The christian’s attitude towards an unfaithful marriage partner and divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10-16)

As today, so it was in the first centuries of Christianity, when many men and women returned to God and entered into a covenant with Jesus Christ by becoming Christians. This reflected differently on the relationships they had in their families and especially with their marriage partner.

In the First Epistle to Corinthians 7:10-17, the apostle Paul describes the three most common situations that occur with those who have become married to Christians. Let’s do an analysis of each of these situations to see what God’s Word wants to teach us and what its application is in today’s context.

But first, let’s read the entire Bible passage:

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 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. 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. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:10-16 NASB)

Situation 1 – The unbeliever wants to keep the marriage

This situation is described in the text as follows:

If a brother has an unfaithful wife, and she wants to live with him, he must not separate from her. And if a woman has an unbelieving husband, and he is willing to live with her, let her not be separated from her husband.

The Greek word that is translated into English “to consent” is “suneudokeo” and means to give your agreement, or to join something wholeheartedly. So, if the unbelieving partner consents to the fact that the unbeliever has made a covenant with God and does not prevent him from living according to that covenant, God says that the Christian must keep the marriage. One of the effects that must be expected is that the unbelieving partner be “sanctified” by the words and experience of the husband or wife who is a Christian. I want to draw attention to the word that says here, “if he consents to live.” The Greek word translated “live” is the word “oikeo” and means to live together, or to live in peace and good understanding. So, this phrase “consents to live on” means a respectful acceptance of the person and faith of the believing husband or wife. Only in this case can another effect be written about which he writes here, namely, that their children be sanctified, that is, be brought up with the values ​​of the Christian faith and in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.

But if the unfaithful partner shows disrespect, and abuses physically, verbally or of any other nature, this can no longer be called “living” but abuse and often children suffer the most from this abuse and the bad influences that the unbelieving partner has on them, who, in addition to all the evils, also forbids the Christian to teach the children of the Holy Scriptures, to take them to church, etc. The expression “consents to live” means a peaceful coexistence, in good understanding and with mutual respect. If these are missing, the second situation described by the apostle occurs, namely…

Situation 2 – The unbeliever wants to separate

The apostle Paul describes this situation as follows:

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. (1Corinthians 7:15 NASB)

Even though the cases are not so frequent, they exist, namely when the wife believes in God from the heart and the unbeliever husband asks for divorce, or vice versa, the wife asks for the divorce of the man who believed in the Lord Jesus from the heart and chose to make a covenant with Him and follow Him in all things. In such a situation, the choice belongs to the unbeliever, and the Christian has to accept his/her choice, keeping the peace. Everyone is free to choose and the responsibility for the consequences of the choices he makes belongs to him. The Christian must show neither hostility nor despair in such a situation, but must fully trust in the Word and protection that comes from God.

The question is, what does God mean when he says that the brother or sister who is the victim of such a divorce is “not bound” (“not under bondage”)? I searched to see where else this phrase is used and I found it in the same chapter, in the same context of marriage, namely in verse 39 which says:

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

So, the Word of God itself explains to us what it means to say “is no longer bound,” that is, he or she is no longer bound by the marriage covenant that was broken on the other side, which initiated the divorce, and that the Christian is free to marry whoever he wants, only in the Lord. It is not appropriate for a Christian to exaggerate in his or her insistence on maintaining marriage when the unbeliever does not accept it.

But, there are still quite complicated situations when the unbeliever says that he wants to keep the marriage, but through everything he does he destroys and fornicates, does not contribute financially, if he is a man he does not materially support the family, does not allow children to read the Bible or go to church, he mocks the faith of all family members. Can we say about this unbeliever that he “consents to live on” in marriage? If the unbeliever does not allow the believer to freely exercise his faith in the Lord Jesus, you can no longer say of him that he “consents to live on” and that their children will not be able to grow up “holy” but “unclean” because they are under so much “unclean” pressure, sinful and evil.

Situation 3 – The Christian was divorced at the time of the covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul speaks here of the situation of the Christian woman, but it applies equally to the Christian man when he says:

If she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband

It is very important to distinguish the difference between the initiator and the divorce victim. There is always one who initiates the divorce, either through the decision he makes to stop living together, or through fornication, abuse, etc. The other side, who must accept the divorce, who did not initiate it, is the victim. People tend to put one and the other on the same scale when it comes to taking an attitude towards them in church or outside the church. Let’s be wise and not confuse things. Here we are talking about a situation when the Christian, when they were not yet believers, initiated the divorce. Now they have two options. The first is to go and reconcile with their partner to restore the marriage. If the partner does not want to accept the Christian, in this case the second situation is created, described above and the Christian will become free from this covenant, that is, he will be free to marry whoever he wants, only in the Lord. However, if the Christian does not want to go to the husband or wife he or she divorced when he or she was not yet a Christian, the result of such a decision will be that he or she must remain unmarried for the rest of his or her life.

God is the creator of man and woman and He also created their marriage, which is a covenant. The Almighty wants us to be faithful to this covenant and to build up our families. This must be the desire of every Christian. In this he must direct his efforts, to preserve and build up the family. May God help us with this!

Translated by Olya Trikolich