God’s Wise Instructions for Marriage (1 Corinthians Sermon 24)
March 31, 2019 | Andrew Davis
1 Corinthians 7:8-16
Recap: Seven Blessings of Marriage
So turn in your Bibles to 1 Corinthians 7:8-16. We're going to be walking through that today as we continue to look at the practical instructions that God has for us, originally given by the Apostle Paul to a specific local church there in Corinth. But in the wisdom and the providence of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, elevated into perfect scripture and put in into the canon for us so that we can read it and learn from it. So we're really sitting at the feet, not so much of the Apostle Paul, but of the Lord Jesus as He speaks to us by the power of the Spirit.
Now, last week as we began talking about marriage, I laid out God's marvelous purposes of marriage and how God ordained it from the beginning for many blessed purposes. I remember I laid out those seven purposes, first, for partnership, that we would be free from loneliness, that it's not good for the man to be alone. God said concerning Adam that we will be delivered and freed from loneliness in this world.
Secondly, the blessing of marriage and pleasure, specifically in marital union, the delights of sex within marriage, in the Song of Songs, which celebrates that and how it was established from the beginning, the man and his wife became one flesh and they were naked and felt no shame, and there was the pleasure of that union.
Thirdly, we saw for procreation, because God intended that through Adam and Eve, the earth would be filled, that they would be fruitful and multiply, and there would be people in the image of God who would be knit together in their mother's wombs and that God intended a vast army of the redeemed up in Heaven and the holy way by which children will be brought into this world as marriage and so procreation.
Also purity, how marriage is protection from sexual immorality, and from all of the wickedness that Satan would pour into our souls by that seems like sometimes gaping hole in the wall, the fortress wall, of our souls. And so there is purity.
And also with that, we talked about protection, a physical protection certainly from the elements, protection from the difficulties of life in this physical world, that's true, and the husbands can protect the wives in some senses, and the wives can protect the husbands in some senses, but also again with the issue of sexual protection, the need that we have for each other, and we talked a lot about that last time.
And also productivity, that the two come together and they're productive in their labors and they help each other, they buttress each other's weaknesses and they're able to cooperate and do remarkably productive things. They're able to fill the Earth, and subdue it, and rule over it together in a marvelous partnership.
And then finally, portrayal, how marriage is a portrayal or a picture of Christ in the church.
And so all of these things are the beautiful blessings of marriage, but we've also been seeing and discussing how rapidly sin entered the world. In the very next chapter, in Genesis 3, the serpent came and brought sin into the world and attacked that first married couple. And so there has been tremendous distress in marriage ever since. Martin Luther put it in his humorous way, as only Martin Luther could do. I tell you what, of all the figures from church history, who would I want to spend the evening with the most? He'd be my first joys, him or Spurgeon. What a fun evening that would be, if you could speak German. I'm assuming the translation issue is dealt with, but just to be able to sit at the table and listen to this man and his wisdom and the humor. But this is what he said about marriage:
"Good God, what a lot of trouble there is in marriage. Adam has made a mess of our nature. Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their 900 years together. Eve would say, 'You ate the apple,' and Adam would say, 'Yes, but you gave it to me.'" 900 years of that, I guess. And some of the deepest questions of our life center around this issue of marriage, of singleness, of love because these are powerful forces, and God... And I love how Jesus said, the night before He was crucified, said, "I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you." And by that, He meant the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the counselor who would come and give us instruction in all things. And here, we need instruction concerning singleness and marriage, and so that's what's in front of us.
Four Patterns of Marriage in the Roman World
Now, the Corinthians were in a very messed up context in terms of marriage back then. Their conception of marriage before the Gospel came to town was significantly corrupted. In the Greco-Roman world, there were four patterns of marriage in the pagan world that they lived in.
First, there was slave marriage. Many of the... Much of the world, the Greco-Roman world, were slaves, a huge percentage of the population, and as Paul said, and we saw in 1 Corinthians 6, "You're not your own, you're bought at a price," that's a language of slavery, we are Christ's slaves, but even just physically, those individuals who are slaves were really not their own. And so, what could happen is two slaves could come together in what was known as some kind of a tent marriage, that's a literal Latin expression, a tent dwelling, together which would speak of a temporariness. We, in our slang, might use the language of "shacking up," but there was that sense of coming together, and who knows how long it would last because if the master didn't like how they were together, he could break them apart, he could sell off one of them, et cetera. And so it was a very temporary setting, and so many of the church back then were slaves. Paul addresses them right in 1 Corinthians 7, now we'll not address it today. He is dealing with slaves and therefore with slave marriage. And so, there's a lot of mixed-up scenarios. There's a lot of mess. And it doesn't follow the pattern of one man, one woman, and covenant relationship for life; it was a sick pattern there in the pagan world. And so what is the church going to do? And what Paul did was not to try to break up everything but try to teach them the sanctity of marriage, what marriage is, and if they were in this tent relationship, to make the best of it and live up to the pattern of marriage as God originally ordained, even though a wicked or tyrannical master might break it apart physically or in terms of the actual ethical situation.
Secondly, there was common-law marriage. A man and a woman would live together, for them for one year, I think in our culture, common-law marriage is seven years, but one year, and at the end of the one year, they'd be identified as husband and wife and so the church had to address situations like that where people were living together and there'd never been a ceremony, there'd never been any kind of vows taken, there was no real legal status, but it was a common-law marriage. Again, Paul doesn't say anything about what they ought to do other than the sanctity of marriage that exists wherever it exists, and to live up to it, to God's pattern and to what God would intend.
Thirdly, there was the marriage by sale, and this is where... Would be where a wealthy father would sell marital rights to his daughter to a suitor, and if the man could come up with the bride price, then he would give his daughter to her in marriage, and that was very common in that part of the world.
And then finally, the highest form of marriage in the pagan and the Greco-Roman world was patrician marriage and this was among the nobility, and so, a man would marry a high-born woman and she would be his legal wife in patrician marriage, and therefore, the children that she bore would be his legal heir, his legal heirs. But sadly, they would be frequently hardly any kind of love relationship between the two. There would be a lot of adultery, a lot of sexual immorality. Each of them, it would just be understood, they would have partners, not their legal spouse, and so this is just very common in the pagan world. So that was the situation and the Greco-Roman patterns. Beyond that, as we've seen in the Book of 1 Corinthians, they were tremendous pressure sexually, the pagan religion was very corrupt sexually, and so, a lot of times, the gods and goddesses were worshipped by means of temple prostitutes, both male and female. And we discussed this clearly in chapter 6.
Also, there would be Christians from the Jewish background there in the church, and they would have a very different view of marriage than the pagans did, but they would go so far as to say that you're not normal if you're not married, something's wrong with you. There'd be even a sense of a curse on the women if they were barren, and you see that a lot in the Old Testament, but there's a sense of what's normal and right, that's fine, but they go maybe too far and say there's something abnormal with you if you can't find a spouse, like something's spiritually wrong with singleness. And so Paul has to address that, and he does so on the platform of His own life and His own example. We'll talk about that.
On the other hand, there would be some ex-pagans who were very philosophically-minded and very... So they believe high-minded and said, "Now that we've come to Christ, we're in the realm of the Spirit, not of the flesh," and so as we saw at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7, they said, "It's good for a man not to touch a woman at all." And so even in marriage, it's time for just total abstinence. And so into all of this messed up mental scenario or spiritual scenario, Paul has to give the biblical truth and he's commissioned by God to speak timeless truths about marriage, and in the providence of God, though he could never have known how many generations of Christians he would speak to that God ordained, he would speak to every generation of Christians about marriage.
And we need it, because we're messed up, too, when it comes to marriage. We have to be honest. Our culture is in a decaying orbit of relationship with Judeo-Christian values. We're moving more and more culturally toward paganism, so, to see the kind of ways that pagans understood men and women coming together, don't be surprise to see some of those things coming back. We also know that there's terrible assaults on marriage as I've already mentioned in my prayers, leading to divorce. Divorce statistics are staggering. Somewhere around 50% of all marriages end in divorce. 41% of all first marriages end in divorce. 60% of all second marriages end in divorce. 73% of all third marriages end in divorce. So you can see even in those statistics, the pattern of serial monogamy, with the corruption of illicit divorces in between.
And so we need to hear the Biblical truth on the issue of divorce. The average first marriage that doesn't end in divorce lasts about eight years, and soon after marriage, a lot of pressures come on the couple: Pressures, financial pressures, sexual pressures, relationship pressures, scheduling pressures, and it drives them apart, and if they don't have the resources of the Word of God and the Spirit, that it is very likely that they could end up in divorce.
But the United States, for all of its troubles, has only the sixth highest divorce rate in the world; the worst is in Russia: Three-quarters of all first marriages end in divorce. And so this is a problem worldwide. And beyond all of these staggering and depressing statistics is the reality of what divorce does to the children and to extended families and friends and everyone that knows the couple. It's like a bomb that's dropped in and has concentric circles of effect. It's devastating. The costs are staggering. The problems are not new, and the Corinthians face their own problems with marriage as we have seen, and only the Word of God has the power to help us face our problems as well.
So we turn now to 1 Corinthians 7:8-16, and Paul addresses four categories of people in the Corinthian church, and his words are timeless and relevant, and each one of you that's listening to me here today will find yourself in one of these four categories. It covers everybody. First, those who are presently unmarried of various categories, and those are addressed in verses 8 and 9. And then secondly, Christians who are presently married to other Christians, so that's addressed in verses 10 and 11, and then Christians who are presently married to non-Christians, and the non-Christians are willing to stay married to them, those are addressed in verses 12 through 14, and then fourthly, Christians who are presently married to non-Christians and the non-Christians want to leave or actually do leave, and that's in verses 15 and 16. So, Paul's words, you're not going to cover every little detail or every scenario, but this is a very great place for us to start as we try to understand marriage.
I. Commands to the Unmarried (vs. 8-9)
So let's begin with commands to the unmarried in verses 8 and 9. "Now to the unmarried and the widows, I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." So let's try to understand this category. He uses a simple term, "unmarried." It's just a very simple term in the Greek, but then along with that comes the specific term, "widows." So it's probably best to take this as a broad category of all the adults in the congregation who are not presently married, both male and female. Widows, I think are singled out because they had special needs and they were understood as a special category in the church and in society. So there is somewhat of a redundancy in the phrase to the "unmarried" and the "widows"; obviously, all widows are unmarried, but I think that's what he's dealing with here. So in this category, it would be all single people who have never been married and also people who are married at one point and are no longer married.
So Paul's basic advice to this category is, "Stay unmarried, if you can." So, Paul is going to give in 1 Corinthians 7 the greatest, most detailed unfolding of the gift of singleness or the value of singleness in the Christian life. Now we'll get into this again later in the chapter, but this is especially in verses 32 through 35. And the value of staying single, if you can do it with a pure heart, sexually, if you can stay single, the value is practical because you'll be able to serve your Lord with undivided devotion. So I'm stealing a little thunder from those later verses, but that's what he says. So that's the reason why if you can stay unmarried, please do so.
Now, in a larger sense, and we're going to see this very soon, not this morning, but in subsequent sermons in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is going to argue for a basic life contentment. He's going to argue for your life is bigger than your marital status. It's bigger than your status as slave or free. It's bigger than anything that's going on. Your relationship with Christ trumps everything, all of those scenarios, and it is possible, actually, it is desired and even commanded from God, for you to be content and maximally fruitful in whatever of those scenarios you find yourself in. So don't be continually pining after something that you don't have. Don't be yearning to get out of your present situation. We'll talk more about this, I think, next week. But the basic contentment, he even goes so far as to say it to slaves. He says, "If you're a slave, don't let it trouble you. But if you can get your freedom, do it." And so in other words, he's saying, "Don't be consumed, you might actually spend the rest of your life as a slave. And if you're a Christian and if you served faithfully, the Lord sees what you've done and He will reward you," as he says in many other places.
And so don't let it trouble you. So there's a basic contentment perspective here, saying the grass is not greener on the other side. Don't imagine, "If I could only have X, if I could have that scenario, then I could really be fruitful and I could really be happy in the Lord." Basic contentment: Stay content in what you are. Whatever your lot in life is. We'll talk more about that, God willing, next week.
Paul’s Own Example
So Paul gives himself then as his own example in terms of singleness, look at verse 8: "Now to the unmarried and the widows. I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried as I am." So there, he clearly asserts that he's an unmarried man, he's a single man. Now, we don't know very much more about Paul's marital status. Many people who study the Jewish society at the time said if he was going to be in the Sanhedrin or he was a ladder climber there in Judaism, he would have been married at a young age, would've been expected, as I mentioned earlier in the sermon.
So it was just the norm in Jewish society, and so therefore, many scholars, New Testament scholars, think Paul was a widower. We don't know anything about it, we can't speculate but just assume at some point he was married and lost his wife. But we don't know, maybe he had never been married. At any rate, he clearly says, "As I am." So he's a single man. So he's arguing for the benefits of life from his own personal experience. He, the Apostle Paul, was completely free to serve the Lord in some radical and courageous and bold ways which he would not have been able to do if he were a married man. The Lord had a call on Paul's life which was quite extreme. You remember in the Book of Acts how the prophet Agabus took his belt and tied him up with it, tied himself, I think he tied himself up with it, and he said, "The Holy Spirit says, ‘'In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" And then everyone around Paul starts weeping and pleading with him not to go to Jerusalem.
Well, that's a lot harder to hear from a wife and kids than it is from a bunch of friends in the church. But listen to what Paul says in Acts 21:13, he says, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." So there's a special call in Paul's life, would have been much harder for him to do it as a married man with children that he had to provide for.
Actually, Martin Luther was very similar to this. Martin Luther went and courageously stood for the Lord at the Diet of Worms. When he was asked to recant of all of his Reformation discoveries, justification by faith alone apart from works of law, the Gospel rediscovered and he stood courageously and boldly and would not recant, but said, "Here I stand. Sinners are justified, they are made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. I will not recant. I can't turn my back on the word of God for the turn away from the Word of God and conscience is not safe. Here I stand, I can do no other." That's it.
Well, what ended up happening is the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V put a ban on him. He was given safe conduct there and back, but basically, once he left the city districts, all bets are off. And a German citizen, seeing Martin Luther along the road, could take their sword or dagger any moment, plunge into Luther's heart and be exonerated of any guilt. He was a marked man, he was a dead man walking. So, Luther had taken vows of celibacy in the medieval Catholic pattern, which he later renounced as unbiblical, and felt he was free to marry, but he thought it would be unwise to get married because of that ban that was on him. So it's very similar to the Apostle Paul. He had a freedom to serve the Lord and a freedom to die, really, as a martyr, that he would not have if He was a married man. Now we'll talk more about this later in 1 Corinthians 7, this is the very case that Paul makes later on.
So here, in this chapter, he's vigorously refuting the Jews who say that only weird or defective people…the idea that there is something wrong with you if you're single. That's just not true. It may be a special calling on that individual's life, that we all acknowledge that it's rare. He is advocating, "If you can stay single, then do so." But there's a limitation, and the question you have to ask yourself is, "Can I be sexually pure as a single man or woman?"
Can You be Self-Controlled?
So look at verse 9. "If they, [the unmarried] cannot control themselves, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn," and then it's added in the translations, "burn with passion," and I think that's a right understanding, to burn with lust, to burn with sexual desire, and if you can't control yourself, the only holy avenue for you is marriage. So God gives to some people the gift of singleness, and the essence of it has to do with this verse 9, which is the ability to just move through this issue without any strong pulls.
They could be married, but it really seems a matter of indifference, not against it, but they really feel that they can serve the Lord fine without it. Paul's saying if that's how you are, then stay single, really, because you'll be set free to serve the Lord in some remarkable ways. But if you know in your heart that sexual temptation is powerful and strong, you feel like you're walking through a minefield and you can't stay pure and you don't know what to do and et cetera, then you don't have the gift of singleness. So that's what's he saying. You have to analyze yourself, you have to know yourself and then you'll know. So, if I can just stop and make an application to those of you that are single.
You may ask, "Alright, what do I do if I diagnosed myself and I don't think I have the gift of singleness? But I haven't received my gift yet, what should I do? What should I do?" That's a very good question. As you look at it, you analyze yourself, you have to say to yourself, it's true that it's better to marry than to burn with passion. But let me say one more thing. It's better to burn with passion than to sin. And God is calling on you, if you don't have the gift of singleness but you don't have a spouse yet, He's calling on you to fight the good fight of sexual purity, to stand firm in the day of test. All sexual expression outside of marriage is sin. God is not giving you permission to sin because you can't control yourself. So He's calling on you to sexual purity. So, let me just give you the basic instructions that we all have concerning sanctification.
First, "put sin to death by the Spirit," Romans 8:13. If you, by the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the flesh, you'll live. So that's the Christian life. All of us have to do it, you especially have to do it in this area, put sin to death by the power of the Spirit. Secondly, avoid tempting situations, like it says in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Thirdly, know that God "will not tempt you beyond what you can bear, but with the temptation, will make a way of escape so you can bear up under it," 1 Corinthians 10:13. Fourthly, pray daily for a godly spouse. Get other people to pray for you in this area. God makes marriages. Jesus said, "What God has joined together, let man not separate."
I think there's an interesting kind of locational transfer that He does with Eve where he makes... God makes Eve in some other place. I don't think it's helpful to think of a workshop, but just another place, and he makes her and brings her to the man. And I think there's a reason for that, because there's a providential from the man's perspective bringing to that happens and God does that. And I've seen it again and again; it's a beautiful thing to see. But until that happens, you have to wait patiently and ask God to do that. "Bring that person to me."
Fifthly, concentrate not so much on finding the right person, but on being the right person. So for you young men, develop the kind of godly character and lifestyle in a fruitful life direction that a godly Christian woman will want to follow and want to be part of, to be a helper suitable for that life. Where are you going? It's a reasonable question for her to ask. What are your plans? What are you doing? You must have an answer to that question. And it better line up in the great commission. I am here to serve God, to the glory of God, and these are my gifts, and this is where I'm going. Well, that kind of godly man, a woman's going to want to be part of, a godly woman's going to want to be part of. So be the right person, not just waiting for the right person. And young women, same thing, be the kind of godly woman that a godly man will want to marry, and get other women to speak into your life on this.
And then sixth, be active, active, active, in serving the Lord, especially in the context of local church. Find ministry. I'm telling you, time and time again, couples find each other in the context of service. They're working together in a national ministry, in urban ministry, they're working together in something, and they just see each other's heart and they come together on a mission trip. Different things, there's certain rules about that, about the mission trip.
Please hear me about that. Alright, there's rules about that, but it happens again and again. So that's what I have on my sheet. I want to add another one. Let me say this carefully, going off-message here so that's dangerous, but let me say it. Don't be too choosy. God can bring godly people, that she's a believer, he's a believer…I remember hearing from another counselor, he's talking to this guy, and this guy said, "I don't know, I'm waiting for a... I think I'm just waiting for a 10." And this man said, this godly counselor said, "Brother, can I be honest with you? You're a seven…Maybe." So you need people like that to speak into your life. Alright? "Can I just be honest? You're a seven, alright?"
II. Commands to Married Christians (vs. 10-11)
Alright secondly, commands to marry Christians. Verse 10, 11, "To the married, I give this command: Not I, but the Lord. A wife must not separate from her husband, but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband, and the husband must not divorce his wife." So here, we get to the command, and keeping it simple, do not get a divorce. If we could just summarize it, that's what he's saying, both to the man and to the woman. That's the basic command, if we could just keep it simple. Now what does Paul mean at the beginning when he says, "Not I, but the Lord"? Well, in the statement that he makes when he says, "Not I, but the Lord," he's saying, "I have a word from the Lord on this, the Lord Jesus. Jesus, while He was in His physical life on earth, taught on divorce. Multiple times, actually.
And so keep in mind, the New Testament hadn't been pulled together yet, probably most of it hadn't even been written yet, and so, they were working on an oral tradition of sayings from the Lord Jesus. Remember how Luke gathered a lot of accounts together, talking to eye witnesses to write the Gospel of Luke, and so he had a saying from Jesus on this. And you just go to the Sermon in the Mount, for example, Jesus said there in Matthew 5:31-32, "It has been said anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce, but I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, [pornea] causes her to become an adulteress and anyone who marries the woman commits adultery."
So He's very clear on this, and He does the same thing in Matthew 19, where they come and ask, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" And He goes back to the beginning and He says, "It was not intended…" so it is not lawful to get a divorce for any and every reason. So Paul states it simply, first to the Christian wife: A wife must not separate from her husband. He doesn't go into the exception clause for when divorce is acceptable, namely, there has been a sexual sin. Just simply, the Christian wife must not separate herself from her husband. As we've mentioned, divorce is devastating to people. It's devastating to their psyches, it's devastating to their physical and mental emotional health. It's hard to recover. God says plainly in Malachi 2:16, "I hate divorce." The impact on children is incalculable. So Christian couples need to stay together.
And he adds also in verse 11, "A husband must not divorce his wife." But then why does he add, "But if she does," look at verse 10, 11, "a wife must not separate from her husband, but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled with her husband." I don't know the best answer for this, but what I would say is probably divorces had already happened. By the time the letter got there, I don't know, the horse was already out of the barn, if that's the expression. There was no going back. And a lot of times, situations occur that are not the best, they're not biblical norm. And I think as in the case of David and Bathsheba and Uriah is dead, can't come back, and that the baby dies, can't come back, and then later, Bathsheba conceives and gives birth to Solomon, and God gives us a sweet, peaceful message saying, "Call him Jedidiah the Lord loves him, Beloved of the Lord." It's just a very fascinating thing. God's standards couldn't be higher, but God moves on. And if some things can't be undone, they can't be undone. And I think that's what he's addressing.
Others may have a different interpretation of that, but what He says is, "Look, if that's what has happened, if you've gotten divorced without suitable grounds," speaking of the woman here, "she must seek to undo the wrong by being reconciled with her husband or else she needs to remain unmarried for the rest of her life." That's how seriously God takes marriage and divorce.
Work it Out!
Now I remember early in my ministry here, I came across some marriage and parenting days by a man named Reb Bradley, and he was very helpful to me, gave me some good insights by the tapes that I was listening to. He had been a professional photographer before he was in vocational ministry, and he was doing a family life thing and his picture was up on a poster, and this guy finds him and tracks him down through the local church and says, "You know, you look a lot like the guy who photographed our weddings," he's calling them on the phone, "But you look a lot... " He said, "Well, I used to be a professional photographer."
And so they kind of compared notes and it's like, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember that wedding. I remember it distinctly. Yeah," he says, "How is it going?" He said, "Well, it's not going very well," the man said. Reb Bradley said, "Oh. Well, what's going on?" He said, "Well, I think we're going to get a divorce." There was this long pause, and then Reb Bradley said, "You can't." The man said, "I beg your pardon?" He said, "I said you can't. I mean, it's true I was there as a photographer, but all of us were there as witnesses and I heard what you said to God and to us. And this is the very thing you said you wouldn't do, so you can't."
And the man said, "Well, what do you want me to do?" And he said, "Work it out." And beautifully, in the story, the man and his wife came to meet with him for multiple times of counseling and they worked it out. So, that story sticks with me, I would say every day, I think about it in my own marriage, every day, "Work it out." We have the resources, if we're Christians, to work it out. We have the resources to give and receive forgiveness. We have the resources to grow and be transformed out of terrible sin patterns. We have resources. So effectively, God puts the couple in a room with no windows and doors and says, "Work it out," and He gives the Holy Spirit and He gives the Scripture and that's what He's calling on us to do.
III. Commands to Christians Married to Non-Christians Who Want to Stay (vs. 12-14)
Thirdly, commands to Christians married to non-Christians who want to stay or are willing to stay, look at verses 12 and 13. It says, "To the rest, I say this: I, not the Lord, if any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her, and if a woman has a husband who's not a believer, and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him." So, again, the same advice. Stay married if you can. The overall advice on the whole chapter is stay in the situation you're in. A consistent advice he's going to give, with exceptions, but in this case, he's saying, "Alright, you're dealing with what we would call a mixed marriage. A Christian man with a non-Christian woman, a Christian woman with a non-Christian man." That's the scenario.
Now he speaks, he says, "This I say: I, not the Lord," now, please don't say that Paul's pitting himself against Jesus here. It's like, "I'm slipping aside. I'm going to tell you something Jesus wouldn't tell you." That's not what he's doing. What he's saying is, "I don't have an oral tradition saying from Jesus on this topic." But he is speaking as an apostle and God is expanding our understanding through the Apostle. That's how you should understand it. It's every bit as inspired as anything Jesus would ever say. So the topic's mixed marriage. Now, first of all, please hear me on this. No single Christian should ever willingly, willfully go into a mixed marriage, ever. Ever. 2 Corinthian 6:14 says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers," or sometimes translated "unequally yoked." "For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" Don't willingly do that, don't step into something that God said He will not bless, willingly.
Later in this very chapter, he talks to a widow who desired to get remarried. He said It's fine. Look at verse 39, "A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but [he must be a Christian] he must belong to the Lord," it must be in the Lord, that that marriage happens. However, in the strange providences of God, God frequently in His wisdom and for his own inscrutable purposes, makes mixed marriages all the time by converting one of the couple. It happens again and again and again. And we don't always understand that, but God has the right to do that if He wants, and so He's speaking into that situation. In the meantime, what should the Christian spouse do in such a close proximity with a non-Christian?
Unequally yoked, but wasn't it her fault or his fault, what should she do? Tertullian, the ancient writer, talked about the challenges of a woman becoming a Christian without her husband, and she's got new friends, she's got a new lifestyle, a new pattern of worship, everything in her life is new, and he's not part of any of it. He doesn't understand any of it. Some might have thought, "Why don't you just make a clean break of it in every respect, divorce the non-Christian, find a nice Christian man, get married, and raise a Christian family?" But do you not see the devastation that would wreak in pagan society? How Christianity, even Christ, could be seen as a home-wrecker? And Christ is no home-wrecker. And so, the advice here is if the unbelieving spouse wants to stay married, Paul says stay married, then keep the marriage intact. Yes, it's going to be challenging, but this is God's best in the situation, if the unbelieving spouse is willing to stay in the marriage, is happy in the marriage.
: And then he says a very fascinating thing: Family life is sanctified or made holy by the believer in that marriage. Some might say, "Won't I be spiritually defiled by my unbelieving spouse, especially even in the marital bed? Aren't I taking the members of Christ and joining them with somebody who's not a child of God? How can I do that?" And so he addresses that in an amazing way. "And what about our children, wouldn't they be, to some degree, spiritual half-breeds? How are we going to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?" And so look at verse 14, he says, "The unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified or made holy through her believing husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."
So Paul is saying in some very powerful and mysterious way, the presence of a Christian in the home, especially in the marriage, has a permeating and a powerful spiritual effect in the whole household. Doesn't mean that the unbeliever is made holy absolutely in standing before a holy God. No, that only happens by that individual repenting and believing in Christ for him or herself. However, the Christian wife can have an amazing, powerful influence in that home for Christ. Or conversely, the Christian husband can do the same.
IV. Commands to Christians Married to Non-Christians Who Want to Leave (vs. 15-16)
Now the fourth categories commands to Christians married to non-Christians who want to leave, verse 15. He says, "If the unbeliever leaves let Him do, so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances." ESV has "enslaved" but I like "bound." "God has called us to live in peace." So he addresses the opposite case, the unbeliever wants to leave, does leave, they're gone, person can't stand living with the Christian spouse now, doesn't want any part of this. Wants a divorce, has sued for divorce, or just left. They don't even know where they are. Just gone. Paul makes it clear that the believing spouse should not make some superhuman efforts to track the individual down, force them to stay married, compel them. How could that even happen anyway? The person doesn't want it, they don't want it. And so when he says "not bound," I think it's really important to hear, that's why I don't think the "enslave" statement is helpful, because Paul uses the "bound" language to speak of marriage. And so in Romans 7:2, he says, "By law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as her husband is alive, but if her husband died, she is released from the law of marriage." Same idea here. So I think he's saying if the unbeliever leaves, she's no longer... The Christian wife is no longer married. The marriage has ended. So that expands our understanding of lawful grounds for divorce to include abandonment, biblically, here.
So, also, and this is hotly debated, but I believe it means if you have a licit divorce, then you have the right to remarry. If God says that you have the right to get a divorce, then you have a right to remarry. Not everyone says that, but that's my conviction.
So Paul's reason that he gives here is God has called us to live in peace, the endless strife and conflict of trying to compel the unbeliever to stay in a home they don't want any part of. That's what he has in mind. The unbeliever does not love Christ, does not want to pray, does not want to raise the children of the Lord, does not want to go to church, does not want to give money to Christian causes, does not want to offer hospitality to other Christians, doesn't want any part of any of that, is a continual war, and that's not glorifying to god.
Furthermore, in verse 16, he says that you don't know what the future holds, you don't know the outcome spiritually where we're heading with all this. Verse 16. "How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" Now the best motive that the believing spouse could have is like, "I'm going to stay in it, that they would be converted. They don't want to stay, but I'm going to stay close to this unconverted spouse and I'm going to be with them and evangelize them every day, and I'm going to pour out the goodness." It's like, you don't know that that's going to happen. You don't know that the person's ever going to be converted.
Now I just have to stop this moment and say if I can say this is the most central, vital issue there is in human life. We are talking about a detail of human life, very important detail: Marriage. But it is not the centerpiece of your life. You will not spend eternity in Heaven married to another human being; you'll spend eternity in Heaven married to Jesus in a mystical union, as we've discussed. Marriage is temporary; it's for the rest of your life, but it's temporary. The most important issue for you, for each one of you, is, are your sins forgiven through faith in Christ? I pray this morning that God would bring a lost person here to the church today to hear this: That God sent His son Jesus into the world for sinners like you and me, and all you need to do to be fully forgiven of all your sins, justified, is trust in the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be forgiven of all your sins. And it could be that you're having marital problems. It could be that you're having problems as a single, it could be you're having sexual problems.
God, through Christ and through the Holy Spirit, gives you all of the power you will need for a healthy, holy life from now on, but only if you trust in Christ. So come to Christ.
And I want to give some other applications, I've been giving them throughout, but just let's finish with a few more. First of all, just as a believer in Christ, praise God for the clarity of His Word, that God has told us everything we need for a healthy marriage. I'm not saying 1 Corinthian 7:8-16 is everything you need. But everything you need for a healthy, fruitful marriage is in the Scripture, so praise God. Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
Secondly, bring this area to God and pray regularly, no matter which of these four categories you're in. Pray for God's best in this area. And I want to say especially you married couples, pray together for your marriage. Pray for the health of your marriage, even if you feel... Very healthy marriage, good, then it should be easy to get together and pray. But even if it's not, then you probably need prayer, you need prayer more than anyone else. Get together, hold hands, and bow your head, husbands lead out and this what it means to be a Christ-like leader, say, "We need to pray for our marriage." And do that even this afternoon. Don't wait.
Thirdly, look at the blessings of marriage. Keep your eyes on that. See it's a good thing, the seven full blessings. It's a good thing to be married. Praise God for it. Be thankful for marriage. Be thankful for your spouse. Now we're going to say more about being thankful for singleness. If you are single, and you don't think you have the gift of singleness, ask God for a kind of a provisional gift of singleness between now and then. There's nothing wrong with that. "Lord, greatly reduce my desires in this area. I got it that I probably don't have the gift of singleness, I got the message. But God, would You just greatly reduce my desires in this area until You bring the right person in my life?" Just lay it out before God in prayer. Close with me in prayer.