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The Sunday Sermon – 1st Corinthians 7:10-17


Advice on Mixed Marriages

1st Corinthians 7:10-17

Now we have seen that Paul has laid down for us again what is right and proper in society. The basic unit of mankind for the relationship of men and woman and the procreation and raising of children is THE FAMILY. It comprises of one man and one woman, and is the very nucleus of civilisation. We may note that many of the social problems in society have come from modern societies rejection of God’s ordained pattern for society. So Paul has told the Corinthians that marriage is a good and Godly institution, and that sexual activity within marriage is God’s good gift, given to us, among other reasons given elsewhere, that we might be preserved from the lust and sin of the pagan society in which we live.

We noted that some people in Corinth, recognising that the fornication (πορνιεα) of Corinth was dreadfully sinful, lived as eunuchs in their own marital homes, abstaining from any marital activity. Paul had to tell them that this was wrong. But there must have been others, now being dealt with in this section of the book, who believed that when a person is converted to Christ, they should completely leave their non-converted partner!

This problem did not remain only in Corinth! In the second century, a sect arose called the Montanists. These people had some very strange views. They worked themselves up into a frenzy, spoke in ecstatic tongues and gave wild eschatological prophecies. Among their other errors was a belief that Christians should separate from their husbands or wives. They brought disrepute on the whole church and greatly hindered its witness. In fact this attitude was so prevalent in the early church (the sub apostolic church) that Christians were accused of being home wreckers and meddlers in the marriages of others! Peter had to write, 1 Peter 4:15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. It is this basic problem of marriage and separation which now occupies Paul’s mind. Here Paul is

Demanding Devoted Faithfulness!
v10-11 Now we have not time to discuss all the ramifications of divorce in this short study. It is a thorny issue in Christian circles. Papers and books have been written on the subject, seminars and conferences have discussed it, and theologians are still divided. They ask, what if a person is divorced before they are converted, are not ALL their sins forgiven when regeneration occurs? Or is divorce the unpardonable sin? If they are divorced, can they serve in the church, or hold some office in the church, in the light of the teaching of the New Testament on Elders and Deacons?

What if a Christian person is divorced because of no fault of their own? Can a divorced person remarry, and if so in what circumstances? Personally, I think every case must be dealt with on its merits as far as remarriage is concerned, but I do believe that great care must be taken when divorced persons are considered as ministers or deacons in the church, for the Bible teaches us that 1 Tim. 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 1 Tim. 3:4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 1 Tim. 3:12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

Now it is important to remember that Paul is talking here to Christians, and he is saying to them that for a Christian, divorce is not an option! (Let not the wife depart from her husband: …… and let not the husband put away his wife)
We need to notice:

Paul’s Didactic Authority. He has absolute authority to say this. (And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord) Jesus had already stated this:- Mark 10:9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. Matthew 5:32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Matthew 19:9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. This is what Christian marriage is about! In the wedding ceremony we say, To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.

Paul’s Down-to-earth Allowance. But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. Despite the clear teaching of Jesus regarding the undesirability of divorce, Paul recognises that in a pagan and Godless society, such things will sometimes happen. They are not desirable, but they will happen! For this eventuality he lays down some guidelines. A Christian who separates must not remarry, and must always be available for reconciliation.

I know a fine Christian lady who lives alone. Now past the first flush of youth, she had married a man who, at the time appeared to be a Godly, church-going person. He had made a profession of salvation, but shortly after the marriage the situation changed. He stopped attending worship, and started going to the pub. His drinking turned to alcoholism. On a number of occasions she had to call for help late at night. Eventually she was forced to leave him, for she feared for her own safety. They now live apart. Someone asked her why she would not seek a divorce and a new friendship, and perhaps a new partner in life. She was shocked at the suggestion! “Why would I be looking for a new man,” she replied “I already have a husband!” She was still praying and hoping for reconciliation! Still praying and hoping that God in His grace would reach down to her husband, and save him and bring him back to God and to her. That is a true example of Christian love and devotion for a spouse!

Dealing with Diverse Marriages
Now in Northern Ireland, we think we know all about the problems of mixed marriages. I am referring of course to those difficult situations where a ‘Protestant’ marries a ‘Roman Catholic.’ These marriages bring specific tensions in our particular circumstances. In the Bible, mixed marriages have nothing to do with denominational affiliations! Remember that there are only two types of people in this world, as far as God is concerned. Those who are Born Again, regenerate believers, and those who are still in their sins, out of Christ, and without a Saviour. Now that would be a real mixed marriage.
Again, this problem affects us in two ways:-

Firstly, don’t marry outside the faith! There is a basic implication in Paul’s teaching here, and in his direct command in 2nd Corinthians, that a Christian believer should only marry someone who is also a believer! 2 Cor. 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? Young Christians starting out in life, and looking for a lifelong relationship with another, should be made aware of this requirement, for it will save much heartache later in life! It applies to marriage as much as to any other relationship. How many marriages have been wrecked, and how many bright Christians have lost their testimony and their Christian effectiveness because they have fallen in love with someone who was not saved. They make their excuses! They say, perhaps they will win them for the Lord! Perhaps they will! But most times they will not! I once went out with a girl who was not a Christian. I took her out and brought her to church with me, and so on. But she demanded that in return I went to places with her, places where a Christian should not go! Eventually she did become a Christian, but when she did the Lord must have regenerated her powers of discernment as well, for she dumped me right away! Don’t take the risk! The Lord has a plan for your life, and the devil wants to frustrate that plan and ruin your Christian witness, and he will put a girl or a boy in your way, just to do so!

Secondly, don’t separate because of the faith! We can see here the second part of that equation. In Corinth, people were being converted to Christ. Their lives were being changed by the wonderful message of saving grace. Many of these would be married people.

Imagine the situation. They were a couple who had moved to Corinth to be where, as they saw it, the action was! Plenty of money, Roman citizens, they had everything this world could ask for. They had slaves to wait upon their every whim, they had wild parties that went on long into the night, parties which often turned into drunken orgies. Then she went to a meeting, down at the Corinthian church! She heard that Jesus died to save her and she wanted to give her life to Him! Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, she responded to the Gospel and was wonderfully saved! She went home and told her husband that she would no longer be engaging in the vice and filth of Corinth, and that she would from now on be attended in the prayer meeting and going to church on the Lord’s Day, and that she was freeing her personal male concubine, for, from now on, she would be faithful only to him! Oh, and by the way, every time she would make a decision from now on, she would pray about it, and ask the Lord, before she consulted him, and what God wanted would always come first!

Well you can see the problems! What will she do! Paul has some advice. Jesus had never spoken on this matter directly, so Paul seeks help from the Holy Spirit. He says to such people that the Christian believer who finds himself in such a situation must never initiate a separation! If the unsaved person leaves, then that is no reproach on the believer, but the Christian party to the marriage must stay in the marriage!

Defining a Domestic Witness
Paul now gives four reasons why a Christian must never walk out on their unregenerate husband or wife.

Because the Christian brings a measure of sanctification into the home. I suppose it had been argued that the unbelieving husband or wife was a bad influence on the Christian party. Paul turns that all around. He tells them, the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband. This is strong language. Paul is not saying that a Christian wife makes her husband a Christian too. He is saying that a Christian wife or husband can bring into the home a measure of Godliness, which can very much influence the affairs of the home! That Corinthian husband in the situation we have considered may start to take his wife’s viewpoint into consideration. He may stop having riotous parties. He may begin to be faithful to her in marriage.

Because of the Children. Paul tells us here that even if one parent is saved it can make a difference to the way our children grow up! Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. We shall look more closely at the status of the children of Christian parents in our next study.

Because of the witness that a Christian partner can bring to a home. The Christian partner can, by his or her life silently witness to the transforming power of Christ in a person’s life. What could be a more powerful witness than to see the person who once indulged in vice and sin suddenly changed! There are ways to do this. There was a woman at a church I once belonged to whose husband was not a Christian. But what a nice decent man he was, and a very long suffering man indeed! I knew their daughter very well, but I had never met the parents. When I was introduced to them, the lady said, “Pleased to meet you! This is my husband, John. He’s not saved you know!” If I had been her husband, I don’t think I would have been just as gracious as he was! The testimony of a quiet, reverent Christian life speaks volumes to an unregenerate loved one! Hear what Peter’s advice on this matter is, in 1 Peter 3:1-2 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

Because marriage is God’s sacred ordinance! In verse 17 Paul gives the final reason why the Christian party should never seek to break up the marital home. The Lord’s providence has directed our paths. These people had married, and all marriage is honorable. It is a creation ordinance, and right and proper for all mankind. As we say in the wedding ceremony, “He whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”

So Paul makes it very clear in this passage, that while we are not as believers, to enter into a marriage with an unregenerate person, those who come to Christ when already married are to remain in that marriage, loving their spouse, and prayerfully, by witness seek to win him or her for the Kingdom.

These are not hypothetical matters of pure ethics that Paul deals with here. He is writing to correct problems in the local church. They are intensely practical issues, and they are issues, which arise today, just as much as they did then. We still need to consider God’s Word, and to apply it to our lives and our marriages even today.

From → Sermon Notes

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