Marriage on Mission
When I was in college, I had two ideas of where my life was headed: I was going to go to seminary and become a missionary to teach people about Jesus in some far off country, and I was going to be married to someone I loved and adored, become a dad and grow a family. At the time, if I’m honest, I tried my best to keep those two dreams as far apart from each other as I could, not because either one was wrong or evil, but because they felt incompatible. It was like having two really great friends from two different circles, but you’re nervous that if they met each other, they’d hate each other and you’d have to choose, so you work hard to keep them separated. I looked at those two dreams and I was terrified that one meant sacrificing the other, that being on mission for God meant sacrificing the dream of a family, or that having a family meant sacrificing the adventure and purpose of the mission. Marriage was about “settling down,” and all the passion, fire, and energy that had been devoted to reaching, pastoring, shepherding people would have to be diverted to my wife and kids.
That’s what I was told at least.
A lot of us have this sort of battle going on in our minds. Or it would be a battle if we thought about it hard enough. Most of us actually just try and avoid the whole topic by living in that happy ignorance. So what’s the solution? Is there an answer to the question of what happens to that passion and drive of our youth when we get married?
It turns out that the idea that ministry necessarily stops when you get married… it’s a lie. Remember, if our enemy can’t steal our salvation away, he’ll do anything to sideline us and make us ineffective. What better way to do that than to distract us with the idea that being married must look like a mundane, routine existence void of mission, purpose and adventure?
A friend of mine some years ago started to have a panic attack every time he thought about getting married. He felt like he wasn’t ready. He felt like everything was going to change. He felt like he was going to lose control of his life. I told him that yes, he wasn’t ready. Yes, things were going to change. And as it turns out, you don’t have control anyway. But to think that your spouse is some kind of burden that’s going to weigh you down, a houseplant that you have to obsess over, watering and pruning compulsively or else it’ll die… well, that’s surely not the way God intended for us to view marriage. Marriage isn’t a curse. It’s a blessing. And God’s word has some pretty strong words for those people who confuse the two (Isaiah 5:20). While we may say with our mouths, “of course marriage is a blessing,” the way we treat it, the way we live it, and the way we talk about it seems to betray our wrong mindedness.
Scripture is clear that marriage is designed for us as a blessing to help propel us into living out our purpose, not hinder us from it. Man and Woman were created (Gen. 2) to complement each other in their created purpose and mission. They could not fulfill their ministry without the other. Ministry didn’t end when Adam and Eve got married. No. If anything, that’s when it really started.
In the New Testament, we don’t get a lot of screentime from married couples. Yes, there are married people (Peter was married… but we only incidentally discover that when the gospel writers tell us that Jesus healed his mother-in-law), but the one time we really get a glimpse into what married life looked like in the early church is in the account of Priscilla (Prisca) and her husband Aquila.
Married for Greater Ministry
We first meet Aquila and his wife Priscilla in Corinth as a fortunate business connection for Paul when he arrived in the city:
[Paul] 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.
They quickly struck up a friendship and we learn later that it was through this partnership that Paul would invite the husband and wife duo to join him, not to leave their business, but to leverage it to reach people around them. Aquila and Priscilla supported Paul through not only the financial blessings of their business, but supported Paul as a partner in ministry. They were professionals to be sure, and we can infer from their ability to travel, replant themselves in multiple cities around the Mediterranean and establish churches meeting in their homes in these cities, that they were very good at what they did. Remember, it wasn’t like they were posting on Facebook about their tentmaking business; every time they moved they had to reestablish themselves and their business in that new town.
What’s incredible is that the adventure for Aquila and Priscilla started after they were married. It wasn’t their status, single or married, that determined their willingness to be engaged in the work of the gospel. It was their status as Christians that determined their lifestyle. What’s more, they demonstrated that a husband and wife could thrive as partners in the home, partners in the workplace, and partners in ministry through the church. Their marriage wasn’t a burden or a hindrance to ministry; it was an asset and an advantage for them.
Married for Greater Adventure
No one grows up dreaming of living a boring life. No kid ever said, I want to grow up and contribute absolutely nothing to society or the world. No. Kids want to be police officers and firefighters, doctors and engineers because it means they get to do something important to help people. A friend of mine was sharing with me the other day how she was struggling with the idea that getting married meant giving up on the passion and excitement of Jesus he had, trading it for a mundane, boring, self-centered life. “Everyone who gets married just looks like they gave up on life” she said. I totallyunderstand where she was coming from, and while it is true that Paul writes about the reality of divided interests that come with marriage in I Corinthians 7, it’s also clear that Paul didn’t believe that being married was an excuse to walk away from a life of ministry and adventure.
Priscilla and Aquila are such an interesting example of a married couple that don’t fit into the typical mode of what we in America would consider the “dream.” Married life is often referred to as “settling down.” For them, it would appear to be the exact opposite.
Paul even commends them in Romans 16 by saying that they literally “risked their necks” for him. He writes that not only he, but “all the churches of the Gentiles” owed them thanks. Now it doesn’t exactly say what they did, but man, it must have been intense for Paul to say all the churches of the gentiles (and I suppose by extension my church right here in Austin) owes them a debt of gratitude. Seriously… what happened to them? Not exactly the kind of thing you associate with the “settled down life” now is it?
Married for Greater Faithfulness
As much as adventure and excitement isn’t something we exchange for married life, neither is steadfast faithfulness. Andrew Peterson, one of my all-time favorite songwriters wrote a song about how his desire for explore the world was overwhelmed by the adventure of plumbing the depths of knowing his wife and, eventually, the mysteries of being a father to his children. That’s the beauty of marriage: the adventure doesn’t stop; we exchange the novelty of singleness for the mystery and depth of nuance. And with that depth, we find in our spouse a partner for greater faithfulness to follow Jesus’ command to follow him and make disciples.
One of the greatest moments of Priscilla and Aquila’s ministry comes in Acts 18 where Apollos, a well known, eloquent Jewish teacher comes into town and preaches in the synagogue. While you’d expect an apostle like Paul to be the one to approach him, it’s the married couple, local business owners, lay-members of the church that take it upon themselves to “explain to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:26). Through that act of faithfulness and gentleness (they took him aside rather than confronting him in front of the crowd) Apollos would become one of the greatest preachers and apologists of the early church. Sometimes marriage means we have a partner to go adventuring in some far off corner of the world. Sometimes marriage means we have a partner to be faithful to the ministry we have right in front of us.
Mr. and Mrs.
One last thought. All through the New Testament account of this married couple’s ministry and relationship to the church, something pretty obvious begins to stick out: the author keeps switching their names. Paul refers to them as Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila four times and Aquila and Priscilla twice.
As much discussion as there definitely should be about men and women and how we interact with each other in the church, it’s clear that for Paul, these two people, this husband and wife team, were co-laborers with him in the ministry. Whose name comes first? It doesn’t seem to matter; they were both active and engaged, both contributing to the ministry their FAMILY was called to.
I love being married. As a young man, I was so terrified that marriage would be this great burden, and my wife a liability I had to take care of while trying to live out my purpose. It’s stunning how wrong that thinking was. I often say that I’m no good without Brandee. It’s true. God made designed me for her and her for me. I can’t tell you how many times, when life pushed me to the edge of myself, I found Brandee right next to me, holding my hand, keeping me from falling into space. She is my greatest confidant, my most trusted advisor, my partner in crime and my biggest cheerleader. Most of all, she’s my family in Christ and my very best friend. And I’m all of those things for her.