No other human relationship in Scripture is presented as more special, unique, important, intimate, and ultimate than the marriage relationship. Hands down, it gets the first place blue ribbon. No participation trophy here. Above any other anthropomorphic connection, the marital variety stands victorious.
Consider what the Bible has to say:
Marriage is described as two becoming one: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24
Marriage is described as a covenant: “Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Malachi 2:14
Marriage is compared to Jesus’ relationship with the church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25
Marriage is viewed by God in the same way he views the entirety of his creation: “He who finds a wife finds a GOOD thing and obtains favor from the LORD.”
Needless to say, marriage matters. It matters to God most profoundly. Which means, it must matter to us!
Additionally, God seems to place the priority of marriage over parenting. When the Apostle Paul spoke to the church in Ephesus, he addressed the marriage relationship (chapter five) before addressing the relationship between children and parents (chapter 6). The prioritized sequence there doesn’t seem to be accidental.
Even clearer, are Paul’s words to his apprentice Timothy when detailing the qualifications of a pastor. He deals with the marital relationship (“husband of one wife”) before parenting (“keeping his children submissive” 1 Timothy 3:2, 4). Clearly, there is an order of importance given. The marriage comes before all other relationships in the household.
Yes, it is true that the instruction presented in 1 Timothy is for pastors, but we would be remiss to say these words are exclusively for pastors. If this were the case, we’d have to do the same with the other qualifications given (“sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” etc…). We can all agree that each of those qualifications apply for every disciple of Jesus (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Recently, some friends of mine confessed to me they put their children to bed around 10pm every day. We both agreed that 10pm was kind of late to be putting a kid to bed (since, scientifically, kids need a lot more sleep than adults). I then asked them if they ever had time to invest in their marriage. They said they didn’t have time. When I stated the obvious, “Why don’t you just put your child down earlier?” their response was, “Our child doesn’t get tired until late.”
Sadly, their response was not surprising...
Parents tend to trade cultivating a healthy marriage for the comfort of their children. This is equal parts true and tragic. I know this because at times I have been the chief culprit. Instead of prioritizing my wife, I have promoted my children’s welfare in the home above her own, leaving her feeling unloved, unprotected, and leaving our marriage undermined.
When this happens, my marriage suffers. And if there is one thing I’ve learned it is this: If my marriage suffers, so does my parenting, especially when parenting is the one thing I’ve put before my marriage. So how can we as parents guard against this? What does this look like practically?
May I suggest a few thoughts on this?
Before we can cultivate healthy marriages, we need to cultivate healthy souls (“My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Psalm 84:2). Speaking of priorities, our worship of Jesus is paramount to everything. We must see him as the best thing in our lives in order to appropriately order every other thing in our lives.
Healthy marriages don’t happen by osmosis. We must be intentional. We must see the urgency. What I continue to learn after 12+ years of marriage, is that I must be the one to fight the hardest for my marriage. When my wife sees me fight hard, she feels loved, and she in turn fights hard.
Healthy marriages need space to be cultivated. When our parenting has zero boundaries (i.e. kids stay up as late as we do), our marriages become bound by our children’s lack of boundaries. We have to create space in our daily rhythms to cultivate healthier marriages. One simple way to do this is in conversation. If allowed, kids will constantly interrupt spousal conversations. Teach kids that this is wrong. Teach them that unless it is an emergency, what they have to say can wait.
Healthy marriages are about the long game, parenting the short. The goal for marriage is “‘Til death do us part.” The goal for parenting is “Til you’re 18, can drive, and can get a job.” Jokes aside, marriage is about endurance over a much longer period of time than parenting is. Longer endurance means bigger investment.
Healthy marriages actually help to cultivate healthy children. When my marriage comes before my parenting, I am a better parent. When I love my wife well, I will undoubtedly love my children well. When my children see me love my wife (their mom) well, they are given a picture of what it looks like for Christ to love His church, which makes them love Christ, their parents, each other better, their world, and one day, their spouse better. The ripple effect is more far-reaching than we could ever imagine!
Healthy marriages are the greatest example of the gospel of grace for our children. When we prioritize our marriages above our children, our children are given a glimpse of God’s great love (the sacrificial, unconditional, unwavering, unstoppable, loving-the-unlovable kind) which makes a fundamentally lasting impact on their souls and lives and naturally causes them to see the good news lived out in our homes.
Healthy marriages will drive healthy parenting! Healthy marriages will determine healthy homes. Our kids will flourish if our marriages flourish. We must fight for this in our homes. For God’s glory, ultimately, but also for the good of every single person in our home