Unbelieving Spouse “pleased to dwell”

“1 Corinthians 7:12-13  12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.  13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.”^The following are different commentaries upon 1 Corinthians 7:12-13…

Matthew Henry 1 Corinthians 7:12-15

II. He brings the general advice home to the case of such as had an unbelieving mate (v. 12): But to the rest speak I, not the Lord; that is, the Lord had not so expressly spoken to this case as to the former divorce. It does not mean that the apostle spoke without authority from the Lord, or decided this case by his own wisdom, without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. He closes this subject with a declaration to the contrary (v. 40), I think also that I have the Spirit of God. But, having thus prefaced his advice, we may attend,

1. To the advice itself, which is that if an unbelieving husband or wife were pleased to dwell with a Christian relative, the other should not separate. The husband should not put away an unbelieving wife, nor the wife leave an unbelieving husband, v. 12, 13. The Christian calling did not dissolve the marriage covenant, but bind it the faster, by bringing it back to the original institution, limiting it to two persons, and binding them together for life. The believer is not by faith in Christ loosed from
matrimonial bonds to an unbeliever, but is at once bound and made apt to be a better relative. But, though a believing wife or husband should not separate from an unbelieving mate, yet if the unbelieving relative desert the believer, and no means can reconcile to a cohabitation, in such a case a brother or sister is not in bondage (v. 15), not tied up to the unreasonable humour, and bound servilely to follow or cleave to the malicious deserter, or not bound to live unmarried after all proper means for reconciliation have been tried, at least of the deserter contract another marriage or be guilty of adultery, which was a very easy supposition, because a very common instance among the heathen inhabitants of Corinth. In such a case the deserted person must be free to marry again, and it is granted on all hands. And some think that such a malicious desertion is as much a dissolution of the marriage-covenant as death itself.

For how is it possible that the two shall be one flesh when the one is maliciously bent to part from or put away the other? Indeed, the deserter seems still bound by the matrimonial contract; and therefore the apostle says (v. 11), If the woman depart from her husband upon the account of his infidelity, let her remain unmarried. But the deserted party seems to be left more at liberty (I mean supposing all the proper means have been used to reclaim the deserter, and other circumstances make it necessary) to marry another person. It does not seem reasonable that they should be still bound, when it is rendered impossible to perform conjugal duties or enjoy
conjugal comforts, through the mere fault of their mate: in such a case marriage would be a state of servitude indeed. But, whatever liberty be indulged Christians in such a case as this, they are not allowed, for the mere infidelity of a husband or wife, to separate; but, if the unbeliever be willing, they should continue in the relation, and cohabit as those who are thus related. This is the apostle's general direction.

2. We have here the reasons of this advice.

    (1.) Because the relation or state is sanctified by the holiness of either party: For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the husband (v. 14), or hath been sanctified. The relation itself, and the conjugal use of each other, are sanctified to the believer. To the pure all things are pure, Titus 1:15. Marriage is a divine institution; it is a compact for life, by God's appointment. Had converse and congress with unbelievers in that relation defiled the
believer, or rendered him or her offensive to God, the ends of marriage would have been defeated, and the comforts of it in a manner destroyed, in the circumstances in which Christians then were. But the apostle tells them that, though they were yoked with unbelievers, yet, if they themselves were holy, marriage was to them a holy state, and marriage comforts, even with an unbelieving relative, were sanctified enjoyments. It was no more displeasing to God for them to continue to live as they did before, with their unbelieving or heathen relation, than if they had become converts together. If one of the relatives had become holy, nothing of the
duties or lawful comforts of the married state could defile them, and render them displeasing to God, though the other were a heathen. He is sanctified for the wife's sake. She is sanctified for the husband's sake.  Both are one flesh. He is to be reputed clean who is one flesh with her that is holy, and vice verse: Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy (v. 14), that is, they would be heathen, out of the pale of the church and covenant of God. They would not be of the holy seed (as the Jews are called, Isaiah 6:13), but common and unclean, in the same sense as heathens in general were styled in the apostle's vision, Acts 10:28.

This way of speaking is according to the dialect of the Jews, among whom a child begotten by parents yet heathens, was said to be begotten out of holiness; and a child begotten by parents made proselytes was said to be begotten intra sanctitatem - within the holy enclosure. Thus Christians are called commonly saints; such they are by profession, separated to be a peculiar people of God, and as such distinguished from the world; and therefore the children born to Christians, though married to unbelievers, are not to be reckoned as part of the world, but of the church, a holy, not a common and unclean seed. "Continue therefore to live even with
unbelieving relatives; for, if you are holy, the relation is so, the state is so, you may make a holy use even of an unbelieving relative, in conjugal duties, and your seed will be holy too." What a comfort is this, where both relatives are believers!

(2.) Another reason is that God hath called Christians to peace, v. 15. The Christian religion obliges us to act peaceably in all relations, natural and civil. We are bound, as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18), and therefore surely to promote the peace and comfort of our nearest relatives, those with whom we are one flesh, nay, though they should be infidels. Note, It should be the labour and study of those who are married to make each other as easy and happy as possible.

(3.) A third reason is that it is possible for the believing relative to be an instrument of the other's salvation (v. 16): What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Note, It is the plain duty of those in so near a relation to seek the salvation of those to whom they are related. "Do not separate. There is other duty now called for. The conjugal relation calls for the most close and endeared affection; it is a contract for life. And should a Christian desert a mate, when an opportunity offers to give the most glorious proof of love? Stay, and labour heartily for the conversion of thy relative. Endeavour to save a soul. Who knows but this may be the event? It is not impossible. And, though there be no great probability, saving a soul is so good and glorious a service that the bare possibility should put one on exerting one's self." Note, Mere possibility of success should be a sufficient motive with us to use our diligent endeavours for saving the souls of our relations. "What know I but I may save his soul? should move me to attempt it."

Barnes Notes:

1 Corinthians 7:10. And unto the married This verse commences the SECOND subject of inquiry; to wit, whether it was proper, in the existing state of things, for those who WERE married to continue this relation, or whether they ought to separate. The REASONS why any may have supposed that it was best to separate, may have been:

(1) That their troubles and persecutions might be such that they might judge it best that families should be broken up; and,

(2) Probably many supposed that it was unlawful for a Christian wife or husband to be connected at all with a pagan and an idolater. I command, yet not I, but the Lord Not I so much as the Lord. This injunction is not to be understood as ADVICE merely, but as a solemn, divine command, from which you are not at liberty to depart. Paul here professes to utter the language of inspiration, and demands obedience. The express command of "the Lord" to which he refers, is probably the precept recorded in Matthew 5:32, and 19:3-10. These precepts of Christ asserted that the marriage tie was sacred and inviolable. Let not the wife depart ... Let her not prove faithless to her marriage vows; let her not, on any pretence, desert her husband. Though she is a Christian, and he is not, yet let her not seek, on that account, to be separate from him - The law of Moses did not permit a wife to divorce herself from her husband, though it was sometimes done (compare Matthew 10:12); but the Greek and Roman laws allowed it - Grotius.

But Paul here refers to a formal and legal separation before the magistrates, and not to a voluntary separation, without intending to be formally divorced. The reasons for this opinion are:
(1) That such divorces were known and practiced among both Jews and pagans.
(2) It was important to settle the question whether they were to be allowed in the Christian church.
(3) The claim would be set up, probably, that it might be done.
(4) The question whether a "voluntary separation" might not be proper, where one party was a Christian, and the other not, he discusses in the following verses, 1 Corinthians 7:12-17.

Here, therefore, he solemnly repeats the law of Christ, that DIVORCE, under the Christian economy, was not to be in the power either of the husband or wife.
1 Corinthians 7:11. But and if she depart If she have withdrawn by a rash and foolish act; if she has attempted to dissolve the marriage vow, she is to remain unmarried, or be reconciled. She is not at liberty to marry another. This may refer, I suppose, to instances where wives, ignorant of the rule of Christ, and supposing that they had a right to separate themselves from their husbands, had rashly left them, and had supposed that the marriage contract was dissolved. Paul tells them that this was impossible; and that IF they had so separated from their husbands, the pure laws of Christianity, did not recognize this right, and they must either be reconciled to their husbands, or remain alone. The marriage tie was so sacred that it could not be dissolved by the will of either party.

Let her remain unmarried That is, let her not marry another. Or be reconciled to her husband Let this be done, if possible. If it cannot be, let her remain unmarried. It was a DUTY to be reconciled if it was possible. If not, she should not violate her vows to her husband so far as to marry another. It is evident that this rule is still binding, and that no one who has separated from her husband, whatever be the cause, unless there be a regular divorce, according to the law of Christ (Matthew 5:32), can be at liberty to marry again.

And let not the husband See the note at Matthew 5:32. This right, granted under the Jewish law, and practiced among all the pagan, was to be taken away wholly under the gospel. The marriage tie was to be regarded as sacred; and the tyranny of man over woman was to cease. 1 Corinthians 7:12. But to the rest "I have spoken in regard to the duties of the unmarried, and the question whether it is right and advisable that they should marry, 1 Corinthians 7:1-9. I have also uttered the command of the Lord in regard to those who are married, and the question whether separation and divorce were proper. Now in regard to "the rest of the person's and cases" referred to, I will deliver my opinion." "The rest," or remainder, here referred to, relates particularly to the cases in which one party was a Christian and the other not. In the previous verses he had delivered the solemn, explicit law of Christ, that DIVORCE was to take place on neither side, and in no instance, except agreeably to the law of Christ; Matthew 5:32. That was settled by divine authority. In the subsequent verses he discusses a different question; whether a "voluntary separation" was not advisable and proper when the one party was a Christian and the other not. The word "rest" refers to these instances, and the questions which would arise under this inquiry.

Not the Lord See the note at 1 Corinthians 7:6. "I do not claim, in this advice, to be under the influence of inspiration; I have no express command
on the subject from the Lord; but I deliver my opinion as a servant of the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:40), and as having a right to offer advice, even when I have no express command from God, to a church which I have founded, and which has consulted me on the subject." This was a case in which both he and they were to follow the principles of Christian prudence and propriety, when there was no express commandment. Many such cases may occur. But few, perhaps none, can occur, in which some Christian principle shall not be found, that will be sufficient to direct the anxious inquirer after truth and duty.

If any brother Any Christian, that believeth not That is not a Christian; one who is a pagan. And if she be pleased If it seems best to her; if she consents; approves of
living together still. There might be many cases where the wife or the husband, that was not a Christian, would be so opposed to Christianity, and so violent in their opposition, that they would not be willing to live with a Christian. When this was the case, the Christian husband or wife could not prevent the separation. When this was not the case, they were not to seek a separation themselves.

To dwell with him To remain in connection with him as his wife, though they differed on the subject of religion.  Let him not put her away Though she is a pagan, though opposed to his religion, yet the marriage vow is sacred and inviolable. It is not to be sundered by any change which can take place in the opinions of either party. It is evident that if a man were at liberty to dissolve the marriage tie, or to discard his wife when his own opinions were changed on the subject of religion, that it would at once destroy all the sacredness of the marriage union, and render it a nullity. Even, herefore, when there is a difference of opinion on the vital subject of religion, the tie is not dissolved; but the only effect of religion should be, to make the converted husband or wife more tender, kind, affectionate, and faithful than they were before; and all the more so as their partners are without the hopes of the gospel, and as they may be won to love the Saviour, 1 Corinthians 7:16.

1 Corinthians 7:13. Let her not leave him. A change of phraseology from the last verse, to suit the circumstances. The wife did not have power to "put away" the husband, and expel him from his own home; but she might think it her duty to be separated from him. The apostle counsels her not to do this; and this advice should still be followed. She should still love her husband and seek his welfare; she should be still a kind, affectionate, and faithful wife; and all the more so that she may show him the excellence of religion, and win him to love it. She should even bear much, and bear it long; nor should she leave him unless her life is rendered miserable, or in danger; or unless he wholly neglects to make provision for her, and leaves her to suffering, to want, and to tears. In such a case no precept of religion forbids her to return to her father's house, or to seek a place of safety and of comfort. But even then it is not to be a separation on account of a difference of religious sentiment, but for brutal treatment. Even then the marriage tie is not dissolved, and neither party is at liberty to marry again.
 
 

Christian Counselor's Commentary
by Jay E. Adams; pg 50; 1 Corinthians 7:15

"May the believing partner instigate the divorce?  It would seem so.  The Greek of verse 15 reads, literally, 'if the unbeliever is separarating,'  that is, if he is in the process of breaking up the marriage.  Certainly it would refer to actions (or lack of actions) on his part that would indicate he no longer wishes to be married and probably also pertains to a failure to assume the obligations of marriage.  According to Exodus 21:10, minimal requirements for a marriage on the husband's part are food, clothing (or shelter) and sexual relations.  When these are not provided by neglect or refusal, the marriage my be terminated by the other party.  At any rate, the overarching principle is that failure on the part of a marriage partner to maintain the semblance of a home, in such a way that it is constantly upset by such failure, provides opportunity for divorce, leading to 'peace' for the Christian partner."

[compiler's note: ]
The wife's minimal requirements are...
Old Testament Numbers 5:19 sexual fidelity
 New Testament additions are...
1 Corinthians 7 establishes that the wife's duty is to give her body to her husband.
Ephesians 5:22 among many others i.e. 1 Peter 3, reestabishes-Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Therefore it is rightly concluded that the partner failing has already divorced and the legal filing is not the actual divorce but the official recognition that divorce exists.

various excerpts from Jay Adams' Marriage, Divorce and ReMarriage,  and The Christian Counselor's Commentary 1 Corinthians 7:15 and my recall of our conversations...[ I do Not speak for nor imply I represent Dr. Adams' thoughts or our conversations].

1 Corinthians 7:13-16 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

There were these major points made:

1. The Elders of a Biblical Church are to hear evidence, weigh the facts, and pronounce their judgments at each step of the discipline process.

2. "Pleased to dwell" means the unbelieving spouse must at least keep the minimum duties as a spouse. Failure to keep their duties/responsibilities means the unbelieving spouse "wants to depart"...so the believing spouse is required to "let them depart".

Within marriage there are obligations.  The great principal in verses 1 Corinthians 7: 3 and 4 is critical to all marriage counseling.  Sexual relations are an equal obligation of both parties (v. 3). But in fulfilling the obligation one do so lovingly. Love is giving; lust is demanding something for one's self. Neither marriage partner has authority over his own body; the other person does (v. 4). That means one must not seek his or her own sexual satisfaction, but the satisfaction of one's partner.
In a variety of ways, this important principle solves problems. One party says, "I don't get any pleasure out of sexual relations." The answer? "Well, that shouldn't be your goal. It should be to satisfy your partner. And incidentally, that which gives the most pleasure, as a sort of reflex, is knowing you have done so." In verse 5, Paul observes that it is wrong to withhold sexual satisfaction from one another, except when both agree to it, briefly, in some emergency, to devote themselves to
prayer. But even then, at the end of the season of prayer they must come together quickly in sexual relations to avoid any temptation. Withholding sexual intercourse, for whatever other reasons, is sin.

found in Genesis 2:18:
It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a helper who approximates [or corresponds to] him. In other words, the reason for marriage is to solve the problem of loneliness. Marriage was established because Adam was alone, and that was not good. Companionship, therefore, is the essence of marriage. We shall see that the Bible explicitly speaks of marriage as The Covenant of Companionship.

God made most of us so that we would be lonely without an intimate companion with whom to live. God provided  Eve not only (or even primarily) as Adam's helper (though help is also one dimension of companionship), but as his companion. He too, as all other husbands since (we shall see), is to provide companionship for her.

In the Bible marriage is described in terms of companionship. In Proverbs 2:17, for example, we are told that "the strange woman . forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God. "5 The word translated companion in this verse has in it the idea of "one that is tamed" (it is used in speaking of tame animals), or "one that has a close, intimate relationship to another. " It is hard to establish a close relationship with a wild animal, but one can be on close terms with a
domesticated (or tame) animal. The core meaning has to do with a close, intimate relationship. And that is exactly what marriage companionship is: the close, intimate. relationship of a husband and wife to one another. "Wild" attitudes or actions on the part of either destroy companionship; "tame" (warm, willing to be close) actions and attitudes foster it. Companionship, then (at least in part), involves closeness.

Now, the word here translated "companion" has as its kernel idea that of union or association. A companion, therefore, is one with whom one enters into a close union (or relationship). In putting the two terms together, we come to a full sense of the idea of companionship. A companion is one with whom you are intimately united in thoughts, goals, plans, efforts (and, in the case of marriage, in bodies).

The two passages, together, make it clear that for both the husband and for the wife, companionship is the ideal. In Proverbs, the husband is called the companion (showing that he too provides companionship for his wife); in Malachi, it is the wife who is so designated. For both, then, entrance into marriage should mean the desire to meet each other's need for companionship. Love, in marriage, focuses upon giving one's spouse the companionship he/she needs to eliminate loneliness.

Genesis 2:18, 24 tell us much. The word helpmeet, which has come into the English language, is a hybrid-word. When a husband says, "Meet my helpmeet, " he says two things. In 1611, when the King James Version of the Bible was translated, verse 18 read, "I will make him a help meet for him. " The words help and meet were written separately as two distinct terms. Later, in popular parlance, there was an eliding of the two into one word. In 1611, help meant exactly what our
present-day word helper means; meet meant appropriate to, corresponding to or approximating at every point. So, God says, I will make him a helper who is
appropriate to him. Meet, appropriate to, suitable for, etc., are all translations of a Hebrew word that has in it the notion of over against or approximating. We might appropriately speak of Eve as Adam's other half (not better half), which in the covenantal union of marriage makes a complete whole. This other half approximates Adam at every point.

As his counterpart, the woman completes or fills out the man's life, making him a larger person than he could have been alone, bringing into his frame of reference a new feminine dimension from which to view life that he could have known in no other way. Then, too, he also brings to his wife a masculine perspective that enlarges her life, making her a fuller, more complete person than she could have been apart from him. This marriage union by covenant solves the problem of loneliness not merely by filling a gap, but by overfilling it. More than mere presence is involved. The loneliness of mere masculinity or femininity is likewise met.

Helping, mentioned in the verse, is another aspect of companionship. The two are united as companions in effort (cf. the woman's orientation toward her husband's work in Prov. 31). Some of the richest joys of companionship stem from working side by side with one's spouse. Whatever one does, he needs an interested helper by his side. Ultimately, they work together for the Lord (this is the fundamental unifying factor in marriage-they marry "in the Lord") whatever the specific tasks at hand may be at any given point. There is someone with whom he (she) can talk things over, someone to counsel, someone to care; to share joys, perplexities, ideas, fears, sorrows and disappointments: a helper. A marriage companion is someone with whom one can let down his/her hair!

This fact comes out even more fully in Genesis 2:24, 25 where marriage is described as a cleaving (clinging or adhering) in which a man and his wife become "one flesh," and in which they were able to be naked in each other's presence without shame.

The phrase "one flesh" needs explanation since it is frequently misunderstood. It does not refer (primarily) to sexual union (though that is included in it). The words closely parallel our English compound word, everybody. When we say everybody we do not think of bodies only. Rather, we mean everyone, every person. Hebrew usage was similar: "all flesh," for instance, means everyone (everybody, every person: cf. Genesis. 6:17; 7:22; 8:21). When God speaks of destroying all flesh, He doesn't mean flesh in distinction from bones. What He means is "I shall destroy every person." When Joel (also quoted in Acts 2 by Peter at Pentecost) wrote of God pouring out His Spirit on "all flesh," again, what he had in mind was every sort of person (Jew, Gentile, old, young, male, female). So, here, in Genesis 2:24, to "become one flesh" means to become one person.

The marriage union is the closest, most intimate of all human relationships. Two persons may begin to think, act, feel as one. They are able to so interpenetrate one another's lives that they become one, a functioning unit. Paul, quoting this verse in Ephesians 5:28-31, says that the relationship is to be so intimate that whatever a man does (good or evil) for his wife, he also does for himself since the two have become one flesh (person).

Even in I Corinthians 6, where, at first, one might think of the use of the verse as confirming the sexual aspect of marriage, a more careful reading shows otherwise. Paul distinguishes three sorts of unions:
I . one body (v. 16)-sexual relation with a harlot=a close union
2. one flesh (v. 16)-the marriage union=a closer union
3. one spirit (v. 17)-union with Christ=the closest union It is not possible here to develop this important passage further.

God's revealed goal for a husband and wife is to become one in all areas of their relationship-intellectually, emotionally, physically. The Covenant of Companionship was designed to fill this need.

3. Should the unbelieving spouse wish to physically stay in the house but fail/neglect in these minimal responsibilities and duties is evidence of NOT truthfully wishing to stay-but in fact are demonstrating (actions/behaviors of empty words) they are in the process/act of departing, therefore physical presence and/or the failure to communicate by the unbelieving spouse wanting a divorce yet stubbornly act "unmarried" IS not only grounds for divorce, but the believing spouse who files for the divorce is Biblically sound-should the elders judge so.  Beyond "may" divorce the believing spouse is required to divorce since it is a public declaration of the truth that the unbelieving spouse has already departed the marriage covenant and there is no peace in the relationship.

"May the believing partner instigate the divorce?  It would seem so.  The Greek of verse 15 reads, literally, 'if the unbeliever is separarating,'  that is, if he is in the process of breaking up the marriage.  Certainly it would refer to actions (or lack of actions) on his part that would indicate he no longer wishes to be married and probably also pertains to a failure to assume the obligations of marriage.  According to Exodus 21:10, minimal requirements for a marriage on the husband's part are food, clothing (or shelter) and sexual relations.  When these are not provided by neglect or refusal, the marriage may be terminated
by the other party.  At any rate, the overarching principle is that failure on the part of a marriage partner to maintain the semblance of a home, in such a way that it is constantly upset by such failure, provides opportunity for divorce, leading to 'peace' for the Christian partner."

It is one thing to contemplate divorce with a believer (cf. chap. 7): there are resources (the Word and the Spirit) of which both parties may avail themselves, there is a mutually basic commitment to obey Christ and there is the process of church discipline that (in the last resort) may be activated if either one or the other (or both) refuses to deal with problems. There is, therefore, hope for that marriage and every reason for insisting upon reconciliation.

But here is an entirely different situation-a believer contemplating divorce with his/her unbelieving spouse. None of the resources mentioned above are available to the unbeliever except the third, and the third resource (church discipline) is not available to the believer. Thus, there cannot be the same insistence on reconciliation; the same sort of hope does not exist. And, indeed, we do not see Paul requiring it.

Rather than commanding the believer not to divorce his unsaved partner regardless of what happens, he requires something less: he (or she) must not divorce a partner who is willing to make a go of their marriage. Indeed, the believer is told to do all he/she can to hold the marriage together for the sake of the unbelieving partner (hoping he/she will come to know Christ through continued association with the believer') and for the sake of the children (who if taken out of the believer's care would be counted and treated as pagans-i.e., "unclean"4). But if, after all has been done by the believer to prevent it, the unbeliever does not agree to go on with the marriage, divorce is an acceptable alternative (v. 15).

Now, I have said all of this quickly and in a summary way, but let us go back over it again looking at several points more closely as we do.

In an earlier chapter, I have shown scripturally that, though permitted, divorce is never desirable. All divorces stem from sin, though not all divorces are sinful. Here too, in I Corinthians 7:12-16, divorce is not the ideal. Even for a mixed marriage, the goal is to continue the marriage if at all possible (what makes it not possible to do so I shall come to presently). Paul marshals powerful arguments (mentioned above) to convince believers that they must not divorces their unbelieving partners, if
their spouses wish to continue living with them. To these arguments he adds the flat statement that the believer must not divorce the unbeliever who consents to live with him. In accordance with the General principle in Romans 12:18, "if possible," the

To be "sanctified" by the believer (v. 14) means that the unbelieving partner is "set aside" to a "unique" position where he/she is exposed regularly to the gospel and the Holy Spirit's influences. It does not mean saved.

To be "holy" rather than "unclean" (v. 14) means that the child of a believer is "separated" from others by being placed under the care and discipline of God's church and is subject to many influences that others who are "unclean" (a word referring to Gentiles or pagans) are not. God's care and discipline of these little ones in the flock truly sets them aside from others who are not in this privileged position. The child is not said to be saved.

The word used in vv. 12, 13 is aphiemi. which means, "to send away, divorce, leave." Either of the two basic senses is applicable: the believer is to do nothing to break up the marriage, but everything to preserve it.

But, what if it isn't possible for the Christian (after doing all he/she can) to hold the marriage together? Suppose the unbeliever wants a divorce? Perhaps he says, "I didn't bargain for a wife like this when I married her. She won't lie for me any more, won't participate in any more wife-swapping parties, won't get drunk, reads her Bible . . . I've had it! I want out of this marriage!"'

Under circumstances where the unbeliever wants to get out of the marriage, Paul says, "let him separate" (v. 15). The clause (literally) reads, "if the unbeliever is separating [chorizo = to separate by divorce], let him separate [chorizo]. " The words "is separating" (or, possibly, "separates") show not only that the unbeliever has divorce in mind, but (at the very least) has taken the step of plainly declaring that he/she wants to dissolve the marriage. The words indicate that there is some movement in that direction. (Today, steps like seeing a lawyer,' etc., might also be included). The Berkeley version catches the idea in the words when it translates,

In case the unbeliever wants to separate, let there be separation.

Here, the idea is that if the unbeliever is expressly desirous of separating (by divorce), the believer must not try to hinder him. There is no limitation of this passage to divorce after desertion, although (clearly) desertion would be an act evidencing a strong desire to separate. It would plainly imply lack of consent over continuing the marriage (vv. 12, 13).

But not only on such grounds. Paul gives no reasons for the unbeliever's desire to break up the marriage. The Christian is not restricted to certain grounds only. The permissive imperative "let him depart" applies to any case in which the unbeliever no longer wishes (or "agrees") to "live with" the believer (cf. vv. 12, 13)-regardless of what that reason may be (so long as the believer has not provoked him/her to it instead of trying to hold the marriage together).

So then, the General principle seems clear enough: where there is no consent (agreement) by the unbeliever to continue the marriage (vv. 12, 13) but (on the contrary) there is a desire to dissolve it, the Christian must not stand in the way of the separation. Paul uses a permissive imperative: "let him separate. " This is a command; it is the one instance in which divorce is required.

There is in verse 15 both a description of the state of the believer after the divorce, and a reason appended to the command to "let him separate." Let us examine both.

1. The state in which the believer finds himself following such a divorce is defined: "Under these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound."

All the bonds of marriage have been removed. He is released entirely from every marriage obligation, and is a totally free person. Nor is there any obligation to be reconciled in marriage. 10  Paul expresses this idea later on in verse 27b when he speaks about being "released from a wife. " The word released is luo, "to loose," which in verse 27 is set over against deo "to bind (which is used of being bound to a wife). The word deo again appears in verse 39 with the same meaning."
However, in verse 15 the word translated "bound" is douloo, an even stronger term that means "to enslave. " The idea is that when the bonds of marriage are broken, the believer is released from his marriage obligations to the unbeliever and from the burden of trying to maintain a marriage that the unbeliever doesn't want. He is released from this slavery.

2. The reason appended to the command is: "God has called you to peace."

This important consideration has been overlooked by a number of commentators. We must not do so, since it reaches to the bottom of the problem that Paul has in view. God doesn't want any loose ends dangling about a Christian's marriage; He wants problems in marriage resolved. He wants peace. Either there is to be a marriage or there isn't; God will not settle for something in-between. That simply will not do. The matter must be set to rest one way or the other so that there will be peace.

 Clearly, the believer could not remarry the unbelieving partner (unless he/she should become a Christian) since to do so would violate another biblical command to marry "only in the Lord" (v. 39). A believer must not marry an unbeliever, even if the unbeliever is a former spouse!

Too often Christians, on bad advice, have settled for the in-between. Let me describe it. Believing (wrongly) that she must remain married to her unbelieving husband, no matter what, a Christian woman holds on even when her husband wants to end their marriage. He, then, may begin running around with other women (if he hasn't been doing so already) and at length may even desert her. Yet, urged on by bad counsel, she will not agree to a divorce. He may stay away from home for six month periods at a time, occasionally showing up for a week or so. This upsets the kids and the life of the home (hopes are aroused and shattered). His wife may get pregnant (if married, she must agree to sex if he seeks it), and so it goes on and on. She is always hoping against hope, yet there is no evidence at all of a desire on his part to consent to a marriage. She may hang on for years; for life!

There is nothing peaceful about that! Everything is constantly being upset; nothing is settled. There is nothing but loose ends. God wants the matter to be concluded so that (in one way or the other) there will be peace-the resolution of the matter. This is an important principle.

Today's view of separation-rather-than-divorce is patently unbiblical because it violates this principle. It settles nothing, but keeps everything up in the air, and militates against true peace.12 This wicked substitute for the biblical solution (peace by reconciliation or by divorce) fights against true peace. All is held in limbo. It deceives by its temporary sense of relief, (often mistaken for peace). But nothing is settled (made truly peaceful) by it.

Christians frequently have resorted to separation rather than divorce thinking it to be the lesser of two evils. But, because it is a human substitute for the biblical options, separation-instead-of-divorce does more harm than good. Counselors will tell you that in most instances where separation has occurred, it is much harder to effect a reconciliation than when it has not. It isn't easy to bring people together again when you have encouraged (or permitted) them to separate; in separation not only do they experience a false sense of peace, but they learn not to face and deal with problems in order to solve them. God wants resolution of difficulties, not the avoidance of them.

Modern separation is often described as a "cooling off period. " There is an initial release of tension that gives a temporary false sense of peace, and that makes the parties reluctant to come together again.  Unless one has in mind a couple of hours or (at most) a couple of days for cooling off in order to face more coolly and resolve difficulties, he is talking about something utterly unbiblical.

So, we have seen that there is only one case in which, when all else has failed, a believer is required to separate by divorce from his unbelieving spouse. We must turn now to the one instance when a believer may separate by divorce from another believer. But, unlike this present instance, he is never required to do so.

The problem remains, however, as to what must be done when two professing Christians fail to keep their marriage together and reconciliation does not take place. Let us say that a husband who is a professing Christian refuses to be reconciled to his wife. If she continues to insist upon reconciliation (according to Matthew 18), but fails in her attempts at private confrontation, she must take one or two others from the church and confront her husband. Suppose she does and that he also refuses to hear them. In that case she is required to submit the problem officially to the church, which ultimately may be forced, by his adamant refusal to be reconciled, to excommunicate him for contumacy. Excommunication, Christ says, changes his status to that of a heathen and a publican, i.e., someone outside of the church (Matthew 18:17). Now he must be treated "as a heathen and a publican. "15 That means, for instance, that after reasonable attempts to reconcile him to the church and to his wife, he may be taken to court (I Corinthians 6:1-8 forbids brethren to go to law against one another) to sue for a divorce (only, of course, if the excommunicated one deserts his partner).

By following the reconciliation dynamic, hopefully there will be reconciliation in most cases. Whenever the principles of biblical reconciliation are followed faithfully, discipline rarely reaches the highest level of excommunication. Most marriages not only can be saved, but by proper help may be changed radically for good.  But in those few cases where reconciliation is refused, the believer who seeks it is not left in a state of limbo. He has a course of action to pursue, and if it leads to excommunication and desertion he is no longer obligated to remain married indefinitely. This is true only if the believer's marriage partner during the whole process of discipline has failed to demonstrate evidence of repentance and faith, if that partner has been excommunicated, and if he (or she) wishes to dissolve the marriage. Continued rejection of the help and authority of Christ and His church finally leads to excommunication.

An excommunicated party who continues to be unrepentant must be looked upon and treated as a heathen and publican. He shows no signs of a work of grace. When he has been put outside of the church and still evidences no signs of salvation, the believing partner may deal with him as with an unbeliever. This means that if he leaves the believer under those circumstances, the latter is no longer under "bondage." The word in I Corinthians 7:21ff. governing the relationship of a believer to an unbelieving marriage partner then comes into effect. By plugging in the reconciliation/discipline dynamic to the marriage-divorce-remarriage problem, the solution to ninety-nine percent of these cases that heretofore may have seemed unsolvable immediately may be seen. Most parties hopefully will come to reconciliation, but those who will not repent and be reconciled should be disciplined. Either way, matters are not left at loose ends.

also see: Isn't Divorce Only for Fornication? http://www.peacemakers.net/peace/divorceforadultery.htm
 
 

steward@peacemakers.net