“I can’t wait to be done with college; then life will slow down.” Over the last decade of working with college students, that’s one my favorite recurring comments. Every time I hear it I chuckle under my breath, trying to resist outright laughing. You likely know as well as I do: life never seems to slow down! Most of us find ourselves stressed, stretched, and spinning out of control. We can’t even seem to find time for a hobby, or to keep ourselves in shape – or if we’re married, at times even the time to connect deeply with our spouse! Add kids to the mix, with their added busyness, and the craziness increases exponentially! That seems to be the reality of today’s culture.
But there’s a greater reality, which has applied to every culture in which Christians have lived: God sends us into that culture, despite our busyness, as a “minister of reconciliation” (2Cor 5:18), to “seek its welfare” (Jer 29:7) and to “make disciples” (Matt 28:20). That call and command rests on all of us, no matter how busy, but the question for this article looks specifically at married people: how can God use my marriage for his mission?
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 that 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 unite.
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 they 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 50 years, and whether you have 10 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,). They were 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. Hospitality 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.
The Fears We Have
What are our biggest fears with using our marriages for mission? That we’ll be unsafe? That we won’t be successful? That our child will experience a tragedy or they won’t have the best opportunity to succeed themselves? None of these fears are inherently evil, but if they become a greater fear than “the fear of the LORD,” which “is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7), they have become evil. If they become the primary motivation behind our marital and familial decisions, above obedience to God, then we are listening to our culture over our God. In the decisions we make, we must discern whether we’re placing our hope in God or something else. Are we trusting a certain neighborhood for safety more than God? Are we placing hope in a certain job to provide better than God?
Here’s the point: in Romans 16:3, Paul literally says, “Priscilla and Aquila risked their necks for my life.” Why would they do that? This couple valued God’s mission and ministry over any cultural norm, distraction, or idol. There would be no other reason to risk their lives except that their values and goals were different than those of the world around them. Throughout Jesus’ own ministry, he called people to fight against their inward-focused, selfish, consumerist lives. He called them to battle the natural currents of culture and to fight Satan’s subtle temptations to convince you – among other things – that following God is too risky.
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 hadn’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 so strange, illogical, and even 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.
After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila… And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus… Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. -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 your city be like if it was filled with couples devoting their lives and marriages to helping others understand the good news of Jesus? What would your church be like if it was filled with families who opened their homes to literal 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! 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 God’s mission through our marriages?
Special thanks to Ross Appleton for the foundational concept this article is built on.
Ben Connelly lives in Fort Worth with his wife and daughters. He started The City Church in 2010 and lives on mission by teaching public speaking at TCU. Ben sits on the board of a few city-focused organizations, trains occasionally across the country, and writes in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben
Read more about the implications of the resurrection in the free e-book Raised? by Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson.