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Unequally yoked: What to do when your husband is an unbeliever
When I married my husband 16 years ago, I thought I was marrying a saved man. Two years in, I realized if he was a Christian, he sure wasn’t living like one.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). Here, Paul specifically writes to the Corinthians to avoid relationships with unbelievers that could test their fidelity to Christ through idol worship. Today, Paul’s words apply to any relationship that can pull us off the path of Jesus.
When we take on the yoke of Christ (Matt. 11:29–30), life is hard plowing when we’re harnessed to an unbeliever, whether the unbeliever is a good friend, a business partner, or a spouse.
Walk in a worthy manner.
Perhaps you are recently saved yourself and when you married, both you and your husband weren’t Christians. Perhaps like me, you thought your husband was a Christian and then realized that to not be true. Perhaps your husband has walked away from Jesus and now rejects him.
In any of these circumstances, you find yourself unequally yoked and in covenant relationship with a man who doesn’t follow The Man, Jesus. What do you do?
1. Pray for him
Pray for your husband’s salvation. Pray for his integrity, his work, his friendships, his priorities, his mind, his health, his protection, and his future.
When it comes to intercessory prayer, your man is at the top of your list. And pray for yourself, too, as your husband’s wife, that you will love, honor, and serve him in such a way that is only explained by Jesus.
2. Respect him
Even though your husband doesn’t respect God, that doesn’t mean you have the right to disrespect your husband. You’re in Christ and Ephesians 5:33 still applies.
Show him honor in private and in front of others. Never discredit or mock him. “But I don’t respect him so how can I show him respect?” you may ask. What are the things your husband does that are respectable? Does he provide for the family? Is he a good father? Does he know how to calm you down? Even if it’s only one respectable thing, let him know you appreciate it.
My marriage turned when I began to respect my husband with my actions. Eventually, respecting with my hands led to a respect for my husband in my head and in my heart. And in response, he began to love me more (Eph. 5:33).
3. Submit to him
As Christian wives, we submit to our husbands, even our non-believing husbands. Just because he doesn’t submit to God, doesn’t mean you have the right to lead the family.
My biggest mistake in the early years of our marriage was not submitting to my husband. It made my husband’s heart harder to me and to Jesus. Of course, submission never requires you to participate in sin, unlawful activity, or your own abuse or the abuse of others.
A Christian wife submits to her husband by allowing him to lead the family in major decisions after mutual input. If “the tie goes to the runner,” submission to a Christian wife means your husband is the runner.
4. Walk in a worthy manner
If we’re not respecting or submitting to our non-Christian husbands, we’re not walking in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1).
Often, our husbands see the real woman, not the façade we present to others. If you are living a duplicitous life, your man will be on to you. You are the Christian your husband sees everyday. Live your life in such a way that he notices you are different (Matt. 5:16). My friend’s unbelieving husband often praises her about how she disciples their children and serves the church.
5. Repent to him
Even though we are saints in Christ, we still struggle with sin. Wives, you and I sin against our husbands, and we should repent to them. When you repent to your unbelieving husband, you represent Jesus’ gospel in a practical way. You show him that you are not perfect and that being a Christian is not about what we do; it’s about who we are in Christ.
If your husband thinks he is unworthy of salvation, your repentance demonstrates that we all sin and that God saves us in spite of ourselves. Your repentance to your husband is a gateway to reveal how repentance to God acknowledges our unworthiness and his grace toward us.
When my husband wasn’t a Christian, I never repented to him about anything. I was full of pride thinking I was better than him because I was a Christian.
6. Wait for opportunity
Other Christians with good intentions may admonish you to witness to your husband frequently, but your life and your marriage will be challenging if you act like a street preacher to the man who sleeps next to you every night. Don’t hide who you are or what you believe, but don’t harangue him.
Pray for the right moment to witness. Often, it will come in the midst of your husband’s struggle, pain, or loss. If he knows what you believe, he will turn to you for answers for what to him seems like the unanswerable.
We don’t have the ability to save ourselves or to save others—only Jesus does that through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s work. Evangelizing to your husband without the Holy Spirit is like roping the wind.
7. Loosen your grip
Years ago, I prayed to Jesus that if my marriage was as good as it would ever be I would stay in it, that if my husband’s heart would never soften, I would trust Jesus. God gives us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4) if those desires are his will and for his glory. I wasn’t giving up—I was loosening my grip.
In my own strength, I couldn’t make my husband accept Jesus. I got out of the way to let the Holy Spirit work on my husband’s heart . . . which he did.
Many times, you will not want to submit or be respectful, but the Holy Spirit will empower you to do so. Even if you do everything I’ve listed, you cannot save your man. Just as you need the Holy Spirit to do the Christian life, so your husband needs the Holy Spirit to open his eyes and break his resistance to the saving work of Jesus.