The Expository Files

Do Not Be Bound Together With Unbelievers

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The word "fellowship" means "joint participation toward a common goal". Though not a religious word in and of itself, much like other words (church, faith, etc.) it takes on a specifically spiritual connotation when used in the Bible. Not all religious fellowship is pleasing to God. It displeases God when fellowship involves the wrong people (1 Corinthians 5:2), the wrong actions (Acts 15:24) and/or the wrong motives (3 John 9).

Consider the text from which the title of this article is taken:
"Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 'I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,' says the Lord. 'And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,' Says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

What About Marriage To An Unbeliever?
"But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the lord, that the wife should not leave her husband...." (1 Corinthians 7:10; cf. vss. 12,13).
Paul taught that the believer was not to leave his/her (unbelieving) spouse. This being so, then our text forbidding being bound to unbelievers does not necessarily apply to marriage to unbelievers. The text does not say "Do not become bound to unbelievers..." but "Do not be bound to unbelievers..." This means that if marriage were the application, then Paul would tell Christians married to unbelievers to leave them, to not to continue being married, or bound to the unbelieving spouse they are with. But he does the opposite; he tells them to stay, so to make this passage speak about marriage is incorrect. There are an eternity of reasons that makes it unwise for a Christian to decide to marry an unbeliever. A good rule to consider in marrying another is this: "Will this person help me and any children we have to go to heaven?" If this question cannot be answered with an honest "yes" then marriage should be out of the question, whether the person claims to be a believer or not! It may be unwise, but it is not necessarily sinful to marry an unbeliever.

Paul's Five Synonyms
"Therefore, do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light." (Ephesians 5:7,8).

In our text, Paul uses five synonyms as he talks about the matter which helps us to understand what fellowship is.

a). Partnership (6:14). What partnership does righteousness have with lawlessness. The understood answer is "none!". The child of God must not engage in lawlessness, whether by himself or in partnership with another who will take him in that direction and exercise that kind of control over him (Romans (6:13,19).

b). Fellowship (6:14). What fellowship does light have with darkness? "None!". The two do not mix. We must not involve ourselves in a relationship that will darken our light! (Ephesians 5:5-12; John 3:19-21).

c). Harmony (6:15). What harmony exists between Christ and Belial? "None!". Christ and Satan are as opposed as can be. You'll never find the two harmonizing together.

d). In Common (6:15). What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? "Nothing!". Spiritually speaking, they have different everythings. Purpose, goal, hope, lord, standard, and finally, eternal destiny.

e). Agreement (6:16). What agreement does the temple of God have with idols? "None!". Idolatry, in whatever form, is a horrible insult unto God. Believers are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). We must not be a part of a partnership that would require us to erect an idol in our heart.

What Does It Mean To Be Bound Together With Unbelievers?
"And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them." (Ephesians 5:11).

Being bound (being "unequally yoked" in the King James Version) has to do with joining an unbeliever in sin. It means to be in partnership, fellowship, harmony, having in common, being in agreement with an unbeliever in that which is sinful. To involve myself in a relationship where sin will, or probably will, occur is worse than a mistake!

Exactly what kind of human relationships do we apply this teaching to as faithful children of God? All of them! Whether business, marriage, family, friendship, recreation, political, social, or whatever. We must join in no partnership that will involve us in sin. Earlier, we pointed out that this text does not necessarily apply to marriage to an unbeliever. This is so, but it could apply. For example, Jesus said some marriages would constitute adultery (Matthew 19:3-9). If my marriage to an unbeliever constituted adultery, which is a sin, then I must not marry (or remain married) to that person. But the principle also applies to any other human relationship I may enter.

Relationships With Unbelievers Prohibited?
"I wrote to you before not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean the immoral people of the world... for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person..." (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Not all relationships with unbelievers are forbidden; just those that would compromise our faith. We certainly can eat, help, play with, work with and even marry unbelievers without committing sin, though not all these partnerships may be the wisest things we have done. Jesus, in fact, ate with sinners, but did not participate in sin with them (Mark 2:16; Hebrews 4:15).

As we look at our text again, we will see that the partnership with unbelievers that Paul is forbidding is participating with them in something sinful, or "unclean".

I can be married to an unbeliever and can remain so, but I cannot join with him/her in something the Lord condemns. I can run a business with an unbeliever, but should the choice be forced upon me to practice dishonesty, then I must refuse. At any social or recreational gathering, I am free to participate unless participation would bring about a violation of the law of Christ. Then, I must withdraw and "not be bound to unbelievers."

It is just as Paul said, "Therefore, come out from their midst, and be separate,' says the Lord. 'And do not touch what is unclean." The prohibited "bounding" is in the touching" that which is unclean.

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 11.7; July 2004