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1 Corinthians 7:14 What is Paul’s Meaning?: “The Unbelieving Husband or Wife Is Sanctified.”

1 Corinthians 7:14 states, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.”

The aim of this article is to discover Paul’s intended meaning by the use of the word “sanctified” as he uses it here to instruct the Corinthian believers.  It is abundantly clear that Paul is not saying that unbelieving spouses of believers have bypassed the need for justification and gone straight to the process of sanctification.  To do so would be contrary to the Holy Spirit’s method or application of saving grace.  Secondly, in this passage itself the Holy Spirit is not said to be the agent of this sanctification but rather the believing spouse is the one whom Paul credits (not meritoriously but positionally) for this benefit to the unbelieving spouse.

With this “sanctification” of which Paul speaks it becomes apparent that God has made an allowance for believers in unequally yoked relationships without which they would be in a state of sin due to being unequally yoked as in the days of Ezra, and thereby they would be susceptible to discipline by the church.

In addition, this allowance is serving another process that God uses to draw the elect to Himself.  When God’s Holy Spirit quickens a new believer very often all of their associates in life are unregenerate.  By quickening one person the Holy Spirit has opened up an avenue by which the gospel can be spread to all who are associated with this new believer.  In this passage Paul is demonstrating the two potential outcomes of this divine process as it intersects with unequally yoked marriages, which holy writ has universally and ubiquitously forbidden.

The Old Testament provides a parallel scenario where this sanctification was extended to Israel prior to God divorcing her because of her idolatry.  Israel was depicted as God’s bride with God wooing her with His love and provisions.  But Israel was entirely worldly and continually worshiped false gods.  God would have been guilty of sin against himself by being unequally yoked had it not been for the fact that Israel was under this same sanctified protection of which Paul is speaking about in the passage under scrutiny.  Once God divorced Israel her sanctification was gone as well.

Here in first Corinthians, Paul’s focus is not God and Israel but rather new believers with unrepentant spouses.  In fact, everyone associated with a new believer who hardens to the gospel and expresses a desire to end the association with God’s new saint are free to do so, and the saint bears no guilt for the broken relationship(s).  But all who step away from God’s saints are relinquishing their sanctification by association to a new believer in Christ Jesus.  In this text, Paul makes it clear that the marriage relationship is included.  “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” (1 Corinthians 7:15).  Since the sanctification enjoyed by the unbeliever comes from their attachment to the new believer, it is clear that detachment from the saint severs them from this benefit.

SANCTIFIED FOR THE GOSPEL

The wrench that is often thrown into this entire process is that a huge percentage of believers are not meek but weak in their presentation of the gospel.  And stating it in this way is being generous because many fail to open their mouths at all.  Due to this failure the unbelievers do not even know the gospel well enough to harden to it and reject both Christ and the saint who serves Him, which leaves the saint in a perpetual state of being unequally yoked.  The consequence to the saint is a lifetime of being unequally yoked to a child of Satan.

So then, Christian sanctification means to be set apart for holiness.  But, based upon Paul’s usage of the word “sanctification”, it is necessary to ask: For what purpose has the unbelieving marriage partner been set apart?  First, understand that they have not been set apart in order to be unrepentant members of the body of Christ.  Nor have they been set apart to make a certain percentage of the body of Christ unequally yoked.  So why are these unbelieving spouses and children (close friends too) sanctified by their association to God’s newly regenerate soul?  In order that they be aggressively exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As the children are supposed to be raised in the admonition of the Lord, so too must the unsaved spouse be actively exposed to the ways and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If the children grow to maturity and harden to the gospel, then the sword of Christ will, in God’s timing, separate them from their believing parent (Matthew 10:34-36).  Adult children do not need to be yoked to their parents in order to maintain some relationship.  The timing is different for the spouse.  Since the unbelieving spouse is already an adult the process should always move much quicker.  They will generally soften or harden to the gospel in a very short period of time if they are being actively evangelized by their believing partner.

The problem with the vast majority of Christians is that they value their unequally yoked marriage more than they value obeying God’s command to not be unequally yoked.  This causes them to tip-toe around their unbelieving spouse catering to their desire to be left alone, and the believer fails to actively promote the gospel.  They fall prey to the psycho babble argument that instructs unequally yoked believers to just love on your unbelieving spouse and see how positively they will respond.  Imagine if God followed such foolish advice in His dealings with Adam and Eve?  These believers fail to obey God’s command to evangelize the lost at the great cost of missing out on a life of great joy with a believing spouse…either the one that will be converted by the gospel witness or the believing spouse that God will provide once the believer faithfully gets out of their unequally yoked marriage.  This is not quitting on their marriage…it is obeying God’s command, and it is enjoying Christ’s promise to receive a hundred fold in this lifetime (Luke 18:29, 30).

This sanctification provides the immediate family members temporary, restrictive access into the body of Christ, but they only have, in essence, a visitor’s pass.  Because of this sanctification the church is to love them and teach them the word of God and explain fully the gospel of salvation hoping to win them over into the body of Christ.  But these set apart family members do not yet possess forgiveness of sin, the Holy Spirit, peace with God, eternal life, fellowship with the body of Christ or any of the hundreds of blessings bestowed upon the elect of God.

Paul provides one clear proof that this sanctification is temporary when he says, “If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (Vs. 15).  Unarguably once the unbelieving spouse has left the marriage they are no longer sanctified through their believing spouse.  The same would be true for children who reach adulthood and leave the fellowship of the saints.

This sanctification is temporary not because it does not continue on into eternity, but because it is not intended or designed to be permanent even in this lifetime.  As the sword of Christ separates father from son and mother from daughter and brother from brother and sister from sister so also does it separate husbands and wives (Matthew 10:34-36).  As one family member grows closer to God while the other becomes more hardened to the gospel the believer realizes a need to separate themselves from their unrepentant family member.

GOD’S PURPOSE FOR SEPARATION IN THE FIRST PLACE

God has always required his children be separated from the world.  He has done so because unequally yoked relationships corrupt believers into idolatry.  Unrepentant partners indubitably demand that their gods be served.  Failure to comply is met with efforts to force compliance.  Once a believer is yoked to an unbeliever their lives, like threads, become interwoven into one fabric.  Dividing this fabric afterward is possible only at a great cost.  In these relationships the unbeliever holds the things their believing spouse cherishes hostage in order to get the believer to bow down to their gods.  At some point both partners come to realize that failure on the part of the believer to worship the unbeliever’s gods will result in the unbelieving spouse tormenting the believing spouse until they comply.  Among the unbelieving spouses tactics are aggression or passive aggression, noncooperation, emotional and/or sexual withdrawal, lying, social humiliation, liable, ruined reputation, financial harm, threat of a nasty divorce, the ruining of a family, adultery, using children as pawns, threat of restricting access to children, etc.

As a result the believer is required to kowtow to the demands and desires of the unrepentant spouse.  The believer will be forced to break with their conscience on sins such as making compromises unthinkable between two believers, spending or saving money in ways inconsistent with godly stewardship, rebelling against godly council or advise, missing worship and bible study opportunities, not having godly friendships with believing couples, failing to biblically discipline children, acting in a lazy fashion instead of a diligent fashion, etc.  The longer the unequally yoked marriage lasts the more bound or interwoven the couple becomes, so the unbelieving spouses’ demands inevitably become more demanding over time until they fully get their way, which requires complete conformity to their god rather than to Jesus Christ.  Once a believer enters into an unequally yoked relationship they really only have two choices: They can either serve the unbeliever’s god or they can repent of (get out of completely) their unequally yoked relationship and pay the increasingly growing consequences of having become interwoven with a vessel of God’s wrath.  Note: Today a third option is very often chosen by default.  In the 17th and 18th centuries during the infancy of the United States a British law was frequently enacted particularly in the south.  It was called a bed and board divorce.  It meant that the couple lived entirely separate lives while remaining bound to one another until death.  Many believers fail to repent of their unequally yoked marriages and they either succumb to their godless spouse in most things or they embark on this third option, which is to stubbornly hang on to a forbidden relationship even as the sword of Christ severs them from their godless spouse.  These are the loveless marriages that are so common in the Christian world because the church has failed to recognize God’s instructions for believers who find themselves unequally yoked to unbelievers.  

Luke 18:29-30 says, “And He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.'”

To the unsaved spouses of God’s children I say to surrender your life to Jesus Christ while you are still under this sanctification because a hardening of your heart will come very soon and you will surely die in your sins and reap the eternal fires of hell.  Today is the day of salvation.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ I say to actively share the gospel with your unrepentant family members and friends with the hope that God will save some of them because the day is quickly approaching when God will make it clear that you are to separate from them and turn them over to Satan.  Bad company corrupts good morals.  Do not hang on to unequally yoked relationships longer than God covers your unrepentant loved ones with this sanctification.

 

 

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The Common View on Divorce for the Unequally Yoked Creates a Clear Contradiction in God’s Word

On the first page of God’s holy word He provides the very first commandment, which is to follow our heavenly Father’s example by separating light from darkness, then God says that He gave us a greater light (the sun) to rule by day and lesser lights (the moon and the stars) to rule by night. Similarly God has provided greater light to rule the saints and many more lesser lights to govern the disobedient.  Just as the sun’s light is greatly superior to that of the moon and the stars, so also must the fundamental general teaching of Scripture supersede and provide clarity to His myriads of lesser commands and instructions.  Though the myriads of lesser lights exist for specific guidance they must never cross the boundaries set forth by Scripture’s fundamental general teaching–brightest lights.

What are these fundamental general teachings of Scripture? Just as mankind lives in the light of the sun day after day and year after year without giving the sun much thought, in the same way God’s children live in the light of fundamental general teachings without giving them much thought—these are understood as God’s light by and in and through which we live.

These fundamental general teachings include: the knowledge of who God is in all of His attributes and to have no other gods besides Him, to know who mankind is after the fall, to glorify God in everything we do, to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, to separate light from darkness (be holy as I am holy), to love others as you love yourself, and to believe in God’s only begotten Son as the savior of the world, to be heralds of the gospel of Christ Jesus, to name a few.

Then, God provided the myriads of commandments not to rule a holy people, but unholy peoples…those who want to kill, steal, rape, covet, curse, lust, sloth, pervert, adulterate, fornicate, and the like. So then, it is critical that Christians interpret God’s myriads of commands consistent with those fundamental general teachings of Scripture.

A perfect example is when the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath because He healed people on the Sabbath.  Technically, one could argue that they had a point.  According to God’s laws the Sabbath was to be a day of rest and Jesus was working miracles on the Sabbath.  Yet we know that it was Jesus who was in the right and not the Pharisees because Jesus was glorifying His Father in heaven (one of the great lights) by healing the sick and preaching repentance and belief in Him (another of the great lights).

The Pharisees were in the habit of improperly interpreting God’s commands.  When properly interpreted and/or applied none of God’s laws will ever cross the boundary lines established by God’s fundamental general teachings of light.

Whenever the interpretation of any biblical passage contradicts one or more of the fundamental general teachings, then we know that the interpretation is wrong. This is precisely what happens when Christians prohibit divorce for the unequally yoked in marriage.  They arrive at their conclusion by interpreting Paul’s words in First Corinthians 7 as a universal prohibition against divorce for believers who realize they are unequally yoked to a child of Satan.  This conclusion and therefore interpretation contradicts the fundamental general teachings of separating light from darkness and to glorify God in whatsoever you do.

God’s word properly interpreted will never contradict itself.  So then, since the fundamental general teachings to separate light from darkness and to glorify God in whatsoever you do are not in any way ambiguous, then it becomes manifestly obvious that any prohibition against marital divorce for the condition of being unequally yoked is unbiblical and therefore man-made.

But What of 1 Corinthians 7

In First Corinthians 7 Paul is actually providing a temporary injunction to allow enough time for the believer to determine whether or not their unbelieving spouse will soften or harden to the same gospel that brought them to Christ. So that he would not be misunderstood, Paul even clarifies, in his second letter to the same Corinthian churches, his original intentions in his first letter.  In this second letter Paul carries forward into the New Testament a significant and succinct defense of God’s fundamental general teaching of Scripture, which is ubiquitous in the Old Testament, to separate light and darkness especially in our human relationships (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:2) of which marriage is the greatest.

The author is aware that people will point to a word (any number of possibilities) or a phrase in the First Corinthian 7 passage to prove their point that Paul intends it as a universal command, but they need to realize that the interpretation they insist upon causes a conflict with Scripture’s fundamental general teaching of separating light from darkness.  They must come to an interpretation that does not contradict other biblical truths; and particularly those that make up the fundamental general teachings of Scripture.

“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 an 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” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17a).


1 Corinthians 7: 12-13 Divorce of Unbelieving Spouse

Many who hold the “no divorce for any reason” position take a couple of verses from 1 Corinthians 7 out of context and use them to overturn scores if not hundreds of passages of scripture that would indicate something far different than the conclusion these people prefer.  They are insistent on their argumentation that as long as an unbelieving spouse consents to stay with their believing spouse that the believer is obligated by a command of scripture to stay in that marriage regardless of the fact that their unbelieving spouse repeatedly breaks the conditions of their covenant and regardless of the believing spouses having to break with their conscience in response to the command Paul gives in II Cor. 6:14-18 that we must not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

If these verses in 1 Corinthians 7 did in fact represent a clear universal command for all believers to obey, then our Lord’s exception clause, “except for pornia” that establishes the right for a faithful spouse to divorce an unfaithful spouse would be disallowed whenever the unbeliever wants to remain in the marriage.  Do you see the problem with this?  Not only would an unbeliever be free to commit sexual sins without consequences in this lifetime, but the believing spouse would be forced to engage in sexual relations with their unfaithful spouse exposing them to every venereal disease imaginable.  And that is just the physical danger that the believer would be exposed to in this scenario.  The worst exposure would be the damage done to their spiritual development and the spiritual development of any children from the marriage.  Matthew Henry in his comments on Nehemiah’s last chapter says that in unequally yoked marriages the children receive an undue influence from the unbelieving spouse.  My personal experience in a 27 year marriage to an unbeliever would strongly support his statements. And my children have made big strides in the less than three years since my divorce.

Seeing 1 Corinthians 7: 12-13 in this light has created a man-made doctrine that is inconsistent with Jesus’ exception clause and with much of scripture on the subject of unequally yoked marriages.  As I understand their teachings on the subject R. C. Sproul and John MacCarthur are among many in the body of Christ who disagree with this view as held by those who so much desire to restrict divorce more than scripture itself.  Sadly they want to restrict divorce to those who badly need to be freed from a godless partner and united to a fellow saint.