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The Significance of Relationships with Non-Christians

‘Do not be equally yoke with unbelievers’ Christians and the people of other faith have different ethical expectations. Can Christians and People of Other Faith have a common social-economic project for the wider community they serve?

In 2 Corinthians 6:14–18, Paul has dealt with the issue of having close relationships with non-Christians. Till this point, the significance of having good relationships with the people with whom we work has been vividly portrayed by Paul. For example in 1 Corinthians 5:9–10, or has emphasized that we should work with non-Christians and in the same way, how this needs to be done has also been discussed by him in 1 Corinthians 10:25–33.  However, perhaps there are certain limitations regarding the intimacy that the Christians have in their working relationships with non-Christians. In this regard, Paul has said that, “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” These words remind us of Leviticus 19:19, in which, if it has been presented that different types of animals should not be mated together. The same way, Deuter­onomy 22:10 has prohibited that an ox and donkey should not be used together. However these precedents from the Old Testament are concerned with making and with work. On the other hand, in the present assignment, the question that has been explored is if the Christians and the people of other faiths can become involved in social or economic projects (Hughes, 1977). Ordinarily worse, the limitations that have been imposed on working with nonbelievers have to be explored in order to find an answer to this question. In this regard, the term 'yoked' appears to be of the most significance. When two animals are yoked together, they have to move in lockstep. Therefore if one animal is going to turn left, the other animal also has to turn left even if it may not want to so. This is completely different from the situation where, for example the animals are grazing in a herd. Therefore in this case, even if they cooperate with each other but still they have the freedom to move in any direction they want to and they may even decide to depart from the herd itself. Therefore, metaphorically speaking two animals or two persons are yoked together; each one of them will be bound to do whatever the other one has decided to do. In this way, if two persons have been yoked together, the choices made by one person will compel the other to follow the same decisions even if the person is not willing to do so (Webb, 1992). Therefore, in case of being yoked together, a person becomes bound by the actions and the unilateral decisions of the other person.

Exploring the Limitations of Working with Non-Believers

Therefore, Paul wants that we should not be unequally yoked. The question arises in this regard that what does he means by being equally yoked. However the answer to this question has already been given by Jesus (Barrett, 1973). He calls to those who follow him when He says “take my yoke upon you.” Therefore, Paul has told us that we should not be unequally yoked with the nonbelievers because we are already yoked to Jesus.

In this way, while one part of the yoke is around us, the other part is on the shoulders of Jesus. In this way, Jesus decides the bearing, race as well as the part of the team and we have to give in to his leadership. With the help of His yoke, we can feel his guidance, his pull and the direction selected by him for us (Martin, 1986). In the same way, through his yoke, He also trains us to work efficiently as a part of His team. Similarly, His yoke leads us and also binds us to Him. As a result of being yoked to Jesus, we become partners with Jesus in restoring the creation of God in every sphere of life (Barnett, 1997). Jesus says that, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29b) still the work that we are doing with him can be compared to the transformation of the whole cosmos. In this way, when Paul tells us that we should not be unequally you an hour working relationships, in fact he is giving as a warning that we should not get involved in working situations where we may be prevented from doing the work that Jesus wants us to do or we are prevented from working in the way in which Jesus wants us to work. In this regard, it can be said that this statement has a very significant ethical element (Fee, 1977). According to Paul, it needs to be seen what partnership is present between righteousness and lawlessness. Therefore if the requirements of the work situation requires that we may have to cause a harm to the customers or we have to abuse the co-workers, mislead the employees or deceive the members of the society or to pollute the environment, it can be said that in such a case they will be yoked into the violation of our duties that have been imposed on us as the Stewards of the kingdom of God. But it also needs to be noted that ethics is not the only element in this regard (Thrall, 1977). Therefore apart from preventing us from doing anything that can be considered as unethical, being yoked to Jesus also requires that we should work to reconcile or restore the world to the vision of God. In this way, at the very least it can be suggested that careful attention needs to be paid to the values, methods of working, motivations, integrity and other similar factors while making a decision with whom we are going to work (Kümmel, 1966).

Understanding 'Being Equally Yoked'

In this way, it can be said that being unequally yoked with unbelievers can be described as a situation where we have to follow the decisions and the actions of the other people who have purposes and values that are incompatible with the purposes and values of Jesus. This position can be illustrated with the help of few examples. Therefore a business partnership, generally appear to be a form of a yoke. In case a contract has been signed by a partner or if money has been spent by the partner or any property is sold or purchased by the partner, or even if any law has been violated by the partner, the other partner will be considered to have taken part in these actions or decisions (Dahl, 1977). In this sense, to create a business partnership can be considered as unequal yoking. Therefore even if the believer has just that the nonbelievers partners will not do anything unethical, is it still possible that the nonbelievers partners will also want to transform the world in the way in which God intends it to be. Therefore even if the nonbelieving partner does not force the believer to do anything unethical or evil, will it obstruct him or her from doing all the good things that Christ wants us to do (Plummer, 1966).

Similar consequences may also arise in other cases like making a pledge of office, purchasing property jointly or raising money for a nonprofit organization. On the other hand, in case of a single commercial transaction, in which an item is sold and purchased between two parties, generally there is no yoking present. The reason is that in this case the parties have already agreed in advanced regarding a single item of business and then they have to perform their part under the agreement (Betz, 1973). Of course, it is necessary that we should agree to a particular transaction only if it is according to the values and causes of God. Therefore in such a case, none of the parties is bound by anything that has been done by the other party after the transaction. Some of the examples of the transactions that have a limited scope and duration include teaching a class, writing for a newspaper or volunteering in a civic event. Somewhere between these two situations lies the purchase of stocks. As the stock owners are considered as part owners of the company morally even if not legally, they are bound by the decisions that have been made by the directors of the company. However this situation continues only for the period they own the stock of the company. In the same way, when we raise money for a nonprofit organization or for a political campaign, we have to live with the consequences of the choices made by others however the situation does not continue forever (Héring, 1962).

Yoked to Jesus: Partnership and Restoration

In this way, as these examples reveal that there is no hard and fast rules for deciding what can be considered as unequal yoke. Each case has to be decided on its own merits. However in practice, there can be certain difficulties in deciding if a particular working relationship can be described as a form of yoking. Perhaps, doing our job along with a secular organization is not a form of yoking (Derrett, 1978).

But in this regard if we have gone so far in debt that it becomes nearly impossible to quit the job, perhaps in such a case the employment relationship made turn into de facto yoking. The reason is that in such a case, the person loses his or her freedom to quit the job in case it is found that the organization is being involved in ungodly activities. For example, if a partnership has been offered to a lawyer by a very reputed law firm but he finds out that very soon after becoming partners, a number of other lawyers were getting divorced, the lawyer decide to refuse the offer. The reason is that in such a case, the acceptance of the offer of partnership may turn out to be a yoke to the values and practices that are not compatible with the commitment according to which he had decided to place his wife first as compared to the other people in his life.

But at the same time, it also needs to be remembered that these words of Paul should not be treated as mentality of any confrontation with the nonbelievers. Like anybody else, Paul was also aware of the fact that the believers also fall short of the values of God (Bloom, 1993). As a result, it is very important that we should not be unequally yoked given in case of Christians if their conduct is such that it may pull us away from the yoke of God. In the same way, we have to receive the grace of Christ every day so that by being yoked with us, any other person is also not dissuaded from working in accordance with the ways and purposes of God. Another very significant thing is that we should not judge or condemned the nonbelievers that they are inherently unethical (Cloete and Smit, 1994). The reason is that even Paul himself had not done so. Consequently we have not the ones who have to judge but we have to discern if the working relationships in which we entered may not allow us to work for the ways in which God wants us to.

Ethical Considerations: Partnership Between Righteousness and Lawlessness

One very significant questions that can be passed to the while deciding this issue is asked by Paul. He asks "what does that a believer shares with unbeliever?" (2 Cor.6:15). Therefore if by asking this question, we find out that we have the same values and goals regarding the work that is going to be undertaken jointly, in such a case, it can be said that the God's will is going to be served if we are going to work with nonbelievers (Cochrane, 1974). For this purpose, the opportunities as well as the risks can be evaluated and this can be done by evaluating in advance, all the commitments that may arise in such a working relationship. In the same way, it also needs to be considered how the individual capabilities and restrictions can increase or decrease the chances of being pulled away from working in the way in which God wants us to. Therefore we see that the decision to work with the nonbelievers in any social or economic undertaking can be different in case of each person (De Gruchy, 1993). This decision also depends on the strengths and weaknesses of each person and therefore a free association for a person may turn out to be a binding you for the other person. For example, it can be relatively easy to quit the job for a person who has recently graduated but making the same decision can be relatively difficult for a person at the senior position in the company. This can also be set in other words that the more significant role of a person in a working relationship, the more significant it becomes to ensure that the person is not being yoked in a situation where the person may be pulled away from working according to God's will (Douglas, 1982). Therefore, it will be advisable for all the Christians if they carefully consider the commitments in advance before entering into a work relationship on a partnership that may be created in social or economic sphere.

The importance of this also emerges particularly when it is applied to social relationships like marriage. Therefore when marriage takes place between the believer and a nonbeliever, it can be said that the testimony of such a person for Christ will be impacted. The reason is that the purpose of marriage is to create a total bonding between two lives, a union of one flesh. In this case, both the parties lose themselves in each other and each partner becomes the extension of the other partner in marriage (Eriksen and Lindner, 1997). However if the “other half” does not share the deepest convictions of the other partner, it is very likely that these convictions may undergo a change in case of the other partner also. However the things are a little bit different in case of economic or business relationships. In this case, while there are certain parallels, there are certain differences also. The reason is that while in case of business relationships, there is not the interweaving of body and soul that is present in case of marriage. Generally, people do not change their most deeply held beliefs only due to the reason that their business partner or a co-worker does not share those beliefs (Everett, 1999). At the same time, a business relationship can also be defined in terms of a contract. Therefore, it can help a lot if all the terms have been clearly defined before entering into a business partnership with any person, whether a Christian or non-Christian. In the same way, it should also be decided in advance regarding the circumstances where the business relationship will come to an end in case of certain events and also the terms of settlement when the relationship is terminated by the parties (Fox, 1998).

Illustrations of Unequal Yoking with Unbelievers

This is known as an exit strategy in terms of business relationships. But it needs to be noted that obviously in case of marriage, there is no place for such provisions according to the biblical view. However regarding the business relationships, the situation can be clearly explained with the help of an example. For example the Christian OB/GYN has entered into a business partnership with another OB/GYN. While the Christian Dr. does not believe in abortion, the non-Christian partner once that they should perform abortions or compromise the values of the Christian partner in some other way (Grierson, 1984). Therefore such a situation will be very undesirable and entering into such a business relationship will be unwise (Kainer, 1977). However such situation can be dealt with if all the terms and conditions of the economic relationship have been discussed in advance and also an exit strategy has also been formulated (Kaye and Wenham, eds. 1978).

In believers, there is the Holy Spirit and therefore they are the new temples of God. God dwells in those who trust in Him and who have repented. In ancient world, the city of Corinth was one of the most evil cities and nearly every sin of the world was committed there. Therefore, all wanted that the believers it should not associate with the wicked sinners of the city. He has stressed upon that the believers should not join together in social and economic projects with the non-believers. However this does not mean that we cannot have non-Christians as our friends or business partners but there should be a line drawn in such relationships and such lines should not be crossed.

Under the circumstances, it becomes very important for the believers to carefully evaluate each case in which they are involved in a social order of business relationship with the non-believers. In case they have any doubt or concern regarding the propriety of such a relationship, it is preferable that they should not enter or continue with such a relationship. It is also very important that Christians should maintain their independence in the business relationships to the highest level that may be possible in such a relationship. Particularly in case of business relationships, it is very important that they are aware of all the terms of the agreement that they are going to enter into, with the non-believers, like a partnership on a shareholder agreement. In such a case, the objectives of the business and the commitments to cover the losses should be well defined. Similarly the provisions related with the termination of such a relationship should also be clearly provided.

Differentiating Unequal Yoking and Single Commercial Transactions

References

Alfred Plummer, 1966, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark) 201  

Bloom, A. 1993, Love and Friendship, New York: Simon and Schuster

K. Barrett, 1973, A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in Harper’s New Testament Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row) 137

Cloete, G D and Smit, D J 1994, A moment of truth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans

Cochrane, A 1974. Eating and drinking with Jesus. Philadelphia: Fortress.

De Gruchy, J W 1993. Guilt, amnesty and national reconstruction, in JSAT 83: 3–13.

Douglas, M 1982, Natural symbols, Explorations in cosmology, New York: Oxford University Press

Eriksen, J H & Lindner, E W 1997, Worship and prayer in ecumenical formation, in Theological Education 34: 23–30.

Everett, W J 1999. The politics of worship, Reforming the language and symbols of liturgy, Cleveland: United Church Press

Fox, N 1998, Church in the daily meal: the ordinance of the breaking of bread. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gordon D. Fee, (1977) “II Corinthians vi 14 – vii 1 and Food offered to Idols,” New Testament Studies 23/2: 143  

Grierson, D 1984, Transforming a people of God, Melbourne: Joint Board of Education

 Hans Dieter Betz, (1973) “2 Cor 6:14-7:1: AN ANTI-PAULINE FRAGMENT?” Journal of Biblical Literature 92: 108  

  1. Duncan M. Derrett, (1978) “2 Cor 6, 14ff. a Midrash on Dt 22, 10,” Biblica 59/2: 235

Jean Héring, 1962, The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (London: Epworth) 134  

Kainer, G. 1977, Faith, Hope and Clarity, Mountain View: Pacific Press

Kaye, B. and Wenham, G., eds. 1978, Law, Morality and the Bible, Downers Grove: IVP.  

Margaret E. Thrall, (1977) “The Problem of II Cor. vi 14 – vii. 1 In Some Recent Discussion,” New Testament Studies 24: 132  

Nils Alstrup Dahl, 1977, Studies in Paul (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg) 64  

Paul Barnett, 1997, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 342.  

Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, 1977, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, in NICNT, F. F. Bruce, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 241  

Ralph P. Martin, 1986, 2 Corinthians, vol. 40 in Word Biblical Commentary, Ralph P. Martin, NT ed. (Waco, TX: Word) 223  

Werner Georg Kümmel, 1966, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. A. J. Mattill, Jr. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon) 214  

William Webb, 1992, “What Is the Unequal Yoke in 2 Corinthians 6:14?” Bibliotheca Sacra 149/594: 163  

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