Lifestyle Evangelism in Marriage
We’ve been looking at aspects of marriage. This time we take on a perennial question, that of marriage to unbelievers. There are two sides to the issue. First there is the spouse who is converted and thus finds himself or herself, as a new believer, married to an unbeliever. This is quite a different situation than a young believer dating, courting, becoming engaged to and finally marrying an unbeliever.
What about the situation in which a married person is converted. There are two primary pieces of Scripture to which we may refer, 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 and 1 Peter 3:1-2. The former text reads, “If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.”
When Paul first went to Corinth, he met great resistance. But God spoke to Paul, after he determined to go to the Gentiles, saying, “I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Of these many men and women, several of their spouses were not converted. Paul was therefore constrained to speak to this situation. A believing husband was not to abandon his unbelieving wife and visa versa. We leave aside for the moment the question of divorce. What we should see now is that a conversion within an existing marriage does not alter the marital status of either party.
The apostle Peter gives additional direction. “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.” This injunction is part of a larger argument which goes back to 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” The human institutions Peter discusses are government, the work place, and marriage.
Marriage is one of the institutions ordained by God for the human good. Both men and women must submit to the responsibilities of the institution in order to receive it s privileges. Both husbands (1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 3:19) and wives (1 Peter 3:1-2, Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18) have specific responsibilities.
Peter is speaking into the same situation encountered by Paul and Peter says the same thing as Paul. Marriage to an unbeliever does not alter the responsibilities either spouse has under God. In addition, Peter emphasizes the need to exhibit the fruit of conversion in marriage, the fruit of the Spirit. Peter envisions an unbelieving spouse being won over to Christ by the extraordinary behavior of the Christian mate. He sees the unbelieving spouse being won to Christ “without a word.”
It is the fruit of the Spirit not the gifts of arguing and debating that win the day. Jesus makes this clear. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). Again, what is this fruit? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Marriage to an unbeliever is an evangelistic opportunity and challenge, a lifestyle evangelistic opportunity and challenge. Remember, however, dating and marrying an unbeliever as an evangelistic endeavor is quite a different situation. God deals with it differently. As we shall see, He forbids it.