I’ve been married for over 26 years to a man I deeply love, a man who doesn’t love Jesus with me. Through our hard marriage, God has helped me see the error of my ways and led me in better ways when it comes to loving my husband. This morning, one of the typical tests I’ve faced, and frequent mistake I make, came up. My husband was watching a YouTube video and said, “Hey, did you know a bunch of Christians believe the earth is flat?”
My first instinct was to roll my eyes and argue. I didn’t think before I spoke this morning, or even pray. I just started laying into how ridiculous it was that he was getting his information about Christians from YouTube. I tried to win an argument with him and then walked away exasperated, wondering if I’d ever get to experience the joy of worshiping Jesus with the man I’ve loved since I was 17.
Here’s a married-to-an-unbeliever life hack for you: When your unbelieving spouse wants to argue with you about unimportant or controversial issues, you may be tempted to try and win an argument. Don’t do it. Jesus shows us a better way.
This morning, while I was pouting in my bedroom after arguing with my husband about faith, science, Christianity and credible resources for information, Jesus’ words came to mind.
“…as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35
Getting ready for today’s Thanksgiving feast, asking God, “How long?!” for the seven billionth time, God’s word gently and powerfully reminded me there is a way to love unbelievers: The way Jesus loved me! In that passage in John, Jesus was about to suffer the condemnation of all my sin, and all his disciples’ sin in his own body, and he bent down and washed feet, even the feet of the one who would betray him. He didn’t love them by arguing with them about petty things. He loved them by serving them and bearing the pain of their sin in his body.
There is no magic argument that will win your unbelieving spouse, relative or friend to Jesus. There is no Petri dish of circumstances you can create that will grow faith in them. If your spouse or child or neighbor or friend or relative bends their knee to Christ and worships him it will be an absolute miracle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. You and I should do what Jesus leads us to do and what the Bible tells us to do and then offer up our faith and obedience to God, praying he would light it on fire, and save our loved ones. We should follow Jesus example, and with his power at work in us, put down our arguments (even if we could win them), and instead just vulnerably love and serve the unbelievers we are in relationship with.
We must love our spouses well, and entrust them to God.
Today after confessing I’d been a jerk, I told my husband, ” I love you. I wish you believed Jesus and followed him with me. I don’t want to argue with you… What time do you want to eat our feast?!” It’s vulnerable and tender to speak the truth like that. But it’s the way Jesus loves.
Yesterday I received my copy of the winter edition of The Joyful Life Magazine: Treasure. In it, there is an article titled: Marriage: When the Yoke Is Unequal.I wrote it. Sometime in early 2020 the Daily Grace podcast will publish a podcast interview with me on this same subject. I never wanted to grow up and be a woman who wrote and spoke about my hard marriage. I wanted to be an author, or an archaeologist. I thought I’d write children’s books or poetry or dig up old things out of the dirt. I didn’t think I’d dig up treasures out of the ashes of my life and write or speak about them. But here I am, blogging, writing and speaking about my mistakes, what I’m learning and the treasures and trials I’ve found as I bend my knee to Jesus under this unequal yoke.
I hope these blogs, articles and the coming podcast will help you follow Jesus in your circumstances. I hope they’ll give you courage.
A Facebook friend recently asked a question after reading my piece about the 8 words. Her question in essence was, “How does God want you to love your husband when he doesn’t share the same love of Christ you have?”
I’m not a seminary graduate, but as my pastor says, I am a theologian. We all are, he says. We may be bad theologians, but we all believe something about who God is or what God does and says, and that’s theology. Of course my nearly 25 year marriage to a man I dearly love, who does not love Christ with me, is a long enough walk down this road to test what I believe about God on this subject.
So from my theological understanding of marriage in the scriptures, the husband and wife relationship, above all relationships speaks of the ultimate purpose of all human beings- to be in a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ laid his life down for us (the church) in love so that we could be united with him and say, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” To be in such a bond with Christ is the fulfillment of human existence. When a husband and wife don’t share a love of Christ, the brokenness in that relationship is so apparent that the way you love your unbelieving husband or wife looks more like the way you love any person who doesn’t believe and less like the way Christ and his church love one another. In other words you loose the intimate union and live in a separate but together state. Paul put it this way:
‘Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”‘ 2 Corinthians 6:14-18
In a marriage where Christ is not the mutual highest object of affection and hope, the couple have no lasting intimate partnership, no fellowship, no accord, no portion together, no agreement. There is a separation where there should be oneness. This doesn’t mean the believer and unbeliever have nothing in common. And it doesn’t mean there isn’t grace for both of them. There is common grace and common ground between the believer and the unbeliever. But there is not partnership or union at the deepest level of identity, hope and joy. They don’t share the same love.
Now, this doesn’t mean we should “go out from their midst and separate from” our spouses. Paul makes that clear:
‘To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. ‘ 1 Corinthians 7:12-17
There is no common love of Christ in a marriage between the unbeliever and the believer. But there is a holiness. The fellowship and oneness intended to grow out of mutual love for Christ is not present. But a set-apartness is.
There is a way in which you “come out from among” a marriage to an unbeliever that doesn’t mean divorcing or leaving them. You are set apart, and so are they, and so are your children. There is a mission, a ministry, like that of the missionary setting his love and life on a people group who do not know Jesus. The aim in a marriage to an unbeliever is not a united front to pour out your mutual love of Christ on others. It is a calling on the believer to not go the way of the unbelieving spouse’s idols and pseudo-saviors. It’s a calling not to join them in loving the world, but to come out from among them and let the love of Christ compel you to lay down your life to win them to Christ.
I know some will say staying in a marriage to an unbeliever to win them to Christ is not a good reason to stay married. I say that is exactly what the scripture says is the reason a believer should stay in the marriage. For, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16)
Does that mean if your spouse doesn’t become a believer or wants out of the marriage you’ve failed? No! God may use your faithfulness to save your spouse, or he may not. But if the ubnbeliever is willing to stay married to you it’s a really great possibility that’s totally in God’s hands and worth investing your life in.
Staying in a marriage to an unbeliever with a missional heart to win your husband or wife to Christ is right. And it is not a manipulative or enabling or unhealthy co-dependent emeshment. Loving your husband or wife with a desire to win them to Christ is not self-preserving or sin-enabling. Loving your husband or wife with a desire win them to Christ may be the very thing that causes them to no longer want to be married to you. You have to hold your marriage with an open hand. The goal is not to prevent loosing the marriage. The goal is glorifying God by loving your spouse. You may loose your marriage and win your spouse to Christ. Or not. You don’t stay in the marriage and love your spouse so that you’ll get the outcome you want. You stay in the marriage and love your spouse because the love of Christ compels you. Love of God supersedes love of spouse, even as the reason for your faithfulness and vulnerable love towards your spouse.
Does that mean the believer’s love for the unbeliever is not real because it is not the fantastical romantic love we idolize? No! The love a believer has for his or her unbelieving spouse is very real, very Christ-like, if it is compelled by Christ’s love, not fear of loosing the spouse, not an insatiable need for the spouse to fulfill you. And in this way, loving an unbelieving spouse is a good example for how even believing spouses should love one another. We all, in all marriages, have to bear the pain of the other’s sin. No Christian husband or wife will fulfill you. Only Christ does that. As C.S. Lewis influenced me to say, if I find in myself desires which this marriage can’t satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another “marriage.” That truth applies to all marriages, to believers and unbelievers.
This could really be a long post. Um, it already is a long post. So I’ll try to respond more directly to the question that spurred this on.
Q- How does Christ (my heavenly Husband) ask me to love my husband who doesn’t share my same love?
I should be in bed but my other half likes to lay in bed and relax to YouTube videos of funny cats, and I want silence.
I read Alia Joy Hagenbach’s essay about the hospitality we must extend to one another in marriage. I feel the same. My marriage is an unlikely union. Even worse, as Paul said, its without common affection. We love different loves. But even though our hearts do not set their hopes on the same thing, I am here, in this house, doing life these almost 25 years with him. And tonight we share a bed and the need for sleep, because tomorrow we take our two teenage sons on a family vacation. A long, overdue family vacation.
You look for common grace when you’re married to someone who’s got affections for pseudo-saviors. And you pray for God to stir the heart of a man like rivers of water, wherever He wills. And then you thank him for answering your prayer for time together as a family. And then you pray you will see the common grace and not the great divide that separates you.
I’m going to bed praying for eyes to see this grace poured on my husband like the rain that soaked the desert ground yesterday. I’m praying for conversations, silence, listening ears, words of wisdom and kindness, boldness and humility and lots of laughter and light-heartedness.
When you don’t share affections for the One who created cool climates, streams and Pine trees, you lay down your longings, look to the One all your hope resides in, and grab a pole and some lures and enjoy the high-altitude day with the husband of your youth. That’s what I’m looking forward to. May God meet us there with allurements of his faithfulness.
‘ “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. ..And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord . ‘