Abuse, Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Must I reconcile with my abusive ex-husband?

I was in a very volatile marriage to an abusive, lost man and I was also lost at the time. There was violence in the marriage which caused me to run away and divorce him out of fear. This was seven years ago and I have not seen nor heard from him since.

I have recently been saved and have repented of all my past sin and divorce1. I do understand that God hates divorce, and why, and that He would want me to reconcile with my ex-husband, if possible. But I am terrified about inquiring of my ex-husband because of the abuse I experienced. I don’t want to go back to him, if he’s even unmarried currently. I want to move forward in my new life as a daughter of God in the situation I am currently in – where He called me.

Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven? I did write my ex a letter that I sent to his parents’ address asking for forgiveness (for sins I had committed against him) about a year and a half ago and I believe he knows where he could find me if he wanted to reconcile; I have heard nothing. I have had nightmares about all this. Part of the reason we don’t live in the same town is I didn’t want to be found. I was so lost in my sin until God opened my eyes and now I cannot change my past and that has left me feeling helpless and hopeless.

First, I just want to take a moment to rejoice with you that God has brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light! Welcome to the family! I also praise Him for rescuing you out of such a terrible situation and placing you in a safe environment. I hope by now this wicked man has been brought to justice and is no longer able to harm anyone.

OK, let’s take this one step at a time, for you and for any others who may be in a similar situation…

I was unable to glean from your email whether or not you are now joined to, and faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound church. If you’re not, that’s step one for many reasons: a) God commands it, so you’ll want to be obedient to Him, b) all Christians need training in the Scriptures and fellowship with our brothers and sisters, c) you need to unlearn all the ungodly ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others that the abuse taught you and replace them with godly, spiritually healthy ways of thinking and seeing yourself and others, and d) you need pastoral counsel about this particular situation you’ve asked me about.

If you haven’t yet found a doctrinally sound church and need some help, I would encourage you to go to the blue menu bar at the top of this page and click on the Searching for a new church? tab. When you get there, study up on the resources under “What to look for in a church,” and then begin exploring the many church search engines to find a good church near you.

Once you find a solid church (or if you’re already in a solid church), step two is to set up an appointment with your pastor for counseling. You need a shepherd who can walk through this situation with you face to face, long term, and can take the time to listen to all of the details. Binding up the wounds of injured sheep and tending to them while they heal is part of a shepherd’s job.

Next let’s take a look at some of the biblical issues.

You are correct in saying that, if possible, it’s God’s desire for a husband and wife to reconcile. But the only way that would be possible in your situation is if your ex-husband:

  • has thoroughly and completely repented of all of his sin (including, but not limited to, the abuse and violence)
  • has trusted Christ as his Savior,
  • has joined, and is faithfully attending, a doctrinally sound local church
  • is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance as witnessed by doctrinally sound mature brothers and sisters in Christ at his church (in other words, we can’t just take his word for it that he’s changed)
  • and all of this has been going on for a significant amount of time (like, at least year or two, not last week).

One of the things you should discuss with your pastor in counseling is whether or not, and how, to find out if your ex-husband has gotten saved and is living a repentant life that honors Christ. If he has not written you back or attempted any contact in the past seven years, chances are he is still lost and unrepentant.

This is another reason it’s important for you to be in a good church – you should not be the one to approach, or have any contact with, your ex-husband. Even if you’re not worried for your physical safety, clearly, contacting him would traumatize you at this point in your life. If any research is to be done into your ex-husband’s spiritual condition, it should be done by your pastor, elders, a deacon, or whoever your pastor designates as the wisest choice.

If it is discovered that God has graciously saved your ex-husband (and all of the items I bullet-pointed above are true of his life) and he has not remarried, then your pastor, his pastor, you, and he will have to put your heads together and figure out how to proceed biblically from here. And I imagine that will involve a lot of time and intense counseling before any decisions can be made.

You should not return to your ex-husband if he is unrepentant and/or still unsaved. (And if your pastor tells you that you should or you have to, you’re at the wrong church. That’s pastoral malpractice.) Notice I said “return to,” not “reconcile”. To be reconciled is for two people to be made right with one another. It’s for two people to come together in agreement to forgive past hurts and move forward together in a peaceful and harmonious relationship. Two people. That’s what the word “reconciled” means. In other words, you cannot be reconciled to someone who will not be reconciled to you because he still wants to hurt you.

Can two walk together, except they be agreed?

Amos 3:3

Returning to your unrepentant ex-husband is not only unwise for the sake of your own personal safety, but consider what the Bible says about you – a Believer – voluntarily2 entering into a marriage with an unbeliever:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians 6:14-15

While this passage doesn’t apply exclusively to marriage, marriage is one of the relationships it does apply to. If we are not to yoke with unbelievers in ministry, or enmeshed business relationships, or close friendships, how much more should we not yoke with an unbeliever in the most intimate relationship of all – the oneness relationship of marriage?

You alluded to “remaining in the state in which you were called,” which is an excellent point Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:

So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

1 Corinthians 7:24

The basic idea Paul is trying to convey here is not that you shouldn’t make Zacchaeus-like restitution or apologies for sins you’ve committed whenever that’s possible, but that you can’t undo your pre-salvation past (just like Zacchaeus couldn’t undo the fact that he cheated people in the first place). And you don’t have to. That was nailed to the cross, and it stayed dead and buried when Jesus came out of the tomb.

That’s precisely why you shouldn’t feel helpless and hopeless. That is our help and our hope: Jesus did for us what we so desperately needed and could not do for ourselves. He took our sin, our shame, our disgraceful past away – as far as the east is from the west – and dressed us in His royal robes of righteousness, making us clean and right with God to walk in newness of life! No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

No one can change her past. Even God doesn’t change your past. God puts your past to death and changes your future.

Not only that, this bit about remaining in the state in which you were called comes right on the heels of verse 15, which says:

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

1 Corinthians 7:15

Your unbelieving ex-husband is separated from you. Let it be so. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” you might say. Keep the peace that God has blessed you with by not opening up this can of worms and unnecessarily creating what could be a volatile situation.

You ask, “Does my not wanting to go back to my ex mean I am not truly repentant? And subsequently not truly forgiven?”. No, honey. It means God blessed you with good sense that still works. If this were a situation in which you divorced a godly (non-abusive, obviously) husband for your own selfish, sinful reasons, subsequently got saved, and still refused to be reconciled to him, there would probably be some issues of sin that your pastor would need to counsel you about. But getting saved, honoring all of the Scriptures mentioned above, and refusing to poorly steward the mind, body, and spirit God blessed you with by pointlessly putting them back in harm’s way? That demonstrates that you have repented and been forgiven and that God is hard at work healing you and renewing your mind.

Now, go make that appointment with your pastor.

1The reader stated that she “repented of…my divorce”. I did not deal with biblical and unbiblical reasons for divorce in this article because the focus of her question was, “Where do I go from here?” not, “Did I sin by divorcing him?”, and if she did sin in some way by divorcing him (and I’m not saying she did), she has already repented of it. But I do want anyone reading this to know that if you’re in an abusive relationship, it is not a sin to get yourself and your children somewhere safe. Getting to a safe place is not the same thing as getting a divorce. If you are being abused, get to safety immediately and call your pastor for help.

2This is not a proactive instruction to currently married people to divorce their unbelieving (non-abusive) spouses. Paul deals with that in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Marriage

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years of Marriage

Today is my 28th wedding anniversary. My husband and I married on a lovely Tuesday evening between Christmas and New Years in a church bedecked with pink poinsettias. And six kids, several houses, and a few dogs later, here we still are, plugging away at this “‘til death do us part” thing. There have been a lot of “for better” times, and some “for worse” times. Days when we celebrated “for richer” and years when we survived “for poorer.” A few “in sickness” moments, but, praise God, we’ve mostly lived “in health.”

There’s a lot I didn’t know about living with a completely different person when I first said “I do,” but here are some things I’ve learned both in my own marriage, and from friends’ marriages, over the last twenty-eight years.

1. This, too, shall pass.

It’s easy to look at one fight, one difficult time, and think, in the moment, “That’s it. This marriage is over,” but after a while, you realize this is just one tree in the forest of your marriage. At some point, things will calm down and you’ll be on the other side of it. Marriage is a cross country marathon, not a sprint on smooth pavement. Keep going.

2. “Not tonight, Dear…”

Every couple has to come to their own unique mutual agreement and understanding of each spouse’s wants and needs when it comes to sex. Coercion and manipulation are neither appropriate nor biblical, but neither is depriving each other. There are going to be times when you’re not in the mood for sex but your husband is. If lack of “the mood” is the only thing causing you to say no, say yes anyway, and do it joyfully and enthusiastically. Think of it this way- your husband probably isn’t always “in the mood” to go to work or take out the trash or help with the kids, but you want him to do those things anyway, with a happy heart, because he loves you. Marriage is about serving each other in all aspects of life, whether you’re in the mood at the moment or not.

3. Submit

Biblical submission is not, as secular feminists might have you believe, for weak women, but for strong, godly women. It takes much more strength to exercise self control and obey God’s Word than to just do and say whatever you feel like doing and saying. Take it from a headstrong, opinionated gal who thinks she’s always right- it’s not easy, but biblical submission will make your marriage better, healthier, and more Christ-centered, and will grow you to be more like Jesus.

4. Some things are better left unsaid.

You don’t have to verbalize every thought that comes into your mind, especially when those thoughts are critical, whiny, argumentative, “I told you so,” constantly corrective, complaining, cutting, or in any way unchristlike. Sometimes your most shining moment will be keeping your mouth shut.

5. Forgive quickly

You won’t find a passage of Scripture that says it’s OK to hold a grudge or dangle your forgiveness over your husband’s head until he has groveled sufficiently. The Bible says we are to be kind and tenderhearted and to forgive the way Christ forgave us. Do you forgive your husband the way Christ forgives you?

6. Put your husband first.

After your relationship with Christ, your first love, loyalty, service, confidentiality, and time belong to your husband. Not your children, and not your mother, sister, or best friend. Your husband comes first.

7. Don’t undermine your husband with the kids.

God gives your husband the ultimate responsibility for and authority over your family. While you and he can and should privately discuss how to handle disciplinary issues with the children and other family situations which arise, he makes the final decision. Do not collude with the children, argue with your husband in front of them about his decisions, keep secrets from your husband, or otherwise attempt to circumvent his directives. Support him, submit to him, and present a united front.

8. Affirm your husband privately and publicly.

Women can practically turn complaining about their husbands into a competitive sport. Don’t go there. Would you like for your husband to sit around with his friends and complain about you? Don’t do it in a braggadocious way, but, as opportunities arise, let others hear you affirming your husband and thanking God for him. And be sure you do so when it’s just the two of you, too.

9. Don’t publicly shame your husband.

As Christians, we should always – privately and publicly – behave in a way that honors God. As married women that godly behavior will also honor our husbands. Don’t ever berate or belittle your husband in front of others (or in private, either), including on social media. Don’t behave in public in ways that would embarrass him. When others think about your relationship with your husband, you want them to think, “Wow, he’s really blessed!” not “Poor guy.”

10. Divorce is not an option.

This is the mindset with which couples should both enter marriage and handle normal¹ fights and difficulties. Do not bring the “D-word” out during an argument. God says marriage is for life. It is not disposable.

11. Pray for your husband and for yourself as his wife.

This is probably the most powerful thing you can do for your husband and your marriage. Pray for your husband’s walk with the Lord, situations he’s facing at work, weaknesses he’s struggling with. Pray that God will help you to be a godly wife, and that He will show you how best to support and encourage your husband. Want your husband to change in some way? Don’t nag, pray for him, and pray that God will help you to respond to your husband in a Christlike way.

12. You were always on my mind…

Don’t those little acts of thoughtfulness from your husband – unexpected flowers, doing the dishes, a love note – brighten your day and deepen your love for him? Your husband feels the same way. Cook his favorite meal, send him an occasional text letting him know you’re thinking about him, wear the lingerie he likes. Make him feel special and loved.

13. Extend grace.

Your husband is going to mess up. Often. So are you. Don’t turn his every mistake and sin into World War III. The Bible tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Extend the same love and grace to him in his offenses that you want him to extend to you in yours.

14. He’s your husband, not your child.

Don’t speak condescendingly to your husband, order him around, or otherwise treat him like he’s one of your children. He’s not. Show him the respect, support, and love a godly wife is to give her husband.

15. Be on the same page, theologically, before marriage.

The Bible is clear that we are not to partner with unbelievers, and the most painful consequences for disobeying this command are often seen in marriages in which a Christian marries an non-Christian. But even if you both profess faith in Christ, it’s important to be in agreement on things like which denomination or church you’ll join and why, what the Bible says about salvation, men’s and women’s roles in marriage and the church, parenting, giving offerings, regular attendance, and other theological issues.

16. Admit when you’re wrong and ask forgiveness.

If you’ve sinned against your husband, crucify that pride, admit it, and ask him to forgive you. And don’t forget to repent and seek God’s forgiveness as well.

17. You’re not your husband’s Holy Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict your husband of his sin, not yours. Certainly the two of you should talk things out, and it’s OK to kindly and lovingly discuss how his sin affects you, but no amount of preaching at him or castigating him with Scripture will change your husband’s heart, so don’t try. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

18. God made you the helper, not your husband.

Every family operates differently when it comes to careers, childrearing, and household chores. Couples must reach a mutual agreement about who will carry out which tasks, and should help each other whenever the need arises. That being said, biblically speaking, God has placed wives in the role of helping their husbands, not the other way around. Your husband should not have to work all day and then come home, make supper, clean the house, and raise the children while you pursue hobbies or leisure activities. You both have responsibilities to take care of. Make sure you’re helping him take care of his by taking care of yours.

19. Thank God for your husband.

Don’t forget to thank God for blessing you with your husband. Especially when what you really want to do is hit him with the car. Pour your heart out to God about your anger, sure, but then start thanking God for all of your husband’s good qualities. You might be surprised at the way it changes your heart, your frame of mind, and your ability to forgive.

20. Take joy in the simple things.

Marriage is not a Hallmark movie, a jewelry store commercial, or a Carnival Cruise brochure. It’s just not, so don’t expect it to be. Enjoy just spending time talking, working on a project together, or doing chores side by side. Sometimes it’s not “He went to Jared,” but “We went grocery shopping,” that can bring the most joy.

21. Your husband can’t read your mind.

Your husband wants to do things for you and give you gifts that please you. If he asks which restaurant you want to go to, don’t say “I don’t care” if you do. Tell him. Don’t tell him whatever he gets you for your birthday will be fine and then pout because he didn’t get the gift your heart was set on. If he does something that bothers you, discuss it with him. Don’t make reading your mind a test of your husband’s love for you.

22. Don’t go behind your husband’s back.

Unless what you want is a husband who feels betrayed and doesn’t trust you. If he makes a decision, abide by it. If he asks you not to do something, don’t. If you think he’s wrong, discuss it with him privately, kindly, and lovingly. But, unless it conflicts with Scripture in some way, respect, support, and submit to your husband’s leadership and decisions.

23. Another man is not the answer.

You might go through some rocky times in your marriage. Confiding in or seeking comfort from another man will only make things worse or irreparable. Don’t be the foolish woman Proverbs 14:1 speaks of who “tears her house down with her own hands.” Another man is the source of more problems, not the fix for your current problems.

24. Help him the way he needs to be helped

Your role in marriage is to be your husband’s helper. But sometimes your idea of how to help will be different from his idea of what’s helpful. Maybe you think his socks should be sorted by color while he prefers them organized categorically (dress socks, atheletic socks, etc.) Whenever possible, help your husband in the way he prefers to be helped, not the way you prefer to help him.

25. Your husband is a valuable resource

God has given you a unique human being with his own background, perspective, education, experiences, and thought processes as a live-in resource. Take advantage of that gift! Trying to figure out how to handle a situation at work or at church? Wondering if you should move the couch across the living room or underneath the window? Attempting to master the art of grilling? Ask your husband for his advice or input. The old saying, “Two heads are better than one,” is true, and he might just wow you with a skill, talent, or knowledge you didn’t know he had!

26. Perfection is an unrealistic expectation

Social media, rom-coms, romance novels, other couples at church – sometimes it seems like everyone has the perfect life, the perfect marriage, the perfect husband. Don’t buy into that lie. Movies and books can afford to idealize – they’re fiction. And the real life husbands and couples you see in your newsfeed and on Sunday morning? Sure they might be doing well in an area you’re struggling with, but they’ve got problems in other areas. There’s no such thing as a perfect husband or marriage, so don’t compare yours to someone else’s. Be thankful for the strengths your husband has and the healthy aspects of your marriage, and pray about or work on those aspects that need godly growth.

27. You don’t complete me

Sure, it was a great romantic line in Jerry Maguire, but if you’re putting the burden of “You complete me,” on your husband, you’re putting it in the wrong place. The only place we can find our completeness, our identity, our contentment, is in Christ. Your husband will let you down many times during your marriage (just like you will let him down) because he is an imperfect, sinful human being. Christ will never let you down. Don’t saddle your husband with the impossible to carry burden of your contentment.

28. Set a godly example

Is your husband unsaved? Be the embodiment of the gospel to him through your godly submission, behavior, and demeanor. Is he saved but a bit weak in some areas of life or sanctification? Don’t parade your righteousness in that area around or toot your own horn in an effort to shame or guilt him into doing what’s right. Rather, with a quiet and gentle spirit, and most often, “without a word,” humbly set a good example. He never reads his Bible? Make sure you’re getting up every day and reading yours. You wish he’d ask you how your day was? Treat him the way you want to be treated, and ask how his day was. Your example may not change your husband’s behavior, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to honor and glorify God and to be a godly influence on your husband (which God can use any way He wants to) instead of a stumbling block.

God has been so gracious to my husband and me over the last two decades. I have often failed at many of the things on this list, while God has protected us from the others. I could probably list at least twenty-eight more things, but it all boils down to this: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Christ, and love your husband the way you want him to love you. That’s the number one thing I’ve learned in all these years, and I’m so grateful to God for sanctifying me through my marriage and blessing me with my dear husband.


¹We can all think of exceptions and extraordinary circumstances to all of these points. This article pertains to generally healthy Christian marriages, not instances of abuse. If you are being abused get help and get somewhere safe.
Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: I “feel led” in a different direction from my husband.

Originally published March 20, 2017

My husband and I recently moved to a new state. After living here a few months, I ‘m not sure this is where God wants us. At the time of our move, my husband had another opportunity for us to go to a different state than the one we just moved to. In prayer and reading God’s word I think we should’ve gone to that state instead. That opportunity is still open, and I feel led to go. I’ve prayed and asked God and still feel led. I’m so confused. I am starting to feel like my husband is a hindrance in my following God’s will. He is supposed to be the leader of the family but he’s not a godly leader. I am a Christian woman who is trying to follow what I think God is leading me to do.  My problem is I have a husband who isn’t in God’s word, nor trying to be, and he says no. 

One of the most stressful situations in a marriage is when your spouse is an unbeliever, one spouse is much more spiritually mature than the other, or there are major differences on theological issues between spouses. I know this is difficult, but I hope I’ll be able to point you in a helpful direction.

It’s good that you’re reading your Bible and praying as you seek God’s direction. I’m not sure (but am very curious) as to which Bible passage you might have read that leads you to believe you moved to the wrong state. I can’t think of one that addresses that issue because the Bible is not personally specific in that way. It gives us wisdom and godly instruction and principles which God wants us to use to make wise choices, but there aren’t any verses that say things like, “You should have moved to the other state,” “Marry Bob, not Fred,” or “Buy the minivan instead of the convertible.”

You say, “I am a Christian woman who is trying to follow what I think God is leading me to do.” That’s great! That’s always the attitude of heart we should have. And the first thing we need to understand is that God leads us through His sufficient and authoritative Word. That means, when we have a decision to make, we don’t go by subjective feelings and impressions, we go to God’s written word and make sure we’re obeying everything it says about our situation.

The good news about your situation is that God spells out His will for you very clearly in Scripture. If you really mean what you say about wanting to do God’s will and follow what He’s leading you to do rather than doing what you want to do and calling that God’s will, here it is:

God is leading you to submit to your husband:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Ephesians 5:22-24 (emphasis mine)

Unless your husband is abusing¹ you or encouraging you to do something sinful, God’s will is for you to graciously submit to his decisions. Denying your request to move to another state may not make you happy, but it does not qualify as abuse or sin. Notice, this passage says wives are to submit “in everything,” not just the decisions we agree with. The remainder of this passage goes on to instruct men about how they’re to treat their wives in a godly way, but it does not say that wives only have to submit to their husbands if their husbands are godly or “in the Word.”

God is leading you to conduct yourself respectfully:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 1 Peter 3:1-5 (emphasis mine)

Sometimes when we ladies want something from our husbands, we can be like a dog with a bone, talking them to death about it (Dare I say, nagging?). While husbands and wives should talk through major issues and decisions together, if you’ve calmly, lovingly, and respectfully offered your husband your input and he has made his decision, you need to stop trying to convince him to do it your way. Let it go, Elsa. Behave and speak with love, grace, and kindness toward your husband as you move on with life in your marriage. You may not win him over to your opinion, but that’s not your ultimate goal. Your goal – as you mentioned in your e-mail – is for him to be godly and in the Word. Your behavior and demeanor can help win him to godliness.

God is leading you to be content:

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11b-13

If anyone knew what it was like to bear up under unpleasant circumstances and find his contentment in Christ rather than in temporal happiness, it was Paul. Paul had learned the secret to maintaining his contentment no matter what: the strength only Christ can provide. Christ can enable you to be content in this circumstance of your life, too. Just keep your focus on Him and ask Him to strengthen you.

God is leading you to pray for His will to be done and to trust Him for the outcome.

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew 26:39 (emphasis mine)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (emphasis mine)

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” At Gethsemane, He demonstrated it for us. God did not change Jesus’ circumstances, because it was His will for Jesus to be crucified. But Jesus trusted God to do what was right and best, and He obeyed and glorified His Father to His last breath.

Are you praying for God’s will to be done in your situation, or your will? Keep in mind that God is sovereign. If it were His will for you to be in another state right now, that’s where you would be. Nobody can thwart God’s will. Have you ever considered the possibility that it’s not that your husband is a “hindrance in following God’s will” but that it was God’s will for you to be living in this state and that He caused or allowed your husband to move you there because that’s what He wants? Ask God to do His will in your situation, obey Him no matter the cost, and trust Him for the outcome.

Finally, I’d like to address something you mentioned in your e-mail that you didn’t seem to think was connected to your main question. Actually, it is. You said that you found my blog while searching for one of the false teachers I warn against. If you’ve been sitting under the teaching of the woman you mentioned, or these teachers, or any other teachers who don’t properly handle and teach God’s word, that is a large part of your confusion about your situation. These teachers do not correctly teach people how to study, understand, and apply God’s word to their lives.

You’ve been taught to “feel led” to do things that are in conflict with God’s word. God leads us and speaks to us through Scripture, and it is Scripture alone that we are to go to and depend on to live a godly life and make wise decisions, not our feelings, opinions, and experiences. Unfortunately, teachers like the one you mentioned often lead their hearers to attempt to interpret subjective feelings, ideas, impressions, and circumstances as “God’s will” rather than seeking what God has already revealed to be His will in His written Word. I would encourage you to put away the pre-packaged “Bible” studies, simply pick up your Bible, study it, and obey it.


¹Physical abuse. In a normal, relatively healthy marriage, a husband’s decision not to bow to his wife’s wishes in a particular situation like this does not constitute abuse. Any wife who is being physically abused should get to safety and get help.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Can I share the gospel with my unsaved husband?

Originally published July 9, 2018

I was brought up to believe that women win their unsaved spouses by actions, not words, because of dissension in the the home and that sort of thing. Would love your thoughts.

One of the most difficult and stressful situations a Christian woman can walk through is being married to someone who is not saved. Sometimes this happens because husband and wife are both unsaved when they get married and the wife gets saved later. Sometimes it happens because the wife (and sometimes the husband, too) think the husband is saved and it later becomes obvious that he is a false convert. And sometimes what happens is that a spiritually immature Christian woman goes into marriage knowing her husband isn’t saved, and she either doesn’t care or she thinks she’ll change him right away.

Single ladies, please take heed and take this to heart: know your man well, spiritually, before you get married. While it’s impossible to know with 100% certainty whether or not another person is saved, do your best. Make sure this is a man who can be the spiritual leader of your home – a man who will make wise and godly decisions, who intends to parent biblically, who is able and eager to lead your family in Bible study and prayer, and who is committed to faithfully attending and serving the local church. Many women who went into marriage thinking these things would somehow take care of themselves can tell you from sad experience that the issues you and your husband have before marriage will only get worse after marriage.

That’s the best way to answer the reader’s question: prophylaxis. Prevent the problem before it happens.

That said, God is the One who decides when you get saved, and if you and your husband weren’t saved when you got married, but you are now, praise God for that! What a wonderful thing that He saved you and that He has placed a 24/7 witness to the gospel in your husband’s life!

If you ever feel alone in having an unsaved husband, take comfort and think about all the ladies in the first century when Christianity was brand new. Many, if not most, Christian women were in your situation. They worried and agonized over their husbands’ salvation just like you do. In fact, it was such a common situation in the early church that Paul and Peter each dedicated part of their writings to instructing and encouraging wives about walking out their faith in a marriage to an unsaved husband:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:1-6

If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy…For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? 1 Corinthians 7:13-14,16

I believe the reader’s question focuses in on 1 Peter 3:1:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.

If we isolate this verse from its immediate context of surrounding verses, the context of the book of 1 Peter, and the context of the New Testament, it seems to say that a wife can win her husband to Christ simply by her Christlike behavior with no need to ever open her mouth and share the gospel with him. However, if we take a step back and even just think about it logically for a minute, we know that can’t be what this verse is saying.

Think about how you came to saving faith. Did you get saved exclusively by watching someone act humbly, patiently, lovingly, etc.? Or did someone explain to you that you were a sinner in need of repentance, that Christ paid the penalty for your sin on the cross, that He rose again on the third day, and that if you placed your faith in Him, He would cleanse and forgive you and give you eternal life? Those are things you can’t get just by watching someone behave kindly and lovingly. They have to be explained by a friend, a sermon, a tract, the Bible, or some other use of words. (This is what’s problematic with the old cliché “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Words are always necessary for explaining the gospel.)

Next, let’s think about the context of the New Testament at large as well as 1 Peter. Can you think of any instances in which Christians are told to share the gospel with anybody simply by modeling good behavior? No. The iconic evangelism passage, the Great Commission, tells us to “make disciples…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” You have to talk to people, and maybe even use books or other written materials – with words – in order to teach and disciple. The theme of 1 Peter itself is largely, “Walk in holiness, a) because it’s the godly thing to do, and b) because it could open a door for you to share the gospel with others.” Peter never suggests that godly behavior is the stopping point of evangelism, only the starting point.

Another great example is the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. The Ethiopian eunuch was actually reading a gospel passage from the Bible, when Philip arrived on the scene. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” Philip asked. “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” he answered. At that point, Philip did not put on a little skit of good works for the Ethiopian to watch, he climbed into the chariot beside him and explained the gospel from Scripture.

The 1 Corinthians 7 passage adds clarity as well, indicating that God has essentially placed a saved wife and mother in her family to be a missionary to her husband and children.

Now let’s think about this verse in the context of 1 Peter 3:1-6. If you look at those six verses as a set, what is the main idea of the passage? It’s not witnessing, it’s being winsome. Through Peter’s pen, the Holy Spirit is helping women to see that godly behavior sets a gorgeous table from which the main dish of the gospel can be appetizingly served. Don’t be confused – it’s not about dressing like a supermodel dripping with jewels; that’s not what’s going to have the most profound impact on a husband’s heart – it’s about being beautiful from the inside out. Your character, your demeanor, your submission and self-sacrifice, “a gentle and quiet spirit.” That’s the focus of this passage – laying the foundation – so that when an opening presents itself to share Christ with your husband, the gospel is adorned with your grace and godliness instead of your behavior and attitude being an impediment to his receiving the good news.

The primary characteristic of having a “gentle and quiet spirit” is trusting God. And that plays into this passage too, because the scariest and weightiest thing you’re going to have to trust God with is your husband’s salvation. God has to save your husband in His good time just like He saved you in His good time. You cannot convince, lecture, or nag him into the kingdom of God, even though it will be tempting to try because you want it so badly.

That’s another application of this passage that can be very comforting and helpful. Maybe when you first got saved, you were so eager for your husband to know Christ that you harped at him constantly about it. You overwhelmed him with the gospel to the point that he said, “Please stop talking to me about that.” This passage in 1 Peter reassures you that it’s OK to back off. You’ve shared the gospel with your husband. He’s heard it. Until or unless a moment comes when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Holy Spirit is intensely working on your husband’s heart, he’s “ripe for the picking,” and he needs you to pray with him or explain the gospel again, your job is over. It’s the Holy Spirit’s turn. Stand aside and don’t get in the way of the work He’s doing through the gospel seed you’ve planted, your prayers for your husband, and your godly behavior.

God can save your husband even if you’ve messed up and said the wrong thing. God can save your husband even if you don’t say that “one more thing” you think will push him over the edge of salvation. Yes, share the gospel with your husband, but realize that God does not place the burden of saving your husband on your shoulders. Only Christ is strong enough to bear that burden. Rest in that, trust Him, and walk obediently. You are not responsible for saving your husband. God is.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Mailbag, Marriage

The Mailbag: Regrets, I’ve had a few…more.

 

Your article The Mailbag: Regrets…I Still Have a Few is excellent! I have a related question…what if the thing you regret isn’t a sin? What if it is a decision you made that now you wish you hadn’t made? I don’t know how to deal with something like this.

Thank you!

It’s always good to try to think these things through biblically. I’m glad you’re doing that! It’s a little difficult to answer without knowing what the circumstances are, but sometimes that’s good because it allows me to take a more “general principles” approach that can help other readers out with their own situations. So here are some principles we can all consider in a situation like this:

⇒ Get out your Bible and make absolutely certain that whatever you’re regretting isn’t a sin, because we have to deal with sins one way and non-sins another way. When the reader mentions “something you regret that isn’t a sin,” I’m thinking of things like: “I wish I had taken job A instead of job B.” “I wish I hadn’t moved so far away from my extended family.” “I wish we had homeschooled our kids instead of putting them in public school.” Things like that are not sins. Things like, “I wish I hadn’t committed adultery and ruined my marriage,” are.

⇒ Spend some time in prayer and in Scripture examining your heart about why you regret the decision you made. Maybe the decision itself wasn’t sinful, but the regrets you’re having are? Do you wish you had taken that other job because you’re coveting the higher income it would have given you? Do you wish you had homeschooled so the other moms would look up to you and admire you?

Or maybe what’s motivating your regret isn’t sinful. Maybe you regret being so far from your extended family because you were the only gospel influence in their lives. May you now see that taking the other job would have allowed you to spend more time with your kids. Only you and God can sort out the motives of your heart.

⇒ Is there a way to fix things in a biblical direction? If what’s motivating your regret is sinful (pride, coveting, etc.), job one is to repent and ask God to change your heart about the situation. If your regrets aren’t sinful, is there anything you can do to alleviate the situation in a godly way? Could you cut back on your hours to spend more time with your kids? Video chat with your extended family more often to continue being that gospel witness? Think about whether or not there’s anything you can do about the situation.

⇒ Be content:

…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. Philippians 4:11b
…But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1 Timothy 6:8
…Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
…O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:1-2

⇒ Trust God’s sovereignty- especially if, at the time, you were trying to make the most godly decision you could make and be as obedient to Him as you knew how to be. God has put you in the situation you’re in right now for His glory and your good. You didn’t end up where you are by accident. And the God who has brought you to where you are is capable of using the decision you made that you now regret to bring Himself glory, to do something for you, in you, through you, or with you, and maybe even to minister to someone else.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5-7

⇒ Move forward, and keep striving to make godly decisions in the future.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, Philippians 3:13b-15a
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. Psalm 37:3-5

Dwelling on regrets isn’t spiritually healthy. We certainly never see God praising anyone for looking back on the past and fretting. (After all, look what happened when Lot’s wife looked back! :0) There’s nothing you can do to change the past. All we can do is press on and live today for the glory of God.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.