The Desertion Exception

The Desertion Exception

If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
–1 Corinthians 7:15

As the early church grew, more and more Christians ended up in mixed marriages–marriages between a believer and an unbeliever. And these Christians were asking Paul for help. What if a Christian desires to leave his unbelieving wife or vice versa? After all, wasn’t Paul the one who said not to be unequally yoked together with an unbeliever? Doesn’t that mean you are supposed to divorce the unbeliever?

That instruction applies in your pre-yoked days–you are not to go out and seek an unbelieving mate. But if you suddenly find yourself married to an unbeliever, look at what Paul said in verse 12: “To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.” If you are married to an unbeliever, and he or she wants to continue the marriage, you are obligated to stay in that relationship.

What if a Christian is deserted by his or her non-Christian mate? Let’s say a woman becomes a Christian. She wants to live out her Christian faith, but her husband says, “I am getting sick and tired of hearing about this Jesus stuff. If you keep insisting on talking about Jesus and going to church and giving our hard-earned money to the church, then I am out of here.” What is that believing mate supposed to do?

There are some teachers who say, “Do whatever you can to keep the marriage together. The marriage relationship is the most important thing in the world, and if preserving it means you have to quit going to church, then quit going to church. Just keep that marriage together, and you might end up winning that unbelieving mate to the Lord.” But that is not what Paul said. In verse 15, he wrote, “If the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” In fact, Paul went on to say, in essence, “How do you know you are ever going to win that mate to Christ?” No, if they threaten to leave, let them leave. You are no longer under bondage, which means you are free to remarry.

But what if your mate who is a Christian leaves? Well, they may say they are a Christian, but if they leave you, they are acting like a non-Christian. And I believe under that situation, the same words apply–you are not under bondage. You cannot control what somebody else does or does not do. In the case of desertion, God gives you the freedom to remarry.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Good-Grace Marriages” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2020.

Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.