14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14 (ESV)
A little more than a week ago, the pop cultural world was shaken to its Us Weekly-E! News core as Katie Holmes filed for divorce from her uber-famous, movie-star husband, Tom Cruise, and she was seeking sole-custody of their daughter Suri. Now, it is no secret that Tom Cruise practices a religion called Scientology (though I use the term religion very loosely). And he might be it’s most vehement advocate – going so far as to have on-screen arguments in interviews touting the evils of psychiatric medicines. Even if you agree with that bit or not, the fact is his religious/philosophical affiliation has been known for a while.
What is lesser known is that Katie Holmes was brought up as a Roman Catholic. Whether Holmes is really connected with the church only she and her friends know, but Scientology and Roman Catholicism don’t mix (contrary to what she may have thought), and if the reports are true Holmes ultimately left Cruise because she didn’t agree with raising Suri in the Scientologist stream.
When two people have vastly different ideological differences – and those differences surface in important issues like raising children – tension, conflict and strife are sure to follow.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church that has had its share of conflict. Sexual immorality, legal disputes, worship wars… it’s all there. And Paul raises a warning: don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers. The image is that of two oxen or donkeys yoked together to move in a certain direction. One is much taller and stronger than the other, and the result is that the stronger, more capable one will be slowed down by the weaker. Many times this verse is used as a cautionary pause to a follower of Jesus Christ when they are considering a marriage with an unbeliever… and it is that. But it is more than that.
If we, as believers, surround ourselves with people who have diametrically opposed views on things like sin and salvation there will be conflict. If our closest associates have no interest or belief in the saving work of Jesus Christ the result will be a weakening of our own faith. It will just be a matter of time. Who we associate with matters. Who we are influenced by matters. It’s just a fact of life.
Don’t get me wrong: we should have relationships with people outside the Christian faith. Otherwise we run the risk of being cloistered to the point of ineffectiveness. But the importance of being in partnership with those who can hold us up is critical to our growth in the faith. Churches, when they are at their best, do that for people. They are places of encouragement and support. When they are at their worst – they too can represent the unequally yoked.
But it is the job of every believer… it is our job… to seek encouragement and to be encouragement to others.
We may need to evaluate our relationships and the importance we place on each one. We may need to even shift where we spend our time and with whom. In the end though it will be worth it, as we grow in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ with others who are right there with us.