Finding balance in my family life used to be a source of guilt and frustration for me.
I felt like devoting the necessary time to my family was leading to ineffectiveness in my ministry. At home, my wife felt like she and the kids weren’t getting enough time. I felt like a failure and was even subtly resentful.
But one passage of scripture opened my eyes. It totally changed the way I viewed my family in relationship to productivity.
1 Corinthians 7:32-34
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
I’ve breezed through this passage before. But like many people, I focused on what was said about the single person. Here, Paul talks about how the single person is capable of the same sold-out dedication to the gospel that he enjoyed. They’re not tied down and are free to go full speed ahead for God.
But think about what Paul is implying for married people. Their service to God is affected by their marriage. As soon as you get married, you’re responsible to follow the biblical commands concerning your spouse. As soon as you have children, you must be obedient to God’s will for parenting.
Husbands are to love their wives like Christ loves the church. Wives are to care for their husbands. Parents are to raise their children in a godly manner. And this takes a great deal of our time and energy.
So when I felt frustrated that my wife and family were interfering with my effectiveness in ministry – it’s because they were interfering with my effectiveness in ministry!
I couldn’t spend the time serving the church like I wanted to. The moment I got married and had kids, I made a commitment. A commitment to honor God’s vision for my family. A commitment which takes up a lot of my time. A commitment which Paul says pretty plainly is going to keep me from serving in the same manner that he was able to.
What is Service to the Lord?
It seems a little harsh that Paul is relegating married people to a second-class status in the eyes of God. Those worldly married people can’t serve God “fully” like the chaste and holy single people.
But if we view this passage in the context of the full word of God, we realize that’s not what Paul was saying.
Marriage is an institution formed by God before the fall to foreshadow Christ’s relationship to the church. Marriage is a blessing. It is a tool used for our sanctification. It enables us to raise the next generation of godly children.
In fact, when referring to the gift of singleness, Paul says “But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.” (1 Corinthians 7:7) I believe Paul is saying here that marriage is a gift just like possessing the gift of singleness. They’re both fine for the Christian gifted with either, but they each have their distinct advantages and disadvantages.
They both enable us to bring glory to God. They both allow us to minister – but just in very different ways.
If I’m defining my ministry as teaching a Bible study, evangelizing, or spending hours on my knees in prayer – then, yes, having a family reduces my effectiveness in that ministry. But if I remember the biblical mandates for husbands and fathers – and if I think about the glory that God gets through my marriage and parenting – then having a family is just as much ministry as anything else.
Serving my wife and children in a godly manner is not a reduction of my ministry – it is merely a change of my ministry.
This line of thought gave me freedom. God is acknowledging right in 1 Corinthians that it’s totally OK for my service to the church to drop back when I have a family. In fact, it’s not just OK – it’s expected. Paul just assumes in 1 Corinthians 7 that it’s going to happen.
Something would be wrong if that didn’t happen.
Why am I longing for the effective mission work of the single and the effective family rearing of the married person? Paul implied that you can’t have them both.
So to all the mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives out there:
Are you giving yourself an unnecessary guilt-trip by expecting a higher level of ministry than is possible?
Are these unrealistic expectations causing frustration in your family?
Are you serving your family zealously as an area of ministry?