Faithlife Sermons

Help! - My spouse doesn't go to church.

Hot topics  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  52:59
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If we are each in union with Christ, then our union with one another should bring us closer to Christ. If we are in union with Christ and our partner is at a different place, spiritually speaking, then our union with Christ and by demonstrating God’s love for them, we hope to draw them closer to God. If your relationship to God seems to take you further from your spouse, then at least you can hopefully be a conduit of God’s love and God’s presence in their life. By choosing to stay connected to you while you are moving closer to God, they are moving closer to God too.

Our theme for 2021 is “Redeeming the Time.”
During the months of July and August, I am preaching sermons which have been specifically requested.
I call them “Hot Topics” and I hope they will hold your attention through the summer months.
This week’s Hot Topic is a very practical question;
What do I do about a spouse who doesn’t attend church with me?
I know we have multiple people attending our church who have this situation.
Even if that’s not your situation, you may learn something that may be helpful in your various relationships outside the church.
So rather than address just one situation, I want to consider three different scenarios:
The person whose spouse does not profess to be a believer.
The person whose spouse may be a believer, but for some reason or another, chooses not to go to church.
The person whose spouse is a Christian, but who attends a different church or a different kind of church.
Interestingly, some of the things that we talked about last week are going to be helpful in this discussion.
Last week I addressed the question: What does it mean to live by faith?
For some people the answer is that faith is believing or believing correctly.
For some people faith is about belonging, being a faithful member of a church or of a specific kind of church.
For some, faith is simply obedience to God and that may or may not include obedience to a system of organized religion.
Ultimately, faith is about trust.
It’s a relationship with growing process of discovering what is my part and what is God’s part.
We have that in marriage too.
In fact, the reason that marriage is sacred is because it is a picture of God’s relationship to His church.
Learning to be in relationship with God, or with a spouse is not so much about doing the ‘right’ things, but about doing the things which build trust.

My Spouse isn’t a believer.

Paul addresses this question in his letter to the church at Corinth.
However, keep in mind that this was not a society with equal rights, so what he says to one spouse might, in our context, apply to either.
1 Corinthians 7:10–16 (ESV)
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 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. 15 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. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Paul is writing to a church of new believers, many of whom have been put in the position of having to reevaluate their relationships in light of their new found faith.
Now when Paul says, “this is from the Lord” he is referring to the teachings of Jesus.
And when he says, “this is not from the Lord, but from me” He is saying that he doesn’t have a direct teaching to refer to but he has an opinion on the matter.
In a lot of ways, this subject is one where I can’t give you a direct teaching on what you should or shouldn’t do, but. like Paul, I can give you an opinion which is informed by Jesus’ teaching.
First, there is a principle that we must keep in mind, and this is from the Lord.

Marriage is a covenant, not a convenience.

The Corinthian Christians were wondering if they should leave their unbelieving spouses, perhaps get a divorce?
Here is what Jesus taught about divorce:
Matthew 19:3–6 ESV
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Keep in mind that marriage in Biblical times was not primarily for love, but it was to bring families and communities together for economic improvement and survival.
It’s still true today that marriage involves more than just a couple deciding to live together; it involves a whole network of common relationships.
Separation, then, is not just about whats best for the couple, but tears at the fabric of society.
You probably felt that when a couple that you know and love separates, it makes you wonder if you are going to be forced to take sides?
Marriage is a sacred covenant, not a mere contract or a convenience.
In our society, divorce is common and relatively easy, especially if both parties are agreed.
But what I have to remind people who are considering a divorce is that you are joined to that person with an unbreakable bond.
If you separate that bond you will leave a part of yourself behind.
If you have children together, they are the ones who are going to suffer the most loss.
Studies have shown that children of divorce struggle to find a sense of identity because their security has been shattered and they torn between the two people who should love them most.
That’s why Jesus came out pretty strongly against divorce, because God’s plan is for restoration and reconciliation, not shattering relationships.
When you received Christ, you joined His mission, His purpose of healing and reconciliation.
I know that seems impossible when you are in a difficult relationship.
Or for a new believer when there is tension all around you and the people you love seem to be opposition to your faith.
But stay focused. The goal is love.
Here’s a secret:

Sanctification can be contagious.

Paul makes a point here that can turn things around if we just get hold of it.
In the Old Testament, God taught his people to be holy by avoiding anything that would make them unholy.
That included their relationships with the idol-worshipping nations around them.
They were not to marry outside of Israel or at least outside of those who worshipped Israel’s God.
We have numerous examples in scripture where marriage to foreign women leads to the worship of foreign gods.
But while all of that was happening, God was also teaching his people that holiness can also be contagious.
Isaiah 6:5–7 ESV
5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
In Isaiah’s vision, instead of his unholiness defiling the sacrifice on the altar, the coal from the altar made him clean.
He began to understand that atonement could bring transformation.
We know that Jesus went around touching people who were unclean and they did not make him unclean, but rather were healed when they touched him.
Paul is applying that same argument to believers who are worried about being corrupted by an unbelieving spouse.
Is their sin stronger that your faith? Paul would say.
Is a negative influence more powerful than a positive one?
Does God reject you because of them or does God love them that much more because of you?
As God is sanctifying you and making you more holy, how much of that is going rub off on them?
That’s a game changer!
So the goal then, is not to distance yourself from an unbelieving spouse, but to win them over, if possible.
How do you do that? By moving toward them as God lives and moves in you.

Truth is best taught by example.

This is some practical advice, not just from Paul, but from me and anyone else who has been in this situation or has been close to those in this situation.
Preaching isn’t going to help.
Acting morally superior is only pushing them away.
Trying to bargain with them is only going to get compromise.
Sending them a link to this sermon will probably only aggravate them.
The best way to share truth is by example.
That’s right, just love them the way God loves you, despite your flaws, despite you messes and even despite your rebellion.
You know that you are loved, cherished and forgiven, they need to know it too.
Getting them to church is probably not the right place to start.
Inviting the presence of God into your life and into your home is.

My Spouse is a believer but doesn't go to church.

I hear this a lot, “my spouse made a commitment to Christ at some time in their life, but I can’t get them to church!”
Is going to church absolutely necessary for being a believer?
Well, no. But it does present a problem.
Here’s another scripture that we use out of context, but taken in context it still has something to say.
Hebrews 10:19–25 ESV
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
“Don’t neglect meeting together,” has sometimes been taken to say, “don’t skip church.”
Here’s where we can draw on some of last week’s teaching.
Because like faith and works, it’s not an either or, but both.
However the order of cause and effect is also important.

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian.

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more that standing in a garage makes you a car.” - Evangelist Billy Sunday
Some people think they are Christian because they go to church.
We talked about that last week, for some people faith is more about belonging .
And that’s not wrong, but it’s incomplete, because at some point you need to make the faith that you belong to your own.
Just going to church and doing the right things is also incomplete unless you have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Then some people turn that around and say, “if I have a personal relationship with God, why should I have to do anything else?”
On the old TV series “The Waltons” the father and the grandfather never liked church much. They preferred to worship God in nature. On the one episode where grandma did succeed in getting grandpa to go to church. The preacher began to look right at him and yell until he left.
That might be a really old show, but it illustrates how many people feel about going to church - they think the preacher is yelling at them.
Maybe he is? - Preachers have been known to use guilt as a motivator.
Some people don’t think it was a good sermon unless they feel guilty.
Churches have also been known to abuse people by trying to coerce them to give or to volunteer or to change their lifestyle.
All of those are good things, but if they don’t that is wanting to do those things because it has been changed by Christ, then the cause effect relationship is all backward.
What we get then, is believers who have modified their behavior, but whose hearts are not really changed.
They say the right things, do the right things, they might know their Bibles inside and out.
But they never really had a heart change, or if they did, they are trying to finish in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit.
They may be the ones who are worried about having too much contact with the world because they are not sure what they will do if they face temptation,
But they don’t know that what’s inside of them is greater than what’s in the world.
There are lots of people who started going to church, but stopped because they were being pressured from the outside rather than changed from the inside.
In evangelism we used the categories of “Churched and Unchurched’” to distinguish between people who would be familiar with the gospel message and those who are probably hearing it for the first time.
Now we have a third category, “dechurched” or sometimes called “hurt-by-church” to describe those who are resistant to the gospel message or to participating in a church fellowship because of a past experience.

Spiritual growth doesn’t happen in isolation.

Back to our passage in Hebrews; the point of these verses is not that you need to be in church, but that you cannot grow in isolation.
It begins with drawing near to God.
No, God is not mad at you!
Yes, God is mad at sin, but sin is not who you are; it’s a behavior, not your identity.
Drawing near to God is how you get cleaned up.
Now it follows that the more we all draw near to God, the closer we get to each other.
Some marriage counselors use the diagram of a triangle to represent the marriage relationship. The relationship of husband to wife is a horizontal line. Then the relationship of each spouse to Christ is a diagonal. The closer that both husband and wife come to Christ, the closer they are to each other.
That’s not just true of marriage, but of all our relationships in Christ.
As we see other people drawing near to God, we are drawn closer to God.
That’s what it means to spur one another on toward love and good works.
We are demonstrating truth by example.

It is better to draw people than to push them.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but it really needs to be said.
Our well meaning efforts to try to get people to where we think they should be spiritually often backfire.
We try to “fix’ people, but in doing so we are simply reminding them of how broken they are.
When we become impatient in the process they begin to feel hopeless because they have their minds set on getting “fixed” instead of drawing near to God.
Fixing people is not helping!
It us never our job to fix anyone. It is however, our job to facilitate an environment in which God and people can work together to heal every pain and thereby solve every problem. In an environment of love and acceptance, people feel safe enough to address their issues. Our attempts to fix people usually puts them in a defensive mode that lessens the likelihood that God will be able to work in their lives.
Dr. James Richards - “How to Stop the Pain”
How about instead of fixing or pushing, we just start drawing near to God and if the diagram is right, they will get closer to God too.

My Spouse and I attend different churches.

It’s difficult to find a place in the Bible that talks about this.
Up until recently, it was not even something that you often heard about, thought that doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist.
I had a neighbor growing up where the Husband was a Quaker and the wife was Episcopalian. That made for some interesting conversation, but it was apparent that neither was going to convert the other, so they made it work.
There is a scripture that we often use in the context of dating or marrying an unbeliever, which actually has a completely different meaning in its context, but may be useful in this one.
2 Corinthians 6:14–18 ESV
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
So what is this saying if it is notjust saying not to date or marry an unbeliever?
It’s much broader than that.
Paul is writing to a church that is starting to shut him out because their loyalties are divided so many different ways.
He telling them that they need to make some decisions about what is truly important.
And that choice does have an impact on our closest relationships.

If faith is an essential part of your life, it will be central to your most important relationships.

Many people realize that becoming a Christian impacts their relationships, some friends just don’t seem so as close anymore.
Some people never consider when choosing a marriage partner, what part faith will play in their relationship.
Or perhaps they assume that because they are both Christians, that they have more in common than they really do.
It used to be that attending different churches was not an option,
mostly because there didn’t used to be so many different churches.
But also because for those whose faith is defined as belonging, going to a different church is like going to a different part of heaven.
But people have different views on faith which we discussed last week.
Some people are big on doctrine and having the right belief system.
For some people is is about belonging and corporate identity.
And for others is is about how they practice their faith by working for justice or impacting their community.
For everyone, it is about trusting God, but we have different ideas about what that looks like.
The question that I would draw people back to, regardless of their point of view, “who is jesus Christ?”
Is Jesus at the center of why you do what you do?
If you are in Christ, then you have more in common with those who are in Christ than you have differences?
You relationship to Christ will hold your most important relationships together.

It is possible to have different views on a common faith.

Throughout the the history of the church, the church experience has changed considerably, but the emphasis has always been on encountering the Presence of Christ.
For older traditions the encounter happened by receiving the Eucharist - the mysterious body and blood of Christ.
After the reformation, when people had the scripture in their own language, the preaching of the Word, became to focus of the worship service.
In today’s Charismatic churches, the worship experience often takes precedent over good preaching.
The point is not to say which is right or wrong, but just that the goal is to encounter the Presence of Christ
I have also travelled the world and have witness the move of the Spirit in different cultures.
In Russia, when the spirit moves they weep.
In Haiti, when the Spirit moves, they dance!
My Korean friend quietly prays, “Holy Spirit, Come!” and Immediately you feel His Presence.
Could it be that all these different ways of experiencing God are valid and good and that we can’t do it all, but we just need to appreciate that many and varied expressions of faith?
Les & Leslie Parrot are the authors of the SYMBIS assessment. They encourage couples to talk about their views on faith prior to marriage. Different people have different religious experiences just as we have different personalities. And just because you have different views is not the problem. The problem is failure to understand or not valuing the other person’s point of view.
If you are in a marriage where your spouse has a different way of experiencing God than you do, consider yourself fortunate!
They say opposites attract; they probably also have other qualities that you will never achieve, except for what you experience through them.
The point is not that you become like them or that they become like you.
The point is that you can appreciate who God made them to be and how God communicates with them.
You have a little window of insight through their experience that you would never have otherwise.

How do my relationships draw me closer to God?

Maybe attending different churches is how you keep the peace?
I would simply challenge you to let your faith experiences intersect wherever you can.
Do you talk about your different experiences in a way that help you appreciate one another.
Are you willing to venture out and “try” a form of worship that is meaningful to your spouse.
I dare say that if my travels have taught me anything, in heaven we are all going to be stretched by the worship experiences of our brother and sisters in Christ.
What I have also come to realize is that I share a connection with so many people who are so vastly different from me.
But all of that just makes me realize how much bigger and multifaceted God is.
I may think that I know God, but I don’t know Him like you know Him.
Worshiping with you helps me to experience God in a new way.
This passage in 2 Corinthians talked about being yoked with an unbeliever.
Horses and Oxen wear a yoke so that they can pull together.
Sure, it probably goes easier with animals of the same size, or even the same animal.
But the main point of the illustration is that you cannot be pulling in different directions, or even opposite directions as is stated here.
There is another place in scripture where the yoke illustrates our union with Christ.
Matthew 11:29–30 ESV
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
That brings me back to our triangle diagram.
If we are each in union with Christ, then our union with one another should bring us closer to Christ.
If we are in union with Christ and our partner is at a different place, spiritually speaking, then through our union with Christ and by demonstrating God’s love for them, we hope to draw them closer to God.
If your relationship to God seems to take you further from your spouse, then at least you can hopefully be a conduit of God’s love and God’s presence in their life.
By choosing to stay connected to you while you are moving closer to God, they are moving closer to God too.

Questions for reflection:

Is your sanctification contagious? Are you worried about the influence that your relationships are having on you? Or are the people that you are closest to made holy by virtue of your relationship?
Are you showing people God’s character by your example? Or are you perhaps trying to fix them? How can you work together with God in prayer to draw them rather than push them?
Are your closest relationships centered on Christ? Are you building each other up and encouraging each other? How do your most meaningful relationships bring you closer to God?
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