What to remember if you're married to an unbelieverWritten by Focus on the Family Canada
What's inside this article
Marriage is not easy. It constantly requires adjustments, considering another person’s views, not getting your own way and assessing what is best for more than just yourself. When two people relate in such intense and intimate ways, it is challenging. It is that much more so for a couple that does not have a basic foundation of shared faith.
Faith, or what Christians would call having a relationship with God, is a core part of who a person is. If we take our relationship with God seriously, it influences everything we think, say and do. A life of discipleship is one that asks the constant questions: "How does God see this?" and "What would He want me to do?"
It is a bit (though so much more) like having a best friend whom your spouse cannot tolerate. There can be tension, competition, suspicion, jealousy and compromise. You try to balance meeting the needs of each of those individuals, especially if there is some degree of hostility between them.
Young Christian people often hear admonitions not to be "unequally yoked" (2 Corinthians 6:14) with those who do not share their faith. If they are wise, they will heed these warnings. God is trying to save them unnecessary grief.
However, many find themselves married to unbelievers for other reasons. Some become believers after their marriage, and their spouses do not join them in their faith. Others marry those who profess to be Christians, but who later fall away and decide not to follow God. So, let’s be careful not to judge one another when we speak with believers who are married to unbelievers. Instead, let’s acknowledge the extra measure of grace that is needed to thrive in these unions.
Wisdom and discernment
Christians married to unbelievers need several things in order to do well in these relationships. First, they need wisdom and discernment to keep their priorities focused where they belong. God’s will must always come first, but what is God calling them to do when there are instances of apparent conflict with an unbelieving spouse? Sometimes they will need to stand for righteousness; other times, submitting for the sake of peace is a better choice. Both are Biblical responses; the question becomes, Which is the right choice in each circumstance?
Second, they need Christian community to build them up in their faith. Some unbelieving spouses resent it when their spouse goes to church or Bible study or becomes so involved in the church that they feel neglected. The believer needs fellowship and encouragement in their Christian walk, but there are many ways to participate in these things without causing additional conflict in the marriage. The community can also join with the believer in praying for the salvation of the unbelieving spouse.
Courage and support
Third, they will need courage and support if they are ever faced with a choice that requires them to put God’s will over their spouse’s wishes. Sometimes it is easier to just compromise in order to keep things comfortable, but occasionally the believer will be convinced something is morally wrong and they must take a stand. An example might be a wife whose unbelieving husband wants her to participate in an immoral activity which she clearly knows violates God’s will.
Friendship with other believers
Finally, they need friendship with other believers whom they have things in common with – which may or may not include activities as couples. Many an unbeliever has been won to the Lord when a Christian couple invited an unequally yoked couple to enjoy activities with them as friends, not making their faith a focus of their friendship but letting the unbeliever know that if and when s/he is interested, they would be glad to share that part of their lives as well. Believing spouses are also greatly blessed when they are included in Christian groups that centre around things they have in common – such as children, hobbies, Christian service projects, Bible study or study of other Christian topics. In these contexts, it is not so important or obvious that their spouse does not share their faith, as the focus is on what they do have in common with these other believers.
If you are a believer married to an unbeliever, seek to incorporate these needs into your life. If you are a believer married to a believer, consider reaching out in support and friendship to a friend or church member who is in this position, so that they will feel less isolated and more supported. And if you are not yet married, consider carefully choosing someone who shares your faith – it won’t make everything perfect, but you will have many advantages as you merge your lives into one.
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