7:12 But 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. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet 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. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
This may sound confusing and even strange but with a little examination it all comes together. Though not stated explicitly in this letter we know from his other writings that Paul was against marriages between a believer and an unbeliever. Apparently people took this counsel to the extreme. Sam and Sarah are married and worshipping Diana. He's a silversmith making and selling idols of Diana in the market square down town. Paul comes to town and Sam hears about Jesus for the first time. He believes. He sells his business. His wife is confused and unimpressed. How will they live? What is this strange new religion anyway? Sam starts gathering with the believers in Corinth. He hears through the group rumblings that believers should not be married with unbelievers. Things are tense at home and Sam has and sincere desire to follow Jesus in every way. He goes home and tells his wife that because she doesn't believe their marriage must end. Their children are confused and upset. It seems their happy life has not only be turned upside down by dad's strange new obsession but now it's over. Whoever this Jesus guy was they hate Him. They hate Paul. They hate everything about this crazy cult...
Paul finds out that his advice was misunderstood and irresponsibly misapplied. In response he addresses the situation while writing to the church. He never said a new believer should divorce their spouse. What he did say was that a believer should not enter into a new marriage with an unbeliever because Jesus said "Can two walk together unless they be in agreement?"
Paul’s advice to a person who comes to belief in Jesus is to stay in their marriage. A person truly following Jesus becomes a better person, a better spouse, a better lover, a better everything. Nothing should be a better argument for following Jesus than seeing the positive impact it has on anyone. If their spouse was not convinced by Paul's preaching and can't wrap their head around the new and strange teachings, the changes in their partner should be the most compelling argument of all.
Not only that but what about the impact of all this on children. Children may not understand religious theories or teachings but they understand love. A parent who leaves no matter the reason will be seen by them as betrayal of the worst kind. However if the believing parent stays and becomes a more loving spouse and parent they will notice. The presence of Jesus in the life of one person will have a positive winning influence on everyone in the home.
Some of you reading may be saying "That's not what happened in my house!"
There are mainly two possibilities. One is that the other spouse simply resented and resisted no matter how winsome the changes were. If Satan could resist the love of God certainly a spouse can resist the first fumbling steps of a baby Christian. Paul says if they do resist and want to leave, let them go no matter how painful. Above all things love is freedom. Love never forces. If you release them they may see what they are missing and return. If you attempt to force the issue the resistance and resentment will just build.
The second possibility is the the new believer is following religion rather than the person Jesus. By so doing love and compassion and understanding may not be present. In their place are rigid rules, forceful new ideas, and coldness toward those who do not comply. Not everything that exists under the Christian banner is actually Christ-like.
At the end of the day the counsel is simple. If you have found Jesus and chosen Him as your Lord and Saviour than love Him and serve Him while loving your family better than you ever did before. If you win them over what a blessing. If they resist and leave it may be the most painful experience but keep loving them anyway even if from a distance. We love God because He first loved us. The only power for positive change is love. Never try and replace it with cohersion, manipulation, or force.
Love suffers long and is kind...