In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about a third issue, divorce. He says, “The husband must not divorce his wife. A wife must not divorce her husband.” But somebody will say, “Well, what about a condition where a Christian is married to a non-Christian?” Marriage is to be a union in the Lord, and this spiritual union is possible only if both parties are Christians.
But, suppose you have a man who is a Christian and a wife who is not, or vice versa? Wouldn’t it be proper for the Christian to divorce the non-Christian in order that the Christian spouse might establish a true Christian home? You would almost think that Paul would be inclined to agree with that, and yet Paul emphatically states that the Christian must not divorce his or her unbelieving spouse.
He gives several reasons for his position. He says there is a matter of the children. They are set apart to the Lord in the home even if there is only one Christian parent. And he also says that the Christian must not seek a divorce because he or she might be the means of reaching the non-Christian spouse.
But suppose the non-Christian leaves. What do you do then? Paul says that if the non-Christian leaves, let him or her go (v. 15). There is nothing you can do about it. Divorce becomes inevitable in that situation, and the Christian is no longer bound to that marriage.
At this point there is a difference in interpretation among Christian commentators. That phrase, “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances,” has been interpreted in two ways. Some have said that it simply means that the Christian is no longer bound to pursue the unbelieving spouse all over the world, trying to get the marriage back together again. Other commentators have said that it means the Christian has the right to remarry.
My opinion is that the first interpretation is right. The Christian is not to remarry, even in a situation like this where divorce becomes inevitable. Several times over in this chapter Paul says the same thing as well. For example, in verse 39 he writes: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes.” Let me say that even if the second interpretation is true–that the Christian has the right to remarry–it is saying that about a particular situation in which a Christian is married to a non-Christian. He is not saying that about a marriage between two Christians.
The reason I emphasize this is that we have a very dangerous practice happening in the evangelical church today. Those who are having difficulty in their marriages regard verse 15 as an escape. They try to maneuver the facts in such a way that it is possible to regard the partner with whom they are having difficulty as a non-Christian. They refer to Matthew 18, where the Lord Jesus gives instructions for dealing with a brother who has created some offense. Jesus says you must go to your brother and try to make it right. If your brother refuses, then you take a witness and you go and try to make it right. If that still fails, you bring it to the attention of the church, and if after the church becomes involved in the matter and the erring brother does not repent of his sin, then you are to treat him as a tax collector or a publican. The argument is that it is possible for a person to act in such a recalcitrant way that he should be considered a non-Christian, and as such you can divorce him or her and get remarried.
What I want to point out is that this is not what the Bible teaches; certainly that is not what Paul is teaching. The situation that Paul speaks of here concerns the marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian when the non-Christian ends the marriage with divorce. I do not believe that it concerns remarriage at all. The law for Christians is simply that if a separation takes place, the Christian is to remain unmarried or else be reconciled to the spouse. These are hard words for people who are suffering in relationships that are not harmonious, but this is the teaching of the Word of God. It is necessary for the strengthening of families, the preservation of righteousness within the church, and for the good of society.