Saturday, November 10

Hope for mixed marriages

Scripture: Job 35-36, 1 Corinthians 7-8

1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy by the husband.  Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy.


In this chapter, Paul addresses questions about marriage and divorce, and in verses 12-16, he specifically addresses spiritually mixed marriages in which a Christian is married to an unbeliever.  Are these legitimate marriages?    Paul says: Yes.  He later advises single Christians to marry within their faith; here he is concerned with couples in which one party has come to Christ after the wedding.  Should the new Christian abandon the marriage to their unbelieving spouse?  Paul says: No.  Stay married.  If the unbeliever chooses to leave because of the Christian’s faith, let them go.  But the Christian should not initiate a divorce.  Why?

The presence of a Christian in the marriage sanctifies (makes holy) the unbelieving partner and children.  What does this mean?  A lot!

First, it doesn’t mean that the unbelieving partner is automatically saved—that is clear from the next 2 verses.  But it certainly increases the chances of that happening!  The unbelieving partner may be saved by the loving witness of their believing spouse which is one of the motivations for staying together.  

Second, it means that God sees the marriage as a legitimate union—it is as holy or sacred a union as if both were Christians.  Evidently, some Christians were prone to consider these unholy or illicit marriages and abandon them.  Paul makes it clear that this is a holy union, a legit marriage in God’s eyes.

Third, it means that the Christian’s “holiness” is more contagious than the unbeliever’s “uncleanness.”  Paul is using Jewish ritual language.  In the Old Testament, when something ritually unclean came into contact with something clean, the clean thing became unclean.  Uncleanness was contagious.  That changed with Jesus.  Jesus touched the unclean and they became clean.  Holiness became contagious!  In the same way, Paul envisions the Christian’s holiness being contagious and making the unbelieving spouse and their children holy—set apart to God.

Fourth, to be holy or sanctified is not primarily about morality but relationship with God—it means one is set apart for God for His purposes.  This means that God lays His claim on the entire family!  The presence of a believer means that God has a claim on this family and they are set apart (made holy) for His purposes.  The unbelieving spouse, the children are His and He will be at work in their lives.

Fifth, in Paul’s Jewish context, to be holy was to be included in the worshipping community; you were able to attend temple services.  By saying that the unbelieving partner and children are holy, Paul includes them in the covenant community of faith.  They are to be welcomed as part of the community!  We need to communicate to unbelieving spouses and to every child born to a Christian: you belong here!  You are part of our family!

Sixth, the children born of mixed marriages are considered holy.  This was different from rabbinic teaching which ruled that children born of a mixed marriage take on the status of the unbelieving spouse.  Paul insists that the children of a mixed marriage take on the status of the Christian and are made holy; they are to be welcomed into the community of faith, allowing them to experience life within the covenant community.  

Seventh, Paul’s instructions about marriage are characterized by mutuality and reciprocity.  In both Jewish and Roman marriages, all the power lay with the husband.  But Paul treats husband and wife as equals, and that is evidenced even in this verse on mixed marriages.  It doesn’t matter if the believing spouse is the husband or the wife—whoever it is, the believer’s contagion makes the unbeliever holy. 


This passage is so hopeful for spouses in a spiritually mixed marriage.  Paul tells us that God is powerfully at work in these marriages—don’t flee, don’t despair!

Also, I’m reminded that that the church needs to reach out and be inclusive with these families.  I grew up in one of these families, and wonder what might have changed if the church had reached out and embraced my father.  What does that look like for us at Life Center?

Prayer: Lord, please strengthen the hearts of believing spouses in mixed marriages, and show us as a community of faith how to support them and embrace their unbelieving spouses in a redemptive way!