Periodically I hear this from Christian ladies who are married to unbelievers (whether outright or suspected), “….but what if my husband isn’t a believer?” Sometimes it is a genuine question coming from a place of not knowing what to do. Other times, it is an attempt to have a valid excuse to disregard scripture.
Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about husbands and wives.
In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul is laying out the chain of command for believers and has this to say regarding the role of the wife:
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” (v. 22-24)
In my opinion, I doubt this has been harder to swallow for any people group in history than it has been for post-modern American women. Our nation is built on the idea of individual freedom and an equal playing field for all. More than that, a right to individual freedom and an equal playing field. That concept would be very foreign for the majority of historic humanity. This post is not going to debate the merits of American ideology. I simply point it out because I believe our inherent expectation of freedom and fairness is a stumbling block to our submission to Scripture. We try to reconcile Scripture through the lens of our culture, and that is where we get into trouble. Add to that, women have been rebelling against submission to the God-ordained male role of leadership since the garden, and we have a real recipe for sin-soup.
Here is my point: God is in charge and in His wisdom He ordained that men would be the leaders in the Church and in their families, and women are to submit to that. It doesn’t matter that our culture is all about “women’s rights” and knitted hats right now. We don’t set the Bible aside for contemporary human “wisdom”. So my first answer is, it matters not one bit that a husband is not a believer. He is still your husband and as long as he is not asking you to break the law or disobey God, you are to submit to his leadership.
*Gasp!* “But, but….he isn’t nice! He doesn’t deserve my respect!” Interestingly, Scripture does not mention whether or not you deem him worthy of respect or submission. It simply commands you to do so. And if that isn’t enough of a motivator, it adds this detail: as to the Lord. If you don’t “feel” submissive or respectful of your husband, remember that it is actually the Lord you are submitting to and respecting. That should settle it.
The Apostle Peter had this advice for wives (especially if their husbands were unbelievers):
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. (1 Peter 3:1-6)
Again, Scripture doesn’t say you have to submit only if your spouse is a Christian. It says you must submit, period. And by so doing, perhaps they may be persuaded! It is a witness to your unbelieving husband when you respect him and submit to his leadership with a quiet spirit. Trying to evangelize a lost husband by being argumentative and disrespectful is futile. Let him notice the change the Lord has made in you by your obedience to the Word and to him.
Now, what to do if your husband doesn’t allow you to obey the Lord by going to church, or taking your children, or reading your Bible? I’m just a sister with some thoughts. If this is your situation, please seek out godly counsel from a pastor or elder at your local assembly.
Lastly, I would advise not to underestimate the power of prayer. It is easy for us to want to do something, or to consult someone, rather than to rely on the Lord. It is hard to be patient because God’s timing is often not our timing. But I have learned the hard way in my own life in other areas that often God allows frustrating situations so that we learn to rely on Him. He should be our first stop, not our last resort. If you have an unbelieving spouse, you need to be praying for them regularly. In the meantime, obey what the Lord has said in His Word and be patient. Let Him do His work in His own time.
If this is your situation today, I hope this has been an encouragement for you.