Keeping Marriages Together—1 Corinthians 7:10-16

20150607FBCAM

Levi Durfey

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Divorce has always been a tough topic for me as a pastor. There are several different ways to interpret what the Bible says about divorce and remarriage, ranging from no divorce and remarriage allowed to it being allowed in certain situations to it being allowed in any situation. 

 

I’ll be honest and say that I’ve struggled greatly over the years of what is right and wrong. I want to to biblical, but at the same time sensitive to people who have come through hard marriages. 

 

What we’re looking at in this passage is what Paul says about divorce. You’ll notice that he addresses two different situations. In the first, he addresses Christians married to other Christians, whom he is more tough on. 

 

Then, in verse 12, he says, “to the rest,” meaning the rest of the believers in the church who are married. These are believers who are married to unbelievers. To them he has something different to say. In the end, however, his goal is keeping marriages together. Let’s read the text—

 

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 

 

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 

 

15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (1 Corinthians 7:10–16)

 

IS THIS AN AUTHORITATIVE COMMAND?

 

The first issue we come across in this passage has to do with a statement that Paul makes that sounds like part of what he is saying is not really authoritative.

 

1 Corinthians 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 

 

1 Corinthians 7:12a But to the rest speak I, not the Lord:

 

He says, “unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord.” In verse 12, he’s going to reverse it and say, “to the rest speak I, not the Lord.” Why the distinction? Is this first command in verse 10 and 11 more powerful than the command in verse 12 and following?

 

The answer is no. It’s all the inspired word of God. What Paul is saying is that the Lord Jesus made statements about divorce—and he was taking what Jesus said in places like Matthew 5 and 19 and applying it to the situation in Corinth. 

 

And then, in verse 12, Paul was dealing with a situation that Jesus didn’t specifically address—what if a person becomes a believer and their spouse doesn’t become a believer? What if the unbeliever becomes antagonistic about the believing spouse’s faith? What then?

 

Those are the two issues about divorce that Paul is addressing in Corinth. The first, Jesus spoke about—the second, Paul speaks on his own authority as an apostle of Christ. But it’s all totally and completely the word of God.

 

THE MARRIAGE OF TWO BELIEVERS

 

Two Believers Should Not Divorce

 

1 Corinthians 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 

1 Corinthians 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 

 

The “married” in this verse refers to Christians who are married to other Christians. We know this because, first, Paul is writing to a church, so he’s addressing Christians. 

 

Second,  in verse 12, he talks about a Christian “brother” who has an unbelieving wife. So the the ones in verse 10 have to be both Christians.

 

The word “depart” (χωρισθῆναι, VAPI, χωρίζω) in this passage must mean divorce because it says here “if she depart, let her remain unmarried. The word “unmarried” is not a hard word to understand—it means not married. 

 

So “depart” means more than what we today call being separated. It was the way that a woman divorced her husband in that culture—you could call it divorce by separation. In our culture, it would just be divorce.

 

The phrase “put away his wife” is another metaphor that means to divorce someone. A husband in that culture had more “legal” means to divorce, so Paul uses a different phrase.

 

So, for two believers in a marriage, what does the Bible say about divorce? It says that it’s not an option. 

 

In Matthew 5, many Bible students see Jesus giving an exception for the case of adultery. That’s one passage I struggle with—is Jesus really saying that or not? Even if there’s a valid exception in the case of adultery, however, shouldn’t two believers strive to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven them (Ephesians 4:32)?

 

To God, marriage is a very important thing. We’ll see why in a moment, and we’ll see why marriages between believers are the most important marriages to God.

 

What If Two Believers Do Divorce?

 

Paul understood that there would be some who had already been through unbiblical divorces. What now for them?

 

1 Corinthians 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 

 

Paul gives them two options: “remain unmarried, or be reconciled.” Believers in Christ should be people who are interested in seeking reconciliation. 

 

We are not to be like unbelievers, who could go on hating someone their entire lives. Why we’re even commanded to love our enemies, and that includes a difficult spouse!

 

What if you are a believer who divorced another believer and then married another person (whether a believer or an unbeliever)? Should you divorce the person you to whom you are currently married and seek to remarry the believing spouse whom you divorced? 

 

That’s a tough question with no easy answer—I really wish Paul had addressed it here. I would err on the side on caution and not divorce the current spouse to remarry the first spouse. I think that the believer should avoid making another step of disobedience by divorcing the second spouse.

 

As you can see, the Bible is very strong when it comes to marriages between believers. This is because two believers should realize the importance of marriage to God, and because they have the resources through the Spirit to reconcile with one another should they choose to rely on the Spirit.

 

But what about marriages between believers and unbelievers?

 

THE MARRIAGE OF AN BELIEVER AND UNBELIEVER

 

The Believer Should Not Seek A Divorce

 

1 Corinthians 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 

1 Corinthians 7:13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 

 

Who is this “rest” that he is speaking about? He is speaking about Christians because he says, “If any brother…” But he says that this brother has a “wife that believeth not.” 

 

In verse 13, he reverses the picture and says “the woman” (which again, from the context, is clearly a Christian) who has a “husband that believeth not.” 

 

These are mixed marriages. How did they happen? We are told in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 that believers are not to marry unbelievers, but only in the Lord. 

 

Still, this may happen if a believer is immature or ignorant of this command. Or the person may have become a believer after they were married. What does a believer do then?

 

As long as the unbeliever is “pleased to dwell” with the believer, the believer should remain in the marriage. Granted, there will be difficulties, ranging from the unbelieving spouse not wanting to go to church, to differences in how to raise the children, to even cuss words and drinking in the home. 

 

I would say that if there is abuse, the believer needs to get to safety. But the believer should not seek divorce because of a difference in religion. That’s because…

 

The Unbeliever Is Sanctified By The Believer

 

1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 

 

The phrase “the unbelieving husband is sanctified [made holy] by the wife” sounds very odd to us. The word “sanctified” means set apart or made holy. Is it possible that the unbelieving spouse could be made holy enough to be saved? No, of course not. 

 

How are we saved? A person must recognize that they are sinners and even their good works “are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). How could anyone make another person holy if “our righteousness are as filthy rags” in God’s sight?

 

Only when we admit that we can’t make ourselves acceptable to God and that Jesus died for our sins can we be saved though faith in Christ. We need to need a Savior! Have you recognized your need for a Savior? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ to save you?

 

That the unbelieving spouse is “sanctified” by the believing spouse does not mean that they are made holy or saved. But what does this mean? It means that, because of the believer’s influence, the home can be “set apart” as a Christian home. There can be hope that the spouse and the children will come to believe.

 

It’s a word of encouragement to the believing spouse that their spouse and children can be raised in a Christian way. A young woman once told John MacArthur that…

 

…when she was growing up her grandmother was the only Christian in the family. The grandmother used to speak of her love for Christ and witnessed to the family in what she said and by what she did. 

 

Eventually, three of the four grandchildren came to know the Lord, and each one declared that their grandmother had the greatest influence on their decision for Christ. (John F. MacArthur Jr., 1 Corinthians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, [Chicago: Moody Press, 1984], 166)

 

The Christian spouse must recognize that their home is their mission field.

 

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. (1 Peter 3:1–2)

 

What If The Unbelieving Spouse Wants A Divorce?

 

Sadly, there might be, on the part of the unbelieving spouse, no desire to have a part with a Christian. What then?

 

1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 

 

Remember, “depart” is the same as divorce. It’s not what we think of as separation today (see verse 11). The believer shouldn’t be the one to initiate this divorce, but they don’t have to stop it either.

 

Is The Believer Free To Remarry?

 

If the unbelieving spouse leaves, is the believer free to remarry? There are two possible answers to this question: yes and no. Which one you choose depends on how you understand this statement, “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases:” What does he mean about not being “under bondage”?

 

1) Not being “under bondage” means not having to maintain the marriage. Nothing more.

 

2) Not being “under bondage” means being free to remarry. The same idea of bondage is expressed in Romans 7—

 

1 Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? 2 For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. (Romans 7:1–3)

 

Is Paul thinking of “bondage” in this way? When an unbeliever divorces a believer is it the same as when a spouse dies? Are they no longer under bondage—obligation—to that marriage?

 

Which view is right? Both have good arguments; I tend to favor the second view.

 

In all things, however…

 

The Believer Needs To Seek Peace

 

The general principle here is that, while the unbelieving spouse may be upset and leave, the Christian needs to remember that “God hath called us to peace.” The believer needs to make sure the divorce goes smoothly, without the anger and revenge tactics that are so common in divorces.

 

It’s possible that the unbelieving spouse will see this kindness and Christian behavior and do what the prophet Hosea’s wife did:

 

7 And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; And she shall seek them, but shall not find them: Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; For then was it better with me than now. (Hosea 2:7)

 

The believer needs to keep in mind their ultimate mission in life:

 

1 Corinthians 7:16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? 

 

WHY IS MARRIAGE SO IMPORTANT TO GOD?

 

We’ve mentioned that divorce is wrong and to be avoided because marriage is important to God. Why is that? What we see in the Bible is that marriage is more than a union between a man and woman. It is a picture of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).

 

The Bible says that Christ, our Bridegroom, desires to present his bride, the church to himself, as pure and holy:

 

27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)

 

Jesus is preparing us for the marriage supper that will happen after he returns:

 

7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. 8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. 9 And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God. (Revelation 19:7–9)

 

The reason that we need to strive to keep marriages together and, even after divorce, to strive to reconcile with our former spouses, is because that presents the best picture of Christ and the church.

 

Christ isn’t going to divorce the church. He isn’t going to walk away. He’s committed to the church; committed to present her to himself as a holy bride.

 

Whether you are married, divorced and remarried, what we ought to be doing is working at the marriage we’re in to make it the best marriage we can have.

 

WORK AT HAVING A GOOD MARRIAGE

 

How do we keep our marriages together?

 

1) Don’t Let Divorce Be An Option

 

Don’t threaten your spouse with divorce when things don’t go your way. Don’t consider it or imagine what it would be like to get a divorce. Don’t let divorce be an option. And, as a side note, I don’t think murder is a very good option either.

 

2) Date And Dote On Your Spouse

 

Your spouse has to think that they are your best friend. Marriages usually start out that way, but then kids come along and life gets very hectic. No matter how busy you get, make it an absolute, unchangeable priority to spend time with and attention on your spouse each day. Find room in your lives for regular dates (even if you don’t actually leave the house).

 

Dote on your spouse also. Tami loves carmel rolls, so occasionally I’ll get one at the coffee shop for her. The guys at the coffee shop might tease me, but I just say, “Hey carmel rolls for Tami are brownie points for me.”

 

3) Find The Positive In Your Spouse

 

When you live with another person all the days of your life, it’s easy to find the negative traits in that person. We tend to find the negative in a person first. We need to be ready to find the positive as well.

 

4) Find Role-Model Marriages To Inspire You

 

Find role-model marriages in your life or in books. It might be your parents marriage, for example. Let them inspire you to keep on keeping on. Here’s one from a book I was reading; the author wrote:

 

I was recently at lunch with a friend who was telling me about his parents. His dad is 95 and his mom is 96. They fell in love in the sixth grade and have now been married for 75 years. They have been best friends for 83 years! He proceeded to tell me that his mom’s mind is now slipping away, but his dad simply sits next to her for hours at a time with his hand resting gently on her arm. Picture that scene for a moment.

 

I wonder what goes through his mind when he sits beside her. What must he think and feel when he reaches out and makes contact with that arm that has been beside him for 83 years? What would it be like to share 83 years of memories with another person? 

 

I picture these stored up memories like a photo album and I imagine these two flipping through page after page, remembering scenes of laughing together on a playground, falling in love, getting married, having kids, having grandkids, and having great grandkids. The emotional depth must be intensified by scenes of arguments and tragedies, loss and heartbreak. I imagine them flipping the final pages leading up to the back cover, where scenes of these two finishing their life on earth side by side will one day be placed. (Francis Chan and Lisa Chan, You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity, [San Francisco, CA: Claire Love Publishing, 2014].)

 

In all our marriages, let that be the goal. Be faithful to your spouse and you’ll paint a glorious picture of Christ’s faithfulness for his church.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s