The Unmarried and Widows - Page 7 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1st Corinthians)
by John Lowe
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.
But if the unbelieving depart,
If the “unbeliever,” whether husband or wife, walks out of the marriage, and utterly refuses to cohabitate, the marriage can be broken; but this isn't to be initiated or sought by the believer. Paul has counseled that the Christian partner should do what they can to keep the marriage together, but, when the unbelieving spouse has made that impossible, the Christian is not under bondage to the marriage covenant. Now the question which is asked is whether the Christian partner is free to marry again. I believe that under certain circumstances Paul would have given permission for that. I do not think one can put down a categorical rule either way for today. I think that each case stands or falls on its own merits. I’m afraid this can easily be abused, even by Christians. I am afraid sometimes a husband or a wife tries to get rid of the other and forces them to leave in order that they might have a “scriptural ground” for divorce. There is also the situation where the unbelieving husband or wife insists upon making the Christian profession the grounds for separation; let them have their way. Examples of this kind occur in every age, and the rule is always applicable. This means they are, in fact, free to remarry because God has recognized their divorce as a valid divorce.
let him depart.
It is assumed that the believing partner has done all they can do to keep the marriage together, and that the unbeliever will not be prevented from leaving, unless some unreasonable and sinful conditions are met, let him depart. You cannot prevent it, and you are to submit to it patiently, and bear it as a Christian.
A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases:
“A brother or a sister” refers to a born again believer, and a brother and sister in Christ. A Christian is not to be subject to an unbeliever in matters of conscience, in things pertaining to the worship of God, and the service and glory of Christ; neither are they to continue in a marriage where the unbelieving partner will leave unless they forsake Christ. Paul’s advice in this case is “Let him depart. You are free to remarry another person after all proper methods of reconciliation have been tried and failed.” Desertion in such a case is a breach of the marriage contract, and the deserted person may lawfully marry again. There is no conflict here between Paul’s advice and that of our Lord in 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.” The point is that the divine standard cannot be imposed upon the unregenerate. There is nothing the believer can do but submit to the divorce.
Some question whether or not such a brother or sister might remarry; but the opinion here is that, if they cannot, then the brother or sister would still be in bondage: bound to renounce the faith for the sake of retaining his or her unbelieving husband. This is another exception to "adultery," which is the only acceptable justification for divorce mentioned by the Lord: “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” (Matt 19:9; KJV).We should keep in mind that Paul was dealing with mixed marriages, which were not within the realm of Jesus' teaching at all. The believer does not lie under the same obligation in the case of a union with an unbeliever, as in the case of one with a believer. In the former case he is NOT bound NOT to separate, if the unbeliever separate or "depart," in the latter nothing but "fornication" justifies separation.
but God hath called us to peace.
Our Christian calling is one that is predisposed to "peace"—“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18; KJV). To live in a state of peace with one's neighbors, friends, and even family, is often very difficult. But the man who loves God must make an effort to do this, because it is vitally important, even for his own sake. A man cannot have fights and misunderstandings with others, without having his own peace substantially disturbed: If he is to be happy, he must be at
peace with all men, whether they will be at peace with him or not. The apostle knew that it would be difficult to get into and maintain such a state of peace, and his own words are ample proof of it: And if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably. Therefore, the believer should not leave the unbelieving spouse, except for those exceptions already mentioned (See 1Co 7:12-14). On the other hand, in the exceptional case of the unbeliever having his mind made up to leave the marriage, the believer is not bound to force the other party to stay in a state of continual discord, and they should let the unbeliever go. It would be better not to enter into such unequal alliances at all: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14; KJV). Calvin supposes that this declaration pertains to the first part of this verse, which says “But if the unbelieving depart,” and that Paul means to say, that if the unbeliever leaves the marriage, he or she is to be allowed to do so peaceably, rather than to have contention and strife, because God has called us to a life of 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?
Paul ends this section with a great deal of hope, because many Christian who are married to unbelievers are discouraged. They have prayed for their loved one and tried so hard to get them to go to church with them; but nothing moves them to desire religion. The unbelieving partner may hate all forms of religion and even come to hate their believing spouse, because he or she will not relinquish their faith in Jesus; but the apostle knows that with faith and patience, they can look for God to work in their present circumstances, difficult as they might be. His words provide a reason why they should NOT give up on their heathen partners: He tells them, “You may be the means of their salvation. Bear your cross, and look up to God, and he may give your unbelieving husband or wife to your prayers.” Separation and divorce is a last resort and should only be sought after all proper methods to save the marriage have been tried and failed.
Christians married to unbelievers should also know what Peter says in 1 Peter 3:1-6: that your unbelieving spouse will not likely be led to Jesus by your words, but they may be lead by your godly and loving conduct. This has occurred in thousands of instances. I love the saying, “You may be the only Bible they ever see!”
In this question, Paul is simply asking, “Christian wife, if you remain with your unbelieving husband, don’t you know that you may be able to save him?” This does not mean that the wife can forgive the sins of the husband; but through her prayers and godly living she may be the means of him being saved from the lake of fire. The same is true of the believing husband in relation to the unbelieving wife. God does the saving in answer to the prayers and faithfulness of the born again companion.
If you, dear friend, are living with an unsaved mate, do not despair! If it is at all possible to live with that unbelieving companion, if life is not made unbearable for you—and especially if there are children in the home—stay with your husband (or wife, as the case may be); pray faithfully, live as God would have you live and set a Christian example in the home. Upon the promise of the Word of God, there is a good chance that you would be the means of leading that companion into salvation—and that will be worth all the heartaches and heartbreaks you experienced along the way.
I will end this section with a story about Vince Lombardi. If you don’t know who he is, I would add simply that he was the coach of the Green Bay Packers’ football team in the early 1960’s. Through the years, Vince Lombardi’s thoughts on winning have been frequently misquoted. The legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers is purported to have said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” In reality, Coach Lombardi said, “Winning is not everything . . . but making the effort to win is.” Christians, more than any other group of people, should follow this advice and make every effort to win people to Christ; and they should begin in their own home—with their marriage partner and children.