This is the third post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.
Q: Someone told me that you were answering difficult Bible verses. I know a man who is engaged to a non-believer and uses 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 to justify his decision. What do you think? --Anonymous
A: Anonymous, thanks for taking time to raise a question that is becoming increasingly more challenging in our contemporary culture. There are two issues at stake in your question. One is interpretation and the other is sanctification. Let's look at both.
FIRST, the use of this passage to justify courtship and/or marriage to a non-Believer is an example of self-serving interpretation. To be fair to your colleague, we all tend to read the Bible through our own personal lens and it is a discipline to let the Bible interpret itself rather than us force our own hopes and dreams within the words of Scripture. In the case of this text, the reader has missed two very important interpretive insights. Paul writes,
"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"
The first insight is that the text must be read in the context of the overarching argument. This passage actually begins in verse 10 where Paul is raising the topic of divorce. His question is, "When is it right to divorce?" Having raised the question, he is sure that new converts in his audience will raise the question, "What if we have become people of faith and our spouse isn't? Should we divorce?" Paul's answer is, "No. Stay married. Be sure that God will guard your marriage and your children. In fact, your spirituality has potential to become a sanctifying influence on your non-believing spouse." In other words, Paul taught that it is better to keep your marriage covenant than to divorce when it one marriage partner becomes a Christian.
However, Paul is not giving instructions on who to marry! He is not suggesting that Christians marry non-Christians in order to win them to Christ. It would be like me telling my children, "When you find yourself caught in debt, make sure that you adjust your standard of living and cut back on your luxuries." My instruction in no way encourages them to go into debt! I'm simply giving them counsel should they find themselves in this unfortunate situation. So, once again, to read 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 as a guide to courtship and marriage is to misread the passage.
This raises another interpretive issue: The principle of consistency. The Bible does not contradict itself. Verses in Matthew will compliment the writings of Isaiah. The Old and New testaments fit together. The Bible is a unity. So, when I read 2 Corinthians 6:14 [also written by Paul!]--"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"--I must discover how to reconcile this verse with his command in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. The right interpretation of both verses is the one that enables one to support the other and both be applied truthfully. I cannot choose to selectively obey one verse, but not the other.
So, the first problem with your colleague's decision is one of interpretation. The SECOND problem is one of sanctification. The word means "to be/make holy." And, in the passage quoted above [2 Corinthians 6:14], Paul highlights the sure conflict that will arise when people from two differing religious backgrounds attempt to become "one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]. Believers should never "yoke" themselves [in farming cultures, young bulls were hitched to more seasoned ox to plow fields] to unbelievers. This relational unity will threaten the spiritual maturity of the man or woman who is seriously pursuing holiness.
Some might argue that this reflects a spirit of intolerance and that genuinely loving people can find a way to get along with one another. However, if our religious perspective reaches down to the core of who we are, it drives everything we say, think and do. To say it differently, the only way that a couple from two different religious perspectives can live in harmony is for both of them to jettison what they believe for the sake of one another. In doing so, they have lost a part of themselves and they both lose.
Let me give you a real example. A Christian woman falls in love with an agnostic man. According to her belief in God and His Kingdom, she disciplines herself to give a portion of her income to ministry. She also values attending corporate worship every Sunday morning. He husband is completely opposed to giving money to charity and wants to golf every Sunday. This couple has 4 alternatives:
1. The wife abandons her religious convictions. Their marriage is "unified" but she loses.
2. The husband abandons his non-religious convictions. Their marriage is "unified" but he loses.
[NOTE: This doesn't mean he "converts." He just lives a personal lie.]
3. Both husband and wife "give a little" [compromise] and they both lose a little.
4. Neither gives in and they are in constant conflict.
At the end of the day, none of these options express genuine marriage where both people grow according to truth and unity is based on an affirmation and encouragement of each other. Moreover, for a Christian to compromise truth [even for the sake of "love"] is to make Christ the servant of our affections. It is to make God play second chair to someone greater in our life.
In this, the Christian doesn't ever move forward to maturity. They are not sanctified. They are ever-battling with their spiritual priorities and, more often than not, their earthly relationship wins over their heavenly one. After a whole series of compromises, the once-vital Christian finds themselves having given away the farm...for love.
Love is blind. And, for this reason, I encourage people to keep their eyes wide open when it comes to courtship and marriage. Let the Word, not your heart, lead you. And, build a lifelong relationship with a spouse where both of you already have a common, sure foundation.