In following the previous passage with this one, it almost seems as though Paul was first addressing not having a spouse before moving on to describe having one. His aside discussed the importance of sexual purity and now he is talking about how to behave within a marriage. It is possible the question that resulted in today’s passage involved the marriage of two persons who are “unequally yoked.”
10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 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. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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? 17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.
I remember in missions school learning about the possibility of similar issues arising in communities of new believers. What happens now that we are trying to follow God? Do we get divorced because the relationship did not start out “holy” or do we continue in it since God said we shouldn’t get divorced? Theological catch 22s can easily confuse us about what God wants. It seems like this might be exactly what Corinth was dealing with. So how do we address such things? This is the importance of bible study and seriously understanding what God is telling us because there is an answer to these problems that seem to baffle us.
The thing that we so easily lose sight of is that it isn’t about our actions in regards to righteousness. Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to cleanse us of our unholiness in order to have a relationship with God. So, when we start thinking about “I have to do this to be good,” we are missing the point. Paul here is highlighting that while there are going to be changes in lifestyle and issues arising among married couples if one is a believer and the other doesn’t, that it isn’t cause for divorce. However, that we should recognize the problems that will arise. This isn’t to say just give up on the relationship; rather we are to do the exact opposite. Continue in the relationship and view it as an opportunity to exemplify the unconditional love of Christ. After all, Jesus didn’t push people away because they didn’t believe. Surely, some probably decided to abandon Him or move on (even one of his closest disciples turned his back on Christ) but Jesus still entertained him with love and friendship unconditionally. So too we should treat our family and friends when we begin the journey of Christ.
We need to remember that the beginning of faith and belief in God comes from Him. It isn’t up to us to convince another to believe. I mean, really, if we do, then is it really belief or just convincing speech? Paul uses this intimate example of a husband and wife who are unequally yoked to exemplify how we should all behave as believers. Some have said not to make church a “holy huddle”; it isn’t just about all us believers getting together and feeling good about ourselves because we all have something in common. It’s about showing others what is so good about it! We are given the gift of belief so we can show others what it is we believe. But if our audience walks away, we aren’t to chase them down and beat them over the head with a bible or worse yet force them to listen because they will not hear.
How do you treat others that don’t believe as you do?