Last week, I wrote about the time I hindered my husband’s ministry and argued that it’s okay for family needs to come before outside ministry, ending with this:
“In the end, the real problem with this idea of not letting marriage keep you from ministry is that it assumes that marriage itself isn’t a ministry. But I would argue that if you’re married, loving your spouse is not only a ministry, but your primary one.”
So, to jump right into it, why is marriage a ministry? I had never thought of marriage as a ministry until I read The Marriage Builder by Larry Crabb* for pre-marital counseling. In the book, he argues that all humans have deep needs for security (aka unconditional love) and significance (aka that we’re doing something that has meaning) (29). These needs can only be fully met in Christ, who showed us his unchanging love at the cross and who invites us to live our lives for the gospel and the glory of God (34-35). The problem, though, is that even if we objectively know that we are secure and significant in Christ, it can be very hard to actually feel that way (42).
But that’s where spouses come in: “Husbands and wives are to regard marriage as an opportunity to minister in a unique and special way to another human being, to be used of God to bring their spouses into a more satisfying appreciation of their worth as persons who are secure and significant in Jesus Christ” (55). Such a commitment also has the added benefit of bringing couples even closer together, helping to fulfill the whole “goal of marriage,” to become one flesh (50, 22).
So, a husband and wife can, as no one else can, help each other remember the gospel every day, and this is totally awesome. As Crabb writes, “To be able to profoundly influence another human being in a way that promotes a fulfilling awareness of their wholeness in Christ is a thrilling opportunity. A sovereign God has selected me from among all the billions of men who have ever lived for a ministry to which he has called no one else: the ministry of loving my wife with the unique committed love of a husband” (55). I can personally attest that I love God more and feel and believe in his love more because of Dave. And because our service to God should come from the overflow of our life in Him and his love (and not guilt, fear, and mere obligation), I think I’m a more faithful follower of Christ as a result. Don’t underestimate the ministry of marriage.
If marriage is a ministry, then, why should it be the primary ministry of those who are husbands and wives? First, because marriage is the primary relationship of husbands and wives. You aren’t “one flesh” with anyone else besides your spouse. You haven’t committed your life with vows to anyone else before God, not even your children. Your marriage needs to be your first focus. No one else can be the husband or wife to your spouse but you, but as my pastor said, someone else can lead the worship team.
So, you can’t use the excuse of outside ministry to justify neglecting your spouse. As Gary Thomas writes in Sacred Marriage,** “Faithful participation in God’s kingdom invites and encourages others as we serve; it doesn’t diminish them. Biblical truth finds its basis in community and in serving the community—and this community starts with the marital relationship” (77). In addition, you can’t pretend that how you treat your spouse doesn’t reflect how you treat others. Thomas continues, “If a man or a woman is unrelentingly ambitious, willing to ignore or to sacrifice a spouse as they pursue their own agenda, they will almost undoubtedly be unrelentingly ambitious toward others as well, bringing them on board to serve their purposes, not to engage them in mutual kingdom service” (77). Neglecting your spouse to serve others is a self-defeating act.
Finally, it just makes sense. Even the unbelieving world thinks that your spouse and family should come first. I think sometimes we Christians over-spiritualize things and try to fight against fundamental realities of life. As in, “Wow, I really hate how awful I feel sitting alone in church, dealing with my anxiety while my husband leads worship. But he’s doing important ministry for God, so my feelings don’t matter and I’m just being selfish. To God be the glory.” Um, nope. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I know that verse is about providing for widows, but I think the principle applies. Of course you need to take care of your own; it doesn’t take becoming a Christian to realize that you should do that.
So, if you’re married, then you’ve committed yourself to the ministry of marriage as being your primary ministry.
* Crabb, Larry. The Marriage Builder. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.
**Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.