Paul's Passing Thoughts

Ministry and the Unregenerate Spouse

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on March 21, 2016

ppt-jpeg4When you are born again, it is impossible to be unborn. And that’s a good thing because if there is anything that could unborn you it is what I suffered in the church for over 25 years.

On the one hand, I diligently studied the plain sense of Scripture on my own; on the other hand, I was constantly experiencing the contradictions thereof in the Baptist church. The plain contradictions were many tips of many icebergs while massive presuppositions of orthodoxy kept the rest submerged. This post regards the following presumptuous tradition:

“If God has called you, He has also called your wife.”


The apostle Paul addressed the issue of unregenerate spouses and ministry in 1Corinthians chapter 7 which can also be applied to spouses who may be saved but reject your convictions for any number of reasons.

This isn’t complicated, Paul instructed us to put ministry first while giving the spouse due respect and love. No spouse has the authority or precedent to circumvent what God has called one to do. This is what Paul meant when he wrote,

1 Corinthians 7:29 – This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Paul was writing about the benefits of being single so one can focus on ministry, but also stated in the same chapter that in either case when things are done via God’s counsel, one does well. In chapter 7, Paul explains the guidelines for every situation regarding marriage relationships, but with the final goal in all cases being, “undivided devotion to the Lord” without “restraint” in regard to what is lawful. Notice that Paul operated according to what benefitted believers, not to lord it over them. This is THE general rule whether we are talking about marriage, ministry, or assembling together.

But isn’t the man, or husband, the head of the wife according to Ephesians chapter 5? That is referring to the head of a body, not authority. The point of Ephesians 5 is oneness of body, and the direction of the body; authority is nowhere in this chapter. In this chapter, “head” should be thought of as the primary direction for life, and the same word is used in “cornerstone” or the foundational stone of a building. The word for a single rock as a foundation (Matthew 7:24, 16:18) refers to a cornerstone which is “the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure”(Wikipedia).

The fact that Christ has authority is beside the point in Ephesians chapter 5; in the same way that Christ is the chief cornerstone of the building, or the head of the body, supplying it with life-giving direction, so it should be with the husband in regard to his wife. Like Christ and the church, the husband should sanctify his wife with the word. If he fails in that endeavor, he hates his own body; the husband and wife are one body. The wife should respect the husband as the head as the church respects Christ as the head. She should seek his leadership accordingly as the husband is led by Christ. And excuse me, but this pertains to being led by Christ, THE head of THE body (notice the emphasis on the singular), not a bunch of narcissistic Reformed elders. They, that is, elders, are nowhere to be found in Ephesians five. The elders are in no wise the cornerstone of your family nor does Scripture ever give them that authority by any stretch of the imagination.

But, in the same way that it does not benefit the husband in not following Christ, it does not benefit the wife in not following the husband IF, I repeat, “IF” he is making a reasonable and truthful attempt to follow Christ. A wife is NOT, I repeat “NOT” obligated to obey a foolish husband who professes a false gospel, nor does he have the authority to prevent her from following Christ in spirit and truth.

Even the apostle Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (NIV). Husbands get no special privilege on this wise. “Head” doesn’t mean “boss,” it means “leader.” It refers to the role of being a true cornerstone that results in a strong building or in this case, body. Viz, a house that can withstand the storms of life. Wives should not reject a good cornerstone like the Jews rejected Christ.

Note that in cases where the husband is clearly lost, but pleased to dwell with the saved wife, the saved wife has a sanctifying effect on the family and the children are not defiled:

1Corinthians 7:12 – 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.

Great help is gained here if we will take note of what Andy Young taught about sanctification at our TANC 2014 conference: holiness, or sanctification, has to do with being set apart as “unordinary.” Because of the saved spouse’s unity with a family that is pleased to live with her/him, to some degree, the family is set apart and blessed because of the presence of the saved spouse.

Of course, this would be of no effect if the saved spouse is being led by the lost family members. If a saved wife is following a lost husband in every regard, there is no sanctifying effect; sanctification is not merely a label, but an active reality. To a degree contrary to what would normally take place, the sanctifying effect of the saved spouse prevents the children from being defiled by unholy living. This also puts the unsaved family members in a more favorable position for possible salvation, but if the unsaved spouse departs…

“…let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”

I contend that the departing of the unsaved should be directly contrasted with being pleased (“consent”) to dwell with the saved spouse. The word in verses 12 and 13 follows:

g4909. συνευδοκέω syneudokeō; from 4862 and 2106; to think well of in common, i.e. assent to, feel gratified with: — allow, assent, be pleased, have pleasure. To be pleased together with, to approve together (with others) to be pleased at the same time with, consent, agree, applaud.

A mere living under the same roof is not in view here. The separation refers to disapproval in living with the other spouse as something to be rejected and not applauded. Additionally, if adultery can be committed in one’s heart, so can divorce. Remaining in the same house for ulterior motives does not constitute non-departure or lack of divorce; the saved spouse is not enslaved to that situation either, and in contrast, is called to peace.

Moreover, and back to Ephesians chapter 5, authority is not in view, but rather mutual submission to needs. Emphasis mine:

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time because the days are evil. [Like 1Cor 7 and emphasis on the shortness of time.] 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 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. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.[This all goes back to verse 21 concerning mutual submission.]

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,[Submission to a need.] 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.[Oneness is the issue, not authority] 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.[Like the church has reverence for Christ.]

In summation, though Christ has authority, it is not His application to the body, nor is there any authoritative or rulership gifts in the body or marriage. Christ always submitted to need, exhorted, taught, rebuked, and persuaded, but never exercised authority or compelled His assembly to obey by force. There are but a precious few examples among the combined activities of Christ and the apostles where a possible argument could be made, but they are the exceptions and far from being the rule.

Lack of oneness among spouses should not circumvent ministry or our debt of love to the body. Period. However, in these very difficult situations, every believer needs to weigh the Scriptures carefully and stay true to their consciences.


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