Dear Christian sister
Dear Christian sister,
I heard through the grapevine that you are contemplating marrying your boyfriend. Firstly, I want to commend you for taking your relationship seriously: many enter into these sorts of commitments more casually with no thought for the future. But as a Christian, I know you know that the Lord gave us the gift of marriage as an earthly symbol of the heavenly reality of the union between Christ and the church. So we should revere and respect the institution of matrimony, and not enter into it lightly.
Nevertheless, it concerns me that your prospective husband is not in Christ. You know the Bible’s teachings and how God feels about marrying unbelievers (if you don’t, this 9Marks article is a good summary and spoiler alert: he’s against it). I’m also aware that many have likely talked to you about this already—friends, family and even the staff at church. I’d like to talk to you about it too if you’ll allow me—not because I want to rehash the things others have said, but because I’m coming at it from a slightly different perspective: unlike most of the Christians around you, I actually know what it’s like to be married to a non-Christian because I have been for the past 20 or so years.
Of course, my situation is slightly different from yours: my husband was a Christian when we first met, and it was only later that he fell away and embraced atheism. But had my husband not been in Christ, I never would have considered becoming “unequally yoked” with him. Why? Because it’s against God’s will and because it is—and it has been—tremendously hard. My husband is a lovely, gentle man who respects my faith and understands how important God is to me, even though the Lord is no longer important to him. Even so, it’s still been hard. As my sister in the Lord, I care about you. I want to see you grow into a mature Christian woman, perfect and spotless in Christ. And while I know that life this side of Jesus’ return often involves suffering, it is my wish that you be spared this particular kind of suffering.
So if you are determined to go ahead and marry your unbelieving sweetheart, I want to ask: are you prepared for this? Are you prepared to put God first—even over this relationship? That’s the first duty of all Christians—to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and to “have no other gods before [him]” (Matt 6:33; Exod 20:3). Are you prepared to take responsibility for the faith that you profess? Are you prepared to put God first when your husband does not? And are you prepared to keep putting God first, day in and day out, in the nitty gritty of your life?
Are you able to persevere on your own with Bible reading and prayer? Obviously this is something all Christians should be doing, whether married or single; you don’t get an exemption just because you married a non-Christian. But you will not enjoy the benefits of a Christian husband’s encouragement and intercession for the health of your spiritual life. He will not read God’s word with you. He will not turn your attention to the Bible for nourishment and answers. He will not urge you to take your troubles to your Heavenly Father in prayer. He will not prompt you to keep being godly when sin beckons you towards an easier way. While you will pray for him and his troubles, he will not pray for you and yours. While you will seek to live according to God’s will in every facet of life, he will not. Are you ready to do this on your own?
Are you okay with attending church by yourself? This will not be a one-off; you will be doing this for potentially the rest of your married life. It will be your responsibility and yours alone to get yourself there—whether it’s a balmy 25 degrees Celsius or 10 degrees below zero, whether the sun shines or it’s bucketing with rain, whether you’re full of energy or too sleep-deprived to concentrate, whether you actually feel like going or not. Let me be clear: we are saved by grace, not regular church attendance. But gathering together with the people of God around the word of God is not an optional extra; it’s an integral part of the Christian life (Heb 10:24-25).
Say the Lord chooses to bless you and your husband with children: are you prepared to assume the spiritual leadership of your household? Will you bring up your kids in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4)? Will you teach them about him and read his word with them? Your husband isn’t going to do it; it will be up to you. Are you prepared to do it even when they continually interrupt you and act up? Are you prepared to do it even when they say that the Bible is boring and a waste of time? Are you prepared to do it even when they ask you questions you can’t answer?
In addition, are you prepared to model the Christian life to them—a life of service to God and his people, a life of self-sacrifice, a life that may mean persecution on account of Christ? Are you willing to do this in and out of season, whether you feel spiritually nourished or dry, whether you feel close to God or distant? Are you ready to have every facet of your behaviour—God-glorifying or otherwise—inspected and dissected by ever-watching eyes, quick to pick up on every act of hypocrisy? There will be two ways to live in your own household, and yours will not be the easy choice.
Are you prepared to bring your kids to church week in, week out? It’s one thing to get yourself there; it’s quite another to get yourself and one—two—three, etc—others there too—particularly when your rug rats are small and unable to do anything for themselves. When you’re at church, functionally you’ll be a single parent; do you think you can handle that? (Are you ready to deal with the stab of envy you will feel each time you think about your husband enjoying a child-free sleep-in on Sunday morning?) Will you bring your children along to God’s assembly even when you’re tired and unable to focus? Will you bring them even when you can’t be in the hall for the sermon because your little one refuses to go to crèche without you, or when the technology has stuffed up in the cry room so that you’re sitting there by yourself, unable to hear anything and wondering why you even came? Will you bring them even when they don’t want to come, and you start to not want to because they don’t want to? If you happen to miss church because of work or illness, will you be fine with the knowledge that if you don’t go, they also don’t go? When you take your kids away with you to the church weekend away, will you be ready for several days of solo parenting, perhaps with one child waking with a fever in the night and vomiting in the car on the way home? When you look at other Christian families who seem to have it so much more together, will you be able to do so without bitterness or jealousy?
Closer to home, are you prepared to defend God in your relationship? Your husband may have been fine with you being a Christian going into the marriage, but over time it may become a point of contention. He may be critical of your views and belittle God. He may not like the amount of time, attention and energy you pour into church, Bible study and other related activities. He may have concerns about the way you’re raising your children in Christ. How will you deal with these things? What will you do if he issues an ultimatum: him or God?
Are you prepared to trust God, no matter what happens in your marriage and in your family? Will you trust him through the good times and the bad? Unfortunately the divorce rate among Christians is not that much different to the world’s. But when a relationship is going through a breakdown, you’d hope a Christian husband would have the Spirit whispering in his ear, reminding him of the goodness of God’s plan for marriage and encouraging him to be faithful to the wife of his youth. Will you be prepared if your unbelieving husband decides to listen to the world, which will tell him that he deserves to be happy, no matter the cost? What will you do if he decides to leave you, as well he might?
My dear Christian sister, please let me urge you: do not marry your man. Learn from the example of Solomon and the other Israelites who sinned and whose foreign wives caused them to chase after other gods. If God truly has prime position in your life, as you say he does, then don’t let anything threaten that; the consequences are just too devastating.
However, if you do proceed, know this: our God is a God of forgiveness, love and faithfulness, and if you draw near to him in repentance, he will draw near to you (Jas 4:8). He will help you when things get hard, giving you reserves of energy, motivation, patience and perseverance that you would never have been able to muster on your own. Although your husband will not stand with you in the Christian faith, you are never alone: the Lord will be with you by his Spirit and will complete his good work in you at the day of Christ (Phil 1:6).
Furthermore, he will use your circumstances to test, refine and sharpen your faith (1 Pet 1:6-7). Do you really believe that God is good? Do you really believe that God is sovereign? Do you really believe that God is always in control? Now you will have a chance to demonstrate you do. Work out your salvation “with fear and trembling”, bearing in mind that it is God who works in you (Phil 2:12-13). Remember that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame”, as Paul says in Romans 5:3-5. This is our Heavenly Father’s discipline, and while it’s never pleasant, it’s for our good—that we may bear “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:5-11).
Finally, remember Jesus’ promise in Mark 10:29-30: he spoke of losing brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children for his sake, and receiving back a hundredfold. The Christian church is also God’s gift to you: your brothers and sisters in Christ will help you in times of need, encourage you in your faith and enrich your understanding of God’s word so that you will keep walking alongside Christ even when you most feel like giving up. Don’t be afraid to rely on your church, for bearing one another’s burdens fulfils the law of Christ (Gal 6:2). Remember, it’s not purely a one-sided thing: just as your need presents them with an opportunity to step up and serve, your presence among them bears witness to the glorious work that God is doing in your life and acts as an encouragement to other watching Christians—even in something as simple as attending church Sunday by Sunday.
Keep putting God first, dear sister. He is worth more than all the husbands in the world. I am praying for you.
Your sister in Christ.