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This Beautiful Mess Called Marriage

By Scott Thomas, President of Acts 29

Along with the majority of Christian leaders around the country, I took the of John Piper’s 8-month leave from ministry with shock and then sobering reflection. I love the ministry of John Piper and I admire him greatly.   

I asked myself what we could learn from this decision. I read his article and watched the video of the announcement and I personally felt pain. John talked about the pains of his soul that primarily rested in his marriage, his family and in his relentless pursuit for productivity. In this month as we examine a pastor’s marriage and family, I want to offer some thoughts that all pastors are prone to fail. Piper  is not the subject of this article although his decision triggered the thoughts and will be used illustratively as a helpful example to us all.

How in the world did we get into such a mess?

John Piper and Noël, his wife of 41 years have not pretended that their marriage is perfect. In fact, Noël wrote in the foreword to This Momentary Marriage, that there have been moments in their marriage that made her ask, “How in the world did we get into such a mess? What happened to make us feel this kind of disagreement and unhappiness?”[1]

Elisabeth Dodds wrote a meaningful book about Jonathan Edwards, Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan & Sarah Edwards. Jonathan was "difficult" perhaps because he was so single minded in his calling to be a preacher. Sarah Edwards was "uncommon" because to support him in his calling she took over the running of their home, their farm and the raising of their ten happy healthy children.

In the case of Jonathan Edwards, the marriage was sustained through his occasional recognition that he had obligations to the family. In the case of other pastors, their public and private lives are incongruent. Verbal abuse is more common than we want to admit. A pastor is prone to ignore the children while self-justifiably pursuing responsibilities before God.

Driven by a Passionate Calling

I have dealt with suicidal pastors who tied their identity, worth and value to their ministry success. When they failed in ministry in their eyes, they did not see their marriage and family or relationship with God as worthy of their continued existence.

Pastors, we have to order our lives according to the gospel where God loves us without merit and continues to love us even if we are average or even insignificant from a worldly perspective our entire lives. Our marriages are portraits displaying the gospel where Jesus loves the church unconditionally (Ephesians 5: 22-32).

I have trampled over my marital relationship in an attempt to produce and succeed. My wife is “uncommon” in that she endured the stress I brought into the mariage and into the home. She never complained because she stopped expecting anything from me. She suffered silently and therefore squeakier wheels in the church received my attention. The boys were the recipients of my emotional affection. She occasionally got the leftovers.

I was praying before a sermon backstage and the Spirit of God prompted me to stop praying for the people who were in the church and start preaching to myself. I looked over my notes and found my message on repentance from idols as life transforming—for me, not them. I discovered the idol of pride hidden beneath the fruit of a driven life that was angry at times and stressful all the time.

I learned to rest in His acceptance of me and I am repenting continually for lusting for success and productivity. I am learning to pursue my wife from a pure heart of love for her.

Study Your Wife and not just Your Books

Generally, we are to love our wife like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. And since we verbalize that we are willing to die for our wife, we give ourselves a passing grade in the “love my wife like Christ” category. I was willing to die for my wife but I was not willing to live for her.

Specifically, we need to live with our wives in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7). That means that we need to know our wife, not just women in general (as if that is possible). It isn't what you get out of marriage but what you put into it that brings glory to God. Do you know your wife's needs? Have you discussed them with her? Have you asked her what kind of husband she wants you to be?

Questions to get to know her better

  1. What are some ways that I can demonstrate my love to you in a meaningful way?
  2. When do you feel most appreciated?
  3. How do I make you feel emotionally distant?
  4. How can I pray for you?
  5. How can I help you to know God better?
  6. In what ways have I sinned against you?
  7. What would help you to be more satisfied sexually?
  8. How could I help us to reconcile our misunderstandings better?
  9. In what ways could I help relieve physical stress?
  10. What is one way I could tangibly serve you?


[1] John Piper, This Momentary Marriage (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2009), p. 10.


David Dorr

on Apr 5, 2010 :: 11:36 am

Scott, great thoughts here. Loved the questions -- going to ask some tonight