May 28, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: 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. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 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. 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?”—1 Corinthians 7:12–16 (NKJV)
We’re in one of the most important yet misunderstood sections of 1 Corinthians, and of the entire Bible for that matter. Paul is giving the Corinthian Christians as series of spiritual instructions on marriage and the various scenarios that tend to intersect with it. These verses above are given to guide them, and us, to what matters most on marriage . . . God’s heart.
He starts with the scenario of a marriage where one spouse is a Christian and the other is not (by the way, the designations of “husband” and “wife” are interchangeable throughout this passage. The same principle applies to either husbands or wives, not just the one Paul specifically references). A lot of Christians were probably wondering if they should divorce their non-Christian spouse, but Paul makes it very clear they shouldn’t. As long as the non-Christian spouse was willing to remain in the marriage, the Christian was to honor their marriage vows because God has a greater purpose for their marriage.
That greater purpose is what Paul touches on next as he goes on to describe the benefits of a Christian remaining married to a non-Christian. The first is that the unbelieving spouse is “sanctified” by virtue of being married to a believer. Now, this does not mean the unbeliever is sanctified in the sense that they’re Christians because that is a personal decision each person must make. But it does mean they are “set apart” in a way that gives them spiritual advantages they wouldn’t otherwise have. They have the advantage of seeing God work in their spouse’s life and of being prayed for by them. In other words, they are much closer to the kingdom through their marriage than they would be without it.
The second benefit pertains to the children in this scenario. Paul states they are “holy,” which means they’re set apart for God’s purposes. While each person must make a decision in regards to being a Christian, there is an age at which a child becomes accountable to make that choice as they become capable to do so. Until such a time; however, they’re innocent before God. Being in a household where there’s a believing parent enhances their ability to make the decision to follow Jesus when that time comes.
But what if an unbelieving spouse isn’t willing to deal with the spiritual differences of their believing spouse? What if they “depart”? What if they sever ties of their own accord? In that case, the believer isn’t bound to the marriage but is free to move forward in life in peace. But outside of them being unwilling to remain in the marriage, the Christian should remain in it, because God has a greater purpose for marriage . . . the salvation of their spouse.
So often, marriage is seen as something exclusively self-fulfilling. It’s for our sake. But Paul reveals to us that although marriage is intended to bless and fulfill us, it can also serve a much greater purpose in God’s providential plan . . . spiritual salvation.
Pause: What is the greater purpose that marriage can serve in God’s providential plan?
Practice: Consider a time when you’ve experienced something you thought was meant to only satisfy you but instead had a greater purpose.
Pray: Father, helps me to see things as You do, especially when it comes to something as important as marriage. Replace my notions and opinions with Your truth and enable me to honor You in any way I possibly can. Thank You for giving me Your Word so I can see things Your way. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.