This article was originally published in the February 21, 2011 edition of Towers: A News Publication of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Much study – the weariness of the flesh
Nothing will throw off your graduation date like a divorce.
Does a husband’s subjective call to ministry relativize his objective, biblical command to love his wife? Regardless of how I might have answered this question in a theological paper, the true answer of my heart was exposed by my actions. Some said my marriage issues were normal for a seminarian, even appropriate for my “season of life.” My sinful heart exploited this poor counsel to justify my negligence as a husband.
If you are better at spotting immature husbands than I am, then you would quickly see that though I would have argued that no ministry opportunity — including the opportunity to attend seminary — undermines Ephesians 5:25, my true answer could be seen in how I talked to my wife. You could see it in how I touched her, when I did. If you were to come to my home, you might have sensed that my study, neatly adorned with shelves of books, was my pride and joy. But I happily left the upkeep of the rest of the house to my wife.
You may have noticed my drive to write creative sermons and talk theology with classmates, but a deflated effort creatively to engage my wife in conversation. My eyes lit up over my syllabi, but I had little response over my wife’s new haircut or her plans for the day or a new recipe she was eager to try.
To my shame, I could spot the subtle ways heretical worldviews creep into the church, but I paid little attention to the subtle ways resentment crept into my wife’s heart. I jumped to unpack the mysteries behind Christ’s tears as He hung alone on the cross, but I left alone the mystery of my wife’s tears as she, once again, went to bed alone because her husband “needed” to study. After all, I was in seminary, and shouldn’t she support God’s calling on my life? She should be stronger, trust God’s plan more, and be more understanding of the demands of my calling, right?
At the end of the day, I gave heart service to my time at seminary, but only lip service to Ephesians 5, and it cost me my marriage.
Studious or self-deceived
Husbands, I have found that discerning whether or not we adequately love our wives is rarely something we can do on our own. If I were to ask you, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you think your wife feels loved by you?” many of us would likely rate ourselves higher than our wives would. Sure, no Christian man would have the audacity to rate himself a 10. We all know we are sinners. But, our hearts are incredibly self-biased, and finding where we truly land on the scale almost always requires a second set of eyes.
Somewhere along the way, we seminary students become really awesome at calling out sin apart from true heart change. After all of our trivial confessions, we may remain oblivious to how we are deeply wounding our wives because we end up loving her on our own terms. We can even wind up blaming her for a difficult marriage when the difficulty is really because we husbands don’t know how to dig deep enough to see our sin.
I humbly want to serve as that second set of eyes. 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.
God, wife, seminary
It is ironic that I have seen seminary be the place where many have been disqualified from ministry. It is clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit specifically appoints certain men as leaders by gifting them and putting it in their hearts to serve joyfully in the context of a local church (Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Tim 3:1ff). It’s a noble desire. It can be an all-consuming desire. But, with this desire comes the responsibility to humbly prioritize one’s life in such a way that prevents a subtle disregard for God’s written word. God has not commanded husbands to love seminary. He has commanded that we love our wives and strive to protect our marriages, even from something as noble as our ministry call. Take it from me. My projected graduation date was December 2010. I was one semester away from earning my M.Div. when I decided I needed to take my marriage seriously. It was too late at that point.
Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.
Love your wives more than seminary.