“… Forsaking all others keep only unto her so long as you both shall live. “

The words above are part of the traditional wedding vows. The marriage covenant is an exclusive agreement. It isn’t mean or judgmental for a husband to throw off the flirtatious advancement of a female acquaintance. And it isn’t rude or unkind for a wife to turn down the romantic advances of another man. In fact, it would be wrong not to turn them down.

There are some relationships that that are inappropriate to have while you maintain others. In the romantic world we would call people who do this ‘two-timers’. It’s just not right. But sometimes Christians become ‘two-timers.’ 

Christians are people who love Jesus and love His family. It is an exclusive relationship. Though we are to love everyone, we must not let any relationship jeopardize our relationship with Jesus or our Christian family.

A Christian must be careful about influences that pull them away from Jesus. In fact, Paul explains that believers and unbelievers are spiritually incompatible. Like oil and water, they are so different they can’t mix together. There must be a separation.

Some have taken the issue of Christian separation to an unhealthy degree. Some have completely pulled themselves from society, forming a Christian commune and building barriers to protect them from the evil of the world. Having nothing to do with the surrounding community, these Christians have isolated themselves from the very people Jesus wants them to reach.

Jesus wants Christians to be in society to be salt and light. Christians are the world’s only witness to the saving work of Jesus. We are to let our light shine! But when society influences the Christian more than the Christian influences society, there are bound to be problems.

I heard one pastor illustrate this dilemma with a boat. A boat is made to float in the water. But if the water ever gets in the boat, the boat will sink. Christians are to be in the world. But if the world every gets into the Christian, the Christian will sink.

This is how the Apostle Paul says it:

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:13a)

What did Paul mean by “unequally yoked”? This came from the Old Testament prohibition of teaming an ox with a donkey. Not only did these two animals have two different natures, to the Jew they were clean and unclean animals. The yoke was a crossbar that harnessed two animals together so that they had to move at the same time. If you are yoked to another person, then where he goes, you go. Amos asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3).

Some have turned separation into isolation, until they cannot fellowship with themselves. In 1 Corinthians Paul had explained that believers must associate with unbelievers to win them to Christ (1 Cor. 5:9-10). In fact, he recommended to adopt some of the customs of the people they were witnessing to (1 Cor. 9:22). He encouraged the believing Corinthians to remain with their unbelieving spouses (1 Cor. 7:12-13).

Others have taken the other extreme and torn down any walls of separation and will fellowship with anyone. While we applaud their desire to extend love to all, we all need to be reminded that even Christian love must exercise discernment.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul presented three arguments to try to convince believers to separate from unbelievers.

1 – The nature of the believer (14-16)

for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

Paul asks five questions that have the rhetorical answer of ‘nothing.’ These questions compare a believer with an unbeliever and reveal the core differences.

  1. Righteousness vs. Unrighteousness – Christians, as recipients of God’s righteousness through Jesus, are to live righteous lives here on earth. In contrast, unbelievers do not have an obligation to God’s law and are do what is right in their own eyes.
  2. Light vs. Darkness – In scripture light often refers to God’s truth. Christians follow God’s truth, while unbelievers are still searching for truth.
  3. Christ vs. Belial (Satan) – Jesus Christ is the God of the Christians. Unbelievers, most unknowingly, have Satan as their god.
  4. Believer vs. Infidel – Christians believe in Jesus, nonChristians have rejected Him.
  5. Temple of God vs. Idols – The church is a group of Christ worshipers. Unbelievers have gods of money, possessions, self, etc.

2 – The Command of Scripture

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” (2 Corinthians 6:17)

Paul uses three Old Testament quotations (Is. 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34, 41). Isaiah commands the nation of Israel to leave Babylon and return to their own land. The spiritual application he made is for believers to separate from unbelievers.

This is not isolation. Sometimes in our desire for doctrinal and personal purity we become so self-centered that we ignore the needy world around us. Our Lord was holy harmless undefiled separate from sinners yet he was a friend of publicans and sinners. Like a skillful physician we must practice contact without contamination. Otherwise we will isolate ourselves for the people who need our ministry the most.

3 – The Promise of God’s Blessing

And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:18

Separation from the unbelieving world involves more than just keeping our distance from sin. It means staying close to God as a Father. When we move away from unbelief we move closer to God and His blessings. When we love God as we should, we won’t want to drift away from Him.

Beware of your bond with unbelievers. Unless your spiritual values and goals strongly agree with those of your potential partner—whether in marriage, business, or some other partnership—getting involved in a deep and permanent relationship will be like yoking a donkey to an ox. You will always be out of step with each other. One will be doing the heavy pulling while dragging the other along. And you will never be able to plow in a straight line. Maintain your closest relationships with those in the family of God.