Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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by George C. Clark, Sr.
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
Concerning marital status, the apostle Paul distinguished three groups in the body of Christ:
1. Unmarried Believers
2. Believers Married to Believers
3. Believers Married to Unbelievers
Here are Paul’s instructions to each group.
“It is good for them to remain unmarried, even as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn [with lust]” (1Cor. 7:8–9).
Here, God requires us to do some “rightly dividing the word of truth.” For example, when Satan attempted to persuade Jesus to leap from a pinnacle of the temple by quoting Psalm 91:11–12, what was Jesus’ reply to this subtle temptation? “Jesus said to him, It is also written, You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Mt. 4:5–7). One should always be mindful of what is “also written” on the same subject, thus allowing one scripture to illuminate another.
Paul taught that marriage is preferable to being overpowered by natural passions; however, it is “also written” that believers may marry “only in the Lord” (1Cor. 7:39). To suffer alone with God is better than to be joined to an unclean spirit. Paul was adamant on this point, as is every other true man of God.
“A [believing] wife is not to separate from her [believing] husband, but if she does separate, she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband, and the husband is not to divorce his wife. A wife is bound to her [believing] husband by the law as long as her husband is alive, but if her husband passes away, she is free to marry whom she will – only in the Lord” (1Cor. 7:10–11, 39).
The fact is that the separation of married believers is discouraged but it is permitted in God’s family, within certain guidelines. If believers do separate, they may later be reconciled and, so, re-establish their marriage, but divorced believers are forbidden to marry anyone else, with certain exceptions.
If a believer commits adultery, his believing spouse is free to marry again (Mt. 5:32; 19:9). The Greek word for “adultery” in those verses from Matthew denotes “every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” (From that Greek word comes the English word, “pornography”.) No believer is required by the Lord to remain in a marriage in which he or she must live with perverse behavior. Holiness is not contrary to common sense. If one is being abused, one is free to divorce and to remarry. Those who walk in the Spirit are never boxed in by evildoers.
Now, since Paul dealt with “the unmarried” in group one, and with “believers who have believing spouses” in group two, we know to whom he was speaking when he wrote “to the rest”, for there are only these remaining.
Many can bear witness to the sorrow of believers who marry out of the divine order. Sometimes, God may demand a rebellious believer to repent of his disobedient marriage by divorcing the unbeliever. But if God does not demand that, then Paul’s instructions apply. “Unequally yoked” marriages can also come about when two unbelievers are married and then one of them is converted. However, regardless of how a believer comes to be in such a marriage, God’s will is clear. Jesus gave no instructions concerning such marriages, but Paul wrote:
“And to the rest, I myself speak, not the Lord. If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is pleased to dwell with him, he is not to leave her. And a wife who has an unbelieving husband, and he is pleased to dwell with her, she is not to leave the husband” (1Cor. 7:12–13).
At this time, it is necessary to use some of those “it is also written” scriptures, for God has not left it to us to judge whether an unbeliever is “pleased to dwell with” a believer. Paul described the truly “pleased-to-dwell-with” spouse:
“The [pleased-to-dwell-with] unbelieving husband is sanctified by the [believing] wife, and the [pleased-to-dwell-with] unbelieving wife is sanctified by the [believing] husband; otherwise, your children are unclean. But now [since the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer] they are holy” (1Cor. 7:14).
So, if an unbelieving husband is truly “pleased to dwell with” his believing wife, he will come to Christ and be sanctified with his wife. If, however, the unbeliever rejects Christ and departs, the believer is free to marry again, but this time, only in the Lord. Paul said it this way:
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not bound in such cases” (1Cor. 7:15).
To confirm the believer’s liberty to remarry, we must also know what is “also written” concerning the word bondage, as it relates to marriage:
“The married woman is bound to her husband by the law while he lives, but should the husband die, she is released from the law concerning her husband. So then, she will be called an adulteress if, while her husband is alive, she becomes another man’s wife, but if the husband dies, she is freed from the law so that she is not an adulteress, though she become another man’s wife” (Rom. 7:2–3).
“Bound”, then, means forbidden to remarry, and “released” means permitted to remarry. It is in this sense that a believer is not “bound” if an unbelieving spouse departs. Nevertheless, because “God has called us to peace” (1Cor. 7:15), believers must be faithful and good to unbelieving spouses, for it is far better to convert unbelievers than for marriages to end in divorce.
“For, wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” (1Cor. 7:16).
The desired end of an unequally yoked marriage is the conversion of the sinner and an equally yoked, happy home. When that happy goal is not reached, however, it is not always the unbeliever’s fault. Sometimes, a believer fails to live according to God’s standard. In that case, the unbeliever hasn’t been given a fair opportunity to see the light of Christ or to feel his great love. Many unequally yoked marriages thus grind along for decades. And if a believer’s ungodly behavior hinders his unbelieving spouse from coming to Christ, the Lord may hold the believer responsible for that lost soul in the Final Judgment. Those who are guilty must examine themselves, for they will answer to God; I am not the judge.
Servants of Jesus everywhere should strive together to uphold God’s standards for marriage; yet, the sad truth is that many leaders among God’s people promote these ungodly unions. God has made it clear from Genesis to Revelation that marriage between His children and the unconverted displeases Him, but as it was in Israel long ago, misguided ministers are the principal culprits in this transgression (Ezra 9:2), and the river of tears continues to flow. The body of Christ needs men who are bold, men who know God and, in humility and love, will maintain God’s holy standard and keep themselves and their flocks from being unequally yoked in any way with this sin-sick and sin-loving world.
We are living in a time of gross spiritual darkness; nevertheless, the Star of divine truth has shined on our path to lead us to a comprehension of the truth. We are told by James, “The friendship of the world is enmity against God; therefore whoever would be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). Friendship usually precedes courtship, and courtship, marriage. My dear young believer, whom do you count as your friend? “Do not be deceived,” wrote Paul, “bad companions corrupt good manners” (1Cor. 15:33).
Oh, how Jesus must long to see his people liberated from the confusing web of earthly entanglements and be a separate, holy people! “Happy is that people that is in such a case; yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD” (Ps. 144:15).