A World of Hope for Marriage
In the beginning God created the world and all living things, and it was good. He created everything to depend on and worship him, and it was good. The only thing God said was not good was for man to be alone. So he remedied that by making a woman out of man, and it too was good! The world started with great peace, love, worship, and joy. There was a connection to God and a connection to one another. Mankind cared for the planet, and life on Earth was healthy and satisfying. Today, the world is not like that. So what happened?
In Genesis 3, humanity turns away from its utter dependence on God and toward a dependence on self. Humans chose to serve themselves by trying to be God rather than to worship, obey and walk with God. Immediate brokenness and separation ensued. The husband and wife blamed each other, lied, hid from God, and were filled with shame and loneliness. Today, we live in a broken and isolated world that is still living under the curse of this Genesis 3 moment. What has been the solution to this curse? We continue to look to human wisdom to save us from our own mess. We have seen this from the humans building the tower of Babel back in Genesis. We also see this today in our culture’s drive to exalt ourselves by improving self-esteem and self-worth. This is also seen through this generation’s tireless fight to build an online self-monument via Twitter, About Me, Facebook, and other social networks. In our brokenness, we continue to look to ourselves to provide healing; all the while our addiction-to-self continues to grow. This is foolishness.
How is this self-centeredness proving itself today? According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 10 U.S. adults are clinically diagnosed with depression. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 43% of American children today are being raised without their Fathers—this percentage doesn’t reflect the level of involvement of these fathers as abusive, distant, or loving and highly engaged. In the U.S. there is one divorce every 13 seconds which equates to 6,646 divorces per day, and 46,523 divorces per week. In addition, every second, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography. I could go on and on with these statistics. However, as disciple makers these are more than statistics because we know the people, we know the stories.
In the midst of all of this there is a Creator-God that embodies community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are in perfect everlasting relationship with one another, existing in an eternal state of harmony, peace and love. Stop and think about that. They love each other perfectly. Serve each other perfectly. Submit to each other perfectly. Honor each other perfectly –forever. God is love. And love is found in this relationship.
God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to this Earth to bring a people into this perfect relationship. In John 17, he prays to his Father that we would be one as they are one. This is one of the most scandalous, offensive prayers in history. Jesus asks the Father to make us—isolated, selfish, corrupt sinners—one with him and the Father. Blasphemy! But Jesus does not just pray; He sacrifices himself as the only way for this to happen. He takes the death that we deserve. Dying a humiliating, torturous, and lonely death on a filthy-Roman cross. He took the pain and separation of the curse, so that we might be one as he and the Father are one.
This is the gospel. This is good news—that sinful humans get to be family with God. Is this madness? Yes. Is this true? Yes. Does this change everything? Yes. Yes it does. We get to be with God and reflect this communal love. We also get to tell this broken world around us this true story of hope! Our loving God not only invites us into his loving family but into his loving mission. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is a scandalous prayer to unite us with him in both family and in mission! This is the role of the church.
The reality of the gospel is the backdrop and foundation that should shape our marriages, families, and the church. I am writing this article address the tension of missional living and the health of our marriages and families. I want to urge us to not to seek balance between family and mission, but to lead our families out of balance via loving God, loving our families, and loving others! The goal is not balance, or finding the line between leading our church and leading our families; the goal is that leaders, families, the church, and the lost would be one with God the Father and God the Son, just as they are one. This is our goal. The question is how do we achieve this goal? The short answer is through the cross and by the power of the Holy Spirit. But how does that work?
The Mystery of Marriage
In the beginning, God created man and woman to be image bearers of the Trinity. This is a mystery. Humanity images God. Genesis gives us insight on how we are to image God. It was not good to try and image God alone. Why? As we have already established, our God is not alone, but a God in relationship –God is community. So God creates man and woman to image God together. He creates marriage to be a way to begin, reveal, and reflect the mystery of the Trinity. Wow, no pressure! Let me state this again. Human relationships, and specifically marriage, are meant to reveal and reflect the glorious submission, harmony, and love of the Trinity. This is a mystery, however, most of us have had the privilege of seeing a beautiful marriage and were drawn to it. Unified, gospel-centered marriages should draw us to worship the Trinity! This is why I argue that our goal is not to balance marriage and mission, because displaying a healthy marriage, in and of it-self, is mission! A healthy marriage is a God-ordained, God-created, mysterious way to proclaim the mystery of the Trinity, and this proclamation is mission.
Understanding Genesis should be more than enough to overwhelm us with the importance of a God-exalting marriage, but God’s story does not end in Genesis. In Ephesians 5, we are told that a marriage between one man and one woman displays the mystery of Jesus Christ’s love for the church. The mystery of Jesus’ John 17 prayer is on display in marriage. The fact that God became a man and died on a cross for the sins of the world can be exemplified through a Christ-centered marriage. A marriage where a man loves, serves, and sacrifices for his wife, and the wife submits and respects her husband shows off some of the mystery of Jesus and his bride the church. Unbelievable! Once again we see that a Christ-centered marriage put on display is, in and of itself, mission. God uses marriage to preach the gospel to the world. Is it any wonder that Satan wants so badly to attack marriages? The battle for gay-marriage, increasing divorce rates, and sexual addictions all make sense as a plan of attack for our enemy. Let us not be ignorant of the devil’s schemes. He wants to attack and destroy marriages.
Finally, it is not just marriage but parenting and family life. Two of the three members of the trinity are revealed to us as Father and as Son. God is revealed to us as a family. We are adopted by God the Father into a family and the church is described with many metaphors in scripture but none are more prevalent than family. The world looks to the church to understand that God is a family and the church looks to the family to understand that church is a family. Family is important. Loving fathers reflect to the world that our God is a loving father. Parents loving their children in front of the lost are conducting an act of mission. A healthy, God-centered family is missional because the world only has negative views of a father, and so when they hear that God is a Father they are hearing bad news. Earthly fathers get to display that this is good news! This is a weighty call, but it is a privilege. How we love, protect, nurture, and lead our children has a mighty impact on our mission!
What Does This All Mean?
What this means is that mission is good for our family and our family is good for mission. As we obey the Spirit on mission it will strengthen our family, and as we strengthen our family it will strengthen mission. The two are not mutually exclusive, but mutually fuel each other.
What this means is that families are on the frontlines of mission where there is spiritual warfare whether we want to admit it or not. It is easy to react to this by isolating and protecting the family in an anti-mission bubble, but this is actually more harmful because it ignores the call and joy of radical mission. It can propel families to believe a lie from the enemy. The opposite end of the spectrum is to force our families into sacrifices they are not ready or willing to make. The key is listening to the Holy Spirit through God’s word and community and letting that lead you and your family into mission.
What this means is that the home is a hub for mission. Part of displaying the mysteries of the Trinity and the gospel, and the love of God the Father is allowing people to witness it in the daily life of our homes. I know the home will get messy and even ruined, but we must remember what it cost our God to allow broken and messy people into his home. The gospel motivates us. Again there is a tension here. The home is a hub for mission but it is also to be a sanctuary. Our God does give us rest and we must be attentive to not make sacrifices in order to please man but to make the sacrifices God is calling us to. Listening to our wives, children and community can help us know what and when to say “yes” or “no” to opening the home.
What this means is that our goal for our children is not to fuel their self-worth or self-esteem but to point them to the joy of knowing and following Christ. We make it our aim to please God. We make it our aim to partner with our bride and Christ’s bride—the church—to model for our children and the lost the joy of giving up everything to follow Jesus into a life of love and adventure.
Remember this is not a balancing act or a chore. We get to be united with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We get to join in God’s great rescue plan for the world. We get to do this with our family and we get to do this with his family the local church. Let us rejoice and be glad in this!
Practically speaking we can see that there is a great weight with marriage and family life. We can see that we have a real enemy who is trying to attack the church, families, and marriages. Below are 11 practical things that I have learned from other men who are fighting to live a life of mission with their family. I pray that these serve as helpful and practical guides:
- Model repentance: We are the chief sinners in our families and need to be leading in confessing and turning from sin. If we cease to confess sin we will lose their trust or become a false god. Our role is to lead in pointing to a true God and reveal our need of Jesus and his work on the cross.
- Model dependence: We must model a dependence on Jesus and show that we are needy for Jesus—we need his forgiveness, his love, and his grace daily. We model a dependence on God’s word and prayer and prove that our desire to be a family on mission is from the Lord and not just our crazy idea. Living this life of mission with the local church goes a long way in building trust.
- Preach the gospel: If we are not preaching, teaching, and pleading with our household to believe the gospel daily, than how can we do this outside of our household? Remember that our wife and kids need to hear the good news of the gospel on a daily basis.
- Encourage and Protect: Encourage family to use and pursue their unique spiritual gifts and callings. Encourage and make sacrifices to allow wife to get time with the women who challenge and encourage her. Make sure family serves primarily in the role they would be serving even if you were not in leadership. Protect them from lies from the devil and wolves; protect them from what the world says they should pursue and instead point them to what God’s word says.
- Pursue: Never stop pursuing your bride. Work to win her love daily and work to prove your love daily.
- Pray: Pray with and for your wife daily. Ask her where she needs prayer and pray for her specific needs. We cannot make the mistake of praying for everyone in the church and not our wives. Do the same with your kids!
- Family Day: Take a day off weekly to hang out with the family and not do counseling, sermon prep, vision planning, etc. but just party with the family. This gives us a much-needed Sabbath and reminds you and the family that Christ is head of the church and it will all go on without you for a day. Show you really believe this by turning your cell phone off and not checking e-mail on these days.
- Date night: Date your bride weekly. Let your leaders, church, and friends know you are doing this and that date night is a priority. Give permission to your community to make sure you are doing date nights. This comforts her to know that everyone knows that date night with her is a priority and that men will be holding you accountable to making it a priority. Turn off cell phone on date night.
- Foster her identity: Call your bride a bride. Never use negative nicknames like ball and chain, old’ lady, etc. She will live out of the identity you help foster for her. Ensure that it is an identity of her being the bride of Christ and your bride too!
- Listening: We must develop ears to hear from God and from our family. Listen to your bride, as she is your God-given helper to help you know what to say yes to and what to say no to. Listen to her hesitations and passions. Listen to your children too. Is your family getting burnt out? Are they excited for mission? Are they scared? Do they miss their daddy? Does your bride feel loved or forgotten? Do they love the church and are they thankful their Daddy or husband leads in the church? Listen to God’s people, to your leaders, and your local church family. God has given us them to build us up, serve us, and to point out our blind spots. We must be dedicated listeners if we are to lead our family on mission.
- Do mission together: Finally, fuel each other’s missional ideas. It is not just the family sacrificing to follow you on mission but sometimes you sacrifice to follow what the Spirit is putting on your bride’s heart or your kid’s heart. Rally behind their ideas and do so as a family. This will build tremendous unity and make every dangerous gospel idea an idea that involves the whole family and not just one member of the family. While you are at it, do this with your local church. Mutually encourage each other’s faith and rally around each other’s missional ideas and dreams!
Jake Chambers (@JakeJayChambers) is a member of Jesus’ bride – the church. He is the husband to his beautiful bride Lindsey, and a daddy to his boy Ezra, Roseanna and baby Jaya is on the way. Jake is passionate about seeing the gospel both transform lives and create communities that love Jesus, the city, and the lost. He currently serves Red Door Church through leading, preaching, equipping, and pastoring.