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 (NLT)
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 the following four things:
1. Promote Peace.
The passage above reminds us that we are called to live in peace (1 Cor. 7:15). 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.
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.
3. Don’t try to fix, change or judge your spouse. Just love them. The rest is God’s business.
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.
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. 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.