The biggest impediment to keeping faith with Jesus might be a good man or a good woman — or at least a man or a woman who wants me.
I have often wondered out loud how long it will be before a new follower of Jesus is derailed by a new unbelieving boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes it seems like such a person is sent to the newly-faithful to see how faithful they want to be!
Almost everybody wants to love. The newly faithful are good to love. It is ironic that just as they start accessing a deeper way to love, the very thing that faith unleashes is the very thing that can do faith in! Jesus saves a needy person, brings them into community; they get stabilized and processed a bit, and they immediately use their newly softened heart to connect to someone who disconnects them from Jesus! Or if the person is OK with Jesus, in the abstract (in the, “It’s so cute that you are a Christian,” kind of way), they disconnect their sweet believer from the community and mission that is not that cute. This is a significant struggle right now all over our network.
Figuring out how faithful people mate has been a struggle from the beginning. Paul, in particular, talks about it quite a bit in the Bible. He really gets into the subject with the church in Corinth, Greece. He has a lot to say in his letters to his dear friends about how they are relating, and we have been pondering his revelations ever since. This is the group to whom he writes the famous 1 Corinthians 13 about love. This is the part of that chapter which is often excerpted for weddings:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
When Jesus frees a person to love like this, they are a very attractive mate! Many people are glad to receive the Jesus-like love of a Jesus follower as long as the lover doesn’t bring Jesus along with His love. And many people who love like Jesus are very hesitant to unhook from a person who doesn’t like Jesus precisely because they have learned to hope and persevere in love like Jesus!
Maybe that is why Paul wrote again in 2 Corinthians 6 about being overly involved with people who are not involved with Jesus. He says not to get “yoked together” with unbelievers, like mismatched farm animals trying to get some plowing done. Animals that are yoked conform to each other’s ways or they constantly chafe under the yoke. When it comes to followers of Jesus connecting with people following something else, it can be a bad situation for both parties. When a Christian is intimate with an unbeliever, it is like inviting someone to defile the “temple of the living God,” Paul teaches, since the Spirit of God resides in His people. Paul is not saying that an unbeliever is all bad or that he or she can’t be loved and redeemed. He’s saying that they don’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into, and they should not be lured into taking it lightly. Likewise, the believer should not try to hide their light so an unbeliever is comfortable in their dark, as if that were possible, anyway. It is not good for either party. Something has to live or something has to die.
Paul has a long discussion about what to do about these situations in 1 Corinthians 7. The message of Jesus has come to Corinth and there are quite a few marriages and engagements among the new believers that have been impacted, so Paul wants to talk about what to do. His main advice is that if a person can manage to not get entangled in sex and marriage at all, that’s a good thing. But I don’t think he really thinks that is going to happen for 95% of the people, so he tries to help sort things out. He says that people who are married when they come to faith should stay married. Don’t desert your mate just because they don’t come to faith. But if they leave you, don’t feel bound to them; let yourself move on. To people who aren’t married when they come to faith he says it would be just as well to stay unmarried, because if you get intimate with someone, they are going to hold sway over you – heart, mind and body; who they are is going to make a big difference in who you can be. So if you need to get married (and that is a good thing), make sure that Jesus can live with the person you marry. It is better to stay single than to be yoked to someone who is uncomfortable being yoked to Jesus.
Like Paul feels the need to talk to his loved ones about the specifics of making love relationships, about marriage, and about how they are having sex, we need to keep talking, too. The love of God poured out on us in Jesus is making us whole and setting us free to be our true selves. It is also making us very attractive to people who need our love, and many of them have no clue about the bondage they are in and the false selves to which they are committed. We need to be honest with ourselves about the limits of who we are in Jesus. We need to be honest with our lovers about what relating to us really means. We’re going to love them; that is what we do. But so is Jesus, and they need to let him be in the relationship, since He’s not going anywhere.