Today we turn our attention to marriage. It’s a question from a listener named Emily. “Hello, Pastor John! My husband and I have been married for almost seven years, and we have small children. We both love the Lord and have recently become convicted by how our marriage has fallen in our priorities, losing out to work, keeping up with the details of life, and trying to muddle through parenting. In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, could you give us some practical advice and wisdom on how to keep our marriage the number one earthly relationship and restore it to its due place of prominence in our lives?”
Forgive me, Emily, if I make things a little more complicated. I love the question, how do you restore marriage to its due place of prominence in our lives? I’m not quite as happy with the question, how do we keep our marriage the number one earthly (and I know it’s earthly) relationship? She’s not competing with God here. But is marriage the number one earthly relationship?
“You never get a pass on Christlike burden-bearing. That’s what headship is.”
What gives me pause about saying yes is that Jesus is clear that marriage is not going to be an eternal relationship: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). Through faith in Christ, God makes us children of God: “and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). That never, ever comes to an end.
The relationship with fellow Christians as brothers and sisters is eternal, while the relationship with husband or wife is not eternal. So, is marriage the number one relationship?
The Place of Marriage
I haven’t answered the question yet. I’m just saying, here’s some stuff to consider. It’s not an easy question.
Consider this: in Titus 2:3–5, Paul says older women in the church are to train the younger women to love their husbands. The relationship in the church of older women to younger women has a kind of primacy because the teaching is flowing from the Christian community toward the marriage relationship.
However, on the other hand, Paul says that the men in the church who serve as elders must “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4–5).
Here, the marriage seems to have a kind of primacy because it becomes the measure of whether one is fit to lead in the church. In other words, men, learn how to love and lead at home or you won’t be fit to serve the wider family of God.
So, is marriage and home the number one earthly relationship? My answer is yes and no. Forgive me for making things complicated. It depends on how you are measuring it.
“This is one of the hardest jobs in the world. That’s why God gave it to you, husband.”
But, however you measure, it is — let’s just agree with Emily here — massively important. And Emily’s second question is crucial, namely, how do you restore marriage to its due place? Or, how do you preserve its due place of prominence in our lives? That’s what she’s really asking. She doesn’t want me to mess it up with complications. That’s the right and good question.
So, let me give six, brief, bullet-like suggestions. All of them probably should have a chapter behind them.
And I’m speaking to Emily here but not separate from her husband. So, push pause. Go, get your husband. Like Jesus said, “Go, get your husband” (see John 4:16). If she becomes the leader in these things that I’m going to say now, and he’s just drug along, that’s not going to work — that’s going to unravel in the end.
1. The Church
Embed your marriage in the church.
Now, I base that on everything I’ve just been saying for the last five minutes or so. Don’t rest until you have woven your marriage and your lives into a wider family of mature saints who want to go hard after God with you and make each others’ marriages all they can be for God.
Read a few solid, biblical books on marriage.
No fluffy ones with near pop psychology. Here’s my suggestion: read them out loud together. Sit on the couch and read them out loud together. Take turns reading back and forth, or whoever reads best can just read it out loud.
Put the children to bed by 7:30pm. If you’re objecting, “well, we’ve got kids. Don’t you know we have kids?” No, I do know you have kids. It can be done. Hey world, hey young parents, children can be put to bed at 7:30. They will do it. You can make them do it. They’ll get used to it. Then you have two hours to do important things like sit on the couch and read and pray together about marriage — not waste it on television.
Husband, take responsibility for all of this.
Now, taking responsibility doesn’t mean doing all that needs to be done to make a marriage what it ought to be. That’s not going to work. Rather, taking responsibility means owning the challenge that when something is broken, your calling is not figuring out whether it’s her fault. Your calling is to overcome your frustration, your self-pity, your anger, and your withdrawal, and do all you can to move things forward. And keep on doing this until one of you is dead.
You never get a pass on Christlike burden-bearing. That’s what headship is. You never get a pass. You never say, “I’m sick of this. There’s no response to it.” No pass.
If one of you dies, then you’re free. This is one of the hardest jobs in the world. That’s why God gave it to you, man: not because she can’t do it — of course she can — but because Christ-modeling men want to lift this burden for her.
4. Date Your Wife
Husbands, plan a weekly date that is at least partly a state-of-the-marriage conversation.
“God is the key to your marriage and its proper and due place of prominence.”
Draw her out. Find out what she’s seeing and feeling about the state of the marriage. Talk through steps to make things better — better schedule, better discipline of the kids, better sex, better hospitality, better financial stewardship.
Talk it through. Bring it up. Draw her out. Schedule, once a week, a state-of-the-marriage lunch.
Wives, encourage him in every fruitful way in all the efforts of this kind of initiative-taking. Find out what energizes his spiritual leadership, and invest in it.
6. On Your Knees
Finally, pray together every day.
Not just the two of you at dinner with the kids — not just at meals or in a family relationship. Here’s the amazing summary of husbands and wives together according to Peter: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).
God is the key to your marriage and its proper and due place of prominence. Seek him together.