Man’s Highest Call?

I think far too much discussion on Biblical manhood boils down to loving one’s wife and giving oneself for her.  I say this as a married man who loves his wife deeply (though I display that to her and thank God for her far too infrequently).  But this is my argument on the matter: Proportionally, the Bible speaks far less about marriage than we do in Sunday School lessons, Bible studies, and sermons; the same could be said about parenting.  Is the husband-wife relationship important in God’s eyes?  Absolutely.  Is it the duty of the husband and wife to raise their children and the fear and knowledge of God?  Absolutely.  But here is a little food for thought on the Bible and the family…

  • Jesus
    • He was celibate.  He is in all ways the ultimate exemplar of Biblical manhood.  And yet for some reason His life did not culminate in leading a quiet family-centered life at home, spending nights around the fire with His wife.
    • His primary teaching points on marriage in the Gospels
      • Marriage is temporal.  Marriage of this present age does not persist into eternity (Matthew 22).
      • Celibacy may be a greater call.  In some cases, God calls men to give up the pleasures of marriage (to “make themselves eunuchs”) in this present age for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19).  Paul expands on this idea in 1 Corinthians 7.
      • Divorce is untenable for those who do marry (Matthew 5, Luke 16).
      • While marriage vows are sacred and unbreakable for God’s people, they pale in comparison with the commitment to Christ.  Marriage is even listed as one of the “excuses” men use to shirk Kingdom responsibility, alongside new purchases of land and oxen in the Parable of the Great Feast. “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple,” (Luke 14:18-20, 26).
      • Finally, check out this exchange between Peter and Jesus: “Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,  who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:28-30).'”
      • Conclusion: Is Jesus anti-marriage?  Absolutely not.  Marriage belongs to God, was instituted by God, and is performed by God (God joins the man and woman together as one).  It is such a sacred vow that we are forbidden from breaking it in the course of life.  But it is by no means the end-all, be-all of Christian life.  Our whole duty does not boil down to being caring husbands and loving fathers at home.  From Jesus’ words, it seems there is much, much more to our discipleship.  This is by no means to the exclusion of loving our wives and teaching our children to know and trust God, but it goes far beyond this, when I fear that we tend to stop here.
  • Paul
    • It seems that Paul, often regarded as the greatest Christian of history, was celibate as well (1 Cor. 9:5-6; 1 Cor. 7:7-8)
    •  Primary teachings on marriage
      • 1 Cor. 7 – It is good for a man not to marry (perhaps better?), but due to the strong temptation of sexual immorality, it is a wise course for most men to marry.  It is not sinful for man to marry (v.28), but even those of us “who have wives should be as though they had none (v.29).” Those of us who marry will struggle with divided hearts, concerned with both the things of the Lord and the things of the world, while the celibate are given completely to the things of the Lord (vv.32-35).  Paul concludes this section with some hard words for those of us who are married, “This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord (v.35).” Marriage is a gift from God; so is celibacy.  God does not forbide marriage by any stretch; neither does He demean celibacy.  Marriage is a good safeguard against sexual temptation, but it is also an impediment to full, single-minded devotion to God.  Each case comes with its own difficulty.
      • Ephesians 5 – The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is his own head.  He must therefore be to her as Christ is to him: loving her (v.25), giving himself up for her (v.25), seeking her holiness (v.26), preparing to offer her up to God as blameless in the Eschaton (v.27).  Clearly, God has a high view of marriage, imaging the relationship of husband and wife as analagous to that of Christ and the Church.  With some likeness comes immense responsibility.
      • Conclusion: Of Paul’s 13 epistles, only two chapters are given to the treatment of Christian marriage.  There are some passing references to marriage given also in 1 Timothy and Titus, that we should be faithful to our wives in marriage, but that is the extent of Paul’s treatment on marriage.  It is good to marry; it is also good to remain celibate.  Those who marry will struggle with divided interests between God and wife; those who marry will deal with extra responsibility for the holiness and protection of their wives; and yet God does not discourage us from seeking out wives.  But clearly, marriage is not the chief end of man in this life.  It is major, but it is not chief.
  • Peter
    • Serves as a bit of a counterpoint to Jesus and Paul in that he was clearly married (1 Cor. 9:5); however, in our climate we might look at his carrying on in marriage as a bit suspect, as he cries out to Christ, “Behold, we have left our homes and followed You,” to which Jesus replies, “Truly I say to you, there is none who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life (Luke 18:28-30).”
    • Teaching on marriage: Peter only wrote two epistles and only mentions marriage in passing in one chapter, 1 Peter 3.  He echoes Paul’s instructions regarding headship–wives submitting to their husbands for their holiness (1 Peter 3:1-6) and husbands living in understanding ways with their wives, honoring them as fellow heirs of Christ (1 Peter 3:7).
  • John, the other major New Testament writer, leaves no instruction regarding marriage in his writings.  In Revelation 19, he does describe the great culmination of history as the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, in which the Church (the Bride) is joined to Her Husband, Jesus Christ.

What do we take from this then, the New Testament witness regarding marriage?  God is the Author of marriage, the One who instituted it and sanctions it.  It belongs to Him; we have no right to snatch it from Him and redefine it as we please.  From Genesis, we see that it is the primary relational marker between men and women, a great gift of God.  In Revelation, we see that history itself will culminate in the Wedding of the Church and the Lamb.  Obviously, it is a massively important institution in the eyes of God.  But it is not the fullness of God’s calling on Christian’s lives.  In my opinion, our discipleship and that those around us (including our wives) and our commitment to the spread of the gospel exceed marriage itself in importance.  As to the application of this truth in real terms in our lives in our time, I will leave that to you to work out.  I’m still processing it myself.

P.S. Erica, I love you as myself, and I am absolutely committed to your joy, your holiness, our relationship, and the lives we are building together.  🙂

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2 Responses to Man’s Highest Call?

  1. pastorpaul says:

    This is a good reminder that everything (including marriage and family) must be subservient to God. But I think you need to be careful with statements like “Is Jesus anti-marriage? Absolutely.”
    If someone quoted Proverbs 18:22 to Jesus, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (ESV), would Jesus have responded, “That is absolutely wrong”?
    I believe Jesus was realistic about the struggles introduced by marriage as was Paul. Those who are married have increased difficulties following Christ in the same way that those who have money will have increased difficulties following Christ. Should we then say that Jesus was anti-money?
    It’s also important to note that Jesus appears to make celibacy a gift for the few more than the requirement for all in Matthew 19:10-12. You could make Matthew 19:10-12 to describe Christians and non-Christians but that doesn’t appear to be how the disciples took it or Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. And celibacy as a gift to some Christians seems to match Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 7.
    In and of themselves being poor or rich, married or single, a parent or not, and other choices like these can easily be made into markers of true Christianity. The new emphasis that guys need to grow up, stop playing video games, get married, and have kids is an example. Jesus didn’t own or rent or have a home so all true Christ followers will be like him and not have a place to lay their heads at night! Some choose to be poor and single in Jesus’ name because they are selfish and immature. Some choose it for the kingdom. Some choose marriage and greater income because they are selfish and immature. Same goes for having or not having children.
    I think Jesus deals with us all individually. Jesus doesn’t have a cookie cutter. He told the Gerasene Demoniac (who wanted to give up everything and follow him) to “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you” (Mk 5:19). But he told the Rich Young Ruler to “Go, sell all that you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). One gained treasure by keeping and using what he had for the kingdom. The other gained treasure by getting rid of all that he had. For some the greatest Kingdom good comes through current relationships and circumstances. For others the greatest Kingdom good comes by jettisoning current relationships and circumstances.
    Do we overemphasize marriage while down playing what it means to love God and offer Him everything? I think so. This is by far a greater danger than overemphasizing the good of singleness. Do churches look for single men or married men to be their pastors? They look for married men. Is this a bad thing? Yes. Things need to change but we need to be careful that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the opposite direction.

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