Do Not Yoke Yourselves With Unbelievers
“Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For . . . what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever?”—2 CORINTHIANS 6:14, 15.
1. How did one sister come to marry an unbeliever?
ONE of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the midwestern United States lost her husband in a car accident some years ago. “I was devastated at first,” she recalls, “but I was determined not to let this interrupt my service to Jehovah. After a couple of years, though, I began to feel like a fifth wheel around couples in the congregation. My daughter and I were not always invited to family outings. When I noticed Christian couples displaying affection toward each other, I felt even more rejected. No one seemed to notice that I was growing weaker spiritually. So when a worldly man I knew from work asked me out to dinner, I went. Before I realized it, I was in love with him. Finally, I was so weak and overcome by my loneliness that I agreed to marry him.”
2. Why is the desire to marry natural, and what was marriage designed to form?
2 Yes, the desire to share life with a mate can be very strong, and it is also natural. As Jehovah himself put it: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement [“counterpart,” something fitting for him] of him.” (Genesis 2:18, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote) Marriage was designed to form a close, permanent bond of union between a man and a woman. It was not Adam but Jehovah who said: “A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-24; compare Matthew 19:4-6.) Perhaps your heart longs for such a counterpart.
3, 4. (a) How does the Bible warn against forming close attachments with unbelievers? (b) In what way may Paul’s counsel about uneven yoking apply to marriage? (c) How would the Corinthian Christians have understood the term “unbelievers”? (See footnote.)
3 The Bible, though, warns against forming close attachments to unbelievers. As the apostle Paul put it: “Do not become unevenly yoked [“Do not harness yourselves in an uneven team,” The Jerusalem Bible] with unbelievers.* For . . . what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever.”* (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15) Paul may have had in mind the Mosaic Law’s prohibition against yoking together a bull and an ass for plowing. (Deuteronomy 22:10) The ass is smaller in size and not as strong and would suffer as a result of such an uneven yoking. Since marriage is like a yoke that binds husband and wife together, for a Christian to marry an unbeliever would result in an uneven yoking. (Matthew 19:6) Such a yoke often brings added pressure and stress to a marriage.—Compare 1 Corinthians 7:28.
4 Yet, as the opening experience illustrates, some Christians have chosen to marry unbelievers. Why do some find it difficult to marry “only in the Lord”?—1 Corinthians 7:39.
Why Some Look Elsewhere
5. Illustrate why some get romantically involved with an unbeliever.
5 It is not that they necessarily set out to ignore God’s counsel. Consider the situation of a Christian sister who may wish to get married. She may long for a Christian husband, but there do not appear to be many eligible brothers in her circle of believing friends. She is conscious of her age. She may desire to have a family. The fear of growing old alone and the need to feel loved can make her vulnerable. If, then, a worldly man shows an interest in her, it can be hard to resist. He may appear kind, gentle. He may not smoke or use bad language. Then come the rationalizations: ‘Why, he is nicer than a lot of the brothers I know!’ ‘He is interested in studying.’ ‘I know of cases where a sister married an unbeliever and he eventually became a fellow believer.’ ‘There are some Christian marriages that do not work out!’—See Jeremiah 17:9.
6, 7. (a) How did one single sister describe her frustration? (b) What question merits our consideration?
6 Yes, it can be very frustrating for a single Christian who wants to marry. Some even feel desperate. “The number of eligible brothers is extremely small,” said one single sister in describing the situation in her area. “But the number of single sisters is extremely large. As a sister sees her youth rushing by, her choices boil down to not marrying at all or marrying at the first chance she gets.”
7 Nevertheless, the Bible’s counsel is clear: ‘Do not yoke yourselves with unbelievers.’ (2 Corinthians 6:14) Is this divine warning harsh or unreasonable?
An Expression of God’s Loving Care
8. How has Jehovah demonstrated that he has our best interests at heart?
8 Jehovah is deeply concerned about our lasting welfare. Did he not, at great cost to himself, give his Son as “a ransom in exchange for many”? (Matthew 20:28) Is he not ‘the One teaching us to benefit ourselves’? (Isaiah 48:17) Does he not promise that ‘he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear’? (1 Corinthians 10:13) Reasonably, then, when he tells us not to yoke ourselves with unbelievers, he must have our best interests at heart! Consider how this warning is an expression of his loving care for us.
9. (a) What warning does Paul give against a Christian’s forming a close bond with an unbeliever? (b) What is the meaning of the Greek word rendered “harmony,” and how does it illustrate the difficulty that arises when a Christian yokes himself to an unbeliever?
9 Marriage was intended by the Creator to form the closest bond between humans, with husband and wife becoming “one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Is it wise for a Christian to form such a close bond with an unbeliever? Paul replies by raising a series of penetrating questions, each of which presupposes a negative answer: “For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony [Greek, sym·phoʹne·sis] is there between Christ and Belial [Satan]? Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15) The Greek word sym·phoʹne·sis literally means “a sounding together” (from syn, “with,” and pho·neʹ, “a sound”). It has reference to the harmony produced by musical instruments. There is, of course, no harmony between Christ and Satan. Similarly, in an uneven yoke, it is very difficult for husband and wife to ‘hit the same chords.’ They are like two musical instruments that are out of harmony with each other, producing discordant sounds instead of music.
10. What are essential elements in a happy marriage, and what advantages exist when there is an even yoke?
10 How, then, can a spiritual person enjoy complete harmony with a physical person? (1 Corinthians 2:14) Common beliefs, principles, and goals are essential elements in a happy marriage. Nothing gives greater strength to a marriage than mutual devotion to the Creator. When there is an even yoke, husband and wife can encourage each other in worship. Both can look to the Scriptures to settle their differences. Is it not evident, then, that Jehovah tells us not to yoke ourselves with unbelievers because he wants us to enjoy the closest possible bond with our marriage mate?
11. Why were marriage alliances with nonworshipers prohibited in Israel, and what thought-provoking question is raised?
11 Heeding the Bible’s warning also spares us the painful consequences that often result when a Christian yokes himself with an unbeliever. There is, for example, the possibility that the unbeliever will turn the Christian mate from serving Jehovah. Consider Jehovah’s warning to ancient Israel. Marriage alliances with nonworshipers were prohibited. Why? “For he will turn your son from following me,” Jehovah warned, “and they will certainly serve other gods.” (Deuteronomy 7:3, 4) Faced with opposition from an unbelieving mate, there may be a tendency to drift toward the path of least resistance. It is easy to think, ‘It will not happen to me!’ But it happened to a man of Solomon’s wisdom. Could not the same happen to you?—1 Kings 11:1-6; compare 1 Kings 4:29, 30.
12. How did God’s law prohibiting marriages to aliens serve as a protection for the Israelites? Illustrate.
12 Even if the believer is not turned away from true worship, there are still the problems and pressures often associated with a religiously divided home. Consider, again, God’s law to Israel. Suppose an Israelite girl agreed to marry a Canaanite man. Given the sexual practices that were prevalent in the land of Canaan, what respect would he have for the law of her God? Would he, for example, willingly refrain from sexual intercourse during menstruation, as required by the Mosaic Law?* (Leviticus 18:19; 20:18; compare Leviticus 18:27.) In the case of an Israelite man who married a Canaanite girl, how supportive would she be when he journeyed to Jerusalem three times each year to attend the seasonal festivals? (Deuteronomy 16:16) Obviously, God’s law prohibiting such marriages served as a protection for the Israelites.
13. (a) Why does a worldly person not have a Bible-trained, Christian conscience? (b) What pressures and problems are faced by some in religiously divided homes?
13 What about today? The moral standards of worldly people are a far cry from those of the Bible. No matter how clean-cut some worldly people may appear to be, they do not have a Bible-trained, Christian conscience. They have not spent years studying God’s Word, ‘making their mind over’ and ‘stripping off the old personality.’ (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:9) Hence, the Christian who yokes himself to an unbeliever often exposes himself to much heartache and grief. Some face repeated pressure to share in perverted sex practices or to celebrate worldly holidays. And some even complain of loneliness. As one sister wrote: “The loneliness you feel when you are married to someone who doesn’t love Jehovah is the worst loneliness imaginable. You see, you have no one to share the truth with, which is the most important thing in your life.”
14. (a) In a divided home, why is it difficult to bring up children in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah”? (b) What may be the effect upon children in a divided home?
14 In a divided home, it can be very difficult to bring up children in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Ephesians 6:4) Will the unbeliever, for example, willingly allow the children to attend meetings or share in the field ministry? Often the children end up being torn in their affections—they love both parents, but only one parent loves Jehovah. Said one sister who married an unbeliever: “I went through a lot of heartache during my 20-year marriage. My sons grew up with a lot of turmoil and emotional upsets and are now a part of the world. My daughter is often upset at having to be away from me so much because of her father’s visitation rights. All these problems exist because when I was 18, I chose to ignore one of Jehovah’s principles.” What principle? Do not yoke yourselves with unbelievers!
15. Why does Jehovah counsel us not to yoke ourselves to unbelievers?
15 Clearly, Jehovah wants us to get the most out of life. What he asks of us, including his counsel that we not yoke ourselves with unbelievers, is for our good. (Deuteronomy 10:12, 13) To marry an unbeliever is to ignore Scriptural counsel, practical wisdom, and the often painful experience of others.
Questions Commonly Asked
16, 17. (a) If we are not careful, how may emotion interfere with sound thinking? (b) Should God’s counsel be ignored because of exceptional situations in which a Christian married an unbeliever and now both of them are serving Jehovah? Explain.
16 Yet, if we are not careful, emotion may interfere with sound thinking. We may begin to feel that an exception can be made in our case. Consider some of the more commonly asked questions.
17 What about situations in which a brother or a sister married an unbeliever, and now both of them are serving Jehovah? Still, Jehovah’s principles were violated. Does the end justify the means? Illustrating God’s view of those who ignore his counsel is the case of the Jews returning from Babylonian captivity. When some took pagan wives, Bible writers Ezra and Nehemiah pulled no punches in condemning their actions. Those Jews “acted unfaithfully,” committed a “great badness,” and incurred “guiltiness.” (Ezra 10:10-14; Nehemiah 13:27) Something else to consider: When we ignore God’s counsel, we may wound ourselves spiritually, scarring our conscience. One sister whose unbelieving husband eventually became a believer said: ‘I am still dealing with the emotional scars. I can’t tell you how awful I feel when others point to us and say, “But it worked for them.”’
18. What is the course of wisdom if you are attracted to someone who is not yet baptized, and what will you thereby demonstrate?
18 What if you are attracted to someone who is studying the Bible and attending the meetings, although he or she is not yet baptized? We rejoice when anyone shows an interest in Bible truth. The question, though, is: Should you pursue your inclination? Frankly, the course of wisdom is to wait until some time after your friend is baptized and is making progress in displaying the fruits of God’s spirit before you date. (Galatians 5:22, 23) It may not be easy to apply such advice, but by doing so you will demonstrate devotion to Bible principles; this will lay a fine foundation for true happiness in marriage. If your friend genuinely cares for you and is truly coming to love Jehovah, no doubt he (or she) will be willing to wait until both of you are “in the Lord”—dedicated and baptized—before courting. Remember, too, that true love is not hurt by the passage of time.—1 Corinthians 7:39; Genesis 29:20.
19. What should you keep in mind if you are having difficulty finding a marriage mate from among fellow believers?
19 What if you are having difficulty finding a suitable marriage mate from among fellow believers? “I’m 26 years old, single, and really lonely,” said one sister. True, being single may be difficult for you, but the problems resulting from being unevenly yoked in marriage can be even more difficult! Obeying God’s counsel may require faith, self-control, and patience, but be assured that Jehovah knows and desires what is best for you. (1 Peter 5:6, 7) Make it a matter of prayer, and then wait on Jehovah. (Psalm 55:22) In this system of things, no one has a perfectly satisfying life. Your heart may yearn for a mate. Others, though, have their share of problems, some of which are incurable in this system. Only in the coming new world will “the desire of every living thing” be completely satisfied.—Psalm 145:16.
20. How did one single sister express her determination, and by being similarly determined, what satisfaction may you have?
20 Meanwhile, be determined not to yoke yourself to an unbeliever. A 36-year-old single sister expressed her determination this way: “I pray to Jehovah every day for a marriage mate. I have no desire to look outside Jehovah’s organization, but the temptations are still there. In the meantime, I plan to work on qualities that will improve me as a person so that I will be the kind of spiritual woman that a spiritual man is looking for.” Are you similarly determined? If so, you can have the satisfaction that comes from proving your loyalty to the God of divine justice.—Psalm 37:27, 28.
At 1 Corinthians 14:22, Paul used the term “unbelievers” in contrast with “believers,” or baptized persons. The Corinthians, then, would understand the word “unbelievers” to refer to unbaptized persons.—See Acts 8:13; 16:31-34; 18:8.
“In expanded form the principle might be expressed thus: ‘Do not form any relationship, whether temporary or permanent, with unbelievers that would lead to a compromise of Christian standards or jeopardize consistency of Christian witness. And why such separation? Because the unbeliever does not share the Christian’s standards, sympathies, or goals.’”—The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 10, page 359.