The Bible teaches us that we should only marry a believer (1 Corinthians 7:39). Yet many women find themselves married to unbelievers. Maybe they were disobedient to God’s Word; maybe they only became believers after marriage; maybe their husbands abandoned God after they married. In all these cases the question is how the wife should behave. This question is most clearly addressed in 1 Peter 3:1-6:
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”
It is striking in this passage that Peter makes no distinction between wives who are married to believers and those who are married to non-believers – both are to act in the same way towards their husbands. That is, the wives are to be subject to their husbands, to submit to them; they are to be respectful; their conduct is to be pure and gentle; and they are to have a quiet spirit. This is how a wife should live regardless of whether she is married to a Christian or a non-Christian, since this is pleasing to God. The hope is expressed that through the believing wife the non-Christian spouse might come to believe the gospel.
Ultimately, this is a very high calling, particularly for those wives who are married to non-Christian husbands, since their attitude may well not encourage submission. If the husband is abusive, or is encouraging the wife to be involved with things that are wrong then she should not submit to him in this area. Ultimately the believing wife is under a higher authority (that of Christ), and therefore should be seeking to serve and please him in all she does.