Married to an Unbeliever? (7:12-16)
This is a question for which the delivery is as important as the answer. Too often this question is “debated.” When this happens there will inevitably be a “loser” in a situation that is already quite discouraging. The goal is not primarily a neat theology but a life fully submitted to Christ. If we (as friend, teacher, counselor) win the debate and lose the person God is not pleased.
I believe Paul models this compassion as he keeps alluding not only to the “rightness” of staying unless abandoned but also the rationale for staying. You married this person because you loved them. You probably have children (v. 15). Your home is now your primary mission field. Pray that your presence would be used of God to be part of your family’s conversion.
Reflection: Are you this mission-minded? Think of the spouse married to an unbelieving antagonistic spouse like the missionary working with an unreached people group without any converts. What would you say to them? How would you say it? Between conversations with this missionary friend what types of things would you do for them? As you reflect over this passage do not think of it as an academic/theological discussion, but as a conversation with a tired, discouraged missionary.
Anxious About the Things of the Lord (7:34)
What happened to the Paul who said “Be anxious for nothing (Phil 4:6)”? Let’s try this definition of anxiety – an unrelenting focus on trying to obtain a perceived good. By this definition most anxieties are bad. We become consumed by lesser good. We become obsessively committed to our alternative definitions of good. The unrelenting focus continually takes our attention away from God. Once we have our good we are unable to relax and enjoy it.
Yet this definition leaves room for Paul’s positive usage of the word anxiety here. This is something for which we are to have an unrelenting focus. This pursuit is to captivate our mind and imaginations. We should be energized and stirred up as we pursue this good. Yet the outcome of this good, as opposed to all others, is that it does provide rest. As strange as it sounds, you know you have the right anxiety and pursued it correctly when pursuing it gives rest to your soul.
Reflection: Do you think of God as being as satisfying as Paul describes in this passage? Paul is clearly putting marriage second to God. We tend to get anxious about those things that are most important to us. One way to apply what Paul is saying would be – you will not be able to rightly enjoy marriage until you are more anxious about your relationship with God than you are about your relationship with your spouse. Yet Paul balances this truth, with the reality that you should be worried about pleasing your spouse (v. 33 and 34b). Therefore, there is no warrant in this passage for neglecting your spouse, only the recipe of priorities for a happy marriage.
Whom She Wishes
Is there one person out there that God has for me to marry? How do I know when I have found them? What if that person messes up and marries someone else or gets killed? Have you ever tried to answer questions like that?
There is insight into this question in Paul’s instruction to widows (I Cor 7:39). A widow is free to marry “whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” God offers instructed freedom, rather than playing divine match-maker.
Consider these three principles as you grapple with major life decisions:
Desires Restrained by Wisdom: On the matter of marriage Paul only gave one principle – make sure you marry a believer. On other subjects God offers more instruction. If you look at God’s wisdom and feel like He is “holding out” on you, then you need to mature before making a decision. If not, move to the next principle.
Freedom within Wisdom: God gave you interests, passions, abilities, aptitudes, and preferences. He meant for you to use them and He meant to use them to guide you. This is why Paul is so free with his words “whom she wishes.” As you use your desires to guide you within the principles of God’s wisdom, be sure to consult the final principle.
Humility to Seek Counsel: The Christian life was meant to be lived in community. If you do not have mature Christians who know you well enough to ask about major decisions go back to principle one and find some. At this stage you are not asking permission, you are verifying that you have covered the basis of principle one and are thinking clearly about principle two.
Hopefully this helps you to enjoy the freedom God has given you and to see more clearly God’s goodness and guidance in how He made you.
Introduction to the “Living Our Faith” series.