As pastors, we love the Bride of Christ. Pastors sacrifice for the church because pastors love the church.
That honors Jesus! But here’s my question: after a 50+ hour week of loving others, do you ever struggle to sacrifice for your actual marriage?
Sometimes pastors’ wives get the leftovers. Sadly, I say this from experience—I know the discouragement of getting to the end of the day with just enough energy to queue up Netflix with my lady.
In various seasons, I have struggled in my exhaustion and selfishness to pursue deep connection with my wife instead of just settling for unplugging with her.
An exhausted approach to loving our wives should not be our norm. There are several reasons for this, but I would like to focus on one: A safe, satisfying marriage protects the minister of the gospel.
I love my church, but I love my wife more. At her best or worst, a day spent with her is a dream come true. The gospel roots itself deeper in my mind and heart through her than anyone else. I pray she says the same about me. I thank God for the privilege of knowing her!
My goal here is not to create wife-envy or home-shame; my point is that pastors are healthiest when marital intimacy is high. This is God’s design.
In Song of Songs, we hear the friends of the bride and groom promoting martial intimacy—“Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love (5:1).
Pastors, we need to prioritize our marriage. But how do we do the good work of loving our wives?
Love Works to Know
Love requires and results in intimacy. And intimacy is not just sex. Thank God there is so much more! Intimacy is about holistic knowing, and there are five aspects of intimacy.
1) Intellectual Intimacy
Remember how easy this was when we first dated our wife? Everything was new; we guzzled down any information to help us know this mysterious woman. But as the years pass, we swallow the illusion that we’ve solved the mystery of our bride.
But our wives are always growing and changing. After eleven years of marriage, my sweet wife is on her fifth favorite color—fifth! There’s always something new to learn.
Never let familiarity rob you of the joy of discovery. Assume you don’t know what your wife is thinking and ask.
2) Emotional Intimacy
We explore the deep caverns of her hopes, loves, fears, disappointments, sadness and joys. We work for a safe relationship where feelings are shared, not shunned.
You might shun emotions like an uninvited friend on your honeymoon. Your wife might be more emotional than you, but the reality is you need emotional intimacy too because you’re a human being with a heartbeat.
If you are weak or strong emotionally, press into knowing your wife’s emotions and discover new depths of experiences in life.
3) Recreational Intimacy
The earlier example of chilling in front of Netflix is not bad in and of itself—it is recreational intimacy. Yet we must acknowledge recreational intimacy cannot bear the full weight of two intertwined lives. But it is powerful!
As we face the impassable things of life, we need to say a prayer for faith, grab our bride’s hand and face the absurdity of it all laughing.
In concert with the other aspects of intimacy, recreation provides a sweet harmony that empowers us to dance with faith-filled courage. Since we know God is good and we know the end of the story, our faith allows us to stop and enjoy all of God’s good gifts.
4) Spiritual intimacy
We talk about spiritual things and we share what we’re learning. We talk about our struggles and doubts. And we extend and ask for forgiveness.
As we find ultimate satisfaction in our intimacy with Jesus, we don’t unrealistically expect our spouse to save or satisfy our souls. Similarly, as we are satisfied in our intimacy with our spouse, we will not expect our church to satisfy or save us.
When a man’s wife is for him, he is happy even if the world is against him. However, if the whole world is for a pastor and his wife is not, life will be difficult—to say the least.
5) Physical Intimacy
We proclaim the gospel to each other through great, God-honoring sex.
Our longing for and consummation of sex points us past the marriage bed to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-10).
Our pleasure directs our entire being to the truth that there are pleasures at God’s right hand forevermore (Ps. 16:11).
Our unashamed nakedness recalls a remnant of Eden and reminds us that Jesus stripped away our shame by bearing it on the tree (Gn. 2:25; Isa. 53:2-3; Rom. 10:11).
Pastor, fight for your marital intimacy—although imperfect, God will draw you back to the gospel again and again through the well-spring of your marriage.
But there is a danger here that we have to address.
Love Works to Serve
Here’s where we get into trouble: we would rather get than give.
In our selfishness, we focus on how our spouse is not meeting our needs rather than how we can serve our spouse.
A safe, satisfying marriage blossoms when we walk in step with the gospel—that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” and that “whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Acts 20:35; Jn. 12:25).
You know as well as I do that this is not easy. If you’ve been married more than a week, you know honorary PhDs in selflessness are nonexistent. We must work at service, and every step forward in service is met with two steps backward in selfishness.
Sacrificial love is complicated. When do we ask for help rather than giving it? At what point do we transgress our limits in sacrificial service? Is it ever helpful to say “no” to service?
These are complicated questions. But as my friend Dave Harvey once said, “When in doubt, serve!” We can go around in circles with this stuff, but we know we’re called to serve. Jesus said, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (Jn.12:26).
Trust God and your spouse. Lean on God’s help, and serve each other. As we do, intimacy grows.
You Got to Drink to Get Drunk
“Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love (5:1).
As we think through the five aspects of intimacy, we immediately see our marital strengths and weakness.
Start small. What’s your next drink? Go on some talk-dates; go on some fun-dates. Create space in your schedule to give energy, creativity, vision and love to your bride.
God doesn’t tell us to get drunk often in Scripture—but He does tell us to imbibe freely of the Spirit and of our wife (Eph. 5:18; Songs. 5:1). Pastor, offer your bride a cup of intoxicating love, and drink deep of what she offers you. And drink a lot!
God designed you to experience holistic intimacy through marriage so that you might face the world as a bolder, stronger witness for Him.
As Pete Scazzero has written, “Marriage is your loudest gospel message… Christian marriage points beyond itself to something more important—to Christ.” (1)
Pastor, how’s your greatest gospel message coming along? Jesus and your wife are worth it. Let’s love them well.
(1) The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Pete Scazzero p.98.