better understand the lesson here, James 4:1-6 has a word for us.

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

The church here is being ruled by her lust, befriending the world, and making herself an enemy of God. To do things the world’s way is indeed to make ourselves God’s enemy! The word used here for friendship means a favored companion, someone we trust intimately, someone we spend time with and fellowship with and from whom we seek counsel and advice. We are not to have this kind of relationship with the world. The world, those who are not in the Church and who do not know Christ, are not to be our favored companions or intimate confidants.

To be a friend of the world is enmity we are told. Enmity means open hostility. If we make the world and those in the world our favored companions then we are being openly hostile to God. This does not mean that we cannot minister to the world, or love those in the world, or reach out to those in the world. It also does not mean that we cannot be friends with people who are lost. But what it does mean is crucial in understanding this principle of not being unequally yoked together in fellowship.

This means that we must be careful about the level of that relationship that we have with those in the world. If the people that we are closest to and most intimate with, those that we open up and share everything with are not disciples of Jesus Christ then we have moved beyond the boundary set forth in our study. If we join in common pursuits without discernment and engage in fellowship with the lost then we are befriending the world system and making ourselves an enemy of God!

To understand this we see that to fellowship with unbelievers is in fact to confuse friendship with discipleship! The mechanism we have been given within the church for intimacy, growth, friendship, and cooperation is discipleship. If however we do not understand discipleship and we seek encouragement and counsel and instruction from people who do not know Christ then we will be mislead. They cannot advise us when it comes to spiritual pursuits and goals. They cannot lead us. They cannot direct or instruct us. They do not know God!

Christ has given His church the leadership that they need (Eph 4:11-16).

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

If we go outside of the body to have our needs for fellowship and discipleship met then either the church is dysfunctional or we have separated ourselves from the Body in a sinful manner. In doing so, we are trying to force the light and the darkness to co-exist and benefit each other, and this is impossible, both in the physical and the spiritual realm. Those who know us the best and teach us need to share the common foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Proverbs to Ponder

These Proverbs help us understand and illustrate this principle:

“The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.”(Proverbs 12:26). Who are our friends? Who are we close to and who do we trust? We must choose our friends carefully because if they are wicked they will lead us astray.

“A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24). In order to have friends we must be a friend. Another way to say this is that if we want to have fellowship we must fellowship. The unfriendly usually do not have many friends, and those who shun fellowship usually find themselves being influenced by those outside the church rather than those in the family of faith. And there are those in the Body of Christ who can be closer to us even than family members!

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Proverbs 27:6). When we have the gospel in common and there is a need to rebuke one another in the Body of Christ, while those rebukes might hurt and wound, these actions are in their very nature acts of faithfulness. We can instruct and correct and reprove one another with the Word of God and even though it is painful it is for our good and God’s glory. On the other hand, when an enemy kisses us (Judas, for example) we find deceit. We think of enemy here as a hostile opponent charging at us to harm us and we wonder why they would kiss us, but in truth, those who are our friends who do not know Christ are indeed our enemies and the enemies of God. We are instructed to love our enemies just as God has loved His enemies. But when the people who are close to us are in their very nature our enemies we must know that their kisses, their approval, is deceitful. Even in the love and care of a kiss, we find our enemies full of deceit, for how can one who does not know the love of God know how to love us?

“Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel.” (Proverbs 27:9). Our friends give us counsel and influence us. We must guard ourselves then from being influenced against God.

James 2:23 makes the point this way, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ And he was called the friend of God.” Are we like Abraham, a friend of God? Or are we a friend of the world? John 15:14 tells us how we make God our friend, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” We are God’s friends when we obey Him. And we need to have as our closest advisors, our counselors, and as our intimate friends those who are God’s friend, those who know Him and obey Him.

The Danger of Spiritual Goals Pursued with Carnal Means – Romans 8:5-11

Having examined these statements we see then that we must ask with Paul, “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” Further we are motivated to ask why we would befriend the world and make ourselves an enemy of God? The underlying lesson here is that there is a great and serious danger in pursuing spiritual goals by carnal means.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. The carnal mind, the fleshly mind, the futile mind of the lost is enmity against God. Those who are not Christ’s are openly hostile to God whether they look it or not! We cannot let our guard down and forget this. We must understand that we can love people who are lost, we can minister to them and befriend them, but to step from friendship to fellowship is to forget that they are carnally minded and that they being in the flesh cannot please God.

Having a deep friendship where we are influenced and advised by those who are in the flesh means that those giving us instruction and direction are those who cannot please God. They have no faith. They do not understand the Word of God. They will mislead us.

I fear that so many in the church are involved so deeply in sinful friendships because they have not been taught how to fellowship. The church is severely deficient in this area. We are particular about our doctrines and our practice and yet we most often fail at living what we believe. We neglect our duty to one another in fellowship and so members of our churches find as their closest friends those who are in the world instead of those who are members of the same Body with them!

How do we know when we have crossed the line between friendship and fellowship? The definition of fellowship helps answer this question. Are we engaged in common spiritual pursuits? Are we involved in intimate and deep decision making with them? Are we allowing them to influence the way we think, talk, or act? Are they instructing us, telling us how to be better parents or counseling us as to how to be a better spouse? Do they have a Biblical foundation for what they teach us? Do we approve the things that they do that are displeasing to God? If so, we have crossed the line. We cannot minister to them because we have embraced friendship with the world and become unequally yoked with unbelievers.

In summing this up, anything that we do with our lost friends that detracts from our living and preaching the gospel to them attacks the very reason we are to be their friend in the first place. We must never forget that our lost friends are lost and that they need Jesus.

Friendship – the Key to Effective Fellowship

What we see then in establishing this second foundation for fellowship is that friendship is truly the key to effective fellowship. We must study and meditate on what the Bible tells us about friendship. We must guard ourselves from the influences of those around us who we love but who do not know Jesus Christ. We must be reminded that our love for the church should come first, that as we learned in the first foundation of fellowship, we are members of one another. And there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

We must not confuse friendship and discipleship. We are to learn from other believers how to live lives that glorify God. In Titus 2:1-10 we are given the characteristics of a sound church. Interestingly, Paul does not give Titus a list of doctrines or church practice. He says, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the characteristics of a sound and healthy church can be found in how the members of the church are living. We must see that sound doctrine always leads to godly living. Jesus told us that the way we would tell the difference between true and false teachers is by their fruit. What results do we see from their doctrine? This also tells us that to know sound doctrine but not live it is useless. We must hear and do the Word of God.

In examining this foundation of fellowship we must ask a final question before moving on. Are we unequally yoked with unbelievers? If so, we must get into the Word, learn the truth about friendship and fellowship, confess our sin, and start doing what we have studied – fellowship with those who share our faith and belong to our Lord. This is the second foundation of fellowship.

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God.