A sobering word, full of good counsel, from a man who put ministerial training above his marriage and lost his wife in pursuit of a degree.

An excerpt:


As I think about my own marriage breakdown, I want to offer a few things I wish I would have more seriously considered during my time as a seminarian:

Tell your wife you love her regularly.

Deeply dwell on the Gospel. Your affection for your wife can only go as deep as your affection for the person and work of Christ. Because marriage is a picture of how Christ has loved His church, if your heart has grown cold toward the cross, you can be sure it has grown cold toward your marriage. Thus, do everything possible to keep your heart soft toward Jesus. Read books about the cross. Listen to music about the cross. Try to constantly maintain a posture of wonder about being reconciled to God through Christ; this is the foundation for true love for any marriage.

Remember that marriage is Gospel ministry. If you do not hold your marriage in high esteem (Heb 13:4), you do not truly hold Gospel ministry in high esteem. The size of your library is a poor indicator of how seriously you take the Gospel. Your marriage is where the audit needs to happen. I think this is what Paul is getting at when he asks, “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Tim 3:5)?

Tell your wife you love her regularly.

I have also found that your class notes may not be the best devotional material for your wife. Fight to ensure that you and your wife’s affections for Christ flow from sources other than seminary.

Never sacrifice intimacy for study. For some couples this means going to sleep at the same time, for others it means eating breakfast together every morning. Either way, budget time for intimacy. Manage your time better throughout the day, or take a lighter load of classes. Furthermore, show interest in her schedule.

Tell her you love her regularly.

Fight peripheral laziness. One thing that will surely make it an uphill battle for your wife to respect you is if she sees you work hard at seminary but act like a slob everywhere else.

Be tender during theological discussion with your wife. If she’s not as robust a student as you, she’ll likely not find the same things interesting. In conversation, she’ll likely not go as deep as you, and she may even contradict what you have just learned in class. Yet, gently affirm her knowledge of Christ. You are the pastor of your home; shepherd your wife, making the most of your theological education. Do everything you can to ensure that she feels safe expressing her heart regarding your study habits, ministry or projected graduation date. Always be grateful for a wife who knows Christ.

Fervently pray for her heart, even when times are good. Pray that God would keep Satan from using your sins as a seminarian to turn her away from Christ and His church.

Tell her you love her regularly.

Always remember that God doesn’t need you, your gifts or your ministry. If He did, why did He create you so late in history? Cultivate your marriage behind closed doors because “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:4).

Oh, and tell her you love her regularly.

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31 thoughts on “Brothers, Love Your Wife More Than Seminary”

  1. Dave Moore says:

    Justin,

    Many pastors and their wives have been greatly helped by my wife’s book, Good Christians, Good Husbands?: Leaving a Legacy in Marriage and Ministry. It is endorsed by J.I. Packer, Tom Nettles, and others.

    http://www.amazon.com/Good-Christians-Husbands-Marriage-Ministry/dp/1857924509

  2. David McKay says:

    One night when I was studying at Kenmore Christian College in Queensland, Australia I was in the library with other students, after dinner.

    One of our lecturers came into the library and said “Go home to your wives. You only have to pass.”

    That came as a new thought to me. All of my life I’d been told that you always have to work for the highest mark possible.

    1. ha! Good word man, flies in the face of perfectionists and people who want to do the best they can at all times, but man, I cannot imagine how many marriages suffer because of seminary church leaders with good hearts that neglect the most important ministry in our lives. Breaks my heart.

  3. Wow, such a good—and challenging—word.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Justin,
    Thanks for getting this exposed to yet another set of readers. I’m always humbled by the new places this pops up. I’m thankful the Lord continues to use it.
    Thanks,
    Humbled

  5. Matthew says:

    Thanks Justin,
    I am blessed by this article.
    As I read the repeated “tell your wife that you love her…” I kept thinking that I also need to show my wife I love her. I have ” love is a verb” stuck in my head :)
    Thanks again brother. I’ll be re-reading this one multiple times.

  6. Bob Sukkau says:

    Thanks Justin. A great article. I didn’t have this problem because both of us studied at seminary.

    Not every seminary student understands how important their wife is. I do because we have been missionaries for 23 years. We have worked shoulder to shoulder all this time, as do most other missionary couples, and we have submitted to each other out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21).

    I consider myself to be head of the family in the sense that I’m ultimately responsible for it. And as such, I will have to answer to the Lord not only for the gifts I had, but whether I allowed my wife to exercise all of hers.

    Missionary wives are normally not permitted to have another job as pastors’ wives are in North America. The work is too intense. And rare is the missionary who hasn’t said that their wife is their rock, the one that keeps them on an even keel. North American pastors can’t really understand how important their wife is until they’ve served as missionaries for several years.

    Heb. 12:1 tells us to leave behind the sins that hinder us. One of these sins is pride.

    I realize that some churches don’t have a problem with women in ministry, but many do. So I have been praying that all male lead pastors that do have a problem with women preaching or exercising whatever gift God gives them, humble themselves; and allow all members to work shoulder to shoulder and so free up all the gifts the Holy Spirit has given them. This can result in an incredible synergy that no one could have dreamt of.

    Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, has an incredible ministry. Billy considers her to be the best preacher in their family. Makes you wonder: How many Annes are there in our churches?

    Some of the more successful lead pastors may be thinking they’re not doing so badly. But success can be so seductive. Some day they will have to answer to the Lord for all the unused gifts given to the church members. When all is said and done, before the cross we’re all on level ground.

    1. Matthew says:

      Are you saying that women can hold the position of pastor/elder/overseer or am I jumping the gun here?
      Thanks Bob.

      1. Bob Sukkau says:

        In a word, yes.

    2. Adam C says:

      Sounds like someone has an axe to grind… (seeing that this post has nothing to do with women in preaching ministry)

      Why are you assuming that lead male pastors who have a problem with women as preaching aren’t humbling themselves. You can throw out that term about anything to make your point. It doesn’t make it right. For example, I could say, “Why are you against homosexual pastors/elders? Just humble yourself, allow others to work shoulder to shoulder and exercise their gifts.” Maybe instead of assuming pastors aren’t humble – ask yourself, does the Bible limit the role of elder/pastor to men only?

      No one thinks that women can’t have the gift of preaching. NO ONE. The question is whether or not they are exercising that gift according to the principles we find in Scripture. For example, they can preach to younger women and children.

      1. Bob Sukkau says:

        You’re absolutely right, Adam. This post does not have anything to do with this. I jumped the gun because I have been thinking of this a lot. Obviously I take the egalitarian view, not the complementarian. I hope we still can be friends. “Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology” edited by Gregory Boyd has a chapter that gives an even-handed treatment(at least in my humble opinion)of the women in ministry debate.

        1. Adam C says:

          That’s cool. And I take the view espoused by Piper and Grudem in their Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood book. You can access the whole thing here for free. I think all would benefit from it.

          http://cdn.desiringgod.org/pdf/books_bbmw/bbmw.pdf

          But the issue isn’t whose argument is best. It should be what Scripture teaches. We can’t cherry pick Scriptures out of context to develop a proper theology. It involves real people and real texts. Thanks for the gracious response. A

        2. Theology Samurai says:

          Nothing Gregory Boyd is involved with can rightly be considered “even handed”

  7. Adam C says:

    Helpful post. I went to seminary and before every single first class of the semester, one of my professors would take 1/2 the class time to tell his story about how he almost lost his marriage because he devoted himself to his studies above his wife.
    As believers in Christ, we should NEVER sacrifice our marriages at the altar of our education or ministry or job. This definitely relates to the seminarian, but it could go for the elder/pastor or any lay person at their job. I love the above comment – “Go home to your wife! You only have to pass.”

  8. Lyndon Unger says:

    I think that what David said is worth repeating: “You only need to pass.”

    If you’re going to be a pastor, you don’t need a 4.0. No search committee that I’ve ever heard of has asked for transcripts.

    I would add something else that is related. Having ministry training is irrelevant if you’re lacking ministry qualification.

    The guys who don’t have the ability to love 1 person won’t magically find the ability to love 150. If you cannot shepherd your wife, you are unfit to shepherd a local church. 1 Timothy 3:4-5, right?

    1. Adam C says:

      So true. Good word.

  9. Rob Hulson says:

    It’s too bad that the author still thinks that the cross is about his love for God, not God’s overwhelming, never-ceasing love for someone who lost his wife’s affections.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Rob,
      Not sure you’re right about what the author thinks.

      Thanks,
      The Author

      1. Theology Samurai says:

        Anonymous,

        Hopefully a happy ending is in waiting for you with regard to this…

  10. Paul says:

    Justin,

    Thank you for the post. I would also add the entire family to this sentiment. If one is in seminary and has children as well they need to be a dutiful God-honoring parent. I am studying at a major seminary in the US and see many fathers who neglect their children as well (I have three of my own). Some children then are ‘along for the ride’ and end up rejecting that which their fathers are trying to teach others. God first, wife second, children third, then the rest of the world. Praise God for such understanding wives and children. His grace knows no bounds…

  11. Inchristus says:

    This last one is quintessential.
    “Always remember that God doesn’t need you, your gifts or your ministry. If He did, why did He create you so late in history?”

    Seems to me that if we get this, then we get it all. This is likely true not only about ministry but about the roll I play in my wife’s life. You see, God doesn’t need me to make my wife happy. If it turns out that God chooses to use me in making my wife happy (or in ministry), then it is a stewardship he’s entrusted to me that I must give my all. And Paul makes it clear that ministry in the home is priority over ministry outside (1 Tim 3:5).

  12. Lyndon Unger says:

    I also agree with Matthew: tell your wife you love her, but show her as well.

    That means using your “ministry skillz” for her benefit and cultivating them with her:

    To help you come up with creative and thoughtful sermon illustrations, start by coming up with creative and thoughtful date night ideas.

    To help you figure out whether or not you REALLY understand a doctrine (and let’s face it smart guy, you probably don’t), start by trying to teach it to your wife (and kids) without using any of the theological terminology.

    To help you learn how to balance all the ministry tasks/people/study/sermon prep/family tension of ministry, start by balancing the school/family time tension by making your wife your priority on your day planner…and let her see your day planner….and throw a little note in there for her to find that tells her you’re thinking of her.

    To help you learn how to disciple other men, you can start by working out your “discipleship kinks” by discipling your wife. Let’s face it; she’s far more forgiving than the average plumber you’ll face in your local church…and when you do a good job, you get kisses!

    The list goes on…

  13. Lyndon Unger says:

    Oh, and I was talking with my wife about the article.

    Anonymous author, We have some advice for you, if by chance things are still broken up between you and your wife (and I fully don’t know you or your situation…).

    Go get your wife back.

    Throw every single dime, minute and calorie into winning back the heart you kicked away.

    Don’t take no for an answer.

    Don’t give up.

    Start a blog that marks out your progress, and I’m sure a few thousand people will follow you on the web will lift you up in prayer.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Lyndon,
      Thanks for the encouragement. I’m always willing to allow my heart to be challenged with the call to persevere and pursue my now ex. I pursued her fervently (quitting seminary, getting a new job, counseling, and anything else i could to put myself in a position for reconciliation and forgiveness) the last year of our marriage after she moved out, etc. Once the divorce finalized, due to some convincing factors, I chose to move forward by entering into a new relationship. 6 months in to that relationship, through the invaluable blessing of wise pastors and counselors at my church, I felt the Gospel was calling me away and extend hope to my ex for another season. I submitted myself to that counsel and reached out again as practically and realistically as I knew how. I recently felt that season has come to a close and am now pusuing the relationship I formerly set aside.

      At the end of the day, until I or my ex remarry, I’ll always keep an openness to God’s desire to intervene in se convincing ways and call me to reconciliation w my ex-wife. Yet, I am also desirous of moving forward.

      I’m not closed to starting a blog that journals all the lessons I had to learn about myself and the wonderful ways the Gospel can heal the heart of an idolatrous, but broken husband. I’ve considered writing a book on how to remain a Christian at seminary–as a spin on the book How to Stay a Christian in College. If it resonates w folks the way my article has, I just may.

      There’s a world more I could say, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks for the encouragement. I’d love to answer any questions you or anyone else might have.

      Peace,
      Sojourner

  14. Neil says:

    Thank you for the encouragement.

  15. Rob Hulson says:

    Author, I have not walked in your shoes accept in graduating seminary (and having a wife to love through it). I would just encourage you to remember that because of the cross, your sins are already paid for. All of God’s anger you deserve has fallen on Jesus.

    Just like you “knew” Ephesians 5, I’m simply encouraging you to “know” the love of Christ that surpasses what we learned in seminary. The cross may not be an “echo of my worth”, but it does speak of the lengths God cares about you.

    I am truly, truly sorry for what you have gone through. I am jealous in standing with you against the devil who wants to make you feel condemnation and no hope for restoration. The New Covenant is as the days of Noah to God, and He will *NEVER* be angry with you again. I just know from experience how I can turn “Love the cross more” or “Read my Bible more” into somehow — even on a small scale — into making God happier with me.

    I don’t know you; you don’t know me. We know the gospel. We know the wiles of the devil. I’m standing with you and while you wait on Him (who knows what unmnaginable good He still has planned for you!). Please forgive any insensitivity in my post. Alas, tone is a key element in online comments, isn’t it?

    1. Anonymous says:

      Rob,
      Thanks. I’ve had to come face-to-face w the Gospel in ways I’d never imagined. The point of my article was not an essay on the cross, but a challenge to husbands to love their wives. Had I unpacked what it means for a seminary student to go from reading and writing in depth about the doctrine of sin, to feeling like the worst sinner alive, but realizing the cross communicates the riches of God’s love for sinful husbands…well, my friend, that would have not fit easily into a newspaper column. I’ve experienced the unmerited love of Christ, and in turn, true grace-driven affections for Him, in ways I don’t think I could have outside of all the drama.

      Thanks for the input, regardless.
      Rom8:1
      Anonymous

  16. Kevin Naylor says:

    Wow! Im not married just yet. But I am engaged to be married. Im not in seminary. But I will be soon. Grateful that I found this before I enter into marriage and before I enter into seminary.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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