In the last two generations of church teaching regarding marriage roles we have been told that marriage and family come first. This mind-set has led us to assume a theology that puts marriage and family members before God.
Unfortunately, when marriage is the primary relational focus rather than relationship with and obedience to God, it becomes subject to the will and weakness of its partners. The consequences are often unfruitful for home and heaven.
Marriage has a heavenly ordination that goes beyond family bliss. It is a tool for spouses to more completely fulfill God’s destiny in their lives. But it is second to service to God. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that a person should deny his heavenly call because his earthly partner doesn’t recognize it–or abandon it because there is discord between them.
Misunderstanding about the role of marriage in the church can shipwreck sincere Christians when trouble develops with their spouses. Our traditions have subtly built an altar that makes married domestic tranquility the spiritual qualifier of Christians. In some cases it is a prerequisite for individuals, particularly women, to be received in ministry settings.
These traditions help to misplace single and divorced persons, particularly women, in the church. They also disable believers who are experiencing dissension at home.
This is not the teaching of Jesus or the apostles. Marital tranquility is not a prerequisite for anointing!
Perhaps the greatest error of the religious philosophy of marriage first is that it emphasizes marriage over the greatest commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'” (Matt. 22:37, NIV). If this commandment is in place in the life of a believer all other issues find their proper importance.
The second commandment prescribes what to do with your marriage: “‘Love your neighbor [spouse] as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). If these two guidelines are in order in your life you will understand how to conduct yourself even when you are experiencing marital discord.
Ideally, marriage should facilitate obedience to the call of God in the lives of both spouses. Unfortunately, this is not always the way it works. There are many examples throughout Christian history of anointed servants of God whose matrimonial state was less than perfect. Yet they successfully gave themselves to God’s service in obedience. We can learn from their examples.
DISCORD IN MARRIAGE Marital discord arises in the life of every union. From Adam and Eve down through the patriarchs and into our time, it comes with the territory. Remember how Sarah pestered Abraham to give her a child, finally insisting that he lie with her maidservant? Then when Hagar conceived Ishmael, Sarah had the nerve to blame Abraham! (See Gen. 16:1-5.)
In the time of Deborah and Barak, a housewife named Jael acted in direct violation of her husband’s political obligations. She killed a king who had a covenant of peace with her household (see Judg. 4:17-22). Imagine the music she had to face when her spouse got home!
David’s wife Abigail resisted the spirit and instruction of her first husband, Nabal, when she went behind his back to bring supplies for David and his men from Nabal’s storehouse. Abigail’s act of wisdom and faith made intercession for her household and saved them from oblivion by David’s army. But that same intercession so offended Nabal that he had a heart attack when she confessed what she had done (see 1 Sam. 25:1-38).
Perhaps the clearest picture of continuing to serve God with a whole heart in the midst of trouble at home is the one Scripture gives us of David when he brought the ark back to Jerusalem (see 2 Sam. 6:12-15). He was directly in the center of obedience to God’s will for his life. But his wife Michal berated him (v. 20).
Michal’s resistance did not deter her husband. David replied, “I will become even more undignified than this” (v.22). If his godly service on that occasion displeased her, she was in for a lifetime of offense. The king would please God first.
In truth, the Bible does not make a person’s marriage the plumb line of his relationship or anointing with God. Our traditions have done that.
Consider the example of Maria Woodworth-Etter, an anointed woman of God who helped usher America into Pentecost. A powerful preacher, Maria was used mightily in miraculous signs and healing in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But she was opposed at home as well as by the norms of society in her day.
In Maria Woodworth-Etter: Her Life and Ministry (Christ for the Nations Inc., 1992) Maria wrote, “When the Spirit of God was striving with me to talk or pray in a meeting, I would resist as long as I could. Then this awful vision would rise before me, and I would see souls sinking into eternal woe. The voice of Jesus would whisper, ‘I am with you; be not afraid.’