Posted in theology

Unequally yoked (or yoked to a minimal believer) but still need to submit?

By Elizabeth Prata

The Bible calls married women to submit to their husbands, as they submit to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22-25). But when your husband isn’t a believer in Christ, or is a minimal believer showing little interest in spiritual things, how does one navigate the minefields that pop up? Yesterday we saw young Abigail in that situation, and she used tact and diplomacy.

The question is, how to submit to husband without sinning against Jesus. Let’s start with a negative example of what NOT to do. I’d said on the first essay in this series that submission means you do not have to follow your husband into sin. In the days of the early church shown in Acts, everyone was selling their land and laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet, so that there was not a needy person among them. (Acts 4:32-35). So Ananias and Sapphira decided they would do the same.

Note what the Acts 5:1-2 verses say, “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

The Spirit inspired Luke to show that Sapphira was complicit. The word for her having “full knowledge” in the Greek is ‘to share the knowledge.’ Whether Sapphira herself thought it was a good idea, or submitted to her husband’s scheme out of greed or misguided submission doesn’t matter. She was complicit in sinning against the Spirit, says Acts 5:9. She even got a second chance, when Peter asked her directly what the price of the land was and if it was the full amount. She didn’t come clean and so, God struck her dead on the spot just as He had her husband. THAT is how seriously God takes sinning against the Spirit in church.

Ladies, submission doesn’t mean following your husband into sin.

Let’s say your husband doesn’t want you to go to church. Maybe he plays golf on Sunday or goes fishing and wants you home to watch the kids. Maybe he’s just aggravated against spiritual things. Maybe he doesn’t value the church. Whatever the reason, one day he says to you he doesn’t want you to go to services. What do you do?

Here, Susan Heck has an example of how to use tact to humbly submit to the leading of the husband, yet honor Jesus. In her interview with Justin Peters, Peters asked Susan for advice to give to women who are in the predicament where the husband doesn’t want her to go to church. (Interview is here, slide to 49:30).

Susan Heck said that firstly the wife can find an older women to help her, give advice, and bounce around ideas for problem solving. Secondly, Susan said that she can go to her husband, and graciously say that her conviction is to the Lord, yet her life is partnered with the husband. She feels duty bound to attend church as the Bible instructs, but lays out options to the husband. For example- “My church has services Wednesday from then to then, Sundays there are two services at these times, and there’s a Bible study on Thursday nights. Which one would you least object to me attending?” It gives him opportunity to decide (lead), but maintains her conviction to follow the Lord, ultimately.

There is no need to be belligerent or militant. Submitting means grace and kindness, even though you’re following through on a strong conviction.

When we love Jesus we don’t want to disappoint Him and we want to be in His will. His will for a woman’s marriage is to seek a Godly man. This list is from Crosswalk:

How Do You Know Who God Wants You to Marry? …or, if God wants you to get married? Well, this is what God wants for you:
Abundant life (John 10:10)
Spiritual fruit (Col. 1:3-6, Gal. 5:22-25)
Unity and love for the body of Christ (Jn. 15:9-17, Eph. 4:1)
Using your gifts in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12, Rom. 12)
Clarity and passion about the gospel (Col. 2:6-9, Matt. 28:19-20)
Marriage to a believer, if you get married (2 Cor. 6:14). ~end Crosswalk

Marriage is difficult. Abraham and Sarah’s marriage was hard. Abraham had Hagar as a concubine, and Sarah was jealous and bitter when Hagar produced a son. Isaac and Rebekah were supposedly love at first sight but they played favorites with their two sons and in the end Rebekah deceived Isaac. David and Bathsheba’s marriage was polygamous and based on murder and adultery, after they married neither had a really good life afterwards. All of David’s children died. Hannah had to deal with Penninah, even though Elkanah was kind to Hannah. Hannah cried a lot. So did Hosea, the pain of his marriage to a prostitute and wondering if the children were even his… 

The Institution of Marriage fell apart in Genesis 4:19, “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah.”

God only ever directly told 3 people who to marry: Adam & Eve, Hosea to a prostitute for a visual lesson, and Joseph to Mary who Joseph thought was a fallen woman. He told Jeremiah NOT to marry. That’s it. The Lord wouldn’t give us a ‘sign’ on who to marry or not marry, given the lack of evidence in the Bible for His direct advice on marriage candidates, or even lack of any kind of signs to lay-people after the first generation of Christians. This article may help-

Does God Tell Us Who to Marry?
Thriving despite a difficult marriage

Proverbs has much advice and warning about wives who become contentious. I think there is more advice about wives than husbands! Proverbs speaks of three kinds of wives: a good wife, a contentious wife, and an immoral wife. In the Justin Peters interview, Susan Heck recommended Martha Peace’s book The Excellent Wife as a resource for any wife who wants to become excellent, as Proverbs outlines.

Marriage is hard because two sinful people are united as one flesh. “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33). No one said the Christian life was easy! But Jesus is our example. Look how He lived in order to save us from God’s wrath for our sins. We can strive to be the best wife we can be, despite any difficulty, and eventually enjoy the peace and comfort a good marriage brings.

Further Reading

Is Complementarianism a Man-Made Doctrine?

Have We Made Too Much of Submission?

When Submission Isn’t Easy


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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