The Missing Ingredient In Too Many Marriages: Joy

by Tim Counts June 12, 2024

Like cupcakes that are missing sugar, there are too many Christian marriages that are missing a key ingredient. This missing ingredient in too many marriages doesn’t mean it’s not a marriage, just as a cupcake missing sugar doesn’t mean it’s not a cupcake. But neither “tastes” good.

When we realize that what is at stake is not a bad batch of baked goods, but potentially being a poor reflection of the gospel through our marriage relationship, we will do all we can to put the ingredient of joy back into our marriages. Many Christian marriages, including many ministry marriages, would be sweet again if husbands took the lead in loving their wives joyfully.

My wife is usually pretty positive with me, but one evening she looked at me and said, “Did you know you’re pretty grumpy most of the time right now?” I was knocked a little off-kilter. She knew that things had been stressful at church recently. She had been supportive and prayerful with me. But after I stopped defending myself in my mind and started to think about what she had the courage to point out, I asked her more about it and realized that she was right. I was getting so consumed with trying to stay on top of pastoral ministry, while dealing with multiple fronts during a difficult season in our church, that it was negatively affecting my parenting—and our marriage.

I had to ask for forgiveness, and start to make changes. Nothing was immediate, but through choice by choice, joy began to seep back into our marriage and family. As I evaluated what happened, I realized that in trying to be Jesus for my church, I had not loved my wife like Jesus loves the church. Ephesians 5:25 is loud and clear on our calling: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

One specific way that Christ loved the church, a way that God calls us to echo his love in our marriages, is that Jesus loved the church joyfully. He loves to love us. Do we love to love our wives?

Jesus doesn’t just put up with the church. He receives joy by giving us joy (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus doesn’t grudgingly love but persistently loves the church. He joyfully and persistently loves us. Jesus’s love doesn’t change based on how we are doing in our relationship with him any given day.

When wives are loved this deeply, knowing that their husbands love to love them, there is a security in marriage that develops and strengthens over years. This security frees a wife to be an even greater blessing to others. Also, when we love our wives so joyfully that it’s obvious to her and others, there is a sweetness that develops. When a pastor and wife exude this sweetness to their church and others through the genuine joy in their marriage, their marriage “smells” like the gospel. A joyful marriage covenant points to the New Covenant.

Here are four ways to cultivate more consistent joy in your marriage as you strive to reflect Christ in the love you have for your wife.

1) Spend intentional time together

Jesus delights to be with his bride. Yet, I am shocked at how quickly I can coast in marriage. The demands of ministry, bills, raising children, home repair, and just making it through each day can mean that I look up and we haven’t had enough intentional time together. We have found that a weekly date night is unrealistic in this season of five kids including toddlers to teenagers. But we can still purposefully set aside one night or more a week to cuddle on the couch together while we watch a movie or talk. And we can still intentionally carve out times that we do go out together without kids, both for a few hours and occasionally for a few days. Are you as intentional to spend time with your wife as you are to follow up on shepherding issues at church?

2) Talk about what God is teaching you

Joy ultimately comes from Jesus (Luke 2:10, Matthew 28:8, 1 Peter 1:8, 1 John 1:4). When you are both investing personally in your relationship with Jesus, true joy will begin to seep into your marriage. I have found that when we talk about what God is teaching us, whether spontaneously or as an intentional question, it not only encourages each other’s walks with the Lord, but it also begins to spill over into our marriage relationship. Pastors, God is teaching you in the Word every week. Share some of that with your wife not as an additional sermon, but out of the joy of knowing Jesus.

3) Act like Jesus is King

One of the greatest pieces of advice I have ever heard from another pastor is to talk about church matters as appropriate or needed with your wife for just a little bit when you get home. Then pray together about it before moving on with the evening if there’s a pressing issue, but act like Jesus is king. It is easy to bring things up again and just go around and around about ministry. That is ok to a degree if it is helping you to serve others together, but at some point you need to have discussions that are not ministry related, especially if the issues are stressful. Give it to Jesus, and let it go for the evening (Matthew 6:34).

4) Serve together in some way

Serving as a pastor does not mean that I am automatically serving Jesus together with my wife. It can be okay to serve in different areas of the church or family life depending on season of life and giftedness. After all, she is not a pastor because she is married to you. But I have found that it has been helpful to do some sort of ministry purposefully together. For us it has looked as varied as visitation, foster care, planning an outreach together, or both being on the worship team together. Serving together purposefully can bring joy to your marriage, reminding both of you that God brought you together to glorify him.

Brothers, does your wife not only know that you love her, but know that you love to love her, as your Savior does? The marriage of A.W. Tozer leaves us with a somber warning. In his book I Still Do, Dave Harvey recounts: “Tozer was a spiritual giant—a man of spectacular faith, incredible insight, and compelling godliness. But Tozer neglected his wife, Ada, and their family in some pretty stunning ways…After Tozer’s death, Ada remarried a man named Leonard Odam. Dorsett [Tozer’s biographer] writes of a poignant moment when Ada was asked to describe her life with her new husband. ‘I have never been happier in my life,’ Ada observed. ‘Aiden [Tozer] loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me.’”[1]

Brothers, we can love both Jesus and our wives well. We are called to love both. A marriage that “smells” like the gospel will have one often-overlooked ingredient: joy.

__________

[1] Dave Harvey, I Still Do (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2020), p. 193.

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