Marriage often comes second to public ministry in the life of a Christian. But God’s pattern for marriage demands greater attention to this sacred institution.
My wife and I recently clashed about how much time I spend doing ministry-related stuff instead of spending time with her at home. Staff meetings, small groups, Sunday morning worship, Sunday night prayer, phone calls, coffee with church members, and on and on. Although I never would have articulated this, I had been, in effect, saying to myself, “These activities are in the service of God. I can’t ignore the work of the Kingdom to stay at home.”
But the problem with setting up marriage and ministry as competing priorities is that they are both callings. Every person who is called to public ministry should view their marriage as a calling, too, because that is what God intends.
Marriage vs. Ministry: A False Dichotomy
Let me clarify a few things first. The terms “marriage” and “ministry” exacerbate the problem. Marriage is ministry. It is service to your spouse. When we say “ministry” we often mean “public” ministry. This includes pastoring, counseling, missions…basically any Christian service for which one gets paid or raises support. But it can be broader. Public ministry could also include any occupation done from faith and for God’s glory–plumbing, teaching, accounting…any job can be a calling.
So both marriage and ministry are forms of service because they both are done in faith for the good of others and the glory of God.
Marriage is a Divine Institution
One reason marriage is a calling is that it is a divine institution. In contrast to many in our culture who consider marriage to be nothing more than a piece of paper or an arrangement to get health benefits and tax breaks, God views marriage differently.
Christians look to Genesis 2:24 as the moment when God instituted marriage. The verse says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Marriage, then, is not something that human beings created, but a bond God inaugurated with the first couple.
The Meaning of Marriage
Why did God establish marriage? Although the Old Testament provides hints, the New Testament most clearly reveals the purpose of marriage. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” A few verses later, after citing Genesis 2:24, the author explains marriage by saying, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
Marriage is meant as a symbol of Christ’s love for His Church. The inviolable, sacred faithfulness required in a marriage points to the unfailing fidelity Christ has toward the Church. Furthermore, the sacrifice of one’s own interests in marriage lead Christians to contemplate the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. A sacrifice that cost His life and that He made for the sake of His bride, the Church.
Marriage is a Calling
In addition, 1 Corinthians 7 contains some of the most explicit instructions in the Bible concerning marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:17 explains, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” As examples of callings the author, Paul, mentions circumcision and uncircumcision as well as being a bondservant or a free person. This verse is sandwiched between verses on marriage, so the reader can reasonably conclude that marriage, in Paul’s mind, is a calling, too.
Consider Your Calling to Marriage
Just like a Christian may be called to preach from a pulpit or translate the Bible in Burma, some Christians are called to marriage. Since marriage is a calling, believers ought not to set up a false dichotomy between marriage and public ministry. Marriage, in fact, should take precedence over public ministry. After all, 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 make it clear that elders and deacons must be married to one wife and manage their households well in order to qualify for public ministry.
If more Christians viewed marriage as a calling, then they would be more effective in their secondary calling to public ministry. God would then be glorified in marriage through a faithful representation of the covenant love He has for His people,