Now we come to a passage that’s caused some consternation to me. Not because there’s anything wrong with the passage itself—as if God’s word has a flaw or something—but how it’s been used.
I’m a practical theologian, which means I don’t get caught up in arguments over minutia, especially in this venue. If it doesn’t affect my daily walk with Christ, I don’t spend much time on it. But I’m going to make a partial exception to that rule today.
Let me start out by saying I’m opposed to Christians marrying non-Christians. It’s a bad idea. It goes against what marriage stands for: The merger of two distinct people into a permanent union, a great example of unity-in-diversity. At the very beginning, the Creator said that a husband and wife are "one flesh". A man and woman are very different, which is as it should be, just like my arm is very different from my eye. But they’re within the same body, and have the same purpose. The eye doesn’t go off and do “its own thing” with a separate purpose from the rest of the body. In the same way, my wife and I--though very different--have the same basic purpose, we’re going in the same direction in life, and see our welfare are being inextricably tied together. How can that be true if one of us was following Christ and the other wasn’t? That just leads to dissension and chaos in the home, nothing good. The context was different, but the principle Amos spoke of is true here as well: "Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?" If two people are walking together on a road but have two different destinations, then at some point they're going to have to part ways.
Having said that, I need to say I’ve heard this passage presented over and over and over as forbidding marriage between a believer and a nonbeliever. That’s not what Paul is talking about here. He’s not specifically talking about Christians marrying non-Christians in this passage. Now, can we apply the principles in these verses tangentially to marriage? I think so.
Remember the. . .what’s my favorite word in studying the Bible? That’s right--Context. Paul was dealing with false teachers who were trying to lead the Corinthian Christians away from their Lord. These false teachers disparaged Paul’s love for the Christians there and claimed that they (the false teachers) had equal authority—if not more—to the apostle.
In this context, what he’s warning them against is listening to bad theology and bad ideas. The false teachers weren’t confused or misguided or squabbling about minor issues. They were questioning/denying the physical resurrection of believers. They were undoubtedly behind much of the chaos of the church that Paul was railing against in the 1st letter to them.
These are the “unbelievers,” the “wicked,” the “darkness,” that he’s warning them to stay away from. Not ordinary non-Christians. Our Lord spent plenty of time with people who were involved in sinful lifestyles. Now, he never condoned sin, he never lowered his standards for holiness one iota, and apparently he never brought nonbelievers into his inner circle in which he shared his intimate secrets. But he freely associated with sinners of all types, to the degree that he was heavily criticized for it. In that culture, for a teacher or prominent person to eat with someone else, especially in that someone’s home, was understood to be condoning that someone’s lifestyle. For example, when Jesus invited himself to supper with Zacchaeus, the people of his day would've interpreted that to mean that Jesus condoned theft, collaborating with the enemy, and all the other sins which Zacchaeus would’ve been guilty of. But Jesus apparently disagreed with this interpretation, since he A) Went to eat with egregious sinners of all types, and B) Did not for one moment compromise his holy standards.
And I want to point out to you that he reserved his harshest criticism for the religious people of his day who were putting on a mask, pretending to be something they weren’t. These were his deadliest enemies, not the Romans, nor the out-and-out “sinners” who didn’t pretend to be godly.
This pattern continued with Paul. He freely associated with sinners of all types, and frequently adapted his ministry/message to his audience. But he carefully made a distinction between A) associating with nonbelievers and B) associating with believers who are living an immoral lifestyle: The standards are way different. He in no way expected a nonbeliever to live a moral lifestyle, but he fully expected a believer to do so. And his rebukes towards confused Christians who’d been led astray were kisses on the cheek compared to what he said to and about false teachers who’d been doing the leading. If you want a good example, here’s one: Notice what he wishes for in vs. 12.
When I’m talking with nonbelievers, the main issue is not any particular sin they’re committing: It’s the fact that they’re without Christ. This is the main sin that the Holy Spirit convicts sinners of: a failure to believe in (and submit to) Jesus. What about the other more “gray” areas? We’ll tackle some of those thorny issues tomorrow.
In the meantime, I need to ask myself: Do I take sin as seriously as I should? Do I see myself as belonging to Christ and not to the darkness? Does my personal conduct reflect the One to whom I belong? How much I should associate with lost people might be debatable, but letting the Enemy’s thoughts and ideas and philosophies into my head will only bring heartache, destruction, and regret.
Lord Jesus, I belong to you. I belong to you twice over, once because you made me, and twice because you bought me with your own blood. May my thoughts, my words, and my deeds show this in living color.