By Lynn Duke
What do you do when you find yourself “unequally yoked” in marriage? In 2 Corinthians 6:14 the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
Although Paul’s warning can apply to many different relationships between believers and unbelievers, its application to the marriage relationship is clear.
A yoke is a harness used for working two animals together, such as oxen. When a team of oxen is improperly matched, it’s difficult for them to perform their tasks. The same can be said of a believer and an unbeliever in a marriage relationship.
One could easily surmise that the stress of living in a marriage where one partner does not put God first could allow turmoil and difficulties to erode love over time, eventually leading to a breakdown—or a breakup.
Still, some couples with dissimilar spiritual values have lasting marriages. Why? Because the believing spouse brings the strength and truth of God’s Word into the relationship. This is the two-cord tie, and it exists between God and the believing spouse, not between the husband and wife.
Love and Patience
Many believing mates are keeping faith with God that their spouse will come to know the Lord. Not only is faith present, but love is as well. And love that is present with the believer should be present with the unbeliever, holding the couple together. Love is a powerful force in marriage. “Love never fails”
(1 Corinthians 13:8). “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (v. 13).
The believing spouse holds onto faith and hope that the day will come when his or her spouse will come to the Lord. Love is the strong bond that keeps hope and faith alive. When the spouse comes to the Lord, a three-cord tie then exists between God, the husband, and the wife. And the cord the believing spouse had with the Lord is now stronger because of the mate’s salvation and answered prayer.
Keeping Hope Alive
Christians who are married to unbelievers must look to Scripture to keep their hope alive and to resist the efforts of concerned family members and friends to dissuade them from staying in a difficult marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:16 Paul asked, “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”
On the other hand, if the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave, so be it. Paul explains, “But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances” (v. 15). The believer is far better off walking with God alone than walking in disobedience and rebellion with an unbeliever.
Toughing It Out
Living with an unbeliever may lead to strife, stress, discontent, emotional let downs, barriers to success, and unimaginable difficulties. If your spouse is happy to live with you, but you are not happy to live with your spouse, put your trust in God as you bear up under the circumstances. “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 7:13).
If you are married to an unbeliever, you may feel that your house is divided, that a deep chasm runs through your relationship. The responsibilities of raising the children, managing the finances, and doing household chores can take a huge emotional toll on the one who is constantly giving in for the sake of the marriage. Frustrations may mount and it may appear that nothing is changing. Resentment can build and may lead—if the believer is not careful—to bitterness. The believer must look to God for help to avoid despair and despondency. Bringing such feelings to God in honesty and truth will allow the Lord to minister to your hurt and despair.
Amazing things can happen. Many unbelieving men and women come to the Lord as their believing mates continue in prayer and petition before the Lord without giving up or giving in. In The Power of a Praying Wife (Harvest House, 2007), Stormie Omartian suggests, “If your husband is not a believer, you probably already know how much good it does to keep talking to him about the Lord if he didn’t respond the first number of times. It’s not that you can’t ever say anything to him, but if what you say is always met with indifference or irritation, the next step is to keep silent and pray.”
Honoring the Lord
Believers who are married to unbelievers can find the strength they need to persevere in their marriage relationship. Here are some suggested ways to draw upon the strength you need.
1. Pray for your spouse.
2. Enroll in an anger management course if needed.
3. Study a mind/body connection program such as tai chi.
4. Pray for your spouse.
5. Participate in an exercise program to bring your frustrations under control.
6. Take up a hobby: sewing, gardening, photography, dance, or scrapbooking.
7. Pray for your spouse
8. Meet regularly with a support group or Christian friends.
9. Get away by yourself. Use the peace and quiet to think and refresh.
10. Pray for your spouse.
Lynn Duke is a freelance writer in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.
Divorce Among Christians
Christian divorce statistics vary greatly. The most popular statistic, and a point of controversy, comes from research conducted by the Barna Group in 2004. Their study indicated that the divorce rate between believers and non-believers is about the same: 35 percent.
Some derive a higher rate of 50 percent by dividing the number of marriages by the number of divorces each year.
Many fault the Barna study because it doesn’t draw a line between those who profess Christianity and those who truly practice their faith. Barna does, however, differentiate between born-again Christians in general and those who are evangelical in their faith.
Read the Barna Studies for Yourself
Read More About the Controversy
What to Do If You Don’t Like These Numbers
1. Safeguard your marriage.
2. Help others make their marriages last.
3. Pray for your marriage.
4. Pray for newlyweds and couples who are going through challenging times.
5. Teach your kids how to have a healthy marriage.