by Dave Willis
I was talking with a lady at our church on Sunday and with tears in her eyes she started to tell me about the struggles in her marriage. With a trembling voice, she said, “My marriage is falling apart. You might not have even know that I’m married, because my husband never comes to church with me. He’s not a Christian. It’s like we live on two different planets. Our value systems, beliefs and worldviews are miles apart. My faith is the most important part of my life; but I can’t share it with him, because when I do, he just accuses me of preaching at him. I feel like we keep drifting further and further apart. I pray about it everyday and I do everything in my power to improve our relationship, but nothing seems to work. What should I do?”
I’ve been working with married couples for a long time, and as a pastor, one of the biggest marital challenges I hear from people within the church is the same challenge this lady is facing. God knew this scenario could create a lot of heartache, so he gives explicit warnings in the Scriptures for a Believer not to marry a Nonbeliever. No matter how much chemistry and compatibility you might think you have with someone, if one of you is a Christian and one is not, DON’T get married. God’s commands are always for our protection.
Once you’re already married, you can’t build a time machine, so the Bible’s instructions on whom to marry (or not to marry) don’t apply. The Bible has very specific instructions for this scenario as well. I’m going to put the most direct passage of Scripture on this matter below and then unpack five practical ways I believe every Christian should respond when married to a Non-Christian:
“Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a fellow believer has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?” -1 Corinthians 7:12-16
In light of this passage and all the Bible has to teach on marriage, I believe every Christian who is married to a nonbeliever should do four specific things.
1. PROMOTE PEACE
1 Corinthians 7:12-16 reminds us that we are called to live in peace. Practically speaking, this means that you shouldn’t go picking fights with your spouse. Don’t try to use guilt, manipulation or demands to get them to see things from your perspective. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers. (Matthew 5:9)” Strive to be the one who resolves conflicts in your marriage; not the one who starts them.
It’s important to remember that peace is more than just the absence of conflict. When Jesus spoke of “Peace,” in his language the word was “Shalom.” This Hebrew concept of “Peace” (Shalom) was partially about the absence of conflict, but even more, it was about the presence of something. It was about inviting God’s presence into whatever conflicts you’re facing and allowing His peace, grace and strength to carry you through. Jesus is the Prince of Peace; not the King of Chaos. If your marriage feels chaotic right now, invite Jesus to bring peace. Little by little you’ll feel his presence bringing peace to your mind, your heart and eventually your home.
2. SHARE YOUR FAITH BY YOUR ACTIONS
The most compelling “sermons” come through actions and not just words. You are probably not going to talk your husband/wife into becoming a Christian, but your actions can make your faith seem so attractive that he/she might become interested. Even if they never accept Christ, your home is still going to have more peace and joy if you’re living out a Christian example of love and grace.
Remember that living out faith at home is the most difficult place to live it out, but it’s also the most important place. If you have children, model your faith to them (and your spouse) by your words, the tone in which you speak those words, your acts of service, your acts of grace and your acts of love. Your actions might prove to be the most compelling sermon your family ever hears.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” -1 John 3:18
3. DON’T TRY TO FIX, CHANGE OR JUDGE YOUR SPOUSE
Just love them. The rest is God’s business. It’s human nature to want to fix people or change them to see things from our perspective. Nowhere in the Bible are we ever commanded to fix people or change people. We’re called to love people. For your unbelieving spouse, he/she needs your love even in those moments when they’re not being lovable. A person usually needs love the most in those moments when they “deserve” it the least.
As a Christian, you’re called to love above all else. Remember that Love is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4), so be patient and kind towards your spouse. You will never be held accountable for the decisions that your spouse ultimately makes, but you will be held accountable for how you loved him or her. Don’t try to change your spouse; just love them. Love is the primary tool God uses to change us all.
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” -1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Prayer is powerful and it always brings results. Sometimes God uses prayer to change our circumstances, and sometimes He uses prayer to simply change our perspective about our circumstances. Pray for your spouse daily. You might be the only person in his/her life who is praying for him/her. Pray for his/her salvation. Pray that God would help you to love him/her selflessly. Pray that God would give you strength, grace and encouragement on those days you feel alone in your marriage. Remember that Jesus is with you and He’s never going to leave you or forsake you.
When you pray, picture yourself taking all that worry and frustration you’re feeling because of your spouse and placing it in Jesus’ hands. The Bible says we can cast all our worries and care on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” -Philippians 4:6