On Marriage Without God

From our Worship & Associate Pastor, Marissa Brown:

It is safe to suspect that few Christians intentionally date--much less marry--anyone who is not a Christian. Theoretically, would anyone who genuinely loves Jesus sincerely prefer to marry someone who doesn't? No. However, in a not so theoretical sense, the time that a follower of Christ is asking about marrying someone who doesn't, the person has a name, a story, often an attractive look and a good sense of humor.

When we, Christians, set out to marry, of course we want to marry another Christian. We want to read the Bible together, pray together, go to church together, serve together. But for many reasons, we often struggle to find the right person. One of which is that people are getting married later and are therefore having to look harder or wait longer. Factor that in with apps and websites that multiply the competition by hundreds, and people have pickier opinions and are slower to settle down. Also, some of us have already had bad experiences dating, or even marrying, Christians. Considering all this, it should not be surprising that some believers follow the idea of dating outside the church. There are more people to choose from and you can still find some things in common. It may seem at first like you have more in common with those who don't follow Jesus than you do with the people you see every Sunday.

But this is not what you truly want, is it? This is not your original intention for your love life. You have found yourself here because you have most likely run out of patience. Let this encourage you to press on and not settle for a relationship that God did not intend for you.

Only In The Lord

When it comes to this topic, there is a verse in the Bible that often comes up. That is 2 Corinthians 6:14; "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers". It is certainly relevant to the question--we will revisit it later--but the verse isn't specifically about marriage. Probably the more clear 'one-verse' answer is more often overlooked, 1 Corinthians 7:39;

"A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord".

After addressing various circumstances in which followers of Jesus might marry (or not), the apostle Paul lands with a smaller, but precious group in the church at Corinth: women who have lost a husband. But what he says here does not only apply to widows. If a Christ follower decides to marry, they are free to marry whom they wish, but only in the Lord.

That phrase tucked into the end of Paul's counsel to single believers is written across his letters. At the beginning of this letter he writes, "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus..." (1 Corinthians 1:2). And he ends the letter on the same note: "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen" (1 Corinthians 16:24). More than 20 times in 1 Corinthians alone, he uses the phrase "in the Lord" or "in Christ". This phrase was not merely a spiritual tag onto his counsel about marrying wisely. In the mind of Paul, we do everything we do--especially our major commitments and callings--in the Lord. For a Christian, there is simply no other place to be, much less marry.

Marriage Should Speak of Christ

"In the Lord" was filled with meaning in another way as well. First, a Christian does everything they do in Christ--how much more so marriage? Second, marriage is uniquely designed to reveal what it means to live in Christ. This love was patterned after the love between Christ and the church.

For this reason a man is to leave his father and his mother and lovingly hold to his wife, since the two have become joined as one flesh. Marriage is the beautiful design of the Almighty, a great mystery of Christ and his church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Most marriages in the world lie about Christ and the church. Spouses don't sacrifice for each other. They don't read the words of God for themselves, much less saturate their marriages in them. They don't pursue holiness or encourage it in one another. They don't delight in each other as Jesus delights in us. They don't respect one another or support each other's callings. And so their marriages slander the story that they are meant to tell. Their love warps and distorts God's masterpiece. When Paul says to marry "in the Lord", he's saying to tell the truth about Christ and the church. Say with your marriage what marriage was meant to say. Marry in a way that sheds light on God and his glory, sin and grace, the cross and tomb, heaven and hell.

Do Not Be Unequally Yoked

Let's dive deeper into that verse that often comes up first when we talk about marrying nonbelievers.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling place among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

This is somewhat strange because these verses don't say anything explicit about marriage. A yoke was a harness placed over 2 animals--usually ox--pulling the same cart. If the animals were mismatched, for instance an ox and a donkey, then one would be led astray by the other. So it is, Paul is saying, with a soul. He is warning the church about dangerous relationships and partnerships. In this case, dangerous alliances were forming within the church against his message. So why do we come here to talk about marriage? Because no yoke is weightier or more influential--for better or worse--than marriage.

Marriage Could Cost Everything

Who you marry will likely shape who you become more than any other human relationship. If your spouse runs from Jesus, you won't be able to avoid the undertow of their lovelessness. You may survive a non-Christ following spouse, but only as through fire. Marriage under God would become a long and devastating war.

And, God warns you might lose your soul while fighting that war. That is the warning in 2 Corinthians 6: Being yoked with the wrong kind of heart could cost you yours. We should be careful who we align ourselves with in the church, Paul is saying. How much more so in the bedroom, in the budget and schedule, in parenting, in suffering, in the demanding trenches of everyday life? The wrong marriage really might ruin you. When you read these verses you realize we might be asking the wrong questions on marriage. Instead of asking whether we can marry a nonbeliever, we might start asking, how might I bring holiness in the pursuit of marriage? What will help me follow Jesus well? Who would the Spirit of God lead me to love? Could holiness thrive in a relationship like this?

Marriage Without God

At some level, people date and marry nonbelievers because of a lack of imagination. It's not hard to imagine dating a nonbeliever: coffee shops, bike rides, nice meals, movies together. It's not hard to imagine being engaged to a nonbeliever: finding a menu, planning a big meal, looking at homes. It's not hard to imagine putting on a wedding with a nonbeliever: dressing up, seeing friends and family, dancing. It's not hard to even imagine enjoying a honeymoon with a nonbeliever: more coffee shops, bike rides, nice meals, but you have sex too.

For a moment though, imagine life after all that. Real married life, the ups and downs, joys and agonies. This can be hard for a single person to conceive, but give it a try. Imagine a few years in, you get very sick or terribly injured and end up in the hospital. Your spouse is there with you, sitting next to your bed, holding your hand, and you can't pray together.

Imagine meeting with God in his word one morning, being overwhelmed by his majesty and mercy, you're brought to tears, and then going to share this with your spouse and their face is blank. They're kind and happy to listen, but they can't see or feel what you see and feel. They never share that kind of moment with you.

Imagine getting in a big fight with your spouse. A "I don't want to stay with you anymore" type of fight, and you don't have the presence of God between you. Your spouse doesn't believe God joined you together. They don't believe they made promises before God. They don't believe there is life eternal beyond this one.

Imagine trying to teach your children about Jesus--reading the Bible with them, praying with them, singing worship songs with them--and your spouse always sits in the other room. They only go to church for Christmas and Easter. Imagine your kids seeing that one parent doesn't believe what the other parent keeps telling them. Imagine how disorienting that would be.

Imagine having to make another impossible decision about a home, or a loan, or your child's education, or a crisis in the extended family, and you don't have a shared source of wisdom and guidance to lean on. You can't hear from God together, because your spouse doesn't believe that God speaks.

These are a few of a hundred scenarios where faith in God changes everything for a marriage. Where "in the Lord" really matters. A marriage without God would be a lifetime without sunshine, a sail without wind, a love without true love.

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