What Does It Really Mean to Be “Unequally Yoked”?

Cortney Whiting

iBelieve Contributor
Updated Oct 15, 2020
What Does It Really Mean to Be “Unequally Yoked”?

Growing up as an Evangelical youth in the 90’s, I often heard 2 Corinthians 6:14 "do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers" as a guiding principle for dating. Sunday School teachers taught believers should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers starting at the most basic form social intimacy. The common illustration utilized two students and a chair. One stood on the chair and the other stood on the floor. The object was seeing which was easier: for the student on the chair to pull the student on the floor up or for the student on the floor to pull the student on the chair down. The point of the illustration was: it is easier to pull another down than it is to lift someone up. This physically represented why you should not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

Yet, in my youth, no one ever seemed to explain why this was a bad idea or what the repercussions were of being unequally yoked.

unequally yoked bible

What Does “Unequally Yoked” Look Like?

When I started dating in college, someone at work asked me out who was not a believer. At the time, I had not been on many dates, and I did not see the harm in going to dinner with him. He had been kind to me for the time I had known him, and he knew I was a firm believer and respected this quality from the beginning. I noticed quickly his values and mine were not aligned. I felt uncomfortable with his language and his habits. But he was interested in my faith. So, I continued to see him. Every time we saw each other, something inside of me didn’t feel right about the relationship. I felt I was the one constantly teaching and moderating his behavior. He asked me to lie to my parents. He used vocabulary I never said. He started pushing physical boundaries.

The lectures of my mentors from high school came drifting back. Within a month, I was giving him the, “It’s not you, it’s me” speech.

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Ana Cernivec

unequally yoked meaning

So What Does it Really Mean to Be “Unequally Yoked”?

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians to not become bound together in inappropriate relationships with unbelievers, he was reminding them how to live holy lives as believers. He uses five rhetorical questions to clarify the fundamental differences between those who followed Jesus and those who did not. In the Old Testament law, the Israelites were not allowed to yoke two animals of different species together when plowing a field. If two animals of various size or strength were tied together, the weaker one would hinder the entire team from accomplishing the given task. Instead of plowing forward, the pair would walk in circles. Paul uses sequential questions to explain why believers and unbelievers are fundamentally opposed to one another and should not become partners.

I saw this fundamental difference in my brief dating encounters. My worldview was usually different from the person I dated. Even if the person said they had been to church, if he was not actively seeking the Lord, it became evident that he was not the person God had for me. I noticed an inequality in our relationship in several areas.

Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Gift Habeshaw

hands holding across table, unequally yoked

1. A Fight for Affection

In my failed relationships, I noticed that the guys I dated did not understand why I wanted to spend time studying God’s word or why I loved worship. My life goal was ministry and when I discussed my prayer journal or my relationship with Jesus, they found the trait admirable, but foreign. Somehow, to them, God was in competition for their attention. Instead of allowing God to be a unifying agent, He became a source of tension.

2. A Matter of Priority

I realized within my dating relationships that I did not want to date someone who would place me first. I dated one guy who planned extravagant dates, but his heart had no room for Christ. While the attention felt flattering at first, it made me realize that I was on a pedestal that I could not live up to.

3. Respect Does not Equal Partnership

Several of the guys I dated respected my values and beliefs. I learned that respect did not equate to partnership. While they admired my values, they did not share them equally. Spiritually, I felt more alone dating an unbeliever than I did when I was single. Through these experiences, I learned I needed someone who could uplift me spiritually to stay with them long-term.

4. It is Easier to Fall than to Raise Up

While my longest relationship before my husband lasted barely a month, I was more preoccupied with my emotions within those encounters than my walk with the Lord. The time I dated someone who was not spiritually compatible, my relationship with Christ stalled. However, as I walked in spiritual circles due to a distracted mind, God waited patiently for me to get back on track. While I had positive influence with those I dated, I don’t believe it was worth the emotional investment.

Photo Credit: © Pexels/Luis Quintero

couple holding hands jumping in the air, unequally yoked

Finding a Spiritual Match

When I met my husband, I realized a distinct difference of what had been missing in my other relationships. The two of us shared a spiritual kinship. We both participated in the college and career ministry and served within our local church. After meeting through church, we decided to play tennis together to get to know one another better. Through our time together, I realized he possessed and communicated a wisdom unlike anyone I had dated before. We grew together as friends. We prayed for each other. I shared with him my dreams of ministry with passion and freedom. When we decided to begin a dating relationship, we talked to mentors before proceeding.

Finally, when we decided to begin dating, we were committed to the course God had for us. We only dated for three months before I moved across the country to attend Dallas Theological Seminary. For the next nine months, we dated long distance. Our phone conversations helped build our bond and after my first year of school, we were married. It is through his leadership, support, and encouragement that I am able to continue to grow in my relationship as a believer, a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a writer today.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Warren Goldswain

woman looking at man on a date, unequally yoked

How to Tell If Someone Is “Unequally Yoked”

It is hard to discuss being equally yoked without sounding judgmental. Yet, if we are seeking a life partner, it’s important that we act wisely and look for a person whose life reflects what is in their heart. Scripture encourages us to be discerning, pure, and blameless while at the same time loving (Philippians 1:9-11). Before pursuing a romantic relationship with someone, it is wise to know the answers to some of these questions.

1. What type of language does the person use?

2. How does the person treat others in authority?

3. How does the person describe themselves?

4. What type of music does the person listen to?

5. How comfortable does the person feel talking about their faith?

6. How does the person handle stress?

7. Does the person serve within their church or community?

8. What type of relationship does the person have with their family?

9. Who are some of the person’s closest friends?

10. What extracurricular activities does the person enjoy?

Had I asked myself these questions before I dated several of the people I did, I might have realized going out with them was a waste of time. These questions serve to balance our emotions with a biblical standard. If someone uses foul or derogatory language constantly, perhaps that says something about the state of their heart (Proverbs 10:11, Luke 6:45). Similarly, if someone’s closest companions are of bad influence, you might not want to begin a close relationship with that person (1 Corinthians 15:33). It is better to take some time to find out basic information about a person before you have invested emotionally into a them. It saves time and heartache.

A Word of Caution

Before you decide to “kiss dating goodbye” and only date men of a certain standard, I want to caution you to continue to build friendships with everyone. My mistake came by jumping into an exclusive relationship too early with people of different values and beliefs. Many blessings come from friendships with unbelievers. However, clear emotional and physical boundaries need to be formed to guard you from being tempted from crossing over from friendship to dating unintentionally. Whatever you decide to do, my prayer is that you trust the Lord with your future, knowing that He already knows your course. Trust in His timing and in His goodness.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/clownbusiness

Cortney Whiting is a wife and mom of two preteens. She received her Master of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently teaches at a Christian school and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at her blog, https://recapturefaith.com.

Originally published Tuesday, 13 October 2020.