Monday, October 4, 2010

Married to an Unbeliever ?


TEXT :  1 Corinthians  7:12-16
TITLE:  Married to an Unbeliever ? 
DATE PREACHED :  The Lord's day , 3rd October 2010  

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

We come to yet  another  difficult  issue within the realm of marriage:   marriage to an unbeliever. 
Last week we saw  in our text (vv 10-11)  that  Christians are not encouraged  to divorce at all , and if a Christian gets  divorced they should not remarry, for  in that process  they would become  adulterers. Paul does not  speak about the exception  clause (divorce permitted  in the  case of  marital unfaithfulness/adultery) that we find in Jesus' teaching (Matt 5:31-32 ;  19:1-9). 
I need to pause  here  and remind you of a basic fact -  something that is very likely  in Paul’s mind as he writes this.  He is writing to a church. He addresses them as “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints…”  (1:2).  He is writing to professing  believers.  There is a big difference between a believer and an unbeliever, and there is a big difference in the expectations that we may have  from a believer   when compared to an unbeliever.  
An unbeliever is not likely to listen to the Word of God or godly counsel .  He/ she will do  as  they please and as they think . If this marriage no longer suits them , they will go ahead  with the divorce , not thinking about  God,  nor of  His  will for a marriage covenant .
The believer  however is  a man / woman  under  the rule of God. They take   His Word  seriously. They know that  God is committed to  truth (incl. the truth about marriage). They know that   God has  empowered them to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3)“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to  his own glory and excellence…”). They know  that He calls them  to  work out  their salvation   by making choices based on truth and not on  fallible feelings. 
So,  we  can see  what Paul is thinking here : there is never any need for two  professing Christians   to get divorced : they have God’s Word and God’s help promised to them . Unbelievers   have no restraining  and enabling  help from God .

With that thought in mind  he  proceeds  to another  scenario.   Here is a Christian man/ woman  married to an unbeliever.  This  may  happen when a  wife or a husband  becomes a Christian in the course of their married  life -  and their spouse does not. 
[Incidentally , the matter of marrying a non- Christian  is  clear from the Scripture:  “Do not be  unequally yoked with unbelievers.” ( 2 Cor 6:14-16).  We cannot address this right now.]
Let’s get back to the likely scenario.  In Paul’s day, when the gospel  was forcefully advancing throughout the gentile world  (just as the prophets had said)    there were many households that believed [1]. But there may also  have been numerous   instances when  only a married  man  believed, and not his wife  or when a married woman believed – and not her husband.
Now what?   It appears  as if  there were  those in the Corinthian church who were arguing that, just as sexual relations  would  contaminate a marriage (see  7:1),  so they might have  thought  that an unbelieving spouse  would  contaminate a marriage.
What is Paul’s counsel to such a thought?  
Note once again that  Paul  begins his thoughts  on this subject  with these words:  "I, not the Lord"  (v.12).  What he is saying here  is no less authoritative, for I remind you again that as an apostle he was  uniquely equipped as a messenger from God to convey  the mind of God  on a given matter  accurately  (cf  7:25 & 40). What he is saying here is that  he has no specific commandment from Jesus in this regard for the  Lord   Jesus never addressed this specific matter  in any of His teachings.  But Paul nevertheless has the mind of Christ in this matter.

v.12.  He says as a matter of first principle  what he has also  said before:  “if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.”  And … “ If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.”  
The principle  is that  no   marriage  ought to have an exit strategy!  You are like two people trapped on the  10th  floor of a high rise building with the lower  stories burning. The only options are  these: fight  the fire together or  die together!

This principle  is even true  when a  Christian is  married to a  non Christian.   You, the Christian partner should  not seek divorce. The principle of covenant marriage  still holds  true for you  and  God regards  the vows made in His presence and before many witnesses and the sexual union  entered into,  as  binding in His  sight.

Remember  the problem  which the non Christian  partner  has.   He/she  will not  admit to being  held accountable  by God, even though they may have made a marriage  oath in His name, and so when he/ she  believes that the marriage is over, they will not act on  truth but on feeling. They will not be committed to working on the marriage relationship  but will be committed to finding a way out of the relationship.  We will deal with this  matter  in v.15.
But right now focus with me  on  vv.13 &14: If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
Here Paul teaches the believing partner that they  themselves have  no reason  to  leave  their non Christian spouse. In fact,  he gives the believer some substantial encouragement:   For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

What is he saying here?  He is saying that the presence of one  Christian  (saved) spouse makes the marriage holy (or  “sanctified”)!  How is an unbelieving spouse “made holy”?   How is the status of the children affected by the believing parent?  We can rule out one option – that Paul is speaking of salvation.  In v. 16 he specifically states that the unbelieving spouse is unsaved. 
What does he mean then?
To understand Paul’s language here we need to understand the Old Testament  covenant of God with  the Jews.  Beginning   with Abraham,  God called a people (Israel)  to  belong to  Him  exclusively. They were  to be a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6 ; 1 Pet 2:9). Every child born into  this nation  belonged  to this holy nation – this household of God, by virtue  of being descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob etc. This did not mean  that every  Jew  was saved, just as little as  your children are automatically saved when they are born into your Christian household.
Where  then is  the privilege?  Jews were   privileged  to be born into the most  pure  atmosphere, the truest form of religion  and truth.   Paul recounts these benefits in Romans 3:1-2 and 9:4-5. However, in order to truly benefit from these  blessings you had to partake  of them – and not just  count yourself  fortunate  to  be in their presence! 
Here’s the point. If only one partner in the marital relationship  walks with God, God is  there. His holy, sanctifying presence is there.  The non believing spouse  (and  the children)   have the benefit of God’s sanctifying presence in their home  even if they themselves do not believe.  What a blessing it is  to have a praying father or mother in the home . How many conversion testimonies are there not because  God had listened to the praying pleas of  a godly relative!  Sometimes   it is  even the believing child  that   is the catalyst for their parents conversion.

vv.15,16:  15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
We have seen  that from the Christian spouse’s  point of view  the marriage should be maintained because of covenant oaths.   And  now we note  that  Paul does  make  an allowance for divorce but the  unbelieving spouse must take the initiative.   If that happens  the  believer  does not have  to contest the divorce.  Paul’s reasoning is simple:  “God has called you to peace”.   Therefore, don’t fight and  don’t threaten.   Let them go in peace. The believer is no longer enslaved (or bound)  by that marriage   relationship. 
What does “not enslaved”  mean here?  Does  it mean that they  "are  not bound to the marriage"  any longer,  or  does it  also mean that  they  are also "free to remarry?"
It seems that if  the marriage is  being ended through no fault of the Christian partner, they are free  from the bondage  of that marriage and thus they are  free to remarry, since  a divorce means  that their partner is  now as  good as dead  to  them.  Similar language  to this is used of the widow in  7:39.

Now some conscientious  Christian  might say at this point: "If I let  them  go, I lose the opportunity to see him/her   saved !" Paul anticipates this question and that is why he says in v.16  “For  how do you know, wife,whether you will save your husband?  Or how do you know, husband,  whether you will save your wife?   
If a non believing husband or wife  wants to leave the marriage  you don’t have to hang in there  just because you think – “ I feel responsible. I have to stay in this marriage  to  see them  saved.”  Paul answers: “ You don’t know whether that will happen. And don’t add  to the tension!”  Marriage is not primarily an instrument of evangelism. You cannot save. God  alone saves!

SUMMARY : 
1. If you are single- remain single. Use this  state (if it is a gift)  for  His glory. 
2. If you cannot  be single – get married!
3.  If you are married to a Christian, divorce is not an option.Stay married and fulfill your  marital  duties to one another.
4.  If  you are  married to an unbeliever who wants to remain married – stay married. Be assured that your life in Christ will  be a blessing to that  home.
5.   If the unbeliever wants to go -  Let them go. God has called you to peace. If you  are worried  about who is going  to  show Christ to  them  don’t worry. God will know what to do.

The major  issues in our  text  are these:
1. Letting an unbelieving spouse leave a marriage when he /she no longer desires  to be a part of it.  Remember  then that  you cannot expect from  an unbeliever what you would from a believer. He/she   is dead in his sins and transgressions.  They do  not have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  They can only follow  their  natural  instinct.  So don’t expect them to  live and respond like  a Christian.
Remember  also that your sanctifying influence  itself is not going to save them. It is only a  window through which God lets His light  shine  into your home. But  the darkness of the  soul can only be pierced  by  the effective call from God – that  same call from  the Lord  Jesus with  which He called the dead man Lazarus out of his tomb.  

2.  Remaining in the marriage  if the unbeliever  desires  to continue.  Some basic pastoral counsel in this regard:
1.  Work on your marriage as you would in  any marriage.  Marriage is sacred to God and worthy of your greatest efforts.  Don’t take your marriage for granted.  Remember that you too are  sinful and in  need of  having your mind renewed  on many things. Remember also the sinful influences  upon your  thoughts  coming from  the  world of unbelief. Constantly examine your own sinful  heart in the light of Scripture.
2. Seek  Christian counsel and prayer   when  your  marriage isn’t doing well, as you would in any other marriage.  Do not  pursue divorce  without the involvement of  your  church elders.   You need the counsel, prayers and  help of your elders in such a serious matter.
3.  Cry out  for  God’s grace  when you live with an unbeliever.  Be assured that your heavenly Father hears you.  Make sure that you  confess your own sins. Appeal to the cross of Jesus Christ where atonement was made for your sins.  Look to Jesus your great Advocate continually and the God of grace will  enable you to stay in this marriage until He   changes your circumstances (i.e.  granting  salvation to your unconverted spouse)  or calls you home!    Amen




[1] e.g . Cornelius (Acts 10:47-48; 11: 14) ; Lydia (Acts 16: 15), the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:33-34) and Stephanas (I Cor. 1: 16)

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