Week after week, Cathy came to church — every service, Bible study, and activity. Beside herself in a roller-coaster of up-and-down emotions, she shared her heartache of being married to an unbeliever.
Many tears were shed for her situation, both by her and church friends.
And Cathy was not alone in her struggle. Our church where my husband was pastor had a growing number of women who came, bringing their young children in tow. All were consumed with a heart of prayer for their husbands to know Christ.
For years, we prayed with our group of women and at times, it seemed like one of the husband’s heart would soften to the Gospel but then after weeks or months of looking like he would accept the Lord, he would turn back to his own ways.
It was heart wrenching to see a wife in this struggle, one where she seemed to carry the burden of responsibility, thinking that her husband’s salvation was her’s to accomplish.
There were many emotions involved from sorrow, anger, agony, unconditional love to hatred. Also, serious questions connected to forgiveness, obedience, and submission came up on a constant basis.
- Does the Bible say I have to submit to him if he’s not a Christian?
- My husband says he doesn’t want me to tithe. What should I do?
- He told me to stop attending church, do I have to stop?
- My husband visits strip clubs. Can I leave him?
- He watches pornography and wants me to watch it with him. What do I do?
With these delicate and important questions, my husband and I — who were both Christians when we married — had to turn to Scripture for direction.
In 1 Corinthians 7:13, Christian wives (and husbands too) are encouraged not to leave their unbelieving spouse if he or she is content in staying. It goes on to say that a spouse’s faith may lead the husband or wife to salvation.
I’m the first to say, “Much easier said than done!”
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Not being in this situation myself, but as a wife, I know my first reaction in wanting to convince my husband of anything, or change something that he’s doing that I may not like, is to talk … and talk until he hears me! But as I’ve learned over the years, this can come across to him as “nagging” and have the opposite effect on him, to the point where he wants to do exactly the opposite of what I’ve been saying.
So once again, Scripture is where I have to look for direction as a wife with a believing husband along with my friends married to unbelievers. And 1 Peter 3 outlines it pretty clearly. In my own nutshell paraphrase it states, “To be effective in winning over my husband, my genuine submissive, respectful and loving behavior towards him will speak LOUDER and be more effective in the long-run than anything I can say!”
Because, as it coaches me, “As he experiences my chaste behavior towards him, through it, God will work to soften his heart towards Him.”
I recently heard a speaker tell of a Christian woman married to an unbeliever who was a top executive in the country and didn’t spend any time with his wife or their three children. The wife knew he was being unfaithful.
When the wife was asked what she was planning to do about the situation, she responded that she was going to pray for her husband, look for ways to bless him, and teach her children to trust God. She believed that God would honor her actions and answer her prayers.
A few years later this wife’s prayers were answered as her husband accepted the Lord, and became a faithful husband and loving father.
What Submission Looks Like
First Peter 3, too, answers the question of submission, clarifying that it relates to believing and non-believing husbands.
So does that mean if an unbelieving husband asks his wife to stop tithing, going to church, and to participate in ungodly activities such as viewing pornography with him, she has to comply?
My answer is no, also based on scriptures that instruct us to give to God, not forsake fellowshipping with other believers, and to keep ourselves holy.
It’s important to understand that submission to my husband means I still have a voice and my conduct is first submitted to God’s guidelines. In fact, submission to God is the basis for my submitting to my husband. It’s an act of obedience to God as noted in Ephesians 5:22 where wives are urged to submit to their own husband, because in doing so, they are actually submitting to God.
The Buck Stops Here
From observance, being a Christian wife married to an unbelieving husband, has to be one of the most difficult situations in life. My heart goes out to every woman in this position.
But Scripture offers encouragement that a wife’s faith lived out in front of her unbelieving husband can be the doorway to his salvation.
It’s important to remember, though, that salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit. God can work through a believing wife, but whether a husband accepts Christ or not, is not something a wife is able to achieve in her own efforts.
As Romans 14:10 reminds us, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”
An unbelieving husband, like each of us, is ultimately responsible to God for his actions and decisions.
So, what’s a wife to do? Below are a few practical guidelines both from Scripture and my experience with friends and church members that are helpful.
- Find a support group within your family, church or friends, people who will encourage, pray and be there for you through the ups and downs.
- Pray for your husband.
- Practice scriptural living (like 1 Corinthians 7:13, 1 Peter 3, Ephesians 5:22-24).
- Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your husband’s life
- Make efforts to grow in your own spiritual life through prayer, Bible study, and fasting. As you focus on your own spiritual growth rather than continually focusing on your husband’s lack of it or weaknesses, God will work in both your lives in practical, life changing ways.
[This article first appeared here at Ungrind on May 30, 2012. We’re republishing it because … well, we just love it that much. We hope you enjoy it too.]