When Kim became a Christian as a young teenager, her life changed dramatically. However, her faith was put to a difficult test when she fell in love with a non-Christian some years later. Joseph was handsome, adventurous, engaging, and intelligent. But he had no interest in following Jesus.
As the relationship became more and more serious, Kim was faced with the most difficult decision of her life. Should she ignore the Holy Spirit’s nudging to break off her relationship with Joseph? Or should she obey and break her own heart in the process?
Kim made the right decision. She broke up with Joseph and left for college in tears. She’d never felt so lonely. But she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’d done the right thing.
This is a fairly common scenario—A Christian dates a non-Christian. They fall in love. The Christian must make a choice: go through the pain of a breakup, or be “unequally yoked” with an unbeliever. Unfortunately, many choose the latter—and later regret it.
The Bible warns against being unequally yoked in 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (NIV). Because the phrase “unequally yoked” can be a bit difficult to understand, I like to read this verse from The Message, a paraphrase of the Bible. These verses read, “Don't become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That's not partnership; that's war. Is light best friends with dark? Does Christ go strolling with the Devil?”
God gives us this command for our own protection and joy. He knows that we can’t have the best possible marriage if we have different beliefs, values, and priorities from our spouse. And even though obedience to God can be difficult, especially in a situation like this, it’s always worth it.
Some Christians may find themselves saying, “But this person will change.” Maybe so. God has the power to change someone, and we should never give up on praying for those we care about. But the verse in 2 Corinthians doesn’t say, “Do not be unequally yoked … unless you think the person will change.” It says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (emphasis added).
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 7:16 says, “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” It’s our responsibility as followers of Christ to be obedient to God’s command and to trust Him for the best possible plan for our lives, even if that means our lives will go in a new direction.
This issue was even a concern in the Old Testament. When God was leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, He gave them strong commands about how they should deal with the pagan nations. Deuteronomy 7:3-6 says:
Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.
If you are a follower of Christ, you are a chosen child of God. He doesn’t want you to settle for less than His very best.
It’s worth noting that a Christian who finds himself in an unequally yoked marriage should not use this issue as grounds for divorce. God has the power to turn around the most desperate situations and use them for good. Even so, a Christian can save himself a lot of heartache and grief by seeking God’s will early into a dating relationship.
Karen, the author of the website www.unequallyyoked.net, has received hundreds of e-mails from Christian men and women who are married to non-Christians. “Once married,” she notes, “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.”
Sadly, many of these individuals thought they were marrying an “average Joe.” They never imagined that the consequences of being unequally yoked could be so severe. That’s why it’s important to understand God’s commands in this regard before marriage.
After breaking up with Joseph and leaving for college, Kim couldn’t imagine herself ever feeling happy again. But on the first day of class, she noticed a young man sitting alone in the student center reading his Bible. His name was Paul, and a few years later, he and Kim were married.
Kim recognizes now that the temporary heartache she went through was nothing compared to the lifetime of regret she avoided by being obedient to God. What began as one of the hardest decisions of her life turned out to be one of the best—which is so often the case when we follow God’s perfect plan.
Not everyone who makes the tough decision to break off an unhealthy dating relationship will find “the one” as quickly as Kim did. God’s plan is different for every one of his children. But his plan can always be trusted—it’s always good.
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