Sunday, October 08, 2006

Matt's Messages - Married to an Unbeliever

"Married to an Unbeliever”
October 8, 2006
1 Peter 3:1-6

We are returning today, to our Fall series of sermons on Home Improvement: Building Our Families on the Gospel. Think back and you will remember that we’ve had three weeks together in this series. The first was an introduction to the series and a vision for the family [Remember all the props?]. The second week was about male headship in our families–God has designated men to be the leaders of their families. And the third week got us into marriage by God’s design–wives joyfully submitting, husbands sacrificially loving.

We’re going to keep talking about marriage for the next three weeks. Next week, as you’ll note on page three of your bulletin, I’ve added a message about romance and sex in marriage. Come back next week to hear about sex! Pray for me as I prepare that message. We’re going to dip into the Song of Solomon next week, and I’ve never preached from there before. So pray for me. And then the next week will be about conflict and divorce. Then we’ll move off of marriage into parenting.

This week, as we have heard in our testimony, we’re going to talk about being spiritually single. Married but spiritually single. What the old King James Version called being “unequally yoked.” In other words a Christian married to an unbeliever. “Married to an Unbeliever.”

Now, in my thinking, there are three main ways to become married to an unbeliever. And they are all very different.

The first way is BY GETTING SAVED.

You are an unbeliever (a non-Christian)–you might not even know that you aren’t a Christian–and you marry an unbeliever.

And then you hear the gospel, receive it, and get saved.

Where does that leave you?

Married to an unbeliever.

This was the main way that people became spiritually single in the New Testament.

The gospel was just beginning to take root in the Roman Empire, and as it infiltrated cities, it also infiltrated homes. And not always did both spouses become believers.

So, a few different times in the New Testament, the apostles left teaching for us on how to live while married to an unbeliever. This morning, we’re going to look at the fullest of those passages.

The second way to become married to an unbeliever is BY BEING FOOLED.

You are a Christ-follower, and you marry someone you think is a Christ-follower, but they turn out to not be a Christ-follower.

What do you do?

The Bible says that if they will consent to stay married to you, you stay married to them (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

So, you were fooled, you were surprised, but there you are married to an unbeliever.

You need to know that there is much grace for you. You are not a second class citizen in the kingdom.

And the Lord will help you as you follow Him alone.

The third way is BY BEING FOOLISH.

That is, you are a Christ-follower and you know that this guy or this gal that you are interested in is not a true Christ-follower...but you marry them anyway.

If you are not married yet, don’t go there!

That would be foolish at best and probably disobedient on your part.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6, verse 14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (14-15).

Can he say it any more clearly?

Now, that passage is talking about more than marriages, but it definitely applies to marriages.

To use the construction metaphor: you will have two different foundations, two different building materials, two different houseplans if you choose to be married to an unbeliever. You’re going in two different directions. Don’t go there.

I know that there are powerful forces that want to convince you that it is no big deal (everybody’s doing it), but you need to resist them and marry “in the Lord.”

And I can introduce you to a host of husbands and wives who (as much as they love their spouses) wish today that they had not done that foolish thing then.

Now, if you have done that foolish thing, there is grace for you, too. Don’t feel condemned by me. We love you, and we’ll walk with you through the consequences of your choices. We have all done foolish things and need the body of Christ to grow from them.

And God is full of grace for those who repent and desire to follow Him!

If you are married to an unbeliever because of foolishness, confess that to God, receive His grace, and begin to follow Him faithfully like you should. It won’t be easy, but God is gracious.

I know that it is hard to be married to an unbeliever. There are so many issues that come up: church involvement, parenting: especially if the unbelieving spouse is a man and the believer is a woman and the child is a boy! That makes parenting so difficult.

But God gives grace to the humble.

So humble yourself under the mighty hand God, and He will raise you up in due time.

Now, this morning, we’re going to go to 1 Peter Chapter 3.

As I said, this is the fullest passage on how to live while married to an unbeliever. It is addressed to Christian wives who are married to NonChristian (or we might say pre-Christian) husbands.

Now, I know that husbands can be spiritually single, as well. In a previous church we were a part of, there were quite a few Christian husbands who had wives that didn’t believe. And there are biblical principles for those husbands to follow, as well.

But the majority of spiritually mismatched couples include a Christian wife (I think that’s because of the power of male leadership–when a man believes the Gospel his wife more readily believes and follows as well). But the Gospel is stronger than nonChristian male leadership, too! Praise the Lord for women who follow Christ even when their husbands don’t.

So, this morning, we’ll talk mainly to wives married to unbelieving husbands–though there are principles here for all women.

Let’s read verses 1-6 of 1 Peter 3 and see what Peter has to say to those who are spiritually single.

“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

I see at least four principles here for Christian wives married to an unbeliever.

#1. SUBMIT TO YOUR HUSBAND. V.1 “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands.”

Now, that should sound familiar! We saw that back in Ephesians chapter 5, last time we were together.

Wives should submit to their husbands as unto the Lord.

But we might have thought that that principle wouldn’t apply if you were married to an unbeliever. How do you submit to him?

But in 1 Peter, as our guy’s Sunday School Class is about to find out, submission to unbelieving authorities is a major theme. It runs through chapters 2 and 3 and really shows up some in chapter 4.

Peter says we are to “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men...” (2:13). And that includes Christian wives to unbelieving husbands.

Peter uses the example of Sarah (from Genesis) in v.6 “[Be] like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master.”

Submit to Your Husband.

Now, this command is very simple, but it is not always easy. And in our culture, it is regularly laughed at and scorned.

Today, submission to a husband’s authority and leadership in the home is considered (at best) an out-moded, out-dated relic of ancient history, and (at worst) a practice that is harmful and demeaning to women.

But as you can see here (in v.1 and v.6), it is the very word of God to us. “Wives, be submissive to your husbands.”

Now, don’t forget what that does NOT mean: that a wife is somehow inferior to the husband in worth or value. We’ll see in v.7 that wives are not worth less than husbands (they are equal in Christ!). And it also doesn’t mean that every woman is supposed to submit to every man. This is not the Taliban that says that women are to be treated as inferior creatures who obey whatever man they come into contact with. V.1 says, “YOUR husbands.” Not everyone’s husbands. Your husbands. And it does not mean that the wife is to blindly, unthinkingly obey her husband’s commands. It doesn’t mean that there is never a time for discussion or even dissension. This text assumes that some wives will disagree about Christ! And it, also, certainly does NOT mean husbands subject your wives. Nowhere in the Scriptures are husbands ever called to force their wives to submit to them. Again, this is not an excuse for abuse. Peter calls upon Christian wives to voluntarily choose to submit. It takes a strong woman to do this.

However...it DOES mean to submit. To place yourself under his authority. To allow him to lead you. To (like Sarah did) call him “lord” (small L!) or “master” (small M!). To call your husband the head of the home, the captain, the chief, the foreman, the one in charge.

Submit to Your Husband.

I can think of no better illustration of this principle than my own beautiful wife of 12 years.

One of the most beautiful things about my wife is her Sarah-like submission to me. To me!

▸ She follows me.
▸ She allows me to take the initiative.
▸ She lets me have the last word in decision-making even if she doesn’t see things completely my way.
▸ She places herself under me and my authority, both in public and in private.
▸ She makes me feel like the head of the home.

I don’t deserve a Daughter of Sarah like Heather Joy. But I’m awfully glad I’ve got one!

Just yesterday, we had a fight. A disagreement over something that came to tears. And you know where she left it? In my hands. “I will follow you. I won’t get in the way of what you think is best.”

She was very submissive.

And that’s what you are being called to if you have a husband.

Even if he is not a Christian. Especially (!) if he is not a Christian. V.1 again.

“Wives, in the same way [that everyone who is under authority is supposed to submit–even Jesus Christ did–chpater 2] be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over [battle terminology!] without words by the behavior of their wives.”

Now, notice, this does not say to capitulate to his religious preferences. This does not say sin with him or become an unbeliever and worship Allah at the Mosque with him. Or alcohol at the bar with him (for that matter!). This assumes disagreement and dissension in areas spelled out by your faith.

When he wants to sin, go with God not with him!

But it does say submit to him, too. When you can, follow his lead. Let him call the shots for your family. Don’t buck his leadership. Submit. Follow. Support.

Because it is walk, not talk, that wins the war for unbelieving husbands’ hearts.

There is a war on. It is much more important than the war on terrorism. It is a war for the souls of unbelieving husbands. And the battle is not won (primarily) with words. It is won (v.3) “without words by the behavior of their wives (v.2) when they see the purity and reverence (literally: fear) of your lives.”

Godly walk, not talk, wins the war for unbelieving husband’s hearts. I think that’s the same for unbelieving wives, too.

Not as much by what we say, as how we live.

Christian wives are to live lives of purity (holiness) and reverence (the fear of God).

And when they do, these daughters of Sarah will often win the great war for the eternal soul of their husbands.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you don’t talk to them about Jesus at all. It doesn’t mean that you don’t share the gospel with them or share what you are learning in your Bible. It does mean that you don’t nag and that you know that living the gospel is going to be the most effective weapon in your war.

Submit in Godly purity and Godly reverence to your husband.

In our last church, there was woman named whose husband was an unbeliever almost violently opposed to the gospel. He was jealous of her time. She was very gifted in ministry to women and wanted on many occasions to be involved in the leadership of women’s ministry and lead Bible studies. But this husband didn’t want her to do those things. So this lady had a lot of hard decisions to make regularly. She decided to attend worship on Sundays because she believed God called her to that (and she had to obey God rather than man). But she was very careful to not take on too many other responsibilities at church and even in her beloved women’s ministry to be ready to do what and when her husband wanted.

In our three years there, the husband’s heart began to soften. He saw in her a life of reverence and purity and yet her Christianity did not make her less of a wife to him, but more. And he even attended church from time to time and came to a couple of men’s ministry events. We are still praying for this guy, but the ground of his heart has become more cultivated and prepared for the seed of the gospel. All because she submitted to him.

Is this easy? Not always. I don’t pretend to think that this easy! But it is crucial for the salvation of unbelieving husbands and the glorification of God, and it is God’s will for all of the wives here this morning.

The second thing that you should do if you are married to an unbeliever:

2. BEAUTIFY YOUR INSIDES. V.3

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

This is a strong word to the women of our day. Godly women spend their time, energy, and resources in beautifying their insides–their spirit, their heart–not their outsides.

So many women do not. The cosmetic industry in America in multi-billion. The women’s clothes section of the department store is the biggest of all the departments. There are two dozen magazines at Wal-Mart to tell you how to dress to attract a man and to be popular and to fit into our culture. Women spend time, money, and energy trying to look like Katie Holmes or Jennifer Anniston or Paris Hilton or [fill in the blank with the latest so-called “beauty” from People magazine]. Some women can take hours in the bathroom getting their face ready to meet the day and not spend 15 minutes on their knees or in the Word.

We are training our daughters (and allowing our daughters!) to focus on EXTERNAL BEAUTY when what is (v.4) “valuable in God’s sight” is INTERNAL BEAUTY.

Ladies, don’t you want to do what is valuable in God’s sight? Don’t give in to the pull of culture and make this mistake. God values inner beauty over outer beauty. So cultivate that. Spend your time, energy, and resources on becoming godly not gussying up your outer shell.

Teen girls, I especially talking to you.

In Peter’s day, they were trying to do that with (v.3) braided hair, gold jewelry, and the wearing of clothes. And Christian women are still trying to use those things to get beautiful. Just add to this sentence: curling irons, hair dryers, make-up kits, wardrobes, make-over magazines, and supermodel role-models.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This verse does not say to try to look ugly. It doesn’t even say (as some people have said in the history of the church) that a woman should not wear jewelry or get her hair done. If it was saying that it is also saying that a woman shouldn’t wear clothes! (V.3!)

It says, “Don’t find your beauty in those things! Ladies, don’t focus on them! Don’t get caught up in the externals of hair, jewelry, and clothing. They all fade away. But unfading beauty is on the inside and must be cultivated.”

Ask yourself what is going to last. External beauty? Maybe for a few years. But internal beauty is designed to last for millions of years throughout eternity.

Peter describes the kind of beauty that God sets a premium on as (v.4) “a gentle and quiet spirit.”

Now, that doesn’t mean a woman who never talks or never makes a noise or never is extroverted around people. It’s not talking about a kind of personality, but a character trait.

It means a woman who is not flustered. A woman who has inner strength. A woman who in her spirit is not internally agitated and restless. A woman with serenity.

Not a demanding woman but an accepting woman. Not a woman who is a feisty fighter for her rights, but a woman who gently accepts her lot in life and focuses on the Lord.

Can you think of a tranquil woman like that? I can make a whole list and many of them are in this room.

God values a woman who can internally trust in Him and peacefully live her life in an un-grasping manner. That’s inner beauty! And you know it when you see it.

Do you want to be truly beautiful? Beautify your heart with gentleness and quietness of spirit.

That’s how the holy women of Old Testament history beautified themselves. They were great examples. V.5

“For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.”

#3: HOPE IN GOD.

That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? What are you hoping in?

∙ Are you hoping in your external beauty?
∙ Are you hoping in your popularity?
∙ Are you hoping in some guy, your husband even?
∙ Are you hoping in your hairstyle, your posture, your fashionable, designer clothes, your chic “new look?”

Don’t! Peter says holy women hope in God.

Sarah’s Daughters find their significance in God. Sarah’s Daughters trust in God’s promises. Sarah’s Daughters bank on what God thinks about them not men. Sarah’s Daughters look to God for their security.

Ladies, what are you hoping in today?

What you hope in, defines your beauty.

Hope in God. And you will not be ashamed or disappointed.

Do you want to be popular for a long time? Hope in God and popularity in His sight.

4,000 years later, we are still reading about Sarah who was beautiful in God’s sight. V.6

“[They were submissive to their own husbands,] like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

Sarah’s daughters hope in God.

#4: DO NOT FEAR ANYTHING OR ANYONE (BUT GOD). V.6 again.

“You are her daughters if you do what is right [submit, cultivate inner beauty, hope in God] and do not give way to fear.”

My wife’s favorite book on Christian womanhood is called Fearlessly Feminine. And that’s exactly right!

Christian women are called to be fearless. Fearless of anything the world throws at them. Because they hope in God. Fearless of anyone–including their unbelieving husbands! Because they fear God.

God-fearing women need fear nothing else.

Not because they have “rights” or a good paying job or a stable marriage but because they have an unshakable God.

I know it’s not easy to do when you live in the unstable world of being married to an unbeliever, but you belong to the King of the Universe and ultimately, you don’t need to fear anything or anyone but Him.

I love that phrase in verse 6, “you are [Sarah’s] daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”

That’s what I call classy, spiritually single ladies: Sarah’s Daughters.

And I pray that those of you who are in that situation of being married to an unbelieving husband would be like Sarah: submissive, internally beautiful, hopeful, and fearless in God.

20 comments:

Thank you for sharing this. I visited my sister for a couple of days. She and her husband are ministers and after spending time seeing them support each other in their ministry,their children asking to pray, I was really feeling down (to say the least) about my spiritually single marriage. Thank you for the encouragement, challenge, and reminder of true hope.

Rebekah,

Thanks for stopping by and for your encouraging comment.

I'm glad this message was helpful to you!

-Matt

hiiii,
i felt soo happy after going through the message.. it was very helpful to me... thank you very much... praise the lord!!!

Pastor Matt ,
you posted this blog 3 yrs ago and God has led me to it on this day... i am a believer who foolishly married an unbeliever.
after a rocky 6 months of marriage ,i am now faced with the greatest lessons of my spiritual life.
The words that the Lord inspired you to speak have deeply touched me and given me much needed hope ad encouragement and direction.
I pray that the Lord may bless you and your family and continue to lead you.

R,

I'm so glad you found it helpful.

Praise God!

Keep the faith.

-P/Matt

What about a believer that marries another believer who later becomes a non-believer?

Robert,

Welcome!

I hope you find grace and peace while you visit here.

I think my answer to your question is the same as what I said above to those who had been "fooled:"

The Bible says that if they will consent to stay married to you, you stay married to them (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

But if he/she want to leave the marriage, the Christian partner does not need to feel bound.

I think the emphasis in that passage is on unbelievers that want to leave their spouse because they are believers, but it seems to me like it applies in this way, too.

From reading a little on your blog, I see that you yourself don't believe in Christ right now.

While you may not appreciate it right now, I'm praying for you that God would open your heart to the gospel.

-Matt Mitchell

Thank you for your words of encouragement. It reminded me of the fact that to be able to do what God asks takes supernatural ability. He has rejected Christ by telling me that he has no desire to get to know Christ better. He says all he wants is his wife back. This is going to be a long road I am afraid.

Jane

Jane,

You're welcome.

I also recommend the book Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch by Lee & Leslie Strobel. There are a lot of good principles in there, and it's well written.

I pray God's richest blessings on you and him.

-Pastor Matt

Hi Pastor Matt!
What a great message!! Lots of good stuff in it. I've been married to my husband for 8 years, and about two years into my marriage I realized that he had departed (slowly) in his faith from God. He started to rationalize away biblical principles, certain verses, etc. Pretty soon he openly changed his self-desciption to "Jewish". Now it's just "theistic". =(
It's really hard for me being married to an unbeliever. I've pursued my own surrender and dependence on God, learning how to hear God's voice in my life, and I've become a different person in the process. My husband and I are on starkly different planes.
My husband is a CEO and makes a lot of money. He has become more money and material focused. The main contention issue between us has usually involved how lavishly we will live (he wants more, I want less). We haven't "fought" about this as much as we've really both grieved the desires of the other. He doesn't want to live like "normal people do". I worry about the spiritual formation of our children in raising them in excess. I worry about my own walk with God. I worry about being able to reach and minister to others. I don't really connect with other rich wives (so how can this be my "mission field"?), because I don't care about impressions and material things in the same way. I often have nothing to talk about with other rich people. I feel my ministry is supposed to be to the poor, and I actually very much desire to do international social justice work within my field as a part of my ministry. When we were dating, my husband and I talked about doing mission work together in other countries, and working with the poor. He had a really big heart for it. (He was genuine, too. I know he wasn't "pretending". He used to share Christ with others we'd meet out and about if a situation came up. He really cared about others genuinely, and about the Lord...) His focus has changed to one of living the "big" life...

I've been thinking about this message throughout the day, particularly about the "inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit" that you quoted from 1 Peter... I think this is an area that God wants to renovate in me...

Theophila,

Thanks for your kind notes.

I'm glad this post has been helpful to you.

The Word of God certainly is powerful.

Blessings on you and yours,

-Pastor Matt

Hi I happened on your blog by searching how to survive marriage to an unbeliever. It was strange to see your comments about being fooled or tricked into believing that your husband was a believer, but this is exactly how I feel as though I was tricked. It's such a long story but I feel deceived and now I'm stuck. I'm to the point of extreme bitterness that seems to be eating alive from the inside out.

Help!

Stacey,

It's nice to meet you, sister. Thanks for leaving a note.

Without truly knowing your situation, it's hard for me to give you counsel.

I suggest going to your pastor for help.Don't forget that your Lord is Lord over your whole life--including the details of your marriage. You can trust Him even with things that weren't what you thought they were.

Don't give in to bitterness! It's not called "bitter" for nothing. Bitterness is an acid that eats your heart. It hurts you more than it hurts the one who has hurt you.

The antidote to bitterness is forgiveness--based on the forgiveness that the Lord has given you (Matthew 18:21-25).

Keep loving your husband. He's the one God has given you. (My wife and I just watched the movie, Fireproof this weekend. I highly recommend it!)

I also highly recommend the book How To Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick. Very helpful.

Praying for you today.

Hi i'm G,
I thank God upon this message..
I was reminded.. I am in a relationship with an unbelieving guy,
I loved him but i know i'm fooling myself..
Can you maybe give me an advise how can i talk to him and maybe broke up with him..
That he will not see the bad intentions of my belief?
Thanks..Badly need your prayers..

God bless

G,

Thanks for your note. I think you are wise to break up with your boyfriend if you are not on the same page spiritually.

Hopefully, he will see that the Lord Jesus is supremely important to you and then be attracted, not just to you, but to Him.

I encourage you to tell your boyfriend how you feel, what is driving your choices, and your hope that he will come to faith in Christ at some point. Tell him that you need to break off contact and encourage him to seek the friendship of some Christian guys.

My guess is that this will be really hard in the short-run, but in the long run, you'll be really happy you took this step. Be brave!

I will pray for you today.

-Pastor Matt

Hi,
I was also "fooled". I am a man who has follow Christ for over 20 years now. 13 years ago I married a woman I believed to be born again believer. We prayed, read the Bible...years later I found out she did not care about Christ...found out that the only reason she was into Christianity initally was that she once was interested of a missionary, and was trying too attract that person by becoming religious...that fell through but I came into the picture and she married me instead...
I have had countless hours of darkness, times when everything goes pitch black in my head as I get desperate over the arguments or discussions about the Lord or religion. I feel deceived, but I tried to ignore it, get over it, pray about it, but the burden never goes away. Some days are great I feel fine. Other days the darkness hits me and everything goes dark. I am afraid that I have become fond of the doom and gloom by now...yet God does move powerfully in my life, but it does not seem to have any effect on our relationship. It's as if God has skipped our marriage but blesses other parts of my life...except that one. I don't get it! Still praying for strength.

Veke,

I'm sorry to hear your story. It sounds very painful.

I'm glad to hear how the Lord has sustained you and is strengthening you.

I will pray for you today.

-Matt

Wow praise be to Lord I am so glad I got to read this and it don't happen without his will. Exactly what I needed at this hour if distress hopless situation. Thank a lot brother for this wonderful article. It spoke to me in volumes I could see my weakness my drawbacks .I am feeling so energised spiritually and more determined to be sarahas daughters . No point in banking on my partners opinion or trying to draw my joy from him.I am more determined to do draw my joy from my father focus on God seek his kingdom first. I know God will do the rest. Hope this will speak to many others and encourage just like it did to me.thanks again

Anonymous,

I'm glad you found it helpful! May the Lord bless you and draw both you and your partner close to Him.

Thanks for your note of encouragement. It made my day.

-Matt