In I Corinthians 7 Paul is answering questions that have been raised by the church in Corinth with regard to marriage. In this post we will look particularly at the question with regard to a Christian married to a non-Christian. I would guess that the question went something like this, “If one is married and then becomes a Christian but their husband or wife remains in the world, should the Christian stay in the marriage? Or should they get out of the marriage and either remain single or marry someone who shares their faith in the Lord Jesus? What should the Christian do if they are abandoned by the unbelieving husband or wife?” Whether they asked all these questions or not we can’t be certain but we do know that Paul answered all of them. Beginning in verse 12 and continuing through verse 16, he said, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”
When He had answered their questions regarding two believers married to each other he said it wasn’t his answer but the Lord’s and thus quoted what Jesus had said during his earthly ministry on the topic. Now as he moves on to these more specific questions he begins with “Not the Lord, but I” indicating that Jesus didn’t deal with these specific questions while on the earth so Paul as an inspired man of God will give his advise on the matter. Notice, it is impossible for anything Paul says on this topic to be contradictory of what Jesus said, since it begins with the declaration that Jesus didn’t deal with this topic. His teaching related to two people who were believers in God and under his covenant. Paul isn’t saying that what he is saying isn’t inspired. All Scripture is inspired of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So look closely at the things we can learn from what Paul wrote to these Christians.
First, marriage is valid even when both or one of the people married isn’t a Christian. Marriage is part of God’s universal moral law, not a law specific to believers in the Lord. The fact that one becomes a believer who has lived in the world away from God up until now doesn’t mean they should break up their home because of their new found faith. As far as the Christian is concerned their duty is to stay in the marriage and be a faithful and devoted partner to their mate. The believer in such a marriage can have a sanctifying effect on both the unbelieving partner and on their children. Later when Peter writes to the wives whose husbands aren’t believers he will tell them to not try to win them for God by nagging them but by the example they give each day they share life together. He told them to let their beauty not be of the outward kind only with things like fixing the hair, wearing jewelry or putting on expensive clothes, but to dress up the heart by having a gentle and quiet spirit that is very precious in God’s sight. In doing so they would be like Sarah who obeyed Abraham calling him Lord. So God wants the believer to know that they have influence on the partner if they will live right and show them what it means to be a believer in Christ. Notice he said that by the believer staying the children would be clean and the unbelieving partner would be sanctified. In neither case does it mean that they are made holy or right with God because of what the believer does. But it does mean that the believer’s influence may be able to lead them to God if they have honest hearts also. If the unbeliever is willing to stay the believer should stay and make it as good a marriage as possible.
Second, if the unbeliever departs or abandons the brother or sister is no longer under bondage in such cases. What does that mean? Some have thought that it means she is not bound as a slave to try to keep the marriage going when the other partner has deserted them. It has been said that this can’t be referring to the normal bond of marriage since this is not the common word for such a bond. I would have you notice that whatever that bond is that they are no longer under, it was the one they were under up until that point. It is the same bond that Paul had encouraged the believer to stay in if the unbeliever was willing to stay. It is the same bond they were to be under in other cases of problems in the relationship. He said they were no longer under this bondage “IN SUCH CASES” so in other cases they would have been under that bondage. If the word demanded some kind of slavery for the believer or harsh bondage it doesn’t make sense that they were to stay in it unless the unbeliever departed or deserted, nor does it make sense that they were to stay in that bondage if there were other cases besides this kind where the unbeliever left. The bond they had before and the one they had in other cases was the normal bond of marriage so I would humbly suggest that this is that same bond of marriage.
What then does it mean that they are no longer under this bondage? It means that the bond of marriage has been severed. They are no longer married to the unbeliever. They are now single. They have the same rights of marriage to another person that any other single person or widow has. I’m quite certain that someone will say that this isn’t the case, but that it is that she is free to remain unmarried rather than still being bound to the mate. That won’t work because whatever is true here is true “In such cases”. In every case one is free to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their mate. Whatever this release from bondage involves it is only true “In such cases” which demands a unique answer.
Paul presupposes that the believer in this relationship will think that perhaps if they just tried a little harder or did a little more then maybe their unbelieving mate might be won for the Lord. He declares that we don’t know whether or not a person will be influenced by the life of the believer. If one has deserted the marriage because you are a Christian it is highly unlikely that anything you may have done would have changed their life or devotion.
In the next issue we will look at the person who has been divorced and becomes a Christian.