God has, from the beginning of time, separated light from darkness. God’s command to “be separate from the world” is ubiquitous in scripture. Paul makes it abundantly clear in his second letter to the Corinthian church that God has not changed His mind on the issue of separation from the world for the Christian, and this text shall be shown to the reader shortly. Yet we live in a world where ecumenical ideologies rule the day. Modern technologies, especially the worldwide web, have eviscerated walls that have kept people groups apart for thousands of years. This has opened up endless opportunities for taking the gospel to lost people groups, but the same channels have exposed the people of God to foreign gods and godless cultures and practices.
Equality is always demanded by those who covet and steal, who refuse to become men and women of character who make something of themselves and of their cultures and communities. These have inordinate desires for the wealth and freedoms of those who have themselves toiled, but they have little interest in toiling to build up themselves and their wealth. They daily choose debauchery and then demand that their wickedness be called virtue–all in the name of equality. They want lives of sloth and leisure while crying out that the diligent should be forced to share their earned wealth with those who “have not been so fortunate”. They are criminal in their behavior yet demand that the very privileges they refuse to earn are viewed as rights and provided to all equally. They usurp governments to force these demands upon those who have worked and toiled. Putting up walls of separation has never been so unpopular. So why does God still demand separation between light and darkness? Why does God demand separation between believers and unbelievers?
The believer needs to be acutely aware that it has always been the grossly immoral world of unbelievers who crave equality due, in part, to a sinful sense of entitlement. The wicked also seem to have an intuitive understanding that good and faithful people are vulnerable sin and imperfection. Perhaps they do so because those in Christ still have sin working in the members of their bodies (Romans 7). In his first letter Paul warned the Corinthian believers when he said, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The equality sought by the wicked will cause an admixture of good and evil, which both God and the wicked seem to know will always corrupt the good.
For this reason God has forbidden unequal relationships entirely, so only those whose relationships preceded their regeneration in Christ Jesus should be in unequally yoked relationships at all. However, being saved from the power of sin and death does not mean that Christians no longer sin. In fact, upon regeneration the war between the flesh and the spirit has just begun; as a result believers regularly sin against God and frequently find themselves unequally yoked to unbelievers in marriage and in other relationships due to their ignorance of and disobedience to God’s word.
Unequally yoked marriages are the result of sin and are far too common in the modern church. In his second letter to the Corinthians with words too powerful to be ignored, Paul commands every believer to get out of all unequally yoked relationships. Note: He does not simply prohibit becoming bound together with unbelievers but he prohibits being bound together with unbelievers.
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with and unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.’ Therefore, ‘COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,’ says the Lord. ‘AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” II Corinthians 6:14-7:1
How any believer can read, study and meditate upon this biblical mandate and still be uncertain about where God stands on His children being bound together with unbelievers in any relationship is incomprehensible. Nevertheless, most Christians do seem to equivocate in their understanding and obedience to Paul’s command here. With such strong and convincing language how is this possible? Certainly for every relationship other than the marriage relationship the only answer can be that sin continues in the believer and they simply fail to fervently obey God’s command to their own shame and great loss. Repentance is called for on a daily basis.
But for the marriage relationship, Paul’s instructions on the topic of Christians in unequally yoked marriages found in his first letter to the Corinthians chapter seven are universally misunderstood so that they contradict what Paul says here. This too is a sin, yet it has been obscured by one simple phrase being applied to this text: “Paul’s command against being bound to unbelievers does not apply to existing marriages because of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7”.
Doing a careful examination of the universal command in 2 Corinthians 6:14f should make it apparent to all that no relationship between men should be excluded least of all the marriage relationship. Sadly, some have argued that since Paul does not mention marriage in this passage it cannot be applied to unequally yoked marriages. Such logic would necessarily mean that the passage does not apply to any relationship since no specific type of relationship is mentioned. So the proper understanding of this text in the light of its ubiquitous presence in the Old Testament and considering the universal and descriptive language that Paul chooses must be that God prohibits his children to be bound together with unbelievers notwithstanding the type of relationship or covenant that binds them. Sooner or later the believer must fearfully obey God’s command and importune the unbeliever for release. As Christians they must do so in the most loving and kind way, but importune for release they must.
Therefore, since Paul’s ubiquitous, universal command in the Old Testament and repeated in Second Corinthians 6:14f cannot properly have any normative exceptions, then it is Paul’s teaching in First Corinthians 7:12-16 that must be understood in such a way so as not to contradict the unassailable command in the second letter. In sharp contrast, Paul’s instructions in First Corinthians to believers who find themselves unequally yoked in marriage are not only unique in all of scripture but are also introduced with the phrase, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord…” (1 Corinthians 7:12). Paul transparently discloses that the idea he is postulating is not from the Lord, but rather is his own idea or understanding. Nevertheless, Paul’s words are inspired by the Holy Spirit, which means that they are divine in origin, but they are not taught elsewhere by the Lord or in scripture.
To clarify the issue more, the immediately preceding sentence (verses 10, 11) finds Paul speaking about divorce for two believers bound to one another in Christian marriages when he says, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband…” (I Corinthians 7:10). So Paul clearly states that the Lord revealed to him that two believers must not divorce, but whether or not an unequally yoked couple could divorce and under what rules they must follow were not divinely spelled out previously. Paul was equally clear that he was left to piece this issue together for himself using his knowledge of the word, his wisdom and eminent logic to come to his conclusion.
So then, even with the great apostle’s candid, unguarded transparency much of the church has failed to realize that Paul was teaching the Corinthians that the same rule does not apply to both equally yoked and unequally yoked marriages. This distinction is unmistakable in the text, yet it has seemingly gone unnoticed for centuries. This in itself is quite telling. It reminds me of a poem:
False Doctrines Bloom from the repeated sowing of false seeds.
Seed by seed,
Garden by garden,
Pasture by pasture,
The lie spreads until it is unimpeachable.
UNDERSTANDING THE DISTINCTION HERETOFORE LOST FOR CENTURIES
In verses 10 and 11 Paul declares the divine decree that an equally yoked Christian couple is prohibited from a marital divorce (assuming fidelity/Christ’s pornia clause); if a separation occurs then remarriage is only allowed to one another. Whereas in the case of the unequally yoked married couple no such divine decree exists. However, scripture does provide Paul’s logical understanding, which is that the unequally yoked married couple must stay married if, and only if, a specific condition is met. Here lies the linchpin of the complete understanding of God’s will on the issue of divorce for the unequally yoked Christian. Having the letter-perfect understanding of this necessary condition is the key to knowing the heart and mind of God on this issue. It will also bring both texts from First and Second Corinthians into perfect agreement with one another unlike the heretical method of attempting to exclude existing marriages from God’s prohibition against unequally yoked relationships (The believer must realize the irrational thinking that argues it a sin to date or plan to wed an unbeliever, but following through with these sins into actual marriage to the same unbeliever is suddenly a virtue—am I missing some obscure doctrine on the wrath of God being assuaged by entering a covenant that commits one to a life of sin—God forbid such utter foolishness. Psalm 83:5 says, “Against You (God) they make a covenant.” Would God be angry if any of these were to repent of such a wicked covenant?). Forgive the brief rabbit trail.
THE CONDITION FULLY EXPLAINED
This all important condition must of necessity temporarily pacify God’s displeasure with a rebellious child who stubbornly remains bound in marriage to an unbeliever, which transgresses God’s prohibition in 2 Corinthians 6:14f. Also this necessary condition must be fully understood by ministers of the word of God before they can faithfully and accurately apply it to the thousands of believers who must navigate these dangerous waters and who desire to land safely in the perfect will of their heavenly Father.
Bear in mind that simply stating the condition, as is about to be done, is not enough. Completely defining the condition and providing examples of how it looks in real life is equally necessary.
According to Paul, the believer must not divorce their unbelieving spouse as long as the following condition is met:
I Corinthians 7:12-13 “she/he (the unbeliever) consents to live with him/her (the believer)”.
And if this all important condition is not met:
Paul says in verse 15, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us/you to peace.”
So here is the condition: If the unbeliever consents to live with the believer, then the believer must not divorce the unbeliever. Too many people fail to ask the right question in order to actually know the heart and mind of God regarding the full meaning of this condition.
Allow a brief example: John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Yet the very same Son of God said at the end of His Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…”for “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23). So then, any reader must ask a question of the biblical text in order to be certain that the meaning God intended is the meaning the reader understands. Here is the question that would need to be asked of John 3:16: What does “whoever believes in Him” actually mean? Until this is fully and biblically understood the otherwise simple phrase cannot bear the full force of the meaning intended by God, and a person may go throughout an entire lifetime taking their salvation for granted only to hear Jesus say at the great judgment, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” What an eternally tragic day that will be for perhaps millions of careless people.
In like manner, a very important question must be asked of the biblical text in which Paul provides a condition that, if met, means that a Christian is prohibited from divorcing their unbelieving spouse. Here is the question that must be asked and answered fully to be sure God’s meaning is perfectly understood: What does ‘consents to live with’ actually mean? Those who merely want their way…who do not care to discover the biblical truth will say that this phrase says precisely what it means, that it is so forthright that nothing else is needed to understand God’s heart and mind on His meaning here. But those who read on will discover just how much more can be gleaned when God’s words are exalted and honored so much that the proper care is taken to fully seek the mind of God. Then the benefit will be had by the man or woman of God.
The condition that the great Apostle Paul says prohibits divorce for the believer from their unbelieving spouse is that the unbeliever consents to live with the believer. What does “consents to live with” mean? First, it must be clear what this condition does not mean. The condition does not read: ‘If the unbelieving spouse refuses to leave, then the believing spouse cannot divorce the unbelieving spouse.’ This is what too many assume is being said; ‘Even if the unbelieving spouse behaves in an hard-hearted, stubbornly rebellious, treacherous manner and he/she wants to hang around and see if they cannot impede or discourage the Holy Spirit’s attempts at sanctifying the believing spouse in their new life in Christ, then the believing spouse must remain powerless and cannot divorce their treacherous spouse in order to have peace in the home’. So simply put, the unbelieving spouse is not suddenly put in a position to rule it over their newly believing spouse simply because God redeemed them from their life of sin and death.
The phrase “consents to live with” actually means the very opposite of this traditional understanding. The word consent, like most words, has changed over the centuries in how it is used and understood. Today it often means little more than to give ones assent or approval; to agree, which is perhaps one reason this text is easily misunderstood. But the ancient understanding meant a great deal more. Merriam Webster defines consent as being in concord in opinion or sentiment. And concord is defined as ‘a state of agreement or harmony. It is an agreement by stipulation, compact or covenant.’ So in essence, the old marriage covenant of two unrepentant sinners sharing their lives together is no longer valid, which is why the unbeliever is freely offered the opportunity not to consent to the new covenant that has significantly higher conditions that must be met. If the unbelieving spouse cannot or will not consent to this harmonious distinctly Christian union, then the believer “is not under bondage in such cases.” Note: It is the believing spouse who is not under bondage to the old marriage covenant if consent to God’s changes is unacceptable to the unbelieving spouse. In other words, it is not an option for either married partner to stay in the relationship if the unbelieving spouse refuses consent to God’s conditions, which are found in the immediate context and will be shown shortly. So then, a stubborn and obstinate marriage partner who will pick fights with the believing partner at many of life’s junctions is not permissible. The unbelieving partner can consent to God’s ways or they can leave. The believing partner can expect a harmonious Christian marriage partner or they must remove themselves from the marriage all together.
The Greek word σᴜνεᴜɗoҡεῑ is translated into English as ‘consents’. The prefix σᴜν is a marker of accompaniment and association. The word σᴜνεᴜɗoҡεῑ means to join in approval or agreement with consent to or in harmony with the person to whom one is joining. What has taken place in an unequally yoked marriage is that God has taken a married couple and removed one of the two people from death to life, from darkness to light and the other person must consent to God’s terms if they are going to continue on with God’s holy child. The unbelieving spouse is free to leave the marriage because the terms of the relationship have been divinely and from the viewpoint of the unbelieving spouse so cataclysmically transformed that he/she may not be willing to consent to something so vastly different than what was originally agreed to when the marriage formed.
Now the immediate context (Verses 14-16) will show how Paul sets out God’s terms to which the unbelieving spouse must give consent in order to maintain the marriage relationship to a child of God. God’s first term or condition to which the unbeliever must consent is to become set apart from the world and toward conformity to the believing spouse even as the believing spouse has been set apart from the world and toward the holiness of God. Verse 14 says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband…” Believers’ sanctification requires them to cooperate with the Holy Spirit (neither quenching nor grieving) as He convicts them of sin and leads them to holiness. In the same way, unbelieving spouses must cooperate with their believing spouses and conform to the holiness that the Spirit is bringing into the believers life. In doing so the unbeliever is admitting that God’s ways are greater than man’s ways and will to the best of their ability not impede but rather reflect the changes brought about by the Holy Spirit in their believing spouse. Consent here means that the unbelieving spouse will work at conforming to the godliness their believing spouse is exhibiting rather than being bad company that corrupts the good morals of their believing spouse.
God’s second term or condition to which the unbeliever must consent is to help bring up the children in the fear and admonition of the Lord “for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy” (Vs. 14). “Consents to live with” means that the unbelieving spouse cannot in any way undermine the necessity for the children to be raised upon the knowledge of the word of God. The unbelievers words and deeds must be consistent with Christian virtues. Perfection cannot be obtained by the believer or the unbeliever, but both must be working toward the goal of seeing the children all submit themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the glory of God in their salvation.
God’s third term or condition laid out in the immediate context is that the unbelieving spouse must consent to a peaceful and harmonious Christian marriage. Paul says in verse 15, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” Clearly if the unbelieving spouse cannot consent to living in peace with the believing spouse, then the believing spouse is to live in peace after divorcing the unbelieving spouse. Either way peace in the life of the believer is God’s expectation. Paul traditionally opens his letters with a greeting of Grace and Peace. He certainly did so in both of his letters to the Corinthian believers. Paul does so because grace is the source of the Christians’ faith, and peace is the end or purpose of the Christians’ faith. Peace is so much more than the interval between two wars or between fights. Peace is the union after a separation or reconciliation after a conquest or quarrel. Peace is the wall coming down because a separation is no longer necessary—the two have become one. Once peace becomes a priority the need for the grace of God becomes evident. When the unbelieving spouse consents to strive to be one with the believing spouse he/she will feel their overwhelming need to cry out to God for grace. Man cannot have peace with others and he will not even be at peace within himself if he has not first been reconciled to and at peace with God, which necessitates the need for God’s grace. The unbeliever must consent to a peaceful and harmonious Christian marriage.
God’s final term or condition given in the immediate context is that the unbelieving spouse must consent to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. “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” (Vs. 16)?
When the unbelieving spouse consents to live with the believing spouse in all of these ways, then the believing spouse is free from the guilt of being bound together with an unbeliever as God prohibits with such strong language in II Corinthians 6:14-7:1. More often than not, the unbeliever who consents to these four conditions will soon be a recipient of the grace of God as was their spouse before them.
The believing spouse has the responsibility to be patient and assist their unbelieving partner as they are called to consent to the demands Paul lays out. They must place their trust in the plans that God has made for them and for their spouse. And if at any time the unbelieving partner refuses and rebuffs God’s prescribed plan of consent to live with the believing spouse, then the believer needs to recognize their failure to consent to live with them for what it is and they must begin asking the Lord for the wisdom and timing to pursue an honorable divorce so that they will not be guilty of being bound together with an unbeliever. It is for this very circumstance that Paul said, “the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases” (Vs. 15).