The Command To Christians Who Are Married To Non-believers
What should you do if you are married to an unbeliever? Should you divorce your non-Christian mate or remain in the marriage? The key to understanding Paul’s encouragement is the willingness of your unbelieving spouse:
“If any brother has a wife who does not believe,
and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.
And a woman who has a husband who does not believe,
if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.”
(1 Cor. 7:12-13)
How do you determine if your mate is willing to live with you? Consider these facts: The word willing is in the present tense and the active voice, which is extremely important to correctly understand this passage. The active voice means that a person performs an action. The present tense describes this action as being done continually.
Therefore, if an unbeliever is willing to live with you, he or she will demonstrate this willingness by continual practical actions, not just words. In addition, the word willing literally means, that they take pleasure in dwelling with you. By words and actions an unbeliever must demonstrate that he or she takes pleasure in living with you.
The reason I bring these definitions up is because I have counseled numerous individuals who struggle with the contradictions they see in their unbelieving mate. Let me give you four examples where this definition of willingness needs to be considered:
(1) When a wife declares, “My spouse verbally declares that he is willing to live with me, but he is presently sleeping with another woman.”
(2) When a man announces, “I am willing to live with you, but I really don’t want to provide for you.”
(3) When a wife says, “I am willing to live with you, but I don’t want to have any sexual relations with you.”
(4) When a husband declares, “I am willing to live with you,” but then physically abuses you on a regular basis. What do all these actions reveal? Obviously, they show that a person is not willing to live with you, nor do they take pleasure in you as their spouse.
It is important to note that even God does not accept simply what a person says; He only recognizes what a person does. The little phrase that we use so often, “actions speak louder than words” is very biblical. Jesus said,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven,
but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
You can’t give lip service by using spiritual language and then fail to live what you profess to believe. There must be action to prove your commitment to the Lordship of Christ. You will only be allowed into the Kingdom of heaven if you do the will of the Father.
Another passage that establishes this principle is found in Proverbs. Most of the modern translations confuse the meaning of this verse; however, the Old King James Version renders it best.
“A naughty person,
a wicked man,
walketh with a froward mouth.
He winketh with his eyes,
he speaketh with his feet,
he teacheth with his fingers.”
Solomon is explaining to his son how to determine a wicked man. He declared that a wicked man speaks with his feet. In other words, look at what a person does and observe closely his or her actions, not just the speech.
This is Paul’s point: If your non-Christian mate is not willing by their words and deeds to dwell with you, and he or she chooses to leave, let them depart. Paul makes it clear when he declares,
“But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart;
a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.
But God has called us to peace.”
(1 Cor. 7:15)
It is important to note that the word depart is an imperative in the Greek. The imperative mood corresponds to the English imperative, and expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the authority of the one commanding. Thus, when Jesus gives the imperative,
“Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
He is not merely giving an invitation, but a command requiring full obedience on the part of all hearers. Therefore, when Paul declares “Let him depart,” he is not simply giving an idea to consider. He is giving a command, let them go!
The reason I bring up this issue is that many Christians have been given erroneous counsel on this subject. In most cases, to persevere and seek reconciliation with a wayward mate is the godly thing to do. However, it is cruel and unbiblical when people are told to hold on to their marriages when their adulterous spouses have already married someone else or have made it continually clear that they want nothing to do with the faithful partner.
Christian men and women have written me telling of the counsel they were given to pray that God would destroy a second marriage, to restore their own. This is clearly contrary to 1 Cor. 7:15. Counsel such as this only torments a person, causing them to hope and pray for something that is evil and destructive.
When your spouse makes it clear by his or her words and actions that he (she) is not pleased to dwell with you, or when he (she) has already married someone else, I would encourage you to let your spouse depart as Scripture teaches. Note that Paul explains that,
“A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.
But God has called us to peace”
A person in such circumstances is no longer bound by the marriage vows because the unfaithful spouse’s actions have demonstrated his or her total disregard for the marriage. Following this counsel is God’s method to bring some measure of peace to the offended mate.
Missed Part III and hungering more encouragement? Feed your soul by reading Understanding Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage – Part III
Excerpt republished with permission from Covenant Keepers by Pastor Steve Carr, Copyright 2013.