Author Greg Koukl
Published on 06/05/2015

Is Friendship with Unbelievers Being Unequally Yoked?

What does it really mean to be unequally yoked?


2 Corinthians has a verse that is often ignored and sometimes misused. It’s a verse that talks about being unequally yoked. The question has been raised to me: Is being friends with non-Christians an example of being unequally yoked? I guess my response is: That depends. The point of the passage is that we are not to be bound together—connected strongly—with people who have different points of view on critical matters, spiritual things, and moral things than we do. The picture there is of two oxen being yoked together. If they’re tied together and one starts to pull off the track, it can pull the other one of the track as well. Paul says we should not be unequally yoked to non-believers. 

Now, what would be an example of unequally yoked? I think certainly marriage would be an example of that. Certain types of business deals and partnerships would be examples of that. Wherever you’re in a circumstance where you’re tied together so much that their way of life, their values, and their worldview will function to pull you off the straight and narrow either in your beliefs, convictions, or in your behaviors.

Does this mean we should never have any contact with non-believers? No, of course not. In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians addresses that directly. 1 Corinthians 5, I think he said, “I told you not to associate with immoral people.” He said, “I didn’t mean immoral people of the world because then you’d have to go out of the world.” And of course, we’re sent into the world to take our message of love, reconciliation, and forgiveness to those people. We can’t be isolated. He was talking about associating with immoral people in the church. If we have people that are living like hell in the church, then maybe that means they’re going there. That should be addressed in the community of Christians, and that’s what he’s addressing there in 1 Corinthians 5.

We should be connected with unbelievers in a regular fashion just as Jesus was, but we are not to be yoked together with them in a way that’s going to compromise our own convictions and our own behavior. Where is that line? That’s something you’re going to have to reflect on, pray about, and get counsel from other Christians regarding. Definitely marriage, without question, is beyond that line. You want to be yoked together with someone who shares your convictions and who has a track record with the Lord so that you as a married couple can continue that track record. Again, business deals and some other things may qualify. Think of Psalm 1. The first couple verses give us some insight into inappropriate kinds of connectedness with non-believers, but going out of the world, isolating ourselves, pulling up the drawbridge, and circling the wagons? No, not at all. We need to be out there with those people who desperately need the Gospel.