Marriages of all shapes, varieties, and forms sprinkle the societal landscape, including those set up from day one as forlorn, particularly from the aspect of hindsight. Many marriages are borne of a poor pedigree, notably within unequal yoking, and struggle from their inception. From tiresome early days such marriages may never reach maturity, whilst others that do can be impinged by a season where unequal yoking, again, becomes an issue.
Firstly, let’s find a biblical reference point:
“It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.”
~1 Corinthians 7:15b-16 (NRSV)
In the Apostle Paul’s harmonising treatise on marriage (all of 1 Corinthians 7) his intent is to make the best communal advantage of marriage. Marriage, as people choose, should be a blessing for those married. Likewise, marriage will be a distraction from the central focus of things holy, but this, as Paul mentions in verses 32-35, is every bit permissible. Paul is, here, building upon the premise that “all things are yours” (3:21), meaning that whether we find ourselves married or not we’re free. If we’re married, our marriages should receive our fullest commitment and focus.
That freedom, when we’re married, is intended to extend to peace for both parties in the marriage, for the marriage takes precedence over devout things.
Using the Corinthian context, where they became overly pious, neglecting their marriages, we that find ourselves married cannot go back on that covenant to present ourselves to the Lord as wholly devoted to the exclusion of our marriages.
In the simplest possible terms, though God may be first priority, God’s expectation of us as Christians is to make our love practical, first and foremost, within marriage; for, by our marriages we’re otherwise known. By our marriages all of life is further connected. By our marriages we glorify God (or not).
A Practical Case Of Spiritual Misdirection
Many believers have put God before their marriages and, in attending to their spiritual development, have neglected their partners. In such circumstances a love for God has outstripped and negated the covenant love that God has, initially and eternally, willed. The love that the believer’s partner should receive is diverted to direct loving devotion for God; hence, the partner misses out. This cannot be God’s will. Paul is best interpreted supporting devotedness to marriage over devoted piousness for married people in 1 Corinthians 7.
We can well imagine a polarising illustration. A believing wife is married to a non-believing husband, however unequal the yoking was initially or not. If the wife was to become zealous for God she might exasperate her husband who receives less love and recognition than ever. The wife is clearly to love her husband better, not worse. The opposite applies; the believing husband with his non-believing wife. The believer is to facilitate a positive perception of God, as far as that’s possible, in their non-believing partner.
A Godly Image Of Unequal Yoking Made Equal
I recall a woman in her early 30s, a believer, with a non-believing husband. This woman and her two young children went to church and she was actively engaged in ministry. Her husband was, to say the least, negative about faith. No amount of her conniving and spiritual matchmaking would convert him. Evidence of these things would only anger him.
But, upon reaching a mature acceptance within herself, she decided to back off and simply focus on being the best wife a woman could be—to be as Christlike as possible. Now it doesn’t always or even often occur, but a few years afterward this woman’s husband began to gently explore his spirituality; from there attendance at church; and from there, baptism. The last I heard, he had become a deacon.
There are, without doubt, stories of the reverse; where believing husbands have ‘led’ their non-believing wives to the Lord.
These cases occur without browbeating; growth toward God occurs only in the absence of pressure.
The broadest lesson is that marriage comes before piousness. It does not glorify God for the believing partner to be a ‘first-class Christian’ but a second-class husband or wife. A married Christian’s obedience must be visible in the marriage first and foremost. That, and not a misdirected devotion to God, is how God will be obeyed in marital context.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.