Why can't I marry an unbeliever?
Ian Affleck, Lossiemouth, Scotland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
This is not the first time this question has been asked and it will certainly not be the last, if the Lord does not return soon. Many examples are cited as to how doing this has worked out well for some Christians, and many more have been cited as to how it led to spiritual disaster. I want any reader contemplating this path to know that the writer has no ‘axe to grind’, but seeks only your spiritual welfare. Perhaps a dear parent is reading this article and you are deeply worried because one of the family has opted for such a pathway, and you are trying everything in your power to make them see sense. I trust you will be more understanding not only of what is happening but why it is happening, and prayerfully seek God’s help to know how you should act and react in such circumstances.
It would be easy to turn to verses of scripture and write off such an attitude, and I will refer to those verses, for the doctrine is unchanging. But I would like to consider the question in three ways. Firstly, from a natural standpoint; then, from a personal standpoint, that is from the questioner’s point of view; and, lastly, from a spiritual standpoint.
The natural standpoint
The question of the right partner does not apply only to believers but also non-believers, hence, the rise in our modern society of match-making websites. Many lonely people resort to such places so that they can find the perfect partner; one with whom they can enjoy a wonderful future together. The world recognizes that there are many pitfalls along this road and therefore guidance is required before starting out. This is one of the reasons why such websites are so popular, especially for someone who has already made a mistake and does not wish to repeat it. But how can such websites help? They will present the candidate with a number of questions such as, ‘what are your likes and dislikes?’, ‘what is your ambition in life?’, ‘what are the values that you live by?’
They ask these questions so that they might gain a better understanding of the type of person you are, so they can introduce you to someone who is compatible, someone you are most likely to gel with. They see compatibility as a major factor when choosing a partner.
If two people are totally incompatible this will give rise to unpleasantness, arguments, strife, and, sadly, separation. The reasoning behind such websites is good, but whether you should depend on others to make your mind up for you in such an important matter is, at the least, debatable.
The personal standpoint
I wish now to look at the questioner’s standpoint in a sympathetic way. Why would a believer contemplate walking this particular road? I am sure there are numerous answers to this question. Some may feel very much alone, and the loneliness only increases when they see other believers happily married and enjoying their family, children, and grandchildren. Perhaps they wonder why God has not led them to a believing partner with whom to share their life and enjoy an ever deepening relationship with God. Often they are the butt of well-intentioned jokes, which they take sportingly on occasions, but at other times the problem becomes all but unbearable. The writer speaks from experience as one who has made these jokes betimes, albeit without malice. I would urge those in such a position to remember that God knows what is best for His children, and while you may not understand it, keep trusting in Him.
For others, it may be that they have become totally besotted with an unbeliever and either cannot see danger ahead, or do not want to see it, and any attempt to warn them is met with rebuff and unjust criticism. They can see only good and ultimate happiness coming from such a relationship. Could I ask that such a one asks themselves why they are contemplating marrying an unbeliever? Perhaps you have not been enjoying the Lord as once you did and have been spending more time with unbelieving friends rather than believers, and this has led to going where they go and enjoying what they enjoy. The gatherings of the Lord’s people have lost their attraction and perhaps this has given rise to the question. I ask that you reconsider where your life is headed and turn again to the Lord for He and He alone knows the path of true joy and happiness for you.
But it may also be that a dear believer who is seeking to serve the Lord as best as they can has come into contact with a nice person at work who is not a Christian. This person has been very kind and considerate, making you feel special, and they have expressed their love for you. You, on the other hand, are not sure of your feelings for them but you just wish they were saved, and perhaps even feel that God could use the relationship so that they do get saved. After all, you might argue, it has happened to other believers. This may well be the outcome, but would it not be better to pray that God will save them before making the all important decision, rather than hoping it might happen?
The spiritual standpoint
I wish to consider the doctrine as it is in the word of God and then conclude my remarks with what is probably the most glaring example from the word of one who demanded his own way in this matter.
As Christians, the word of God should be our first resolve and not our last resort, for it is most important. The psalmist says, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee’, Ps. 119. 11. What a lovely attitude to have! Our only fear is that we grieve the heart of our God!
So what does the word of God have to say in relation to the matter of a believer contemplating marrying an unbeliever? God says, ‘Can two walk together except they be agreed’, Amos 3. 3. This is one lesson the world has learned and therefore they try to match compatible people. How then can a Christian marry an unbeliever? What have they in common? Their ideals are different; their goals are different; and their motivation is different. One seeks to please themselves, albeit perhaps with good intentions, while the other should be seeking to please God.
Then again, we have Paul’s words, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’, 2 Cor. 6. 14-16.
Whilst Paul is addressing the local church at Corinth, what is true of believers collectively must also be true of us individually. Again, although Paul is not speaking specifically about marriage, what he says must include marriage, and therefore it is relevant to the question we are seeking to answer. Paul states a clear commandment, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together’. There is neither uncertainty nor compromise; this is something we should not do.
Paul then goes on to list five rhetorical questions which should be asked by any who are contemplating such a union. Taken as a whole, they prove that the believer and the unbeliever are totally incompatible. Therefore, believers should not be yoked together in marriage, or in any other union for that matter. Space does not allow an exposition of the passage but consider the words Paul uses in his argument: ‘fellowship’, ‘communion’, ‘concord’, ‘part’, or portion, and ‘agreement’. The believer is as incompatible with an unbeliever as Christ is with Belial, but this should never lift us up in pride. It is merely pointing out a fact.
Paul finishes the argument by reminding the believers that they are the temple of God and He dwells among them. If this truth is made clear in relation to the local church, 1 Cor. 3, then, the same is seen to be true of the individual, 2 Cor. 6. Surely, no believer would deliberately enter into a relationship with an unbeliever knowing that this will undoubtedly upset their communion with God, and bring discord and disharmony to that special relationship.
Lastly, let us consider the most glaring example of a believer deliberately seeking to marry an unbeliever, and the tragic consequences that ensued. In Judges chapter 14 we read of Samson going down to Timnath where he saw a woman of the Philistines, and immediately fell in love with her. He came home and told his parents that he had found the woman of his dreams, and demanded they get her to be his wife. I am sure Samson knew what he was doing was wrong, but he wanted his parents to give their blessing on the matter. But they also knew it was wrong and pleaded with him. Surely there was one of his own people who would make a good wife for him. Samson’s reply was classic, ‘Get her for me for she pleases me well’. In other words, she is the one I want and that is all that matters. He ploughed on regardless of how others felt, and this relationship ended in disaster, so much so, that the woman he loved became married to one of his companions.
This did not put Samson off. Soon, he found another unbelieving partner, and then a third, with each relationship having a detrimental effect on him spiritually. The last was Delilah and, sadly, he ended up losing his sight and being mocked and reviled by the Philistines before ultimately losing his life. Although God answered his prayer, so that he slew more of the enemy in his death than ever he did in his life, this just demonstrates the grace of our God.
So it could be for any who choose the same path. It is said, ‘You go into a relationship with your eyes open, yet love is blind’. Why gamble with your spiritual well-being? If you are contemplating a similar move to that of Samson, be very careful. Heed the word of God, and heed the counsel of godly Christians, family or otherwise. They seek only your good spiritually – a wonderful life of communion and fellowship with God!