The Minister and His Marriage (3)

This is the third installment of the address that was given on the occasion of the graduation of Candidate Mr. Ryan Barnhill from the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary on June 11, 2015.

Previous installment was printed in the September 15, 2015 issue, p. 490.

The Minister’s Calling with Regard to His Wife

We are at present considering the calling that the minister has toward the wife that God has graciously given him. We have seen that the expression in I Timothy 3:2 that the minister is to be “the husband of one wife” does not only underscore one of the important qualifications for ministers of the gospel; it also implies the calling that the minister has toward his wife. He is called to be a husband, with all that that implies, in relationship to his wife. In the previous installment we saw that this means, negatively, that the minister is not to be a tyrant who lords it over his wife. That is not be a husband, truly a husband, of his wife. And, positively, we saw that to be the husband of one wife implies faithfulness on the part of the minister/husband. Being a husband to his wife means that before the world and before the church he shows himself to be a devoted husband, a husband who will not allow anyone and anything to stand between him and the wife whom God has given to him.

Included in the faithfulness to his wife to which God calls every minister of the gospel is the prohibition of divorce and remarriage. This ought to go without saying, but sadly the situation in the church world of our day requires that we make this explicit application of the calling of the minister to be the husband of one wife. He may not be the husband of more than one wife because he is involved in extra-marital trysts. The minister who is involved in such despicable behavior is not walking as “the husband of one wife,” as he is required to be by I Timothy 3:2. Neither may he be the husband of more than one wife because he has divorced his first wife and married again. He must be the husband of the one wife to whom he was originally married, so long as that wife is living. This is the clear requirement of the New Testament upon all husbands in the church. This is especially the duty of the minister of the gospel, who by virtue of his office is called to be an example to God’s people.

It is a scandal in Reformed and Presbyterian churches today that there is so much unbiblical divorce and remarriage among the membership. The greater scandal, however, is that so much of the clergy are unbiblically divorced and remarried. Men who are supposed to represent the great Bridegroom, who is always faithful to his wife and never violates His relationship to “the wife of [His] covenant” (Mal. 2:14), divorce their wives. Contrary to the express teaching of Scripture, they forsake “the wife of [their] youth” (Mal. 2:14) and take other wives. This is a clear violation of the apostle’s teaching in I Timothy 3:2, which requires the minister to be “the husband of one wife.”

Being the husband of one wife demands of the minister that he spend time with his wife. It is not enough that formally he is the husband of one wife, that on paper he is the husband of one wife. But what is required is that he must actually be husband to the one wife that God has given to him. That is necessary and that is vital. It is necessary for the example of the minister in the congregation. The minister is called to be “an example to the believers in word and conversation [that is, walk of life]” (I Tim. 4:12). In a uniquely important respect, the minister is called to be an example to the believers in his marriage and in his relationship to his wife. If the husbands in the congregation are going to live as they ought in relationship to their wives, they must be able to follow the example of their pastor. That example includes, though it is not limited to, his friendship toward and companionship (to use the language of Mal. 2:14) of his wife.

That the minister spend time with his wife is also necessary for the minister’s wife herself, who can too quickly feel neglected by her husband because of the busyness of his work in the church. If night after night she is home alone, because her minister-husband is consumed with the work of the church and does not find time to spend with his wife, they will grow apart. And the minister’s wife will begin to feel like a widow, rather than a wife.

And it is necessary that the minister spend time with his wife for the health of their marriage. In that respect, marriage is like the life of sanctification generally: if we are not going forward, growing and developing, we are going backward and degenerating. It is one or the other. For the development of their relationship and the intimacy between them, the minister must find time to spend with his wife.

Finding time to spend with one’s wife can be a challenge for the minister, especially for the minister who is in the first few years of the ministry. But if the minister is to be a husband to his wife, he must take time for her and to be with her. He must spend time with her not only for devotions, though that, of course, is necessary. He must spend time with her not only at mealtimes, although that too is necessary. He must not only take time to go to church with her, although that too is vital for their marriage. But he must spend time with her in mutually enjoyable activities. They must do things together and go places together. He must spend time with his wife talking to her and with her. He must give her the opportunity to unburden her soul to him. He must give her the opportunity to discuss with him her problems, heartaches, and struggles. He must not only talk with her, but in the real sense of the word he must fellowship with her.

Included in the time that a minister spends with his wife is the time they spend together in private worship. They must not just spend leisure time together, but they must spend time together in the Word and in prayer. They must do this not only at meal times and with their children, if God graciously gives them children. But they must do this together, just the two of them, husband and wife before the face of God.

Being a husband to your wife, a loving and Christian husband, means also that when you sin against her, you confess your sins and seek her forgiveness. That also is being a husband to your wife, the kind of husband God intends. And that, too, is being an example to the believers. If you love your wife, and you do, you will want to confess your sins against her, seek her forgiveness, lift the strain in your marriage, and restore the peace in your relationship. With regard to the faults of your wife, be ready always to look past minor weaknesses and character flaws. In one place Luther says that with regard to each other spouses should be a little blind. Someone else has said that a husband should have both eyes open to behold his wife’s beauty, but only one eye to behold her faults.

The Good Fruit that Comes to the Minister Who Is a Husband to His Wife

There is good fruit that comes to the minister who is a husband to his wife. In the first place, the fruit is the encouragement and joy of the minister himself. Amid all the demands, the trials, and the disappointments of the ministry, the minister can find joy in his marriage and family. His marriage and family life is a blessed oasis in the midst of the demands of the ministry, a happy relief from the day-to-day pressures of the ministry.

Especially is the minister’s wife an encouragement when he becomes discouraged in the work. That happens; that invariably happens from time to time, that the minister becomes discouraged. There may be any number of reasons. The minister’s wife does not need to know the specific reason for her husband’s discouragement. In fact, there are many times when he must not and should not share with his wife the specifics of the reason for his discouragement. This is the unique burden of the ministry. The minister should not and does not ordinarily want to burden his wife with the troubles and challenges that he is facing. A minister loves his wife too much to want to burden her with the care of the church. To be sure, now and again he may ask her advice or feedback. But no minister ought to burden his wife with all of the pastoral situations and other matters with which he is involved. And a good minister’s wife will not ask her husband either. She has a good sense of what she ought not to know. But this does not take away from the fact that the minister’s wife is placed by God in a position in which she can be a special encouragement to him. And by her love and understanding, by her friendship and fellowship, she will be an encouragement to her husband.

The benefit for the minister is that, unencumbered by the cares of his household, the minister is able to devote himself to the work of the ministry. What tremendous value a good minister’s wife is in this regard! Neither the minister nor his wife ought to underestimate the value of her service in this regard. That the minister can safely entrust to his wife the guiding of the household and the care of the children so that he can devote himself to the work of the ministry is of tremendous value. What a service the minister’s wife renders to her husband and to the church in this regard!

Second, the benefit of the minister being a husband to his wife is the benefit enjoyed by the congregation. That benefit is twofold. First, through the minister’s wife, the work of the ministry is actually advanced in the congregation. In that respect, different ministers’ wives have different abilities. Some are very gifted and are able to use those gifts in the congregation. Others are very ordinary, if I may put it that way, but are cheerful and always ready to listen, given to hospitality, and always ready to help out the sick and suffering of God’s people. The very ordinary minister’s wife, who is a loving wife and devoted mother, and who shows herself to be a friend and friendly in the congregation, is a tremendous asset to the minister of the gospel.

And then, in addition, the benefit of the minister being a husband to his wife is the power of his example and their example in the congregation. The minister and his wife who live in a loving and faithful relationship are an example in the congregation—increasingly, in the evil age in which we are called to live, an exceptional example. And by the power of that example, they are a rich blessing in the life of the congregation. Through them the members generally, but especially the husbands and wives of the congregation, are richly blessed. It may even be that those who are not living in their marriage as they ought, by the example of their pastor and his wife, are brought to see the error of their way, are brought to repentance, and encouraged to follow their godly example.

Thirdly, the minister who lives as a godly husband with his wife glorifies God. In his marriage, he is a fit picture of Christ, the Head and Husband of the church. He and his wife are together a picture of Christ and His bride, the church. Together they are an example of Christ who loves His church, gives Himself for His church, and expends Himself on behalf of the church. As a faithful and loving Husband, Christ serves, honors, and saves the church. May that be the fruit of your marriage and of your life and love together with your wife in your marriage.