Discipleship: Maturation Through Marriage
In addition to bolstering evangelism, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman posit the integral role that marriage has in discipleship. Consider their words:
The purposes of our marriages are to create life and to shape life to maturity. A marriage is no better than the vision we have for one another and the willingness we have to sacrifice for each other, to suffer to see growth occur. Many marriages survive by merely providing a partner for activities–a resource to counter occasional biological and personal needs. But God’s intention for marriage is to grow or subdue each partner in relation to the other in order to draw each–and eventually marriage itself–to reflect the character of his Son. The high calling of God is to create life and then to shape it in his image. Our marriages are not only the context for evangelism but also the soil for discipleship. And to what end? Ultimately, our marriages are the foundation for the kingdom of God to grow on earth in anticipation of its full realization in the new heavens and new earth (Intimate Allies, 83-84).
Just as marriage opens doors for evangelism, it also creates environments for sanctification and discipleship. Incredibly challenging is the notion that marriage is not just a relationship for recreation, “providing a partner for activities.” Instead, it is a licensed endeavor to procreate God’s love, to picture divine grace, and to proclaim the mystery of Christ and the church. This does not mean that your marriage has to be perfect to convey such a message, it just has to be honest, intentional, and gospel-rich. The Good News has always been that Jesus came to set captives free and to heal the sick. Therefore, Christian marriages that fail to give verbal credit to Jesus Christ, verge on cosmic plagarism because they do not footnote their source. Similarly, those that do not admit their frailty, while testifying of Christ’s overcoming sufficiency, miss out on the life-giving joy of telling others of the power and kindness of God. In other words, maturation occurs in an individual and in a marriage, when the gospel is believed and shared.
This idea of maturation that Allender and Longman highlight is vitally important. If we have been born again (cf. John 1:12; 3:3-8) and are growing into the image and likeness of our savior, marriage serves as an opportune environment for Christian maturation. Evangelism and discipleship are requisites of the Christian faith, and marriage is designed to improve these, not impoverish them. However, too often marriage and Christian maturity are set at odds. A hidden assumption is that the serious Christian must take on monastic commitments if they are too be holy. (Gary Thomas addresses this in his book Sacred Marriage). Some may claim, “the kids keep me from my quiet times,” or “being the bread-winner disallows me from church service.” Yet, it does not have to be so. In fact, it must not be so. The Christian marriage, filled with children (if the Lord permits), should be a vehicle driving us to a greater need for the gospel and propelling us to share the love of God with others. In this way, marriage enhances our discipleship, as we press towards our spouse in gospel-empowered love, taking on the yoke of self-denying discipleship (cf. Matt. 11:29-30; Luke 14:25-33).
May we pray to that end, that God may be most glorified in our marriages as we are daily conformed into the image of Christ. May we evangelize and be discipled through one of God’s most precious gifts–marriage.
Sola Deo Gloria, dss