For several weeks, I saw her walk in alone, then leave alone. On most Sundays, she would sneak in during the middle of the morning worship set. Other times, she would find a seat in the last row, just as I was getting ready to preach.
I would soon discover her story. She and her husband had met in college. One year after graduation, they walked down the aisle and began taking their first steps of walking through life together. But everything changed during an Easter service she and her husband had been invited to. On that day, God would grip her heart by grace – a Lover she would choose, but her husband would reject.
She now found her marriage not destroyed but divided. She was committed to knowing and following Christ. Her husband? Not yet. Like so many couples who find themselves in this situation, she was torn. She loved her husband and their marriage. They enjoyed a great life together. But she was torn over what to do now that she was a Christian and he was not.
The good and hopeful news is that God’s Word is not silent for couples who find themselves in this situation after marriage. A great example is 1 Corinthians 7:12-14:
If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
It’s important to note what Paul says NOT to do! He tells a spouse, who is living with an unbelieving spouse, not to leave. Faithfulness can work in the favor of an unbelieving spouse. They are “sanctified” (vs. 14) or made holy through you because of Christ’s presence in you. In other words, your relationship with an unbelieving spouse doesn’t save them, but it does benefit them. It has the potential and power, to influence them. Your marriage provides an opportunity and environment for them to begin to experience God’s love, grace, and truth, gently leading them closer to a saving relationship, by faith, in Jesus.
So while this dynamic can be hard and challenging, there is great hope for a Christian spouse living with a non-Christian spouse. Here are four quick reminders of how you can not only live with an unbelieving spouse, but also love them!
- Be prudent
We have a spiritual enemy who would love to redirect and distort our desire for spiritual intimacy with someone else who is not our husband or wife. Be careful of looking to fill what is lacking in your marriage with what is present in someone else. Stay alert. Abide deeply in Christ. And be wise about guarding your heart from Satan’s attacks. Love your spouse faithfully and fully, even if they do not yet share your love for Christ.
- Be purposeful
God has designed marriage with purpose. If you are a husband and your wife is an unbeliever, God’s purpose for you is to still love and cherish your wife in the same way as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-29). You are to lovingly lead her, serve her, treasure her, and stay faithful to her. Likewise, wives, you are to love and respect your husband (! Peter 3:1:4). God’s bigger mission for marriage is not just what we get out of marriage, but how we can glorify God in marriage. Our position in marriage doesn’t change our purpose in marriage.
- Be prayerful
While it might be tempting to write Bible verses on every mirror in the house, always leave the radio in the car on the Christian station, or try to argue your spouse into believing, one of the best things we can do is pray often for them. Be patient because God is at work. God loves your spouse even more than you do. In faith, go to Him often. Pray specifically that God would soften his or her heart, opening their eyes to see who Jesus is. Pray that God would bring other people into their lives to influence them. Pray, pray, pray.
- Be persuasive
And lastly, let your life be the greatest argument there is for the truthfulness of Jesus. Speak wisely, planting seeds of truth as God provides opportunity. Invite them to join you. Be open with your spouse about your desire to see them come to know God’s love for them. Do everything you can, in word and deed, to win your spouse over with your life. Let your life be an on-going gospel presentation.
Whatever you do, don’t lose heart. God has you where He wants you. He has you where He can use you to influence your spouse. So don’t just live with your unbelieving spouse, love your unbelieving spouse. Keep being prudent, purposeful, prayerful, and persuasive, as God’s power is working in you and through you.
Patrick Schwenk is a husband, father, pastor, and author. Along with his, wife, Patrick is the creator of For the Family and the author of For Better or For Kids: A Vow to Love Your Spouse with Kids in the House.