I received the following question:

(Regarding an acquaintance) Yesterday we were meeting and she said that I can’t be friends with non-Christians and brought up the verse in 2 Corinthians 6:14.  I was a bit disturbed by this. I understand that I can’t have fellowship with non-believers, but am I not supposed to be their friends either?

II Corinthians 6:14. As you know, the verse reads:

14. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?

This verse is used by many to demonstrate that believers should not marry unbelievers. A better verse might be I Corinthians 7:39, especially the last part.

39. A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

This seems to indicate that we are only free to marry whom we wish if he/she is “in the Lord.” That would discount marrying anyone who was not in the Lord. I do think it is a very bad idea to marry an unbeliever, and is disobedience as well.

However, I am not sure that we use the II Corinthians 6:14 verse quite correctly. A yoke was something put on animals when they were doing work such as plowing. A yoke would often be made for two animals. An unequal yoke, then, would be one where the two animals were much different in size and strength, or else were two different species of animal, and so the yoke was not even and the work not distributed fairly between the two. Does this mean that you could be equally yoked with an unbeliever, but you should not be yoked unequally? I do think we need to be careful that we don’t go into business with unbelievers, and then let them take advantage of our faith and work ethic. We also shouldn’t slack off because we figure we as believers are superior, and so we can lord it over an unbeliever and make him do the work. These would be unequal yokes.

Yet I will admit that the verses following in II Corinthians 6 seem to support the idea that we should not be yoked at all.

14. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?

The answer to these questions cannot be, “They do have fellowship, communion, and accord, but it must be an equal one.” So the commandment cannot be just about equal versus unequal yokes. It probably means that a yoke between a believer and an unbeliever is inherently an unequal one, like a yoke shared between an ox and a donkey is just naturally unequal. Yet does that mean I cannot go into business with an unbeliever? Must I make sure my bosses at work are believers? Must I deal with a believing banker, or else I should not make a transaction? We have to be careful here.

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
      “ I will dwell in them
      And walk among them.
      I will be their God,
      And they shall be My people.”
17 Therefore
      “ Come out from among them
      And be separate, says the Lord.
      Do not touch what is unclean,
      And I will receive you.”
       18 “I will be a Father to you,
      And you shall be My sons and daughters,
      Says the LORD Almighty.”

The implication does seem to be separation. As you point out, though, it also is clearly in the context of fellowship, communion, and accord. The idea seems to be one of closeness.

Unbelieving friends are a touchy issue. Befriending an unbeliever can be and often is a major step towards leading that person to the Lord. To refuse to do this would seem to be a mistake. However, many can be led astray by godless friends. I Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” Being a constant companion of unbelievers can and often does have a corrupting influence on believers. We have a tendency, consciously or unconsciously, to conform ourselves to those we are with, to “fit in.” The ways of thinking and behaving that are common with unbelievers can creep into our own minds and actions if we are not careful. Thus, there is a problem with spending too much time in close companionship with unbelievers.

That said, I would not leave off all friendships with unbelievers. Yet of course with such it is a good idea always to have kind of a guard up, and never to forget that this person is not a brother or sister. Particularly friendship with an unbeliever of the opposite sex is dangerous and should be watched over with great care and not entered into or continued casually. If attraction develops in such a case, the results could well be disastrous, and since we are made to be attracted to the opposite sex, this possibility cannot be discounted. Yet friendships with unbelievers of our own sex are also to be watched over with care. I would not say avoided, for as I said this can be a good thing, and we are not supposed to only get together in our own little clique and ignore the world. Yet these should not be our only or our closest friendships. We need to be closest to believers, and to those who can help to build us up.