Motivating Your Unbelieving Spouse to Godly Changes
- Barry R. Leventhal, Ph.D. Two Becoming One
- 2006 2 Feb
Every growing Christian wants to see his or her unbelieving spouse move on to godly changes. Not the kinds of manipulative changes that we want to see for our own benefit, but rather the kinds of transforming changes that will ultimately glorify God and bring Christlike joy into our homes. Unless God makes the changes they won’t work, or if they do, they won’t last.
If anyone knew how to motivate his spouse to godly changes, it was certainly the Apostle Peter. Not only was he married (1 Corinthians 9:5) and therefore well acquainted with the gutsy reality of marital life, he also understood about failure from the inside out! He had failed the Lord on many occasions and then had actually denied Him three times in His most critical hour. But the good news is that the Lord not only restored Peter, He motivated him to godly changes. The Lord transformed his life from the inside out.
What can the great fisherman teach us about how to motivate our spouse to godly changes? Actually, the Apostle Peter addressed this specific matter in his first letter, in 1 Peter 3:1-7. First, he instructs Christian wives on how to motivate their husbands to godly changes (vv. 1-6). And then he instructs Christian husbands on how to motivate their wives to godly changes (v. 7).
1. Motivate Your Spouse Through Your Walk With God
Peter opens his instructions to Christian wives with the phrase, “In the same way, you wives” (v. 1). “In the same way” as what? “In the same way” as Jesus (1 Peter 2:21-25). He has left His own footprints in the sands of time in order that we might follow Him in the midst of hard times, especially from those who have rejected the Gospel, be that person our spouse or others. In fact, that is exactly what Peter goes on to say in the rest of 1 Peter 3:1:
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.
The operative phrase in Peter’s instructions is the phrase, “disobedient to the word.” He has described such a person earlier in his letter (1 Peter 2:8). This is one who refuses to believe in the good news of the Gospel, that is, an unbeliever. It is not that he has not heard the Gospel and therefore is ignorant of the truth. But rather, having heard the Gospel, he is “disobedient to the word.”
How does a believing wife, or for that matter, a believing husband married to an unbelieving wife, motivate her unbelieving husband to embrace the Gospel and be transformed by it? The Holy Spirit’s answer is clear: by living out the Gospel so that the unbeliever will see and feel its transforming power in action. It is the old adage, “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Your unmotivated spouse may be able to argue with your version of the truth, but he cannot argue with “your chaste and respectful behavior” (v. 2).
Sometimes we have to earn the right to speak. As someone has said, “When love is felt, the message is heard.” So along with maintaining our outer adornment, those who are prayerfully committed to motivating their unbelieving spouse realize that their top priority is to nurture “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (vv. 3-4). A beautiful lifestyle is what God uses to motivate our spouse to godly changes (vv. 5-6). And that kind of inner beauty is only seen through our own personal walk with God.
2. Motivate Your Spouse Through Your Walk Together
Peter now turns his remarks to believing husbands (v. 7). Once again, he throws us back to the example of our Lord Jesus when he says, “You husbands likewise.” “Like” who? Again, if a godly and loving husband is going to motivate his wife to godly changes, he is to follow hard after the footsteps of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21-25). He is always our Master, Mentor, and Model!
So how does a believing husband motivate his wife to Christlike changes? He can only do this through his own personal walk with her. This will require a twofold commitment. First, loving husbands must “live with their wives in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman” (v. 7a). The Holy Spirit is commanding believing husbands to really know their wives. This will take time, study, and personal commitment. God has not made husbands and wives alike in all respects. Generally speaking, a woman is physically weaker in her gross anatomy (“a weaker vessel”). So the husband who desires to motivate his wife to godly changes will take this into consideration in as many ways as he can. From moving furniture to training children, and everything in between, a loving and observant husband must “understand” his wife. It can be done — with God’s help. It must be done — if a wife is going to be motivated to Christlike changes.
A second way that a loving husband can motivate his wife through his own walk with her is by his commitment to “grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life” (v. 7b). As a woman she may be physically weaker in some respects, but that does not mean that she is somehow less than a full partner with her husband, even if she may be resisting the Holy Spirit and His truth in some aspect of her walk with God. Quite the contrary. “But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals” (The Message). Honoring our wives on a daily basis, through our words and our actions, will not only motivate them to godly changes, but it will also kick our prayer lives into high gear. In fact, God calls us to honor our wives in such a daily fashion “so that our prayers will not be hindered” (v. 7c). Believing husbands, be forewarned. If you want to make sure that your prayer life is cut off from the divine presence, just ignore your wife or mistreat her. You are guaranteed to shipwreck your own spiritual life.
God wants to use faithful and committed husbands and wives to motivate each other to godly changes. It is His will. It can be done. It is something to pray about, isn’t it? Prayerfully consider the following questions:
1. How have you been trying to motivate your spouse to godly changes in the past? By manipulation? By coercion? By defiance? By the cold shoulder? How has it been going?
2. How can you prayerfully seek to motivate your spouse to godly changes in the next six months using God’s way of doing it? In what areas of your life can you be modeling a living and joyful Christian lifestyle, “adorning the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Titus 2:10)? How can Jesus shine through your life (Matthew 5:13-16)?
3. In the next six months, how can you motivate your spouse through your own personal walk with her or with him? Specifically, how can you really get to know your mate? In what areas of her or his life do you need to take inventory? How can you truly honor your spouse in word and deed?
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