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Once, in an emergency , an old Tennessee farmer hitched a mule and an ox together to his plow. When someone later asked him how it worked, he said, "Well, it would have been all right if my field had been round instead of square, because we sure spent most of the time going in circles."
Among the laws given by God to Israel in the Old Testament is a prohibition against hitching different animals together. God knew that the differing strengths of the animals would make the match unfair and difficult. The apostle Paul uses this as an example in talking about marriage: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" () God wants a husband and wife to believe together in His salvation through Jesus Christ. And if you're a believer who is yoked in marriage with an unbelieving spouse, you know how futile it can seem as you go round in circles.
So what can I do?
That's good for people to know before they get married, you may say, but what if a believer has knowingly married a non-believer or they were married as non-believers and one spouse comes to the Lord? Well, two things are certain. First, 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." () Second, just as the ox and mule together in the yoke weren't able to plow a straight line, in like manner the believing spouse's attempt to forcibly bring the other around will never succeed.
Actions speak louder than words
So if you're frustrated over your failed attempt to get your spouse to share the new life you've found, here is the word that will set you free, not from the yoke of marriage, but from useless struggle in it: All you have to do is to fulfill your biblical role in your marriage, and God will do the rest. Your responsibility toward your spouse remains just what it has always been: to love and cherish in every circumstance. The Bible says, "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband." ()
You can be at peace because you already have the Lord working for you. He is much more powerful than anything you could say to convert your husband or wife, working through your mystical union in one flesh that the Bible teaches. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church." () That is why Paul could speak of the husband and wife sanctifying, of making holy, one another: "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her husband ." ( )
In other words, you can stop trying to change your spouse, which causes strife in your home, and start believing for a miracle instead. God is working to convert your spouse through you, but by your actions much more than by your words. In fact, God may prefer to do the work without your words. "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 the purity and reverence of your lives." (.2)
One woman had argued for many months with her husband, who had objected to her bringing her Christian friends to their home for a prayer group. But one day she read in the Bible that it was God's plan for her husband to be in spiritual authority. She told him why having a prayer group was important to her, but that she was going to respect his wishes. To her surprise, the next week, when she was getting ready to go to the prayer group at a friend's home, her husband announced that he was going with her. That was the beginning of his decision to follow Jesus.
Release your spouse to God
God has sent the Holy Spirit to change your spouse. You can't convert your spouse. No one else but the Holy Spirit can, because matters of faith are unreasonable to the natural mind: "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, and they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." ()
It takes God Himself to convince people to believe. So release your spouse to God and allow the Holy Spirit to work. Your responsibility is to be a faithful witness, not just sharing the truth but living it. Let the life of Christ in you minister that love which will bring you and your spouse into that holy union that God has ordained for your marriage.
For wives, being a faithful witness means respecting your husband's role as the head of the family by being submissive to his authority. "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." ()
For husbands, that means giving yourself to your wife in selfless devotion, remembering your oneness, like the relationship of Christ to His church: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herIn this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church." ()
A man who had gone alone to one of a series of evangelistic services accepted Christ as his personal savior and longed for his wife to share the same experience. He read in the Bible that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands. That, he figured, gave him the right to command his wife to go with him to one of the meetings, even though she would have to break a dinner invitation she had made to their friends. She complied with his order but wasn't in any receptive mood when she went to the service!
Later, after much discussion with his wife, the man was impressed by the Holy Spirit that faith is not something that can be coerced and his eagerness to share his faith with his wife didn't give him the authority to run roughshod over her. He released his wife to the Lord and fulfilled his responsibility as a husband by loving his wife as Christ loves the church. As a result, a short time later his wife accepted Christ as her personal Savior.
Command respect, not arguments
Just as your call is to respect your spouse's position and to love and cherish him or her, the children are also called to honor your spouse. It's very tempting to allow yourself to subtly convey to your children your disapproval of your unbelieving spouse and so undermine his or her authority over them. Help your children understand that they, too, are to be witnesses to the other parent by their respect and love. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother ." ()
One of the most subtle ways that Satan can wreck your faithful witness is to tempt you to harbor a grudge or to nurse feelings of self-pity. Brooding over your feelings of persecution can only rob you of the Holy Spirit's help. Confess and repent of any bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness and receive God's cleansing. Then thank the Lord for His grace and forgiveness. Although you should not broadcast your disappointment over your spouse's unbelief, you should share your feelings and questions with a Christian counselor or minister whose wisdom in spiritual matters and family relations is respected. And as you devote each day to the Lord in gratitude for the work He is doing in your family, you can say with the Psalmist, :This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." ()
You can also give thanks to God for every little victory along the way. This exercise of prayer will foster in your spirit the hope you'll need for the longer haul. And keep up your hope. When your spouse does finally come to share your belief in Jesus Christ - what a triumph! Where the Holy Spirit is in control, there is great hope for the ideal relationship God has in mind between you, your spouse, and family.
Scripture references are from the New International Version.
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