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"Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together." ~ Deuteronomy 22:10

Has anyone ever wondered how many people really understand this verse: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness” ~ 2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV? Well, the truth is that many people usually cite this verse, when they are speaking about a man and woman uniting in marriage. But is an unsuitable marriage specifically what Apostle Paul is speaking about in the above verse?

Certainly, if marriage, per se, were what the apostle had in mind when he warns the Corinthian believers about not being “unequally yoked,” he would not just mean that a believer should not be married to an unbeliever. Being “unequally yoked” also would have to mean that a believer should not marry anyone who is NOT at the same spiritual level as he or she is. This interpretation of what the apostle’s “unequally yoke” phrase would mean, if he were talking about married Christians, is supported by the Old Testament Scriptures that the apostle is alluding to in 2 Corinthians 6:14. The Apostle Paul’s “unequally yoked” metaphor comes from the Law, in particular, from Deuteronomy 22:10 and Leviticus 19:19.

In Deuteronomy 22:10, God says: “Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together,” and this command is repeated from Leviticus 19:19, in which this command is the first of three similar commands. In both of these mentioned verses, God not only is teaching His chosen people about the difference in kind, but also about inequality. Indeed, it is absolutely unfair, and essentially inhumane, to expect two different kinds of animals, having opposing characters, to work affably and enthusiastically together, while they pull a plow or a wagon. Because, when the donkey, the lighter and shorter beast of burden, is bound (tied; yoked) to the ox, which is the heavier and taller draft animal, the donkey won’t be able to keep up with the ox. 

Since an ox and a donkey are different species with unequal strength, disposition, and ability, God is teaching His chosen children that the plowing of a field would be made far more difficult than would be necessary, all because these dissimilar animals cannot work comfortably or cheerfully together. Thus, yoking them together for the purpose of drawing a plow or a wagon, and so forth, would mean that the ox inevitably would overpower the donkey—the much smaller and shorter animal. This “unequally yoking” also means that the donkey’s pace would be slower, because he would be receiving an inequitable load, as his strength and size in no way match those of the more physically powerful ox.

In Deuteronomy, the command to not yoke a donkey and an ox together comes right after the command to “…not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only will the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled” (v. 9). In the Leviticus verse, this particular “don’t” is the second of three commands. In both verses, God is teaching about the difference in kind. He’s specifically dealing with how planting the mixture of seeds in a vineyard pertains to committing a sin against nature, and against God.

For sure, God wants His chosen people to know that it is spiritually and agriculturally incorrect to plant two different kinds of seeds in a vineyard (field). For example, if oats and wheat were sown together in a vineyard, the oats and wheat not only would yield a mixed grain but also the PURITY of the oats and wheat plants, and the PURITY of the grapes on the vines would not be preserved. Instead, the mixed grain crop, the vineyard’s product (grapes), and the vineyard would be ruined—the vines would spoil the grain and the mixed grain would spoil the vines, plus the over-cultivated vineyard also would be damaged.  

In other words, God is saying that there would be no chance that the oats and wheat seeds, which have been sown together in a vineyard, would reap both a separate “good” crop of oats and a separate “good” crop of wheat, and no chance that the vineyard grapes would be a “good crop,” either! For sure, breaking God’s laws against the over-cultivation of a circumscribed area (i.e., the separated vineyard) will result in the premature exhaustion of the vineyard’s soil, thereby also damaging the yield from the mixed seed crop and the product (grapes) from the vineyard and forfeiting them (invalidating them; making them all of no value or no use), because they all have been corrupted (made impure).

The bottom line, then, is that the outcome of such a union (combining mix seeds then planting them in a vineyard) would be the same result that yoking two diverse kinds of animals together would achieve—corruption. The truth is that each unalike seed needs to be planted in a different field, and each dissimilar draft animal (an animal used to pull heavy loads) needs to plow alongside of the SAME kind of animal. For these reasons, if the Apostle Paul’s “unequally yoked” metaphor pertains to marriages, then the spiritual application of the apostle’s phrase is that a believer not only should marry another believer, but also that a believer should marry someone who spiritually can keep up with him or her. Put differently, a believer should marry someone who is plowing at the same pace and in the same field!

Getting back to what Apostle Paul principally means in 2 Corinthians 6:14, it is important to note here that the apostle’s focus throughout his letters to the Corinthians has been on the “church,” as a whole, and not on individual believers. That is why it is clear that his “unequally yoked” phrase has a broader implication than just suggesting that believers should not be “mismated.” The wisdom in his “unequally yoked” metaphor strongly recommends that believers should not be in any intimate union that is not effortlessly harmonious or not absolutely godly. Such an unsuitable relationship would be the case when a believer is married to either a believer who is not on the same spiritual level, or married to an unsaved unbeliever.

However, the truth of the matter is that the apostle really is warning the Corinthian Christians about the clear and present dangers that are upon them, because of their mismatched associations or partnerships with Corinthian unbelievers. The Apostle Paul is pointing out the Corinthian believers’ ill-advised inclination, that of trying to mix (blend; combine) the worship of God with the pagan worship activities that were going on in Corinth’s temples. If such a mixture were to succeed, then, as with the unpleasant and disharmonious yoking of a donkey and an ox, God’s sanctified or separated children’s lifestyle also would not be able to work harmoniously with the Corinthian unbelievers’ lifestyle. Likewise, as with the mixture of seeds and the fact that farmers would not be able to preserve the purity of each seed’s species, God’s sanctified or separated children also would not be able to preserve their spiritual purity—their holiness—once they mix their lifestyle with the Corinthian unbelievers’ lifestyle.

Corinthian believers’ attempt to mix their holiness and righteousness Christian lifestyle with Corinthian unbelievers’ polluted and corrupt pagan lifestyle is why the Apostle Paul not only is saying that believers have NOTHING in common with unbelievers and, thus, should not fellowship with each other, but also why he is saying, in 2 Corinthians 6:15, that believers and unbelievers are not “spiritually” in agreement. Corinthian Christians’ are not in harmony with Corinthian unbelievers, because the two of them are “spiritual” opposites. For these reasons, Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian believers to: “Therefore, ‘Come out from them, and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17, NIV; cf. Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34,41).

If we are being observant 21st-century believers, then we have noticed that a sign of the times is the Holy Spirit SEPARATING the real Body of Christ from the institutional church, in which there are genuine believers in partnerships and fellowships with unbelievers—carnal believers, who have disbelief and unbelief; and unsaved unbelievers. As a result of modern-day believers’ unsuitable relationships, many of today’s true believers are at risk of being fed the doctrine of secular humanism, as well as other false doctrines.

By institutional church, this blogger means those numerous physical, conventional ‘church’ buildings in which believers congregate, take on a name (for example, Missionary Baptists, Pentecostals, Apostolics, Methodists, Catholics, COGICs, and so forth), have a leadership structure, offer services and programs, and support ONLY THEIR members and THEIR members’ communities). By Body of Christ, this blogger means God’s “household of faith” sons and daughters, who are the “called-out” ones (the assembly/congregation … ekklesia) of the living God. This definition means the New Testament’s Body of Christ only can be the real family of God—a SINGLE congregation or assembly comprised of ONLY believers who worship in a house not made by human hands, because they ARE the temple of the living God (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16b)!

To be honest, Christ NEVER says that He is building His “church”—a physical structure. What Christ says is that He is “building” His ekklesia, which means He is gathering His congregation or assembly of “called-out ones.” To do so, the Lord intentionally separates His congregation or assembly of believers from the unbelievers, primarily for the purposes of worship, edification, and spiritual growth. Because of this separation, it is ONLY Jesus the Christ who adds to His ekklesia, which is why in the first century His ekklesia consisted of ONLY those believers who were born again, saved/justified, and full of the Holy Spirit!

For these reasons, in 2 Corinthians 6:15-17, the Apostle Paul is emphasizing the Lord’s pure motive behind His decision to separate believers from unsaved unbelievers. That chief reason for this separation is because there is no way to justify believers being in partnership with lawlessness—unrighteousness. Put differently, there is no reason for light and darkness to fellowship together.

That’s why the apostle is discouraging Corinthian Christians from allowing themselves to associated with (be in partnership with, . . . to MIX with) unsaved Corinthians, because there always is the clear and present danger of possibly being influenced by Corinthian unbelievers’ strong opposing pagan worship and/or pagan morality and ethics. There, indeed, also is the clear and present danger that if allowed to mix with Corinthian believers, Corinthian unbelievers might end up overpowering Corinthian believers, after influencing these believers to mix pagan Corinthian practices with Corinthian Christians’ worship of God, edification of other believers, and individual and collective spiritual growth. Inevitably, the mixing of these two spiritual “opposites”—Corinthian Christians and Corinthian unbelievers—definitely would cause Corinthian believers to be contaminated by the Corinthian unbelievers’ pagan temple beliefs and activities.

Since the apostle makes it clear in the letters to the Corinthians that it does matter what believers do with their bodies, then 21st-Christians also must never allow any unbeliever, whether saved but carnal, or unsaved, to have any control over us. The Apostle Paul makes this last point clear in his series of contrasts: believers vs. unbelievers, righteousness vs. wickedness; and light vs. darkness (v. 14); Christ vs. Belial (v. 15); faithful vs. infidels (v. 15); and temple of God vs. temple of idols (v. 16). Certainly, we must avoid, or remove ourselves from these “unequally yoked” alliances.

Indeed, as Christians, we are to avoid being in an intimate relationship with unbelievers, wickedness, darkness, Belial (Satan), infidels, and idols. Here we should note that the apostle is not saying that we must avoid ever coming in contact with opposing people or conflicting behaviors, because never having any contact with the aforesaid opposites is impossible. We live in a fallen world; therefore, we are surrounded by “unholiness and unrighteousness.” Now, there can be no doubt that the “evil one” would be influencing many, if not all, unsuitable relationships. Still, our Lord Himself, while knowing that we would inevitably have contact with the evil one, and his unbelieving children, asks God to not take us out of the world, but while we are in this world to keep us safe from the evil one (cf. John 17:15).

Be that as it may, what the Apostle Paul actually means, then, when he says to not be “unequally yoked” (to not mix with; to not form an alliance), is that believers should avoid teaming up with anyone whose goal is to corrupt or to restrain believers from fulfilling their God-given purpose. Put differently, believers must avoid being bound (tied to; yoked) together with anyone who doesn’t make working for the Lord a pleasantly productive spiritual activity. For sure, we are to avoid not only anyone who causes the kind of conflict that impedes evangelistic labor and/or chokes godly direction or purpose, but also we must avoid any person who seeks to entangle us with their impurity and lawlessness (sinfulness)—their lust, greed, idolatry, evil desire(s), and so forth.

In a nutshell, it is very crucial that we avoid the aforementioned kinds of entanglements (compromising relationships). Equally important, we should apply this “unequally yoked” biblical principle to every one of our daily activities: to our church, ministry, and other “religious” organization partnerships, to our business associations, to our personal relationships, to our marital union, and to every other alliance that would involve us being bound to, or us establishing a partnership with, anyone whose primary goal in life does not involve glorifying Father God. AMEN!