I will be guest posting on Christian Business Crossroads tomorrow answering the question, “What does the Bible say about my business?” In the post, I discuss how the Bible isn’t always clear when it comes to every aspect of our business, and I give suggestions on how you can apply both the direct and indirect lessons it teaches us when it comes to business.
Sue Miley posted a great piece in July on how to apply a panoramic God view to your business, and in this post she brings up an objection one of her clients raised about a Scripture she referenced. Reading between the lines a little (dangerous I know), it sounds like one of these references is Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth to “be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
Don’t Be Unequally Yoked Together with Unbelievers
For some reason, this reference still resonates with many Christians in a most discordant way. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. Maybe it’s because so many have used this “big club” to pound other Christians over the head (in all Christian love, of course – yeah right!). Let’s take a look at what Paul wrote.
14Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. 18And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. – II Corinthians 6:14-18
The Corinthian church was having a problem letting go of the idolatry of their former religion. Paul is writing them to urge them to turn away from their former worship. Why? Because they are a new creature (II Cor 5:17). They are ambassadors for Christ (II Cor 5:20) working together (II Cor 6:1) as ministers of God (II Cor 6:4).
What Does it Mean to Be Yoked Together?
Paul was trying to invoke the image of two animals yoked together in a field. The yoke is a sturdy piece of wood that went across the shoulders of two animals with a collar on each animal affixed to the it. The yoke is then attached to a plow or a cart so that the animals can provide the pulling power.
It works well as long as the two animals are equally matched in size and strength like the two in this picture, but imagine if the two dogs above were hooked into a yoke together instead. The pug is going to go wherever the bulldog decides to go. Even if there is just a small difference between the two animals it will be much harder for the farmer to plow a straight row or the cart driver to stay on the road. When we think of God as being the farmer, or the cart driver, leading us in the direction He wants us to go this imagery makes a lot of sense.
Paul was also likely using this imagery as a reminder of Deuteronomy 22:10 where the ox (a clean animal) and the donkey (an unclean animal) were prohibited from being yoked together to plow the field. Think of how hard it would be to plow that field. The ox is very obedient and it takes only the slightest nudge by the farmer to direct him, but the donkey … well, he-aw, he-aw, he always gives you a hard time (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
Who Is on the Other End of Your Yoke?
Paul is telling the Corinthians that you shouldn’t be locked together with an unbeliever because your path and their path is not the same. While you may agree which direction to follow on some matters, the driving force behind what motivates them is much different than what (or better, who) motivates you.
Your Ministry Partners
Paul is clearly directing this letter at the Corinthian Christians who have not forsaken their previous idol worship imploring them to give “no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed (II Cor 6:3).” Whether or not it is our vocation, we are all called into full-time ministry.
Paul says above that we are “temples of the living God.” In II Corinthians 6:4, he urges us to approve ourselves in ALL things as ministers of God. This is especially important in our roles as ambassadors for Christ. Who we choose as our partners in all aspects of our life are tethered to His temple in us.
Your Husband or Wife
Interestingly enough, this passage is most often applied to marriage. While this wasn’t what Paul was writing about directly, it certainly fits. Two people who join together to become one flesh definitely should share a common faith that guides them. There is enough of a burden sharing a yoke for a lifetime with another person without adding to it dissimilar values, faith, and destination.
Your Business Partner
Outside of marriage, we share most of our waking hours striving together with our partners in business. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matt 6:21).” Sharing control over your business with someone else generally does not work well anyway, and the high failure rate of partnerships paints a grim chance for success for those who try it.
When we commingle our treasure with their treasure a very strong bond is formed. As Christians though, we recognize that we are merely stewards of the treasure with which God has entrusted us – including the business. When God calls us to act with His treasure, it may not always be in a manner that returns financial gain. Asking God to hold for a moment until you get your partner’s approval won’t go over well with Him or your partner.
It’s not going to be comfortable as God continues to poke you (the ox) with His prod while your partner (the donkey) brays away at you stubbornly refusing to acquiesce. Of course, in his mind, why should he? He hasn’t surrendered his life to your God. Without a shared destination, a shared purpose, and a shared foundation this scene is bound to play itself out over and over again.
Why Share Your Yoke with an Unbeliever?
These are the major partners with which we share our yoke, but any relationship we have is going to fall under these same principles. People are sure to argue that this passage doesn’t apply to business, or marriage, or dating, or whatever. Why are so many eager to attach themselves to an unbeliever’s yoke?
Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (I Cor 10:31).” That covers everything, doesn’t it? Isn’t it going to be hard to do this while dragging that donkey around? Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matt 11:30).” Why would you want to add to it?
We have an amazing capacity to rationalize (aka, rational lies) our faults to the point that we can even deceive ourselves. Paul talks about being unequally yoked with an unbeliever as trying to make light and darkness commune together. If he didn’t convince you, perhaps the words of John will.
5This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: – 1 John 1:5-6
What if I’m Already Yoked Together with an Unbeliever?
Okay, but what if I’m already married to an unbeliever? Or own a business with an unbeliever? Whether or not I should have attached myself to them is kind of a moot point now. What do I do? Great question. I’ll be tackling it in tomorrow.