Imagine two oxen joined together at the neck by a wooden crosspiece so they can pull a plow. They are two animals of the same species, joined together to accomplish a certain job. They’ve been trained to respond to the farmer’s voice, and they’re considered a team once they are joined together by the yoke. A wise farmer will pick two animals that work well together, that have about equal strength, and make a good team.
If one animal is stronger, more stubborn, or lazier than the other, one of them could get hurt, and they’re likely to end up walking in circles. A “team” like that is more like a pair in bondage. Paul uses this illustration to instruct us to be careful about who we “yoke” ourselves to in any kind of relationship that will shape our identity or the way we do things. The application to romantic relationships is obvious since they’re relationships that impact us the most.
If we try to live life yoked together with an unbeliever, it’s nearly impossible to enjoy harmony and agreement. As a team of two, both must be unified in their destination. When the two oxen are pulling in different directions, they’re fighting against each other and the struggle weakens both of them. To stay tied together is foolish. Their ultimate goal will be accomplished.
When God comes into our lives we start to see life through His eyes. Our purposes, passions, and priorities change. Even if we don’t yet know exactly what those priorities are, life itself has greater value simply because God is in it. We have greater confidence in what we can accomplish, because we know that it isn’t done by our strength, but by God’s. We know that anything is possible if God is in it.
As a result, you may suddenly find that things you used to care about —goals, perhaps, that you and your boyfriend had together —now don’t matter. You start reevaluating what you love, and you’re drawn to care about what God cares about. You’re motivated by your love for God, and your desire to please Him comes from your love for Him. Things that neither you nor your boyfriend ever cared much about now mean everything to you. God may call you to move, start a ministry, feed a homeless person, and your boyfriend now sees you as crazy. But in reality, your eyes have opened to life in terms of eternity.
We discover things about life, too, through knowing Christ, things that God “reveals” to us through His Spirit. Suddenly we start saying things like “I’ve been created for a purpose and I’m accountable for living it out” or “I need to forgive, and I don’t have a choice about it” or “All people are measured by God; why should I care what a person thinks about me?”
We want to talk about these things, share these thoughts with others, or even shout about them. But how are you going to feel when you express these things to the most important person in your life, and he stares at you with a blank look on his face? The tension created by this disconnect is likely to make you talk less about God —and worse, to notice Him less in your life.
If you sense this is happening in your relationship, it’s not just a feeling. It’s a warning. Perhaps it’s time to unhitch yourself from the yoke before you do great harm to yourself and the person you love.
At first I couldn’t pinpoint what was so frustrating about trying to persuade Jason to see things my way. I wanted him to understand this new path I’d found and agree to walk down it with me. But like the oxen, we were pulling in different directions, and with every attempt at persuading him to change direction, I was weakened, and I miserably failed.
I now see the difficult situation I put myself in. I was not only pulling against my boyfriend, I was struggling to hold up my relationship with God, a relationship with my boyfriend and my boyfriend’s relationship with God. The burden became too great, and sooner or later, one of them had to go.
I had a real awakening one Sunday. After church, I went home and sat on my porch. The birds were chirping, and it was a beautiful afternoon. I asked God why it was so hard to convince [my boyfriend] Jason that knowing Him was a wonderful thing. I started to journal, and I sensed God’s response to me:
“Listen to the birds … Can you understand them?”
“If you wanted to tell them about Me, could you?”
“I send birds to minister to the birds. If you tried to tell them about Me and My love, what would happen?”
“I’d get frustrated and give up.”
“Yes, because I haven’t given them the understanding and knowledge of your language. I’d have to open their ears, prepare their hearts. I must be at the foundation of all you do and say, or you might as well be trying to communicate with birds. It’s noise not comprehended; it’s nonsense to their ears. I must be at the foundation of all your life and ministry. The house will collapse without a strong foundation.”
I realized that I was frustrated because Jason and I were speaking different languages. As much as I tried to get him to agree with me, nothing I said worked. I realized it didn’t matter how much I preached and prodded —unless the Holy Spirit was the one who persuaded Jason, nothing would be accomplished. It was by the Holy Spirit prodding me that I came to know God, so how could I expect it to be any different with Jason?
If you and the person you’re dating do not have a foundation rooted in loving Christ first, the relationship you build won’t be stable. This instability will soon turn into a deep dissatisfaction. Any material discontent you’ve ever struggled with does not compare to the vacancy you’ll feel when God’s purpose in your life is being wasted.
Jesus says that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. The only way that the burden can be light is if you give this burden to the Lord. The weight of trying to hold up both your own and your boyfriend’s relationship with God is too heavy, and soon enough, one relationship will come crashing down.
At one time I thought that Jason and I had so much in common, and that the way we looked at faith was the only thing we didn’t have in common. So why couldn’t we keep our relationship and work around this one difference?
But what did we have in common that really mattered? When it comes down it it, someone who’s serious about following Jesus doesn’t have that much in common with someone who isn’t. “Oh,” but you say, “there are so many things we have in common: we like the same food, sports, entertainment, and intellectual activities.”
Of course, this can be true. You can be in harmony with almost all of life’s goals. But life goals are much different than life purpose. Goals are something you do; purpose is who you are. If knowing God is the main purpose of your life, it’s devastating when you can’t share this with the person closest to you.
Yes, you can fall in love with an unbeliever. But when it comes down to what really matters, the two of you are speaking different languages. You two are like the oxen going in circles: you think you’re getting somewhere but you keep ending up in the place you started. You love your boyfriend, but you also love God, and the pull of them both will get you nowhere.
After the initial excitement of being in love wears off, you’ll find yourself longing for intimacy that you can find only with someone whose life is firmly rooted in a foundation in Christ. When your life is rooted in Christ you have a whole different purpose for living, and suddenly you find yourself feeling alone in that purpose.
Because your views and desires have changed, neither of you feels free to share the deepest longings of your heart, and neither of you feels understood by the other. There’s no solid common bond to keep the two of you together. Your fulfillment now lies in your relationship with God. This presents a problem because your boyfriend’s satisfaction lies in you. You’re looking to God for fulfillment and your boyfriend is looking to you for fulfillment. Trying to make your lives fit together is like trying to put a square block into a round hole. God created us so that only when we look to Him will we truly be satisfied.
The article above can be found in the book, Breaking Up, written by Stina Wilson, published by Kregel Publications. This book challenges your thoughts on what God would want from you when and if you enter into marriage. A few of the questions addressed are: “How do you know if a relationship is godly? What does a ‘godly relationship’ even mean? Does it mean abstinence? What do you do if your relationship isn’t godly?” Building on her personal experience and years of working with students in Young Life, Stina Wilson has written this book to help you answer these complicated questions.
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If you have additional tips you can share to help others in this area of marriage, or you want to share requests for prayer and/or ask others for advice, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.