I recently heard somebody say that one of the ways to endure well in ministry is to realize that ministry is not about you, it’s all about Jesus. The same is true of marriage. When you embrace that marriage is about Jesus first, and you and your wife second, one of the secrets of a joyful, enduring marriage comes to light: love Jesus better, and you will love your wife better.
As pastors, it seems we should know this instinctively. Our calling is directly tied to helping others come to know Jesus better. But we are no different than all of our church members when it comes to needing to be reminded constantly that the Bible says that marriage is about Jesus first and that it works right when we love Jesus first.
As I have studied what the Bible says about marriage, both for my own growth and for the growth of others whom I am trying to help, I have become convinced that Christ’s relationship with the church is the controlling metaphor that God has given us to help us understand marriage. A controlling metaphor is a word picture that explains something for an entire work of literature. At the beginning of the Bible, when God created marriage in the Garden of Eden, he initiated a human covenant relationship that he knew could reflect the relationship between his Son and his people. Even so many years before Jesus, even in the Garden, God was pointing ahead to his Son.
At the end of the Bible, when God plans a celebration feast for the consummation of the ages, he describes it using what term? The marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, 9)! When we love our wives like Christ loves the church, we are playing our part in a story that has been told since the beginning of time, a story that will continue to be celebrated at the end of time as we step into the beginning of forever.
Paul points this out in Ephesians 5:31-32, when he quotes Genesis 2:24, and then explains that there are depths to marriage we can only begin to understand on this side of eternity: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage refers to Christ and the church. God embedded marriage in culture as a quiet pointer to the gospel. So, when we love our wives well, we point to Jesus. But also, when we love Jesus well, we love our wives better.
After two decades of marriage, I have noticed a pattern: when I am closer to Jesus, I am usually closer to my wife. Why is this? Paul David Tripp helpfully explains in his book, What Did You Expect?, “A marriage of love, unity and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship…No marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator.”
This applies to pastors as much as anyone else. Yet, there are certain dangers inherent in our vocation. We can think that because we are serving Jesus daily as part of our job, that we are naturally close to Jesus. But one test of a man’s walk with Christ is in how he treats his wife. This is not to say that if we are close to Jesus, that we will automatically at all times be close to our wives. The fact that you are a sinner married to a sinner in a world groaning under the curse, with a difficult calling as a pastor’s family, means that there will be ups and downs in your marriage. But making your relationship with Christ a priority is the start to finding the freedom and power to love your wife humbly and selflessly as Jesus loves, no matter what is going on in your relationship or ministry at the time.
When you remember that Jesus is your first love (see Revelation 2:4-5), then his love naturally overflows out of your life onto your wife. It’s not that loving Jesus and loving your wife are commands from God that are at odds with each other, it is that we can only love others rightly when we have our loves ordered rightly.
Jesus explained how loving God results in loving others: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Your wife is your closest neighbor, so the words of Jesus remind us of our order of priorities as shepherds of God’s people: love Jesus, love your wife, love your kids, and love others including your church family and community.
Fellow pastors and ministry leaders, don’t forget that there is a clear command from the Bible on loving your wife, “… be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:19). God calls you to be madly in love with your wife. This is best for you, best for her, best for your kids, best for your church, and it glorifies God. So pursue her simply for the joy of pursuing her, and because you love her. But don’t forget that you will love your wife better when you love Jesus better. Root your pursuit of her in the fact that you have been pursued by Christ. Embracing this secret can be the secret to embracing a joy-filled marriage.
Rekindle your love for Jesus, and be in tune with his heart for reflecting the gospel in your marriage. Then your marriage will be like a fire that keeps you both warm, and at the same time gives light to others.