Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WHAT MAY BE THE CHRISTIAN’S GREATEST DILEMMA”

(What to do if your spouse is lost.)

First Corinthians 7.15

You come under the preaching of the gospel and after enduring several false hopes come to Christ. You then experience spiritual growth and are a party to several people coming to Christ before meeting and marrying someone who seems to you to be an answer to prayer. Then, gradually over the course of several years, wondering what is wrong; you reluctantly conclude that your spouse is not saved. No open opposition to the gospel or serving God, you understand. Just no life, no commitment to Christ or His Word, no prayer, and no hopes, dreams, or aspirations related to the glory of serving the one true and living God. You thought the person you married was saved. You were sure the person you married was saved. Or perhaps you presumed the person you married was saved, because it never crossed your mind that a church member who was so involved in the congregation’s activities might not be saved. Now that you are paying attention and hanging on every word and deed, you are shocked at the certainty of spiritual death, the blindness to spiritual truth, and the indifference your spouse subtly displays toward the central and significant issues of the Christian faith, from fidelity to scripture, and faithfulness to the house of God, to a passion for Jesus Christ, and a commitment to walking in the Spirit. These things just are not present.

What are you going to do? What about your kids? How do you tell your in-laws? Do you tell your in-laws? Would your in-laws believe you? What about your friends at church? Dear Lord, what are you going to do? Surprising as it may be to you, your dilemma is the same as the person who was already married when conversion to Christ took place, who has never had any illusions about the spiritual condition of his or her partner in marriage. The one converted after getting married realized the existence of a serious problem from the first time the two of them attended church and heard the gospel. What is my life partner going to do? What if the other spouse makes a serious issue of this serious issue? What if you come to Christ and your partner objects? What do you do then? What about the kids then? What about your in-laws then? How do the people you have recently met and whose company you felt comfortable with in church handle your spouse, who cannot stand the church, who all but hates the pastor, and who disagrees with everything Christianity stands for?

Surprising as it may seem to you; these were the same kinds of questions asked by the Christians in the city of Corinth to the Apostle Paul. In First Corinthians chapter 7, the relatively new converts to Christ who had come from a background of paganism, sexual promiscuity, and profound ignorance about the relationships that ought to exist between men and women who are Christians, as well as men and women who are Christians married to people who are not Christians, asked the apostle some questions. First Corinthians chapter 7 is a record of his answers. Verses 1-7 lists general principles for Christians and the subject of marriage. Verses 8-9 speak to those who are widows and unmarried. Verses 10-11 speaks to Christian couples. Verses 17-24 speak to new converts to Christ. Verses 25-35 speak to young people who are Christians. Verses 36-40 speak to the fathers of young Christian women. However, it is in verses 12-16 that the Apostle Paul deals with the problems related to mixed marriages, marriages in which one is a Christian and the other is not a believer.

The differences between a Christian and a non-Christian in marriage are severely downplayed by those who are not believers, but the child of God knows that the differences between a partaker of the divine nature and one who does not partake of the divine nature, a Christian and a Christ rejecter, a saint and a sinner, one indwelt by the Spirit and one whose entire life is a source of grief to that same Spirit, one cleansed by the blood of Christ and one who is defiled and unclean in the sight of God, one who is bound for heaven and the other who is bound for the lake of fire. One sees the glory of the gospel ministry, prays and serves God with excitement, and sees the Bible as a treasure-trove of provisions and promises from the heavenly Father, while the other finds the Bible too boring to open and read, is almost never seen to pray, and has all kinds of reasons why witnessing is out of the question, why church services are routinely missed, and why a very nonchalant attitude toward the things of God are said to be reasonable.

You may have little children and have great fears about their future, about the effect of a diluted gospel message in the home, and the impact in the life of a child when they are old enough to see that mom and dad do not stand together in the unity of the faith. You are married, but what do you do about the Biblical reality of Amos 3.3: “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The reality is that you are scared; scared for your marriage, scared for your spouse’s soul, scared for your kids, scared for your church, and perhaps scared for the cause of Christ. You know that perfect love casts out fear, but you also know that your love is not perfect. You are very much afraid. What do you do?

Your marriage and your family are important, being the first institution God brought into existence, in Genesis 2.24, but your home is not most important. There are things more important than your home. God is more important, according to the first commandment, Exodus 20.2-3:

 2      I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3      Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

 Christ and His kingdom is more important, according to Matthew 6.33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” As if to warn anyone who does not heed His directive, Jesus also said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”[1]

It was to show the Christians in Corinth that there are things more important than your marriage and your family, that the Apostle Paul wrote First Corinthians 7.15: “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” It was also to answer the question of a Christian who is married to an unsaved person who asks, what do I do if my spouse threatens to leave me if I do not stop serving God?

You who are Christians married to unsaved people; recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord. Therefore, because of the lordship of Jesus Christ, you cannot deny Him, in either word or deed. In Matthew 10.33, Jesus said, “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” Because of First Corinthians 4.2, you must faithfully serve Him in your church: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” Then, in First Corinthians 15.58, we read, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” Give it some thought and you will rather quickly conclude that unsaved spouses do not depart and abandon their marriages to Christians when getting what they want. Thus, if the Christian compromises, if the Christian equivocates, if the Christian kowtows, if the Christian misses church every time the lost partner insists on it, there is no way the unsaved spouse will depart. If the unsaved husband or wife abandons a Christian spouse for some reason other than the notion that you are a Christian (and some leave for that reason alone), that unsaved partner will leave because he or she is not getting his way.

Your unsaved spouse wants you to miss church, but you won’t do it. Your unsaved spouse will tolerate attending church, but does not want you to participate in evangelism, but you will do it. Perhaps your unsaved spouse will stay with you no matter what you do, so long as you go bar hopping or join in with the partying in Las Vegas once in a great while. The bottom line is, some unsaved spouses leave because they do not want to be married to a Christian, and there is nothing you can do about that but deny Christ. Other unsaved spouses fight over the issue of you faithfully living for Christ, and so long as they can keep you from faithfully living for Christ they will not leave. So, what do you do if you are married to someone who threatens to leave for one reason or another? Simple. “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” As hard as it is to accept, it is very easy to see that more important than the preservation of your marriage to an unsaved person, no matter how long you have been married, no matter the issue of children young or old, is your Lord Jesus Christ and the service you render to Him. Refuse to fuss about it. Refuse to argue. “God hath called us to peace.”

Are we to conclude that marriage is unimportant? Not at all. Is it that your home and family are of no value at all? Certainly not, since we know the home and the family are very important in God’s eyes, and to Christians, as well. It is just that God is so much more important, Jesus Christ is so much more important, serving Him is so much more important than accommodating an unsaved spouse by not serving Christ as best you can. “If I do that, pastor, my spouse will leave.” Yes, I am afraid your spouse will only stay if he or she can control you in some way and adversely affect your Christian life and ministry. You must not allow that to happen. The One who determines when and where you serve is the One who died for you on the cross. That said, some unsaved spouses choose to remain with their Christian partner, which is a good thing. In no way should you conclude from my remarks that I favor any attempts to bring matters to a head, to create any kind of showdown, or to in any way coerce any type of conduct out of your unsaved spouse. If you live your Christian life the way you ought to, you may be wonderfully blessed by God with an unsaved spouse who chooses to remain married to you. Even then, however, you are faced with the same dilemma Christians face whose mates might choose to leave them.

There are two critical questions you must answer in order to know what to do:

 First, HOW SHOULD YOU AVOID BEING AN OBSTACLE TO YOUR SPOUSE’S SALVATION?

 Some people are more effective impediments to reaching the lost than they are evangelists. For whatever reason, be it stubborn resistance and selfishness to anything inconvenient in order to reach unsaved people, or perhaps a life that brings reproach on the gospel because of spiritual inconsistency or a glaring and testimony-destroying defect, some people seem bent on making sure that no one they know will think highly of Christ so as to consider the gospel; not even their unsaved spouses. That is so wrong.

Because of the functional hierarchy in the home, the ways to avoid being an obstacle to your spouse’s conversion are not exactly the same for husbands and wives. Therefore, there are some differences faced by Christian husbands and wives concerning hindrances to spouses coming to Christ:

Considerations if you are a Christian husband center around one primary issue. According to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter five, marriage is supposed to be a picture of the relationship that exists between Jesus Christ and His church, with the husband representing the Savior. Ephesians 5.25 reads, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” We do not have time to fully develop the thought, but Paul is clearly speaking to his readers of sacrificial love toward the wife. Verse 28 tells us, “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” Keeping in mind that the husband is the spiritual leader in the home and he should never stop leading, it must also be remembered that the Christian husband must be sacrificially loving toward his wife to avoid badly misrepresenting his savior. If his lost wife drags her feet, he must lead while continuing to love her. If she sabotages his efforts to serve God, he must still lead and love her. If she displays spiritual lethargy and a discouraging lack of enthusiasm and responsiveness to him, he must still love her and lead her. I am told that John Wesley’s wife openly spoke against him, even going so far as to shout at him while he was preaching the gospel, though he continued to serve God and treat her as properly as she would allow him to. Be mindful, Christian man, that you must not stop serving God. The lordship of Christ demands that you put Him first, that you serve Him even if your unsaved spouse objects, but that you love her and lead her through it all. Difficult? Yes. Heartbreaking? To be sure. Discouraging? Oh, my, yes. Tragic as to the effect of your spouse on the children’s willingness to come to Christ? Sadly, yes. However, you have no choice but to stay true to Christ and faithfully serve Him no matter what happens.

On the other hand, considerations for a Christian wife are quite different. Is it not interesting how many husbands who claim they are opposed to slavery, who insist that they believe in freedom, and who project a public persona of respectfulness toward women, still seem to feel that they have a right to boss Christian wives around and tell them what to do like they are slaves? I know unsaved husbands who treat their wives so much like children that they go so far as to ground them, to take car keys away from them, and tell them who they can and cannot invite to church. My beloved sister in Christ, First Peter 3.1-6 should be your main consideration as a woman married to an unsaved man, even in such a toxic marriage as I have described. Please turn to that passage. To be sure, you serve God without hesitation. No Christian woman should allow any man to set himself up with veto power over her ministry for the One who died on the cross for her. Read along with me silently:

 1      Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

2      While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.

3      Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel;

4      But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

5      For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:

6      Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.

 You must be chaste in conduct and careful to fear God and not your husband, First Peter 3.2. Verses 1 and 5 show that you should be in subjection to your own husband, while verse 6 illustrates the importance of a respectful attitude toward him. It is important to recognize that unsaved spouses will always seek to justify their animosity toward the gospel, conjuring up reasons in their own minds to reject Christ, or why they do not become Christians “your way.” Your goal, at this point, is to minimize their complaints against you, doing what you can to avoid giving them grievances to hold against you. The lost person’s focus should be a consideration of Christ, not a personal shortcoming you exhibit. Do you stop serving God? Do you reduce the number of services you attend? Do you give in to a lost spouse to reduce the intensity of opposition in the home and in the hopes of eliminating what can be ferocious verbal attacks? Certainly not. Christians serve God no matter what. Your goal, be you a husband or a wife, is to be blameless. Not that accusations will not be leveled against you, but living your life so that no legitimate accusations can be leveled against you. You do not want to be a distracting hindrance to your unsaved husband or wife’s conversion to Jesus Christ.

 Next, HOW CAN YOU BE USEFUL AS AN INSTRUMENT OF YOUR SPOUSE’S SALVATION?

 It is one thing to avoid doing wrong, which was the first main point of this message. It is another thing altogether to do right. Just because you are concerned with being blameless does not mean you should not also take the initiative in being useful to the Holy Spirit to see your unsaved spouse come to Jesus Christ. Once more, the posture taken by Christian husbands and wives when dealing with unsaved spouses is not the same, because of the functional hierarchy in the home that mandates leadership for the husband:

Therefore, let us consider the actions to be taken by a Christian woman. Again, we see in First Peter 3.1 that scripture calls for the Christian wife to be in subjection to her own husband, even if he obeys not the Word. Also again, notice from verse 2 that your conduct should exhibit chastity (or holiness) and fear (fear of God, not fear of your husband). It is terrible to a Christian woman’s testimony when her unsaved husband senses that she is afraid of him. Dial 9-1-1 if he gets physical, but have no fear of any lost man’s displeasure. Do you really believe the heart of the king is in the hand of the LORD? Then the heart of your husband is also in His hand. It is with that certainty that you trust God, knowing that even with unsaved husbands, “they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” You do not need to preach to your husband. You are actually forbidden to preach to him. However, this does not mean you are to be mute, that you cannot talk to him, discuss issues with him, or ask him questions. There are many things a Christian woman can do to be instrumental in bringing her lost husband to Christ. She can pray. She can glow with a holy countenance. She can radiate Christian love and confidence in Christ. She can instruct her children. She can exhibit industry and initiative. She can mentally and emotionally run ahead of him to anticipate issues that are certain to come up and prepare for them. There is really only one thing you must not do, and that is preach to him, since that is usurping authority over him and showing him a lack of respect. Oh, it is a foolish thing for any woman to disrespect her husband, and no spiritual woman would knowingly disrespect her husband for any reason, because that would be foolishly destroying her own home, Proverbs 14.1. There is so much a Christian woman can do to influence her husband, by way of submitting to him, by way of showing respect for him, by way of building him up, by way of seeing to it that he is so very happy he is married to her. Such things are not to be taught to Christian women by a pastor, but by an aged and godly woman. However, it can be done, and such a woman as is willing to take on the task with humility may very well see her husband someday come to Christ.

Consider, now, the actions to take if you are a Christian husband. What man does not want to be a hero to his wife and children? What man does not want to be brave? What man does not want to matter? What man does not crave to be honored by his loved ones? All these things Christian men want, but are typically denied by unsaved wives. How discouraging it can be for a man, then, to want to do all the right things and to want to be the right kind of man before God, but to find himself married to a woman who has no response other than passive resistance. To be sure, some lost wives will openly battle against their husbands. I know preachers whose wives are terrible in this respect. My observation has been that most church members whose wives openly battle their husbands end up leaving, though I know a considerable number of preachers who are married to women who contend with them but do not leave. I am not sure why some preacher’s wives are argumentative but do not leave their husbands, so I will focus my attention on a church member’s wife who does not back talk him, does not shriek at him, does not start fights with him about anything. She just resists. She is a drag on his life. There is no enthusiasm, no real support, and no complimentary ministry in the home or with the children that supports his life and ministry in any way. Others who are not very observant, or who are not discerning might see such a wife, as a good wife. She loves her children, is a competent cook, keeps a good house, and exhibits real industry. She is just remiss in the two things that are most important: She has no love for God and no proper support for her husband. What Christian wives will give to their unsaved husbands, which is an attitude described in First Peter 3.6 by the words, “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord,” the unsaved wife intentionally withholds from her husband. However, despite the discouragement he faces, despite the despondency he sometimes deals with, the Christian man must continue to lead his wife with joy. She may not follow him, but who follows the Christian man is God’s problem to solve. The Christian man’s challenge is to provide the best spiritual leadership he can, loving his wife according to Ephesians 5.25, as we saw earlier. The one thing the Christian husband can do that the Christian woman is forbidden to do is minister the Word to his spouse. To minister the Word is a leadership function, which is why Christian wives should not seek to teach or preach to their unsaved husbands. However, short of using the Bible to bludgeon your wife, it is legitimate for a husband to use the Word of God with wisdom and discretion to teach and preach in your home. Of course, a feminist will resent her husband’s attempts to teach her or preach to her. However, the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, whether anyone enjoys its effects or not.

 Admittedly, the challenges faced by a Christian who is married to an unsaved person are daunting, requiring great grace from God and unswerving commitment by the believer. That is why church, the gathering of the saints, and the ministry of the Word and prayer are profoundly important. If your spouse is a Christian, or if you have never married, you can only imagine the heartache, the discouragement, the pain and suffering, and the sense of utter hopelessness that sometimes overwhelms the believer who is married to a nonbeliever.

Some Christians all but give up, having no expectation their spouses will ever come to Christ, and being unwilling to say or do anything the Hell-bound partner might take offense with. So, they quit. They dial it back a bit. In reality, the unsaved spouse controls them to a degree and keeps their service to Christ in check.

To encourage our brothers and sisters who find themselves in that kind of situation, there are some things you can do to encourage them. You can be faithful, realizing that by simply missing a service you can cause the downward spiral of another Christian who depends upon you more than you will ever know. As well, you need to be joyful, fervent in prayer, and very tender and kind toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. From time to time, God has blessed our church with the hopeful conversion of the spouse of one of our faithful members, and I am confident He will so bless us once more. You can play a role in helping the Christian husband or wife faithful to the Lord and in seeing that beloved church member’s spouse come to Christ someday.

When the savior died on Calvary’s cross, it seemed like all hope had been lost. He had suffered, bled, and was hanging between heaven and earth just as the Hebrew Scriptures and His own predictions had said. But there was darkness over the whole earth. All seemed lost. What even our Lord’s apostles did not realize in the midst of the dark hour was that everything was proceeding according to plan. Did it not turn out okay? Did He not rise the third day? Yes, He did.

Someone you know is in a very dark place in life. Maybe it is you. You are a child of God and the person you are married to, the person you sleep with, is as far apart from you in a spiritual sense as the east is from the west. I have delivered a message about what you should do. What should we do for you? We should love you, pray for you, encourage you, be ready to answer the phone call from you in the middle of the night, watch your kids on a moment’s notice, and provide appropriate encouragement as we can. Most of all, we have a holy and noble obligation to try to understand and lovingly walk with you through your valley for as long as you need us. After all, we are the ones with whom you will spend eternity. Therefore, talk to us. Help us as much as you feel comfortable to bear your burden with you.



[1] Mark 8.36



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org