Monday, April 15, 2024

The Unbelieving Spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-13)

"If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her" (1 Cor. 7:12).

It would not have been uncommon in the early church, as it is not uncommon today, for one person in a marriage union to be born again while the other remained in an unregenerate state. Such circumstances are difficult as one party in the marriage finds new life in Christ and begins to flower under the radiance of His grace, while the other remains in bondage to sin, having no love for Christ, for His people, or for the binding authority of God’s Word. It would have been tempting for the Corinthians, as it is for many today, to abandon their marriage for the sake of happiness and freedom. But, such action, no matter how much it is based on noble reasons and desires, is not approved by God. Neither the husband nor the wife, both of whom were allowed to divorce under Greek and Roman law, had the option to divorce their unbelieving spouse.

Paul’s statement that his teaching concerning such matters is his and not the Lord’s is not a question of inspiration. Since Christ did not deal with this specific issue, Paul had no precedent to which he could direct the Corinthians. But this does not mean that his teaching is any less binding or inspired than the teaching of Christ while He was on earth. “The rule which the apostle lays down is, that such marriages are lawful, and therefore there is no obligation on the Christian party to dissolve the connection,” Hodge wrote. A marriage is just as binding between two unbelievers as it is between two Christians. And likewise, a marriage is just as binding between an unbeliever and a Christian. If the unbelieving party in this instance wants to remain in the marriage, the marriage may not be dissolved.

The difficulty of living with an unbelieving spouse cannot be understated. While the Scriptures maintain that the marriage must continue in such cases, it does not leave the Christian without hope. God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. He can change the hardened heart of an unbelieving husband or wife. And He can give us the grace to live with someone who rejects that which we hold most dear, who seems to stand in the way of our sanctification and desire to serve the Lord. Even in such difficult circumstances, God’s grace is sufficient.

If you know someone married to an unbelieving spouse, pray for them today. Ask God to give them peace, to look to God for fellowship and leadership, and to trust in Him in the midst of their trials. If you are married to an unbeliever, pray that God will increase your trust in Him and meditate on the verses below.