Will God give my future spouse a similar calling to the calling he has given me? Should we expect marriage to be a harmonizing of vocational passions? The question is from a listener named Arielle. “Hello, Pastor John! As I look forward to marriage, Lord willing, I wonder if the partner God has for me, my future husband, will have a similar calling for God’s specific purposes. For example, will he give my husband the same level of desire I have for missions? Is that what God designed for marriages to be: a union of purpose? Or is this naïve? Are marriages more likely comprised of a husband and wife who are on their own individual trajectory with unique and different callings? In your pastoral experience, how does this normally work?”
Perhaps I should start with this sentence: Marriage is not fundamentally the linking of arms in the pursuit of an agreed-upon vocation. Now, here’s one of the ways to see why that is true. When you get married, you have no certainty whatsoever that the person you marry will not undergo profound changes. Your spouse may become an unbeliever in ten years. He or she may totally change his or her mind about what vocation they want to go after.
They may experience deep depression. They may be in an accident and become disabled, and never be able to work a day in their life. They may turn to drink or drugs or sit in front of the TV every night or just become a lazy couch potato, doing nothing. When you get married, you take a huge risk and don’t have any way of predicting for sure how this will turn out.
Commit to Your Covenant
So Jesus — unlike our culture, even our church culture, I am sad to say — said divorce is not the Christian response to these unforeseen changes. Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
“Seek God’s vision for your life. Don’t be a jellyfish, just coasting or floating along.”
Now, the disciples respond to that statement with typical man-centered skepticism. They say this in Matthew 19:10: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” In other words, “If there’s no back door to the marriage, leading to a better marriage — second marriage, third — then this unexpected disappointment I might walk into is not worth walking into. I’m not walking into the front door if there’s no back door for a second marriage.”
Now Jesus’s answer to that response — that skeptical, man-centered, “I could never do that” response — is Matthew 19:11–12, which, paraphrased, says, “Well, celibacy is a worthy option. Not everyone can receive my standards of marriage. But if you can trust me for it, then I will be sufficient to help you keep your covenant, no matter what changes come.”
So my point is that marriage is most fundamentally a covenant commitment to live as husband and wife till death do us part — even if there are totally unexpected changes in vocational preference, or disability, or capacities for work, or changing preferences on a hundred things that might alter your life. Marriage is not most fundamentally about linking arms in an agreed-upon vocational track. It’s about covenant-keeping, to the glory of Christ, till death do us part, no matter what.
Husbands, Lead Your Home
Now, to answer Arielle’s question, I need to draw out some biblical realities about the roles, the glorious realities, of how husbands and wives in marriage are to relate to each other. For example, God created man first and then woman in Genesis 2, and Paul says that order is of significance for the cause of leadership in the home (1 Corinthians 11:8–9).
And then God said in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” And then in the New Testament, God says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:22–23).
So these two texts, Genesis 2:18 and Ephesians 2:22, not to mention several others, point — and I think the combination of the two makes the point especially strong — to the protection and the provision and the leadership of a husband toward his wife.
In other words, the man bears a unique responsibility for the direction and biblical functioning of the family — not the only responsibility, but a unique one as the head. The reality of woman as helper in Genesis 2:18, and the reality of headship and submission in Ephesians 5, point to a relationship in marriage where the wife is following the lead of her husband’s sense of calling, and finding her own ministry in that helping, supportive framework.
Look to God
So, my counsel to an unmarried man would be to seek God’s vision for your life. Don’t be a jellyfish, just coasting or floating along. See a goal, pursue it for the glory of God, and when a woman comes into your life, and it looks like God may be knitting your hearts together toward marriage, be sure that her commitment is to you — not your vocation and not her vocation. Ask her, “Will you follow me wherever God leads me, provided I do not lead you into any sin?”
“God does not teach that any of his children, male or female, should be without a fruitful, meaningful ministry.”
I wouldn’t have married a woman who said, “I don’t think your sense of calling should guide us, but my calling should guide us. Or we should split the difference, and always find a way that I can do my vocation and you can do yours.” I don’t think that way of relating as husband and wife fits the biblical teaching about how we should relate to each other.
And to the unmarried woman I would say this: Look to God in this second-most significant decision of your life — marriage. Christian commitment is the first. Look to God in the second-most significant decision of your life, and discern if this is the kind of man you want in the headship of your life and marriage.
Bless the World
Now, with that biblical framework in place, I should say this: God does not teach that any of his children, male or female, should be without a fruitful, meaningful ministry — whether vocational or non-vocational. Nobody in Christ should be coasting. Nobody in the kingdom coasts. Nobody is wasting his or her life watching TV or merely playing with hobbies.
Home and children are among the highest callings. And there will almost certainly be lengthy seasons of life when the children are not home — they’re out, they’re gone. There are seasons when children don’t require the total focus. God has always put his daughters to work in a thousand ways that bless the church and the world.
What I’m arguing for is that God loves to do this within the framework of a marriage, where the wife delights to stand by her man — support him, help him, follow him — and find in that drama of Christ and the church, a ministry (vocational or non-vocational) that blesses the world and glorifies God.