For the married men reading this, what was the primary motivation that caused you to choose your wife? Did you think, "I am marrying this woman because she will help me teach alien sinners the Gospel"? Or did you think she would help you feed the hungry in Africa? Or was it something along the lines of, "She makes me very happy and I want to spend the rest of my life with her"?
You see, there is a very popular notion among Evangelicals that marriage represents some type of ministry or "kingdom work." We are told that unless you have a special gift as a single person for some notable work for Christ, you should get married. Marriage is your "vocation" or "calling" in this respect. Well, I've been wanting to write on this matter for some time because it is Pure. Utter. Poppycock. Your marriage is not a ministry. Period. Where did this idea come from? Luther? Calvin? I don't know, but it didn't come from the Bible. It's not there.
I covered some ground on this matter before in my book-length review of Debbie Maken's work Getting Serious About Getting Married, but let me repeat some things, if need be. The word "calling," "called," etc. is used in the Bible to refer to the Gospel invitation (Ephesians 4:1) or to a particular role in the Church (Romans 1:1). A "calling" is always made explicitly through a theophany or through the revealed Word of God. It is never used to describe a marital status.
Moreover, I want you to consider carefully the following verses because they most assuredly show some tension between our earthly loyalties (such as marriage and family) and our work in the kingdom of God ...
1. Luke 6:32 - "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them." (NASB)
The Lord asks a rhetorical question here. We need to answer it. What credit is it to you to love those that love you? Sounds like the marriage and family bond to me.
2. 1 Tim. 5:18 - "But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (NASB)
Why is the neglect of your family worse than what unbelievers do? Because even unbelievers take care of their own. Tell me, are unbelievers engaged in "kingdom work" or ministry for Christ simply because they got married and had kids? You may say, "But I'm raising my children up in the Lord." I certainly hope you are doing that, but teaching others the gospel and encouraging others to be Christlike is something incumbent upon all believers anyway. As it is, there are lots of single Christians who have probably had a hand in "raising your children in the Lord."
3. 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 - "But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided." (NASB)
Note what this verse says. It doesn't say the married man has less time for church work than the single man. It says the married man's interests are divided. Between what? One type of "kingdom work" and another? No. Between "the things of Lord," on one hand, and "things of the world, how may please his wife" on the other. Okay, class, which category does married life fall into in this passage? "The things of the Lord" or "the things of the world"? This is not hard.
Or maybe a preceding passage might help you ...
4. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 - "But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away."
Look at the vocabulary of that passage. It all has to do with the things of this life. And where do you find marriage? Right smack dab in middle of it, along with such things as buying and selling.
So, if marriage is not a ministry or "kingdom work," then what is it? Simple, it is a gift from God (Prov. 18:22, 19:14). It is an optional gift (1 Cor. 7:27). Rejoice in your gift if it's yours (Prov. 5:18)! I am happy for men and women who shower one another with love in marriage. I surely hope there will be more unions like that. Marriage is God's idea and it is a good thing. He is compassionate and generous to many, even though they don't deserve the good gifts they get. He is also understanding about the demands and troubles people face as a result of the gift of marriage (1 Cor. 7:28). There is nothing wrong with wanting to be married. If you're scripturally eligible to marry, you want to marry, and you found someone good to marry, then go ahead and receive God's gift to humanity.
"But," you might retort, "marriage is not just a gift. It's not a lifestyle option! It's a labor of love! It's tough being married with children! You have to sacrifice! It's a lot of hard work!" Indeed it is, but that's the price tag, my friend. You see, you get something back from the transaction. A high-profile lawyer can say, "I work so many more hours that clerk in the front office" but if the lawyer spends his money on a McMansion, a yacht, and "many luxury vacations" with his svelte trophy wife, then why he is whining?
You married men have to sacrifice? Well, the Christian bachelor has to sacrifice. He can't sit in a sofa with a wife he doesn't have and laugh about things. He can't go out with her. He can't share his sorrows and tears with her. He can't make passionate love with her. He can't turn to her in the night to take away his solitude. He can't look into the eyes of any children and call them his own. He can't dream about what his children will become. There will be no Christmas photographs with a multigenerational clan of people surrounding him in his old age. It's uncertain if anyone who cares will show up at his funeral.
Do you want his life, married man? Well, look at the divorced man without his wife and kids. Is he happy he's unattached? No? Then maybe you got a good thing. I don't know; you'll have to speak to that. But please don't make yourself out to be religious martyr because your kid threw up and you had to take her to the hospital. Life is hard for you, but hopefully you are getting something worthwhile and it's for .... you.
The notion that married people can prance around like a bunch of star-bellied sneetches and assume they are more sanctified then your ordinary Christian bachelor is the biggest crock of elephant dung to be dropped in the Cleveland Zoo. Let's look at it another way ... I'll tell you what all the parallel talk about Christian bachelors being "selfish" and "immature" suggests to me. It suggests some people are less than happy with their married lives and think the grass is greener on the other side. It makes me think that some people are speaking out of bitter envy. Why don't these people just come right out and say it: "You bachelors have too many freedoms. You have to be miserable like us!" It's like H. G. Wells said, "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo."
When people say, "Marriage doesn't make you happy, it makes you holy," they ought to be slapped. God makes us holy, folks! That's what the Holy Spirit and the Christian life is for! If you don't think the Christian life is tough enough and sanctifying as it is, marriage or no marriage, then you got another thing coming (Luke 14:26). If marriage is not making you happy, don't construct some goofball theology around it and write books about your beliefs. If God didn't design marriage for people's happiness, then Proverbs 5:18-19 doesn't make sense:
Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love. (NASB)If marriage is not making you happy, then it's because you live in a fallen world, not because your marriage is functioning according to God's perfect plan. In the Garden of Eden, God did not say, "It's not good for the man to be alone. He is having too much fun. I'll give him a life of tedious responsibilities instead. I will a create someone suitable for not helping him." God made marriage to be a good thing, not a punishment.
When religious leaders talk about marriage as a "sanctifying work," basically spinning it as some arduous initiation into adulthood or a higher level of spirituality, it sounds a lot like a band-aid. That is, it's a band-aid to cover over the abysmal failures of marriages in the church. The whole "sanctifying" bit may be just some pep talk to make people feel better about their sorry lot. So instead of churches facing the epidemic of loveless marriages in their midst and asking what are the causes of the mess, we have the pseudo-spiritual psychobabble of positive thinking and semi-asceticism. "Is your married life a drag? Oh, but move beyond the thoughts of your happiness and realize this is the way the Lord is refining you!" Yeah, don't look at the underlying causes: wives with a post-feminist entitlement mentality, husbands who are insensitive ne'er-do-wells, children who are materialistic brats, employers who are tyrants, the lack of communal support for marriages, or a combination of these and other related factors. And whatever you do, don't look at the fact that some people just shut down their brains, think they need to marry no matter what, drink the Kool-Aid, and fall right into a Marriage 2.0 situation.
So is the married man's life harder than the Christian bachelor's? I don't know if that's necessarily true in all respects (Eccles. 4:9-12). Does the husband and father have to sacrifice and care for others? Yeah ... and the poor man can boast how he is being sanctified in his adversity the way a rich man isn't. But if the poor man's station in life is partially his own fault, then his boast sounds a little hollow. That's the way I view the boasting of some religious people about marriage.
"Oh, you just have no idea! The hassle of balancing work and family! The bills! The worry about what little Brittney and Carson are doing!" Yeah, the bachelor has no idea. Why should he? Does hardship give you a license to turn up your nose and look down on those who have it easier than you in some respects? What are you? Mother Theresa? The Patron Saint of Self-Mortifying Charity? Someone may tell me that married people care for others the way single people usually don't. Well, I can just as easily point out that single people can draw close to God in a way married people usually don't have to, especially in terms of dealing with rejection, isolation, alienation, loneliness, feelings of being unvalued and unloved, etc. What is this? A spiritual tobacco spitting contest? Anyway, it's not like a lot of people considering marriage have thought about doing without a spouse and living in some dirt poor country to carry on mission work. "Oh, but I don't feel a calling to do that." Yeah, you don't feel a calling, because you don't want to. Spare us the cloaking of your desires with prettified theology.
Granted, singleness has it privileges. The freedom. The choices. The fun things. The lack of worry. On it goes. Do you begrudge the carefree bachelor the perks and privileges of his station? What does that say about you? He picked door #2. You picked door #3. Everyone should be cool with the good things they got, and stop provoking and envying one another (Gal. 5:26). What's the problem? Why do we have to be anti-bachelor Nazis? Needless to say, it's time for people to get real. Some of the ones who embrace marriage, that is.