Text: Nehemiah 13:23-29
I. While Israel was in captivity because of their many sins, the people had lived among the foreign nations for so long that they had become lax in following God’s commands
A. A major cause of this problem stemmed from mixed marriages where the foreign spouse brought their religion into the union.
1. It was the leading Jews, the rulers and the priests who were foremost in this - Ezra 9:1-4
a. Priests were particularly forbidden to marry women from other nations - Leviticus 21:14-15
2. They were doing the very thing that God warned them not to do - Ezra 9:10-15
a. It had lead to their earlier downfall
b. God warned the people not to pick up the practices of the people of the land who were cast out - Leviticus 18:24-30
c. Certain nations were to be utterly destroyed in Israel’s border to prevent corruption of true worship - Deuteronomy 20:17-18
(1) They were not to intermarry - Deuteronomy 7:1-4
(2) Joshua also warned the people - Joshua 23:12-13
d. Children of mixed parentage were excluded from ever becoming Israelites, as well as descendants of particular nations - Deuteronomy 23:2-4
(1) “illegitimate” doesn’t mean born out of wedlock as it does today, but born of a forbidden marriage.
e. Let me be clear that we are not talking about people who gave up their nationality to become Israelites, such as Rahab or Ruth.
(1) We are talking about people who continued to consider themselves members of another nation while married to an Israelite.
3. It is specifically this sin that is noted to have lead to Solomon’s downfall - I Kings 11:1-4
4. And now the remnant was repeating the error
B. To counter it, the people who returned from captivity made a vow which included not to intermarry - Ezra 10:1-5; Nehemiah 10:28-31
C. It was a vow they did not keep
1. Nehemiah 13:23-29 - It had gotten to the point that Hebrew was no longer being spoken in Israel
a. Notice that Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites are particularly mentioned.
b. The people knew these particular marriages were wrong - Nehemiah 13:1-3
2. They had broken their oath - Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
3. Nehemiah forced the people to renew their vows
4. The end of the book of Ezra lists out the people who refused to put away their foreign wives and children.
D. The impact of Nehemiah and Ezra on Israel last for centuries - John 4:9
1. But as typical of people, they went overboard - Acts 10:28
2. Doing what God said wasn’t enough, they had to go beyond.
3. As you can suspect, the impact of this affect the church - Galatians 2:11-16
E. All of this is necessary background to understand a passage that I have been asked to explore with you in detail
II. A question of mixed marriages for Christians
A. In I Corinthians 7 begins to address a series of questions sent to him by the Corinthians. Chapter 7 deals with marriage questions, chapter 8 deals with idols, chapters 12 to 14 deals with spiritual gifts, and chapter 16 touches on the collection.
1. We don’t have the specific questions asked, we only know the topics covered by Paul’s response to those questions.
B. I Corinthians 7:1-9 - Paul’s advice is that in general it is better to remain single
1. That advice is tempered by the current persecutions - I Corinthians 7:26
2. However, that advice is not practical for all people, so Paul says that people ought to marry and that those in marriage need to understand one reason for marriage is the sexual drive. To marry and deny a spouse sex is not a fair option.
C. I Corinthians 7:10-11 - Answers the question of how long a marriage lasts. It lays down the general rule that marriage is for life.
1. A spouse is not leave the marriage
2. If a spouse does leave, he is to remain unmarried or be reconciled
D. I Corinthians 7:12-16 - Answers the question about mixed marriages
1. “To the rest”: can refer to the rest of the marriage questions started in I Corinthians 7:1, thus saying that I can handle the rest of the questions by the following statements. Or, he could be contrasting the groups. Verses 1-11 dealt with unmarried Christians and married Christians, now he is going to focus on the last group, Christians married to unbelievers.
2. “I say, not the Lord”: This is a topic that Jesus did not deal with while on earth, so Paul must explain it.
3. The rule is that there is no need for a Christian to end a marriage simply because they are married to a non-Christian.
a. Whatever would give people such an idea? Think back to the situation in Ezra and Nehemiah. That is why we started there.
b. But if the problem is the corrupting influence of a spouse, isn’t this the best solution? Paul is saying, “No.”
4. The unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the Christian:
a. This is not saying that a person becomes saved by marrying a Christian
(1) One rule for understanding a passage is that if a particular reading leads to a contradiction, then we know something is wrong.
(2) Sanctification, as in a person being set apart for salvation,
(a) is done through Jesus - I Corinthians 1:2
(b) comes through faith in Jesus - Acts 26:18
(c) comes by being washed - I Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26
b. But sanctification can be used in a different, but related sense. It can mean being set apart for a God approved purpose.
(1) Exodus 20:8 - the Sabbath day
(2) Exodus 28:38 - holy gifts
(3) I Timothy 4:4-5 - food
c. Therefore, it makes more sense that Paul is referring to the marriage between the believer and the unbeliever. The union created with an unbeliever is sanctified, set apart for a God approved purpose, because of the Christian.
5. If a person wanted to argue that the marriage must be dissolved because the union is unholy (as per Ezra and Nehemiah), then the logical result is to conclude that the children of that union must also considered unclean by that same reasoning.
a. Some interpreted as “illegitimate” as in the marriage was no marriage and therefore the children were born out of wedlock.
b. But the word here is unclean, as in Deuteronomy 23:2, to which is what I believe Paul is alluding.
c. If a person claims the marriage is unholy because it is mixed, such must come from the Old Law. But the Old Law also said that children of unholy marriages could never be a part of the covenant, even to the tenth generation.
d. Thus the natural conclusion is that if a marriage must be dissolved because it is “unholy” then the children are “unholy” and that they can never enter into a covenant relationship with God. In other words, if there are unholy marriages, then there are people who cannot become Christians because of their lineage.
e. But, like before, that leads to a contradiction with what we know.
(1) Christ died for all men, not some men - II Corinthians 5:14-15
(2) One purpose of the New Covenant was to open the way for the Gentiles – all Gentiles – to enter into the covenant - Ephesians 2:11-13
(3) God wants all saved - II Peter 3:9
f. Working backwards then, if the children can be set apart for a purpose of God (to become Christians), then the marriage too is fulfilling a purpose of God - Malachi 2:14-15
g. Therefore there is no requirement that a Christian must divorce a non-Christian spouse.
III. But what if the non-Christian doesn’t want to remain in the marriage?
A. Essentially, a person who isn’t a Christian isn’t motivated to keep the laws of God
B. This doesn’t mean that the non-Christian isn’t going to be held accountable by God regarding His laws
1. Man’s duty is to keep God’s commandments - Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
2. Even the lost will give an account to God - I Peter 4:4-6
a. If the lost were not held accountable to God’s laws, there would be no reason to teach them the Gospel
3. Even those who reject Christ will be judged by Christ’s words - John 12:48
C. When Paul charged all people as being under sin - Romans 3:9
1. This can only be true if there are laws to be broken - Romans 5:13
D. So are non-Christians accountable to Christ’s marriage laws? Yes.
1. How can we know this? Because they acknowledge it in their actions
2. Everyone holds marriage in honor - Hebrews 13:4
3. Romans 2:12-16 - Even today, people recognize that a person can’t have a new spouse without dissolving the first marriage, so thus they recognize the bounds of marriage and the obligations that go with it.
E. “A brother or sister is not under bondage”
1. The word here is for slavery. Marriage is never viewed as a form of slavery in the Bible.
2. In fact, there is a subtly lacking in our English translations. When Paul said “not under bondage” or “is not in slavery” it is in the present tense in Greek. That tense is used to state something that is true in the past and continues to be true to the present. In other words, Paul said the brother or sister wasn’t a slave before in the marriage, and continues not to be a slave in the present.
3. Thus the Christian isn’t being forced to keep a marriage going when the non-Christian wants to leave. To do so would cause discord, but God has called us to peace.
4. This does not imply that the Christian now has the right to remarry. The general rule in verse 11 remains.
IV. A mixed marriage is not ideal, but you just never know - I Corinthians 7:16
A. The odds are in a mixed marriage that the unbelieving spouse will pull a Christian into unfaithfulness.
B. But there is the hope that the Christian can be an influence for good - I Peter 3:1-2
C. But such depends on the steadfastness of the Christian - II Peter 3:17-18
V. What about your own steadfastness?
A. Are you holding on to your faith or wavering? - Hebrews 10:23
B. Are you wanting something, perhaps your spouse to be saved, while you waver in your own faith? - James 1:6-8
C. There is a time to make your life right with God, and it is right now.