We have received many questions regarding marriage and unbelieving spouses. This is a sensitive and controversial issue but we pray that many will gain a better understanding. Being married to an unbeliever can be one of the most difficult challenges in a Christian’s life. Marriage is a sacred covenant that joins two people together in one flesh (Matthew 19:5). It can be very difficult for a believer and an unbeliever to live in peaceful harmony (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
Although we are both believers, there was a time in our marriage when there was a straying away from the faith and it seemed impossible to receive any answers other than, “pray” or “trust God for your marriage”. We are not suggesting that these were wrong answers but these answers alone of themselves were of no benefit.
Here are a few scenarios that have been presented to us.
Two unbelievers who marry and one spouse decides to follow Christ during the marriage
A believer who marries a non- believer
Two believers who marry and one walks away from the faith
If any of these scenarios fit your situation, you can expect to experience some pretty heavy emotional reactions, including grief, disappointment, loneliness, and anger. It’s not hard to understand why!
*****In this blog we will lightly tackle 3 areas. These areas include divorce, exceptions to the rule, and expectations. *****
Can I divorce my spouse?
Well, the unequal yoke does not in any way set aside the covenant of their marriage. A covenant is a sworn exchange of promises that can be revoked only if it is already broken beyond repair. The Bible teaches that an unequal yoke does not in itself break a marriage vow. “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13)
Many times when one partner receives Christ and begins to struggle in his marriage he will begin to view divorce as the easiest solution to his marital trouble. However, divorce is never a quick or easy solution for any troubled marriage. In fact, many times divorce will create even more difficulties and turmoil than if a person chose to stay and work out the problems.
Are there exceptions?
If you read the entire context of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, you will find that Paul also addresses these concerns. He clearly states that, “if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace” (1 Cor. 7:15). What does Paul mean? The word translated depart in this passage means to divorce and is clearly used in this context in 1 Corinthians 7:11. Therefore, if your non-Christian spouse is unwilling to live with you and demonstrates his or her refusal to abide in the covenant of marriage by abandoning or divorcing you, this behavior sets you free from the relationship.
Likewise, if your spouse is physically abusive toward you, this behavior demonstrates that your mate is unwilling to dwell with you in a peaceable manner. Remember, God is very concerned about the peace and safety of you and your children. God clearly communicated this concern for His people when He encouraged them in Deuteronomy 12:10: “The Lord your God is giving you…rest from all your enemies round about, so that you dwell in safety.” God also promises: “I will set him in the safety for which he yearns” (Ps. 12:5). Therefore, you should never allow yourself to be physically abused by your mate. God doesn’t want you to remain in a dangerous relationship.
What can I expect?
Unrealistic expectations act as one of the greatest hindrances in any marriage. Refusal to adopt a realistic outlook toward your spouse results in tremendous anger, frustration, and depression. If you are already frustrated, examine realistically your current expectations concerning your mate.
Ask yourself how you expect your mate to behave. Is it realistic to think that your unsaved mate will act like a Christian? You would probably respond, “Of course not. I would never expect this!” But, have you ever heard yourself say “Why doesn’t he or she do _______?” Ask yourself; would the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his or her life produce this desired behavior? If you answer yes, then your expectation is not realistic because your spouse is not a Christian nor does he or she have access to the power of the Spirit. Therefore, continuing to hold on to this expectation in your heart will only bring you frustration.