When you are called by God to be a missionary, you have a good idea of what your calling will be and what will be the focus on your ministry. There will always be some surprises and “extra miles” that you will have to travel to do what God has called you to do. But that is all part of your calling. You are a servant of God who ministers to others as an instrument of the Lord.
But have you considered that your marriage is also a ministry?
“We are all familiar with the idea that we are Christ’s body on earth—His hands, His feet. It is through us that He reaches out to the world. But it’s easy to forget that we are Christ’s hands and feet to our [spouse]. That’s why seeing your marriage as ministry may require an intentional shift of perspective.” (From the book, “Because I Said Forever”)
Marriage IS Your Ministry
Your marriage is not something that you can or should compartmentalize apart from your ministry to those outside of your home. Your marriage is equally important, if not more-so, than your ministry outside of your home. That is because you are representing Christ to your bride (just as Christ is the bridegroom to the church, His bride). Your spouse, as well as others, are to be your ministry-focus.
When you married, you became covenant partners with your spouse and with God to help address each other’s aloneness. God acknowledged from the beginning that “it is not good for man to be alone.” He said this even though He was walking and fellowshipping with man.
God knew that there are certain needs that a human being —a marriage partner, is created to meet. And there are certain emotional and temporal needs that you are created to meet for your marriage partner. “And the two shall be one.”
That is part of your role in the covenant of marriage. It is a cord of three strands with God being involved right from the start.
Full Time Ministry
Problems can arise however, when someone is in full-time ministry, such as a missionary or a pastor. They can often forget or overlook the importance of the partnership of marriage, which was entered into with his/her spouse.
The rite of ordination does not override the rite of marriage. Both are noble callings, and one is not the “higher calling.” Both were instituted by God for the sanctification of his people. By some curious act of his grace, this sanctification includes [those in full time ministry]. (Gregory P. Elder)
You made the choice to go into the ministry. And with that choice came certain “duties and obligations.” You also made the choice to marry. And with that choice, certain “duties and obligations” came with that, as well. Your options changed as far as how much time you can devote to the ministry apart from your spouse and keep your relationship healthy and strong. It is to be one that strongly reflects the love relationship between the Bridegroom (Christ) and His Bride. This is what every Christian marriage is supposed to represent.
Divided VS Undivided Attention
When you were unmarried, you had the freedom to be “undivided” in the attention you could dedicate to the Lord’s work. But in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul warns you is to realize that things change once you marry. And as he said,
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world —how he can please his wife —and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband.
“I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”
When you marry, your ministry becomes divided between ministering within the home and outside of the home. BOTH become your concern and your focus at this point.
But keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that your ministry is lessened. It just means that it is redirected so that not only do you minister outside of your home, but also within it as well. You represent Christ to your bride. So don’t forget the calling of your ministry with your wife and family.
God Tells Us:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
“In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. And after all, no one ever hated his own body. But he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church. For we are members of his body.
“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery. But I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself…“ (Ephesians 5:25-33).
The Importance of Your Spouse
It important to love your wife “as Christ loves the church and gave himself up for her”, because you have entered into covenant with her and with God. But it’s also so that you don’t bruise her emotionally. Your spouse should not be any less important than others that you minister to outside of the home. When you hurt or neglect her, how will you be able to “present her” to God “as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish?”
Also, your marriage is a living example of Christ’s love for the church, both within your home and outside of it. As others observe how you treat your wife, the love of the Lord should be evident. It gives the Lord the opportunity to draw others to Himself as they observe your behavior. It’s another evangelistic vehicle that the Lord can use as you avail yourself.
Something that Ravi Zacharias said, in his book, I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah is relevant to your calling in considering your marriage as a ministry and as an evangelistic “tool.”
Some time ago, I was lecturing at a major university. And by the tremendous response both in the numbers of students attending the sessions and in their questions, it was evident to all that God was at work.
As the man who had organized the event drove me to the airport, he said something that was quite jolting to me. He said, “My wife brought our neighbor last night. She is a medical doctor. And she had not been to anything like this before. On their way home, my wife asked her what she thought of it all.” He stopped and there was silence in the van for a moment. He continued, “She said, ‘That was a very powerful evening. The arguments were very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his private life.'”
I have to admit it was one of the most sobering things I had ever heard. She was right. Did these lofty truths apply in private as well as in public discourse?
The truth is that God calls us to first practice truth in private so that its public expression is merely an outgrowth of what has already taken place in the heart and not a decoration over a hollow life. Developing that strength of character in private is foundational.
Marriage is a Vehicle
Your marriage is another vehicle that God wants to use to draw others to Himself. As Dr Charles Swindoll says,
Marriage is the foundation of family life. And marriage is one of God’s greatest tools for ministry. Let me say that again …marriage is one of God’s greatest tools for ministry. Our goal isn’t to build stronger marriages. It’s to build stronger marriages for a purpose — ministry. (From the article, “The Ministry of Marriage” featured on the web site Crosswalk.com)
The purpose is so that when others see how we interact with each other in ways that display the love of God, it could very well attract them to our lives, and ultimately to want to know our God better. And isn’t that the point of the ministry that God has called you to, as a minister of the gospel?
This point is further supported, in the following (edited) portion of a thesis titled “Ministry and Marriage in the Scriptures.” It was previously posted on the Internet (and we can no longer find it). We don’t know the name of the author. But what he or she wrote supports this point of marriage being a ministry. (And this directly applies whether you are a pastor and spouse or missionary spouses.)
“The thesis of this paper is that clergy marriage embodies the spiritual marriage between Christ and his church. That thesis finds ready support in Eph 5:21–33. This is where Paul declares that within the one-flesh union of the Christian husband and wife is the great mystery of the union of Christ with his body and bride, the church. ‘This mystery is great’ (to; musthvrion tou’to mevga ejstivn, Eph 5:32).
“To be sure, every Christian marriage holds that ‘great mystery.’ Yet, a variety of Scripture passages throughout the Old Testament and New Testament deal specifically with clergy marriage in such a way as to suggest that clergy marriage has an enhanced kerygmatic significance.
“While the marriages of clergy may be qualitatively the same and no more ‘Christian’ than the marriages of other baptized believers in Christ, the pastor’s marriage speaks more profoundly and loudly about the union of Christ with his body and bride, the church, because the pastor is in the office of the Holy Ministry.
“Holiness of life is to characterize all Christians as priests according to the priesthood of all believers. Yet, according to the Scriptures the pastor’s life—and particularly his marriage—is to be one of exemplary holiness. For example, the NT stipulates for pastors—and for pastors alone—that they must be ‘the husband of one wife’ (mia'” gunaiko;” a[ndra, 1 Tim 3:2; similarly Titus 1:6).
Jesus and His Bride
“The pastor represents Jesus Christ in relation to his one and only bride—the one holy Christian and apostolic church. An adulterous pastor who divorces his wife and takes another would proclaim by his behavior that Christ too is unfaithful to his church. But the faithful pastor who loves his wife sacrificially —even as Christ gave himself up for the church—thereby through his marriage displays the Gospel in a tangible way that all church members can see.
“You can be sure that church members always study carefully the pastor’s marriage and are quick to note nuances in his relationship with his wife, whether good or ill.
“…The most important practical application of all this is that each of us needs to make it a high priority to love and cherish his wife. The best way to defend our church body from error is to proclaim the Scriptures boldly and to love our wives nobly. By strengthening our own marriages we set an example for the entire church and make it that much harder for the devil to break through our ranks.
The Pastor Who Divorces
“Since the pastor ministers in the stead and by the command of Jesus Christ, the pastor who divorces his wife may imply, in effect, that Christ’s love for the church is capricious, not faithful; temporary, not eternal; and selfish, not selfless. The adulterous pastor sins against the body of Christ, the saints who comprise a communion in the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 10:16; 11:22).
“Through the Word and Sacraments, properly administered by the pastor, the triune God washes sinners and incorporates them into the bride of Christ; nourishes them with the body and blood of Christ; and grants eternal life. Faithful (loving and monogamous) Christian marriage —especially that of the pastor —embodies the great mystery of the union between Christ and his church.
“May God preserve each of us in the same until that Day when the bride of the Lamb becomes his wife (Rev 21:9).”
We pray you will prayerfully consider what has been presented in this article. Examine your marriage and ask the Lord to show you anything that you may or may not be doing that needs to be corrected. You may want to pray what the psalmist prayed in Psalm 139:
Search me O God and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.
If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Pastors and Missionary Marriages