Marriage is hard. It is, at the same time, one of the great blessings and most difficult responsibilities to fulfil. But the thing that gives us strength to persevere and especially not give up hope is the knowledge that it is God who is supernaturally at work in the hearts of believers making them one. This is also why we must guard ourselves in our spirits so that we continually recommit ourselves to loving our wives (Malachi 2:15).
I was preaching at a wedding recently and was deeply challenged by my own sermon. Thankfully, by God’s grace, this happens on a regular basis! As I exhorted those who were husbands in the congregation to love their wives I realised that I didn’t do this anywhere near enough myself.
It’s not that I’d become violent or mean—although I do still need to grow in gentleness, self-control and patience—but I was convicted by God’s Spirit that I was not loving my wife as Christ does the church (Eph. 5:25). I was taking her for granted and I wasn’t really caring for her as I would my own body (Eph. 5:28).
I later realised after I made some initial steps of repentance, that this had been affecting my own fellowship with God. Prayer had become something of a “burden”, the LORD had felt distant, and I wasn’t experiencing the Spirit’s power in my life. The words of the apostle Peter were especially pertinent at this point:
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.“ 1 Peter 3:7
All of which is say, love for one’s wife is more important than any form of spiritual success or wider influence in Christian ministry. Because if I fail at this then, as a minister of the Gospel it really undermines everything else I do. As John MacArthur states:
The true spirituality of a church leader is not measured best by how well he leads a deacons’ or elders’ meeting, by the way he participates in Sunday school, or by the way he speaks from the pulpit—but by the way he treats his wife and children at home when no one else is around. Nowhere is our relationship to God better tested than in our relationship to our family. The man who plays the part of a spiritual shepherd in church but who lacks love and care in his home is guilty of spiritual fraud.
In this regard, there are a couple of verses in Scripture which have ‘haunted’ me over the years. One of them is where the apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” And the other is in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “…I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” In other words, there is something about marriage that should be of first importance. Because if I fail to love my wife and children then I have not faithfully served Christ.
Is your wife a ministry “widow”?
The danger is that our wives and children can become ministry “widows” or “orphans”. We can sacrifice their spiritual well-being on the altar of our own spiritual service. And even worse, we can justify our selfish—nay, idolatrous—behaviour because of the Gospel. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Pharisees are especially apt at this point where he rebuked them for their failure to honour their parents by being overzealous (yes, there is such a thing) in their ‘devotion’ to God.
“…why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother’ and anyone who curse his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God, he is not to ‘honour his father with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; Their teachings are but rules taught by men.” Matthew 15:3-9