Tim Challies

Every now and again I like to write about one of the Bible’s tricky texts—those passages in the Bible that Christians tend to misunderstand and misuse. 1 Corinthians 7:10-12 is just that kind of text. In these verses Paul makes two statements about divorce. Before one he says, “not I, but the Lord” and before the other, “I, not the Lord.” Here is the text:

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.

When I come across this text in books or blogs, I often find authors suggesting that in the first statement Paul is drawing upon a statement that is binding on all Christians while in the second he is either expressing humility or a kind of personal opinion. In either case, they highlight the full authority of the first statement and then diminish the authority of the second statement, saying something like, “Paul was humble enough to say that this was simply his understanding of the situation” or “In the second statement Paul was expressing his personal opinion.”

However, the contrast here is not between divine revelation and personal opinion. Rather, the contrast is between two different kinds of authority, each of which is from God and each of which is fully authoritative and fully binding.

In the New Testament we find the new Christians drawing upon three different sources of authority: The Old Testament scriptures; the teachings of Jesus; and new revelation given to the Apostles. Each of these was considered authoritative revelation from God. So sometimes we see New Testament Christians drawing from the Old Testament, sometimes from words Jesus spoke while he was on earth, and sometimes from new teachings given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Never do we find these sources of authority ranked or contrasted as if one is more important or authoritative than the others.

As we come to 1 Corinthians 7:10 we find Paul speaking about divorce and drawing directly from the words of Jesus. Jesus had said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12). These words had been spoken, remembered, recorded, and made an integral part of the Christian teaching on marriage and divorce. On this basis Paul could says, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.“ He makes it clearly that he is reiterating what Jesus said.

But as Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he wishes to address an area that Jesus did not speak to specifically. While Jesus taught extensively, he did not teach exhaustively. One area he did not speak to is the case of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. So as Paul addresses it, he does so by prefacing his words with “I, not the Lord.” In his commentary on 1 Corinthians Anthony Thistleton suggests it may be better to understand Paul as saying, “a saying of the Lord” and “not a saying of the Lord.” “To the rest I say (not a saying of the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.” He does not mean to say that his words carry less authority or that they are less binding on the Christian; rather, he is making it clear to them that this is a new teaching given by God through one of his Apostles. This makes it a teaching that carries every bit as much of the authority as Jesus’ words. Why? Because it is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Though it did not come from the mouth of Jesus, it is still the word of God and binding on the Christian.

How should we use this text? We should use it to teach what God wants us to know about divorce and remarriage and what God wants us to know about Christians married to unbelievers. We need to highlight that both parts are fully authoritative because both parts are fully inspired by God.


If-you-have-to-win-in-your-marriage-then-you-married-a-loserWe love winners.

  • Go! Fight! Win!
  • Winners never lose and losers never win.
  • We play the game to win the game.

I’ve noticed from nearly two decades of counseling how many Christians have taken up a winner’s ideology and have incorporated winning at all costs into their marriages.

I got to thinking that since winning is such a strong desire within these marriages, it would probably be helpful to have a game plan for hearty competition. I mean, who wants to lose? God loves winners and you don’t want to be caught up on the wrong side of marital posturing.

These ten tips for winning are written for guys and gals in an effort to level the playing field. Of course, you can make all ten of them your own and if you do it well, then in no time your spouse will be thoroughly defeated.

And remember, to the victor goes the spoils. So, let’s have one big collective chest bump, followed by high-fives all around, and then launch into these marriage altering tips. And in the words of the great apostle,

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. – 1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV) 

Tip #1 – Always have the last word

I know James talked about being quick to listen and slow to speak, but if you want to win, you have to have the last word (James 1:19). I’ve found one of the most effective ways to accomplish this feat is to not listen to my spouse.

What you do while she is talking is formulate what you want to say next. You let her wax on while you’re figuring out how to trump whatever it is she wants to say. If she is given to talking a lot and you’re a little slow on the uptake, then you will have more time to come back at her.

Tip #2 – Get her with a cheap shot

Corrupting speech, like criticism and sarcasm, are effective here. This is counter to Paul’s appeal in Ephesians 4:29 about building up the other person, but we’re talking about winning.

Sarcasm literally means to cut the flesh. It’s like a meat cutter who cuts away the parts that have no value. When you use sarcasm on your spouse, it’s a way to devalue her. No doubt this will put her in her place as you get a leg up on the marriage competition.

Tip #3 – Twist her words to tie her up

This tip is for the more advanced pugilist. It requires a certain amount of mental dexterity to twist your wife up, but she is the weaker vessel and if you’re any kind of man, you should be able to win this battle too.

One of the keys here is to harden your conscience. Per chance the Spirit of God tries to break in on what you’re doing, you’ll need to go into rationalization or excuse mode so you can mute your inner voice (Romans 2:14-15). It’s hard to make this play on your wife if you’re not self-deceived. Bummer.

Tip #4 – Push the “it’s not my job” world view

A man’s work is outside the home and the woman’s work is inside the home. To push this anti-biblical agenda make it your practice to come home and go coma on her. Grab the remote and start surfing the 900+ channels on your TV or bury yourself in the World Wide Web.

You can also guilt trip her by making a few well-placed criticisms about how she keeps the home. The home is your castle and she’s the keeper of it. Most women want to do well here so if you keep the dangled carrot out in front of her, she will always be trying harder to please you. Think Avis here.

Tip #5 – Never be wrong

Admitting your mistakes is weakness. Though John wants us to confess our sins (1 John 1:7-10), the strong man never has sins to confess. This will require more self-deception on your part, but if you have any game at all, you can do this.

Justification will be your best friend. To justify is to declare not guilty. Now, we know only the LORD can justify, but we’re talking about winning, right? If you continually declare yourself as not guilty, your wife will soon get the message and give up trying to convince you of anything. You will win and she will be sufficiently whooped if you’re from the northern states or whupped if you’re from the southern states.


Okay ladies. Here are a few tips to get the ball rolling to your side of the court. With much practice you could be a primary source of discouragement to your husband.

Tip #6 – Withhold encouragement

Paul talked about how kindness is the ingredient the LORD uses to motivate a person to change (Romans 2:4). To be kind is to build up. It’s a way to motivate by grace. Always looking for evidences of God’s kindness in your husband’s life.

If you withhold encouragement he will begin to be demoralized. This is what I call the whipped pup syndrome. If you’re not kind to him, he will begin to shutdown. Your once strong and positive guy will fold like cheap laundry.

Tip #7 – Nag him to death

The last tip was about withholding something. This tip is about giving him something. Become the dripping faucet Solomon talked about (Proverbs 27:15). Your critical words will be like spears to his heart.

Eventually he will die by a thousand paper cuts. To withhold encouragement while being critical to him is the perfect one-two punch that will end in a knockout every time. You will quickly have him waving the white flag.

Tip #8 – Be over-sensitive

The key for this tip is to put him on eggshells. This is a counter-intuitive move. The way to win is to be weak. It’s kinda like the Bible (2 Corinthians 4:7). If you become the fragile vase Peter talks about (1 Peter 3:7), always emotional and irrational, he may acquiesce and give up on the marriage.

You will have him so paranoid that he’ll be afraid to say or do anything. Keep him guessing. This is your rope-a-dope move. He will never know how you will respond. At that point, you own him.

Tip #9 – Over-commit so you’re always tired

Over-scheduling your life will kill any marriage. Your goal is to always be on the go. Be busy during the day and be tired during the night. This will motivate your husband to find others things to do. Just pray the “other things” is not another woman.

If you have children, this will be easy for you. Get them signed up in as many extra-curricula activities as possible. Kill marriage time and crank up the van. After the kids are sufficiently catered to and can be selfish without you making life all about them, you will need another hobby. The key here is to be busy and to be tired.

Tip #10 – Bring up past wrongs

Never ever let go of the past. You will not have to worry about his current screw-ups if you keep prancing the past in front of him. If you guys had sex before marriage, then it’s a done deal. He will never be able to overcome that faux pas.

God has wired him to be a leader. The more you remind him of his personal failures the more you will be able to disembody what the LORD put in him. Eventually he will lose all heart and accept your critique: he is a loser.

One final thought on losing 

Jesus was a loser according to many people. Even His closest friends were tripped up by His leadership style (Mark 8:32). At the end of His life, they all left Him (Matthew 26:56). They could not accept losing as the way to victory. After all of His teaching, they still did not understand the backwardness of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

But many who are first will be last, and the last first. – Matthew 19:30 (ESV)

So the last will be first, and the first last.” – Matthew 20:16 (ESV)

They did not want to be last and they did not want to lose. They were like us: winning was all that mattered. To actually grab a towel and a basin of water was beneath them (John 13:1-17).

To give your life for someone else is a bridge too far for the selfish mind to grasp (John 15:13Mark 10:45Ephesians 5:25). They were myopic in their vision of God’s plan for others (Hebrews 12:2).

If you can’t embrace losing, as in being second in your marriage, then you will be the biggest loser of all (Ephesians 5:21). Not only will you go down swinging, but you will take your marriage down with you.

To win at all costs creates an unbiblical competition between two people. This can be at its most acute within the marriage covenant. When a couple becomes competitors, the marriage is lost. When winning or losing are the most important things in a relationship, then the marriage is fast-tracking toward dysfunction.

If any of the ten tips describe you, then I appeal to you to change. You will not win at marriage or any other relationship if you refuse to humble yourself and take on the counter-intuitive life of Jesus.

I’m going to leave you with a few assessment questions to discuss with your spouse. If you can’t discuss these things without getting in an argument, then you need help now.

Tip #1 – Seek to listen, not to speak

  • How active do you listen?
  • Is your goal to help your spouse to be clear or to get your points made?
  • Do you know how to draw out your spouse so she can be a more effective communicator?

Tip #2 – Uplift her with your words

  • Would your spouse characterize you as an encourager? Why or why not?
  • Do you actively seek to find ways to say “thank you” to your spouse?
  • Are you regularly thanking God for your spouse? If not, why not?

Tip #3 – Give her space and grace to speak

  • Do you create contexts of grace that free her to express all of her thoughts?
  • Do you give her lots of room to make communication mistakes, because it’s not about saying it perfect? It’s about understanding her.
  • Are you regularly reflecting on your wife, seeking to understand her more effectively? What does that look like?

Tip #4 – Your job continues after you arrive home

  • Are you proactively planning on your trip home how to serve your wife? If not, why not?
  • Are you regularly asking her how you can be a more effective servant to her?
  • How do you need to change in these areas?

Tip #5 – You are not entirely sanctified

  • Do you have a biblical self-suspicion about yourself?
  • Are you quicker to admit your wrongs than her wrongs?
  • What is it about you that makes it hard to confess your sins to your spouse?

Tip #6 – The kindness of God leads to change

  • Can you not resist saying kind things to your spouse?
  • What does your spouse receive the most from you: your displeasure or your encouragement?
  • What needs to change regarding your communication?

Tip #7 – Contentment is a beautiful jewel

  • How does your husband experience your discontentment? How do you need to change?
  • Do you regularly identify grumbling and biblically repent? If not, why not?
  • In what ways has your spouse become an idol?

Tip #8 – God is your strength

  • How does the grace of God help you to take every thought captive? See 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
  • In what ways are you over-sensitive and how does that speak to the idols of your heart?
  • What do you fear regarding your marriage or what are you afraid of in your marriage?

Tip #9 – Calendar planning is a stewardship issue

  • How do you need to change your calendar to change your marriage?
  • Does your husband get your best time or your leftover time?
  • How do you both need to change to make each other a “calendar time” priority?

Tip #10 – The Gospel neutralizes all sin

  • Are there past sins you guys have not resolved? If not, why not?
  • If past sins are neutralized and delivered to God, do you still bring them up for marital review? Why?
  • How does your self-righteousness play out in your marriage? Self righteousness is a “greater than/better than” attitude.

Will you please talk to your spouse about these things? If that is not possible, will you appeal to your local church authority to speak into your marriage? If that is not possible, will you reach out to our Member community?