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Converging Marriage and Mission

DIVERGING STREAMS?

Many married people reading this are well versed in two streams of Christian thought: the first stream is that we are God’s people sent into God’s world to carry out God’s mission. From Abraham on, God sends his people into the world–not to be enveloped by the world, but to live–as St. Augustine put it–as the “city of God,” living among the “city of Man” and seeking its good. The other stream is that marriage is the best reflection of the Trinity, and of God’s love for and pursuit of his Bride. Orthodox theology for the past 2000 years has affirmed Paul’s words in Ephesians 5, that the blessed relationship between a husband and wife is the clearest picture of “the mystery” of “Christ and his church.” We’ve heard both those streams; we know both principles; we even believe and strive to live out those truths.

The problem is we often hear, know, believe, and live those streams separately from each other, while God designed them to be one strong, flowing, unified river. We try to live as missionaries and as couples as two distinct compartments of life. As Paul Tripp has said: “But they’re not naturally divided. That’s why you don’t have a huge discussion in the New Testament of the tension between ministry and family. It’s just not there. We have set that up, because we naturally look at these two things as separate dimensions.” Here’s the truth for every Christian couple: marriage is the clearest picture of the gospel in the world today, and your marriage is one of the best forms of evangelism in the world today. We can no longer keep our marriage and our mission in separate, parallel streams–they must converge.

How can God use our marriage for his mission? We can learn much from the Bible’s brief glimpses of one couple, Aquila and Priscilla, in Acts 18.

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. Acts 18:1-3

GOD’S MISSION THROUGH YOUR IDENTITY

Aquila and Priscilla were not pastors and didn’t have seminary degrees. They made tents for a living, working a culturally-normative profession. Yet they saw themselves as ministers of the gospel by opening their lives to Paul. We see at the end of 1 Corinthians that they hosted the local church in their home. Later in Acts 18 they go with Paul on mission for the gospel. In some circles today, Christians refer to “tent-making” as the honorable use of a “secular” job for ministry. For this couple, tent-making carried no great honor; it was simply their job, and a means of God’s provisions, as they lived their lives for the gospel. They were a married couple with a normal life, who used their marriage and life for God’s ministry. Whoever you are, and regardless of your job, city, or profession–or marital status–you are a minister of the gospel.

The God who saved you “by grace through faith” now has “good works, prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). “God. . . through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18). If you’re married, you’re probably busy. Whether you’re paid by a church or by Starbucks, FedEx, an ISD, or the government, and whether we’ve been married one week or fifty years, and whether you have ten kids running around the home or are empty-nesters, and whether you deal with the normal messiness of life or struggle with deeper issues, you’re still (primarily) God’s people sent on God’s mission to God’s world. That’s your identity in Christ: you’re a minister of his gospel.

GOD’S MISSION THROUGH YOUR HOSPITALITY

As part of Aquila and Priscilla’s gospel ministry, they opened their home to the Apostle Paul. He didn’t just crash on their couch for a few nights, but moved in with them. Their home was also the meeting place for the local church. If you look at the normative life of the early church in Acts 2, you know that folks didn’t just wander into their home at 10am on a Sunday, stay for an hour, then go to Chili’s. Instead, “day by day, [they attended] the temple together and [broke] bread in their homes” (Acts 2). The church was likely in Aquila and Priscilla’s home a lot.

There’s an old episode of Everybody Loves Raymond in which Ray’s parents purchase a new couch, and won’t remove the plastic wrap for fear of getting it dirty–that’s a great picture of how many of us view our homes. Today we often view our homes as a “refuge” or “retreat” from the difficult world “out there.” That thinking misses part of the point: our homes, like everything God gives us, are gifts to steward for the sake of God’s mission. Aquila and Priscilla had a home, and used that home as a generous blessing to others.

Aquila and Priscilla lived as God’s ministers, and in doing so, they used their home as a ministry. In the familial mess of opening your home, doors open for deep conversations. In denying the comfort and convenience a home can provide, others are blessed and cared for.

GOD’S MISSION THROUGH YOUR DECISIONS

Put yourself in Aquila and Priscilla’s shoes. You’re new to town, and you’re only there because you got kicked out of your last town. If the local church needs a place to meet, would you volunteer your home? Paul shows up and asks to live with you. While your first impression today might be excitement: “The most famous Christian in the world, the guy who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, the greatest missionary of all time, wants to live with ME?!” We must see the other side too. Paul was also one of the most persecuted, most wanted, most despised persons of his day. “Inviting him in” was a massive danger to yourself!

When we think of “hospitality,” we often mistake it for what the Bible calls “fellowship.” At times it’s easy–or at least, easier–to open your home to other followers of Jesus. But true, biblical hospitality is opening your home to strangers, caring for the hurting and the least. Biblical hospitality means blessing folks who could never bless you back. It is initiating with others and loving people because God first initiated and loved us.

The rubber meets the road in marriage and ministry through the decisions you make each day. Those decisions display what you and your spouse value, love, pursue, and fear. Your decisions display what you and your spouse worship. And those you’re ministering to will watch your marriage and learn from it. How you use your home as a couple is one of those daily decisions.

GOD’S MISSION THROUGH YOUR STEWARDSHIP

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:9: “if in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If Jesus hasn’t risen, and there’s no hope for the future, then we should be more pitied than anyone in the world. The reason our lives should invite pity from people who don’t know Jesus is that our lives should look strange, illogical, and crazy. People should think we’ve lost our minds. Is that true of the decisions you and your spouse make? What values and priorities do your neighbors see in your marriage? What goals and pursuits does the world around you see in your life?

If God is using our marriages for his mission, it looks completely illogical. For example you might be able to afford the best private school in town, yet send your kids to the less-esteemed, local public one because your family places obedience in mission above an educational reputation. It makes no sense to deny a higher paying job, for one with better hours–but you pursue mission by dwelling with your family and mission field longer. Might we give up a club, hobby, organization, Xbox, or even one of our many Bible Studies, to free up time, money, and energy for those God sent us to? Might we even “cold-call” our neighbors and invite them over for dinner? Would we let them see our imperfections, and bless them without expecting a return? This is the call to display the weird life of gospel implications in marriage.

The key to each of these–living as a minister, opening your home and marriage, and living a counter-cultural lifestyle–is seeing yourself as a steward of your life, possessions, and even family, rather than an owner. Here’s what Aquila and Priscilla understood: everything we have is a gift from God. Everything we have is his; everything is given to us to use and cultivate and use on his behalf. We are the servants in Matthew 25, and one day our Master will look at all he entrusted us with. Will our master be pleased or disappointed in our stewardship?

GOD’S MISSION THROUGH YOUR PROCLAMATION

Our marriages, like everything else God gives us, are gifts from God to steward well for his purposes. Do we take his gift and make it about ourselves? Do we trade his purpose and mission for our selfishness and safety? Do we take marriage–the best display of the gospel to the world–and hide it away rather than using it to proclaim the glory, grace, and goodness of God?

Aquila and Priscilla were so sold out on God’s mission that they later moved to Ephesus with Paul. They stayed there when Paul continued on, and as a “husband-wife team,” directed their ministry into a young convert named Apollos (Acts 18:18-26). The scriptures that speak to this point in history show that that, as a couple, Aquila and Priscilla “discipled” this young man for a season just as they had opened their lives to Paul and the church at Corinth. And like Paul, God used Apollos to produce great fruit and bring himself great glory through the known world.

A CONVERGENCE FOR SAKE OF THE GOSPEL

By their actions, decisions, lifestyle, and their words, Aquila and Priscilla were a couple who proclaimed the gospel. What would your city be like if it was filled with couples devoting their lives and marriages to helping others understand the gospel of Jesus? What would your church be like if it was filled with families who opened their homes to life-on-life discipleship? What would it look like to see our marriages as gifts from God, for the sake of his mission, rather than our own selfish desires?

It is difficult. It battles everything in us that wants comfort, convenience, privacy, and silence. If we deny ourselves for his mission, we should be pitied–if Jesus didn’t raise from the dead. But he did! And in doing so, he transforms both our marriages and our mission; he gives us the only reason for living this way; he becomes the only reason for “intentionally illogical” decisions. In Jesus’ death, resurrection, and call on our lives, his mission and our marriages converge into a story that’s bigger than our own–the writing of which took a greater sacrifice than we’ll ever be asked to give.

In our marriages, we have the opportunity to put that story on display every day. Will we continue to live as married people, who separately, occasionally in our busyness, pursue ministry? Or will the gospel transform our time, priorities, and relationship, and unite those diverging streams into one, as we live out our new identity and converge God’s mission and our marriages?

Special thanks to Ross Appleton for the foundational concept this article is built on.

Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben. For related resources, including a FREE eBook by Ben Connelly & Bob Roberts Jr, visit everydaymission.net