Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
- 2 Corinthians 6:14
“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
A note about the photograph: Paul’s metaphor was easily understood by the readers of that day. You can see that the larger ox in the photo is carrying essentially the entire load. Hopefully, the younger ox will grow up before the older ox is ready for retirement, unable to carry the load any longer. The date stamp on the photo is 5 March 1998. This photo was taken just north of Pen in the province of Maharashtra, India.
When I was in high school, integration had just started in small ways in Mississippi. When I was a sophomore at Tupelo high school, one of my friends was Frank Dowsing. Frank was a jock and I was a nerd, but we had PE together. Later in life, Frank Dowsing came out of the closet, but at the time, he showed no signs of being gay. Yet, Frank was black. The odd thing was that no one in class seemed to notice.
The next year, I was in my old home town twenty miles to the west of Tupelo. My parents had bought our old farm house and a few acres of land. I was back home. The verse from 2 Corinthians was read at the Christian club at the high school and some tried to apply it to the integration issue, but most agreed that “unequally yoked”, as it was in the KJV, meant Christians and non-Christians. It is more apparent that this is the case with the NIV as shown above.
Fast forward a few years. I went to work in Port Neches, TX. I was introduced to the woman who would become my wife. Then, a multitude of ‘unequal yoke’ arguments arose.
First, my wife is Eurasian. My mother was worried. “What will the children look like?” “You do know that Indonesians are black?” No, on the island of Sumatra, some of the tribal people are very dark skinned, but they are Asian, not African descent. My wife is fully European on her father’s side, with a Dutch grandfather and a German grandmother. A little gypsy, but that’s still European Balkans. Her mother was over half European with some Chinese ancestry, but she had a grandmother who had been a princess on the island of Bali. Otherwise, her Indonesian ancestry was from the island of Java. Let’s face it. My wife is exotic, when looking at her ancestry. (By the way, the children and grandchildren are good looking, but I am biased.
Okay, one unequal yoke down.
Second, my wife is an immigrant. This never became an issue. Our sons can claim that they are the first generation born in the US and they can claim that they have ancestry that came to the US on the Discovery, as part of the Jamestown settlement, before the Pilgrims. Actually, if the DNA test were done, there would probably be a Native American here or there, but we don’t know. If that were the case, they would have ancestry that predates the first European settlement in the US.
Okay, second hurdle down.
Third, my wife was raised in the Catholic Church. She was disenchanted with the church. She would ask the priest probing questions and she would get the brush off. She was glad to join the Presbyterian Church when we first married. One of our biggest fight topics over the years has been eating fish on Friday. Now, it becomes a family joke. “We’re having tilapia tonight. It’s okay. It’s not Friday.” Occasionally, she’ll sing a song in church that isn’t common to the Presbyterian Church and then whisper, “That was in my wheelhouse. That’s on old Catholic song.” She still says a blessing that she memorized in her youth, especially if we are at a restaurant. Otherwise, she is fully beyond that phase in her life. It has been a struggle, but she is stronger, because she has experienced both ways of worshiping and both sides of a few issues.
Okay, third hurdle down.
Fourth, my wife has believed in Jesus since she can remember. I could never question that, but her attitude toward certain aspects of life as we raised a family caused us to butt heads. I would go overboard toward the strict ‘religious’ side, not necessarily the Christian side. (It is odd that I do not like overly religious activities, and I was guilty of that myself.) She would be lenient toward to the worldly side. As a result, our child rearing was in conflict. Our boys got mixed signals.
I beat myself up over that. Maybe things would be different, if my wife had her vision at an earlier age. As it was, I was pulling the cart in trying to teach my family about who Jesus really was by myself.
When I got out of the Army and everything fell apart financially in our lives, I thought of the second scripture above. I must have been doing something wrong if my yoke was so heavy. It dawned on me that I had a feeling, upon becoming a Christian, that God wanted me to spread the Gospel to all corners of the globe. Me, personally. I told my wife, but she had not had her vision yet. She dismissed my idea as an insane notion.
If only… But God had other plans. My wife and I had to spend some more time in the wilderness, wandering.
Then, my wife had a vision in February 2000. She saw her time of death. She met an angel.
When she awoke, she noticed that the alarm clock was showing 3:16 in the morning. She picked up the Bible, and everything she read was clear in her mind. She hungered for more. Her head knowledge had finally reached her heart.
I had always wondered when we were head-butting over an issue, but she was the nicest person that I had ever met. She has a servant’s heart that actually gets her in trouble. She puts everyone before herself. Her actions for her entire life had said that she was a Christian. It was the attitude toward certain things that said differently.
Should you become unequally yoked? Charles Stanley wrote, “You must never sacrifice with God for the sake of a relationship with another person.” I don’t feel that I did that. It just made the wandering in the wilderness a little harder, but it was well worth the wait.
It is not a death sentence to be unequally yoked. You can be forgiven. I met an Indonesian man in Pittsburgh. He would always tell his testimony about being orphaned and the preacher suggested that he could meet his Heavenly Father. But his wife’s testimony was just as good. They fell in love, but the preacher warned him that she was Buddhist, a daughter of the strongest Buddhist family in Djakarta, Indonesia. So, my friend witnessed to his girlfriend. She was saved. She then witnessed to her family, and they were all saved. One of her younger sisters became the strongest Christian evangelist in Indonesia for a time.
This obscure warning from Paul is not a trivial thing, but God can work with imperfect situations and imperfect people.
Praise the Lord. His plans for our lives have placed us right here, right now.