By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
Growing up in church, especially in the youth group we used to hear this Scripture all the time, “Do not be unequally yoked…” This was most often applied in a dating context because as a Christian you didn’t want to date someone who wasn’t. Surprisingly enough we spent so much time talking about unequally yoked but never really focused on what it means to be equally yoked. It seems like in those days as long as the person was a Christian then that was the only thing that mattered. I think the question of yoking deserves some attention because if we are not supposed to be unequally yoked how can we be equally yoked.
What Is a Yoke?
When I was in school a yoke was when you put someone in a headlock with your hands around their neck. I don’t think that was what Paul was talking about. In the Scriptures, one use of the term yoke is as a farming term. Typically, two oxen were yoked together which meant there was a wooden harness tied around their necks that bound the oxen to each other. This allowed them to move in the same direction and to make the workload a little bit easier.
Jesus also used this term in Matthew when he said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30
For many in Jesus’ day, they were under the yoke or burden of the law. The Pharisees didn’t make this any easier. When Jesus came, he wanted to release them from that yoke because they were tied to the law. When speaking of his yoke being easy it can be an understanding of the transition from the yoke of the law which brings death to the yoke of grace which brings life.
What Does it Mean to Be Equally Yoked?
For your everyday life, the farming reference gives you the best picture of what it means to be equally yoked. To be equally yoked simply means to be tied and connected to people moving in the same direction as you are. This is a statement of agreement. The book of Amos (3:3) asks the question how can two walk together unless they agree? So yoking is a choice of two or more people to walk in the same direction, meaning they have a similar goal or outcome. This does not mean you agree on everything, but you agree to move in the same direction.
How Does Equal Yoking Play Out in Our Everyday Lives?
Let’s consider four scenarios where being equally yoked can make a big difference.
If there is one place where you need to be equally yoked it is in marriage. If you and your spouse are not working together toward the same goals, you will find your marriage to be an exercise in frustration. Again, this does not mean you have to agree on everything. That is not what it means to be equally yoked. In fact, that is unrealistic. I heard Tony Evans say something about married folks, he said if both of you are the same then one of you is not necessary. So, no you don’t have to agree on everything, but you must agree on the most important things. The three biggies I can think of are faith, family, and finances. If you can be equally yoked on those and move in the same direction in those three areas, then chances are you can make it through anything.
What does it mean to be equally yoked at work? It simply means that you buy into and support the vision and direction of the company or organization you work for. If you cannot agree with the vision or the direction the company is going in, then it is time to find another job. Paul said this
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossian 3:23-24
Let’s be completely honest here. It is very difficult to work unto the Lord when you don’t agree with the fundamental direction the organization you work for is going in. Can you plow through and make it happen? You could but there would probably be no joy in the journey. Remember everything has a time and a season and if the direction of the company changes maybe it’s time to yoke yourself to another organization.
What it means to be equally yoked at church is very similar to how it is at work. There may come a time where it is proper and right to leave a church. This does not always have to be a negative reason. Sometimes the needs of your family change or sometimes your needs change. For our family our church philosophy has been it has to work for all of us or it can’t work for any of us. For us this means we all have to fit in and be able to be ministered to. It also means that like work we need to agree with the direction the church is going in. When these things change then it may be time to move in a different direction. Like I said before this does not have to be a negative thing but sometimes it is a reality.
Of these four, equal yoking in friendships, after marriage, is probably the most important. As important as church is on a Sunday morning that only accounts for about two hours of your week. Most of the influence in your life will come from the people you choose to be around when you are not in church. These friendships can be on the job or off the job. Whoever you spend the most time with will have the greatest impact in your life. I used to do career workshops for high school students and one of the things I used to tell them is that if you want to get a good idea of what you are like, look at your five closest friends. These will be a reflection of who you are. If you like what you see fantastic. If not, then maybe it’s time for a change. Always remember yoking is something you choose to do, it’s not something you are forced to do. When choosing friends find the ones that can influence you in the direction you want to go in. I would call that the good kind of yoking.
A Final Thought about Yokes
The interesting thing about yoking is that you choose who you want to be yoked to. You choose your spouse. You choose your job. You choose your church. You choose your friends. So equal yoking is all about the choices you make. This is a very empowering statement because if you don’t like the direction you are moving in you have the ability to change it. This is a little bit easier with work, church, and friends. That’s why after choosing to follow Jesus, who you decide to marry is the most important decision in your life. In marriage, you are making a lifetime yoking decision so choose wisely.
When you really understand it, you will recognize that yoking is actually a wonderful thing because of what we said earlier about the oxen. It makes the workload easier. If you connect with those who are walking in the same direction as you are it will make your journey on that road that much easier and that much more enjoyable. So, go and be yoked just make good choices of who you want to yoke yourself to.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/scyther5
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, author and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He has spent more than 30 years serving the body of Christ in various capacities and has just released his first book, The Pursuit of Purpose. If you have ever struggled trying to find God’s will, this book will help you discover the different ways God leads you into his perfect will. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.