Picture yourself as a part of the congregation attending the wedding ceremony of Adam and Eve—witnessing the bride and groom exchanging their vows. Just before the grand event reaches its high point, with God pronouncing them husband and wife, Adam lovingly looks into Eve’s eyes and says, “ ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man’ ” (Gen. 2:23).* One thing becomes perfectly clear: a successful marriage is not composed of just two individuals (certainly not male and male or female and female); rather marriage includes three individuals: the man, the woman, and God.
Years ago, I often said that no one should write books on marriage and parenting until they celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary and had at least two children in high school or higher education. My wife and I have reached those milestones; yet I still don’t feel qualified to speak on those topics. Nevertheless, I’ll venture to share a few unoriginal thoughts about marriage—especially marriages that involve a pastor and spouse (although most, if not all, of the principles apply to other marriages as well):
1. Marriage is not a 50-50 proposition; instead, it is a 100-100 proposition. The 50-50 concept has often been based on the premise that couples frequently have to meet halfway, especially in resolving conflicts. And while this may be true, marriage must be lived in the context of total giving of one partner to the other—selflessly expressing oneself for the complete joy of the other.
2. The husband must consistently display true leadership.
Who among us hasn’t heard horror stories of male misapplication of Paul’s counsel to wives in Ephesus to submit to their husbands? Paul very clearly says, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23; emphasis added), and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v. 25; emphasis added). No question, it remains the role of the husband to set the tone for a happy home; to lay a Christ-based foundation for a domicile that serves as a microcosm of heaven.
3. Learn to sincerely say, “I’m sorry.” Apologizing for one’s shortcomings, mistakes, and errors in judgments does not denigrate oneself—even if others choose to think less of you. Instead, confessing one’s faults often proves that one recognizes his or her fallibility and desire to grow in Christ. I learned many years ago that apologizing paves the way for a stronger marriage and has also provided ample practice for the next time I have had to say, “I’m sorry”!
4. Don’t attempt to change your spouse into something he or she is not. This and the following point strike more so at the heart of pastoral marriages because pastors often bring expectations into their marriages as to the image the “perfect” pastor’s family should present. At other times, they have bought into the perceptions that church members possess regarding what the wife (often the pastor’s spouse is female) should contribute to church life—failing to recognize or acknowledge that she is answerable to God for her spiritual gifts just as are the other church members. Allow the spouse to serve God in the way the Holy Spirit has equipped her or him!
5. Remember that your spouse always should remain more important to you than your congregation. This applies not only to pastors, but university professors, church administrators, and journal editors too! Even if one served as a pastor before getting married (as was the case with me), God’s institution, created in Eden, predates and supercedes the pastor’s admittedly high responsibilities to his or her ministerial calling. That, of course, does not give permission to ignore professional responsibilities because all things should still be done for the glory of God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).
In this month’s lead article, Karen and Bernie Holford address how Christian marriages enable us to grow into God’s image, and in the process, we become more loving spouses and caring pastors. They are quick to add that this does not imply that single pastors should marry or singles ought to avoid entering the gospel ministry. Throughout their article they share great wisdom on this subject through stories, statements, and questions.
I’ve merely shared five thoughts on this subject; I know many of you have great wisdom that I, and others, need so our marriages can grow stronger and our lives can reflect God’s image. Please send your suggestions to [email protected]. We will post selected ones on our Web site.
* All Bible references are from the New International Version.