FamilyLife Today® Podcast

When the One You Love Doesn’t Believe, Part 2

with Kent Hughes | March 27, 2007
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Are you and your mate on different pages spiritually? Today on the broadcast, Kent Hughes, author of a number of books including "Disciplines of a Godly Man," gives some practical advice for living and loving an unbelieving spouse.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Are you and your mate on different pages spiritually? Today on the broadcast, Kent Hughes, author of a number of books including "Disciplines of a Godly Man," gives some practical advice for living and loving an unbelieving spouse.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Are you and your mate on different pages spiritually?

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When the One You Love Doesn’t Believe, Part 2

With Kent Hughes
March 27, 2007
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Kent: This is the one text that gives us some direction on this and how we ought to live, and it says, "Wives, in the same way," you see, "be submissive to your husband."  You ought to know what it says in the same there – "Wives, in the same way," is referring in the context back to Jesus.  And so it is a call to enter some suffering, because Jesus is the example of how you ought to live.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 27th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  God wants to give strength and grace to the individual who is married to an unbeliever.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  We have already heard this week, Part 1 of a message from Pastor Kent Hughes, a message that speaks to those people who go to church by themselves every Sunday, although when they come home, they share their table and their living room and even their bed with a spouse who does not share their spiritual convictions.

Dennis: Yeah, you're talking about those who are married and find themselves in a relationship in that marriage with their spouse not being a believer in Jesus Christ.  And yesterday on the broadcast we heard Kent Hughes share, really, a biblical description of what someone is like who has not experienced the new birth, who isn't a believer, and it helps us, I think, Bob, to better understand and live compassionately with someone who doesn't share our biblical values, who doesn't share our faith if we understand, you know, they can't see.  They don't have ears to hear.

 And Kent Hughes did a wonderful job at the "Building Strong Families in Your Church" conference in Dallas, Texas, where we had, well, several hundred folks join us for three days of great Bible teaching and attempting to create resources for churches and for pastors to be able to minister to the needs around marriages and families today.

 Kent is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton.  He has authored numerous books.  He and his wife, Barbara, have four children and 14 grandchildren and, Bob, you can just hear it within his voice, there is a compassion and a tenderness there.  Well, Kent understands the needs of someone who is in an unequally yoked situation.

Bob: This is Part 2 of the message that Kent delivered at the "Building Strong Families in Your Church" conference on being married to an unbeliever.  Let's listen together to Kent Hughes.

Kent: I remember the story of George Mueller.  Just before he died, he had been praying for two men for 50 years, and they hadn't come to Christ, and as he was dying someone questioned him about that.  He said, you know, his prayers, his prayers hadn't been answered.  He was noted as a great man of prayer.  And Mueller said, "Do you think that God would have had me pray for them for 50 years and not answer my prayer?"  And he died.  The next two years both those men came to Christ after his death.

 And I think there's a sense in which when God lays something on your heart, and He calls you to pray and leads you to prayer, very often it's because He's going to have that prayer fulfilled.

 And so I think that there are a couple of things here.  I think that this matter of persistence in prayer and persistence through difficulties and hard times and expectancy.  See, it's fascinating, in Luke, the 18th chapter, the parable of persistent widow.  The whole point of that parable is that she goes to this unbelieving, terrible judge, and she bugs him until he answers. 

 And then it says we ought to persist in prayer, but the reason we ought to persist in prayer is not that God is like this grudging judge, it's because God's just the opposite.  He is our Father.  That's why we ought to persist in prayer.  And so prayer is the first thing.

 The second other element after prayer is your example, your live-in testimony, the way believers live with unbelieving spouses is huge on the landscape.  I want to say that if you're married to a nonbeliever or if someone that comes to Christ is married to a nonbeliever, that there is substantial hope because, very often, that spouse comes to believe.  Not all the time.  I want to be very careful to qualify what I'm saying about that but "very often."

 Now, the Scriptures offer substantial reason to say this, and I'd like you to turn to 1 Corinthians, the seventh chapter.  This is kind of a pillar text in what we're talking about.  1 Corinthians, chapter 7, and I want you to notice a couple of things.  First of all, just as you start out where it says, "To the rest I say this – I, not the Lord," do you see that?  That doesn't mean that I'm saying this, but God doesn't say this.  He's not saying, "I'm saying this but this isn't God's Word."  What he is saying is that "What I am saying," Paul says, "is not diminical."  That means it didn't fall off of the lips of Jesus.

 He's not saying it's not The Word.  He says that "I can't find a place where the Lord says this, but I'm saying this," just as he speaks all of 1 Corinthians as the Word of God.

 "So the rest, I say, I, not the Lord.  If a 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."  So you see this says that it's not an option for you to think about because, all of a sudden, you're married to a nonbeliever.

 Then it says, it talks about the possibility of sanctification or salvation.  "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.  Otherwise, your children would be unclean but, as it is, they are holy."  And what he's saying is that the believing spouse can have a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving one; that is, by leading them to faith in Christ and then to holiness and the children.  That oftentimes happens within a relationship.

 And so it says, "You ought not to leave."  Now, it does say in the next paragraph, "But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so."  A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances.  God has called us to peace.  Rather, it says that being blood over the ground, if they're going to do it, let them do it.  But then it says, "How do you not know, wife, whether you will save your husband, or how do you not know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"

 In other words, by being a peaceful, kind person in this – with this impossible spouse.  So that you have a possibility of sanctification, first of all, by living with an unbeliever – if they don't want to leave, you're not free to leave.  If they will not put up with it, then it says that you're free.  But in both it's for the possibility of salvation and sanctification.

 So that's why I say that there is, then, great hope.  If you come to Christ, and your spouse is an unbeliever, there is great hope there.

 Now, the Scriptures offer some advice about living, and I'd like you to turn to the other pillar text here, and that's 1 Peter 3, verses 1 and 2.  And then we'll look at 3 to 6. 

 Now, what I want you to know – first of all, this is directed toward the feminine spousal unit here – and I think in principle, there are principles that you can take across in the way you live with one another, but this is the one text that gives us some direction on this and how we ought to live.  And it says, "Wives, in the same way," you see, "be submissive to your husband.  You ought to know what it says "in the same way" there.  "Wives, in the same way," is referring in the context back to Jesus.

 And so it is a call to enter some suffering because Jesus is the example of how you ought to live, and it says, "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 their purity and reverence of your lives."  So it talks about how to live, doesn't it?

 And then he says, he's really talking about the Roman fashions of the day, that you don't want to be caught up in that elite Roman coiffures and so on that are on the coins.  "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 the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in the Lord used to make themselves beautiful.  They were submissive to their own husbands like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham, and called him "Master."  "You are her daughters," it says you are Sarah's daughters.  "If you do what is right and do not give way to fear.  Don't fear" – a very interesting statement, not to fear or give into fear in doing this. 

 Now, the third factor, I mentioned that there's prayer, there's how you live according to the Scriptures that I gave, and then the other is The Gospel.  Let me quote Romans 1:16-17 again – "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, whereas the power of God and to salvation to everyone who believes.  To the Jew first and also the Greek for, in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith."  You've got to know the Gospel.  And so a believing spouse, early on, needs to be able to articulate the Gospel.

 I'm not talking about a rabbit track of Scriptures about just how to get saved, but the Gospel; that it is the Good News, according to 1 Corinthians 15, verses 2 and 3, that "Christ died according to the Scriptures; that He was resurrected on the third day according to the Scriptures; that He is the Messiah of the whole Old Testament; that He fulfills all of Scripture.  And to understand that, the substitutionary atonement of Christ and to understand what He does, it's important that these new Christians that we're talking about understand the Gospel and be able to explain the Gospel.  And it's important that these unbelievers, then, hear the Word either through their spouse or for preaching faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, Romans 10, or they hear it, I think, most ideal thing is Bible study.

 And then some just practical do's and don't's that are involved in this – I would say, again, pray but if you're an unbelieving spouse make sure you don't parade your prayers.  It's not something you do at grace where you piously pray for your spouse in front of your children or for Daddy; that you don't talk freely about your spouse and that you enlist the prayers of trusted friends.

 I would say this – I would say even over the protestations of an unbelieving spouse, that it's very, very important to attend church and be with the body of Christ.  Now, that doesn't mean be at church every time the doors open but understand that you need the fellowship of the body of Christ, Hebrews 10:25, that you need to be encouraged by that.  You cannot forsake [indiscernible] together, that the children of unbelieving spouses need to be in a place where they are getting Bible school; where they are getting youth groups or whatever their ages are.

 And that to do your best, and I put these things down, and I put a column with women and men.  Women – domestically, housekeeping and meals; Men – domestically, maintenance and the bills and so on.  Both of you in your fathering and mothering need to turn it up a notch.  There needs to be kindnesses on both of you; true friendship on both of you.  You need to seek your spouse's happiness, your unsaved spouse's happiness.  There needs to be romance, there needs to be intimacy, and all of these things living out the fruits of the spirit.

 I want to tell you a little personal story.  This is about my wife's mother.  My mother-in-law.  She's 82 years old, and we adore Lula Triggs.  But let me tell you a little something about Lula and the grace that she's brought, because she's lived out these Scriptures.

 Lula Barnes was born in 1918 and grew up in California.  She was converted as a teenager, but life wasn't easy for Lula.  She was the first of eight children, and when he mother became ill, she dropped out of high school and went to work to help.  And so she worked as a maid for a wealthy Pasadena family.

 At age 17 she met and married Wilfred Triggs, age 26, a Nebraska farmer who came to California on the top of a freight car.  They honeymooned in Santa Barbara, and when they were honeymooning, someone stole their suitcase and every possession in the world, and so they decided they would stay in Santa Barbara, and they lived in Santa Barbara for the next 14 years where he worked in lumber yards and did gardening, and she began to raise children.

 And my wife, who is number four of six, was born in Santa Barbara.  Now, Wilfred "Shorty" Triggs, was an uneducated, hardworking laborer with a drinking problem, and she found that out as a teenage bride soon.  He was full of personality, he was funny, he was outrageous.  He drank at night and on the weekends.  It didn't interfere with his work, but when he was drunk, he wasn't funny.

 And Lula did extra jobs to keep the family afloat.  Shortly after child five came, he broke his ankle in the lumber yard where he worked – this is pre- those big insurance days – had five screws put in his ankle and Lula, mother of six, drove an ice cream truck to keep things together.

 She rarely went to church, and we have talked to her about that, and it seems that it's because he didn't want her to because he was irrationally jealous of her wherever she went – to the market or anywhere, but she made all of her children go.

 When my wife was 12, her father, Wilfred, severed his hand in a lumber yard saw, had it sewn back on, and it never worked the rest of his life except as a good perch for a cigarette, that's all.  He became humiliated, he was at the bottom, the only job that he could get was washing dishes – and so he began to drink – big time.

 Now, here is the Lula factor – she went to work at Long Beach City College where she cleaned the locker rooms until retirement, and she lovingly cared for him to the end, while she worked at the college, and toward the end he confessed his love for Christ and his belief and with tears running down his face.  You know what?  Today, he's in heaven.

Bob: Well, again, today we've been listening to a message from Kent Hughes on being married to an unbeliever, and it may be the most challenging assignment anyone can face on earth, and yet perseverance is rewarded by God.

Dennis: Yes, and the other thing I would underscore is a heart of compassion and grace toward that spouse who isn't a believer yet.  Keep on praying, keep on asking God to implant within your heart His concern, His love, because, frankly, Bob, I think what the Scripture teaches here is that the believing spouse is the arms of love expressing God's heart for that person who is not a believer.  And you may be, if you're in that situation, you may be the closest thing that they ever get to seeing who God is in that marriage.

Bob: I think there are a lot of people who may feel isolated or alone or feel like they're the only one in this kind of a situation especially if they're very active in their church and with their Christian friends.  They may just feel like everybody is married to a Christian spouse, and I'm the only one who is not.  And that can be a lonely place.  I think it helps to know that you're not alone, that there are other men, other women, who are experiencing the same challenge that you're experiencing.

 We've interviewed Nancy Kennedy, who wrote the book, "When He Doesn't Believe," and in that book she talked about her own situation, being married to an unbelieving husband.  Lee and Leslie Strobel wrote a book called "Surviving a Spiritual Mismatch in Marriage."  Leslie came to faith before her husband did, and it was a crisis in their marriage.

 We've got copies of both of their books in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I think, again, it helps to know you're not alone, there are other people who have been in this situation or who are in this situation, even today. 

 And then I'd also encourage listeners, if there's any way to get to one of our Weekend to Remember conferences.  This is a good, healthy, safe environment where a wife or a husband who is not a Christian can clearly hear about marriage from a biblical standpoint, can hear the message of the Gospel, and can hear it in a way that is relaxed, a way that I think they're comfortable hearing it, even if the message itself is not comfortable for them.  I think they'll feel comfortable hearing it at the Weekend to Remember.

 We've just had a lot of couples come over the years where a husband or a wife has trusted Christ.  In fact, this past year about 4 percent of the people who came to a Weekend to Remember conference indicated that they trusted Christ for the first time at one of our conferences.

 And we have information about our conferences and about resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife on our Internet site,  Go to the Web and type in ""  You'll see a red button in the center of the screen when the page loads, and it says "Go" on it.  You click that button, it will take you right to a portion of the site where there's information about books and CDs and other resources that I've mentioned here. 

 There is also information about upcoming Weekend to Remember conferences being held in cities all across the country.  You can get more information there, or if you have questions and it's easier to call, our toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329, which is also 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.

 So, either way, on the Web at, or by calling 1-800-FLTODAY, let us get more information to you about these resources, and help you however we can in this situation.

 We've had a number of our listeners this month who have called us or gone online, Dennis, to let us know that they are going to join us in a special project that we're doing during the month of – actually, during the month of April, but they're signing up to help us with it now.  We created a tool a number of years ago called Resurrection Eggs, where the Easter story can be easily told to children or to adults, for that matter, using a dozen plastic Easter eggs with symbols that represent different aspects of what happened during the week before Christ's resurrection.

 This year we'd like to get a set of these Resurrection Eggs into the hands of as many people as possible who need to hear the Gospel.  So we made arrangements with our friends at Here's Life Inner City.  They have arranged to give away a set of Resurrection Eggs to a family in the inner city as a way to introduce them to the Gospel, and we're partnering with Here's Life Inner City to make that possible.

 When you make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife during the month of March, you make it possible for us to get these Resurrection Eggs into the inner city.

 In addition, when you make a donation, we're going to send you a set of Resurrection Eggs, and we'd like to ask you to share them with a friend or a neighbor, a loved one, a co-worker, a relative, someone who needs to hear the message of the Gospel this year at Easter, especially if they have young children.  This is a great way to give them an Easter gift that may introduce them to the reality of the Gospel and may open the door for you to be able to have ongoing spiritual dialog with that person.

 So if you can help us be a part of this project this year, here is what we'd ask you to – either call us or go online and make a donation of any amount.  If you're donating online, when you come to the keycode box, type the word "eggs" in the box so that we know that you want to participate in this with us. 

 Or, if you're calling, just mention that you want to take part in the Resurrection Eggs initiative this year, and we'll make arrangements to get a set of eggs sent on your behalf into the inner city and a set sent out to you for distribution along with our thanks for your support of this ministry and for your participation in this project.  We appreciate it.

 Well, tomorrow we are going to interact with some of our listeners.  You're going to hear some phone calls from folks who are married to an unbeliever, and we'll hear about some of the challenges they're facing, and we'll see if we can provide some help and some hope.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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