Editor’s note: Marriage is used by God to display on earth his covenantal promises of faithfulness and love. Likewise, marriage problems are a microcosm of the problems experienced within the church and society. Here, four Chinese pastors (and two of their wives) talk about marriage as a reflection of God’s covenants, about how they have experienced God’s faithfulness in their own relationships, and about their struggles and victories in marriage.
Pastor Cheng: Marriages, whether healthy or failing, show our faithfulness to our covenantal promises or our complete disregard of them. Tracing God’s promises through redemptive history, we discover a story about small families, great families, and big institutions like nations or the church. Whatever we see within the church is related to the relationships between family units and the church. Problems and blessings can both be traced to our relationship to God’s kingdom.
The Davidic Covenant is among the least understood of church teachings. It was the last covenant prior to the introduction of the new covenant, and its climax was in the promised Christ. Many of the failures in David’s family are similar to the failures in the church. Likewise, we see David’s faithful works are precursors to the perfect and good work God accomplishes through his Son.
In 2 Samuel 7:1-17, the Lord says it will be different with David than when he appointed judges over his people. He promised to give David rest from his enemies, and through the prophet Nathan declared that “the Lord will make you a house.” The promise does not refer only to David’s immediate heir and son. It continues: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
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David’s response is to enter the tabernacle and sit before the Lord. He says, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!” David does not separate his immediate household from the promise of a greater house to come. God’s promise has something to do with David’s family, but on a deeper level, it is a promise that concerns all of humanity. In the first Abrahamic Covenant, God also promised Abraham and his family that all the families of the earth would be blessed through them.
The promise to prosper David’s family affected more than only his biological descendants. Instead, David’s family and the fate of Israel were permanently intertwined and interconnected. In a similar sense, we are in Christ, and he is the mediator for both our households and the church. Our lives are fully connected to his.
With these covenantal promises in mind, we turn to marriage and ministry. This combination is often discussed among pastors. Husbands and wives, what have you learned? What do you want to share with other pastors? Some are younger; others are older. Can you share some words of hope with us about your failures or your successes?
Pastor Yan: After ten years of marriage, the general outlook is that we are very excited. We both think this relationship is what God has specially designed for us. We have received healing; we have experienced the gospel and its renewal power in our marriage. I am trying to persuade and remind myself that serving my family needs to be my priority in ministry. When I put ministry first, I had a lot of internal pain, and there were many messes I could not clean up. However, when my wife knows that I am pursuing and taking care of her, then we establish a pattern of protecting, prioritizing, and loving each other. In this way, I can nurture the potential God has given to my helper. My wife’s growth—whether it is for ministry effectiveness or for deepening joy in our lives—is one of the most wonderful things in my life. This is why we both feel excited when we look to the future of our marriage.
Pastor Xi: Marriage is where our spiritual practices take place, whereas ministry is the front line of the spiritual battle. Our sins are exposed in our marriage so that our brothers and sisters can learn from our mistakes. Our testimonies can then be used as an opportunity to glorify God. The struggles we face in marriage are truly spiritual battles. I hope to receive more practical guidance from elders since I lack in this area. I’m not saying that my elders do not provide us with this guidance—instead, I hope we can have more opportunities to receive counseling. I truly desire for someone to walk with us in our marriage for awhile. I also think that this is the heart-cry of many brothers and sisters who have just begun full-time ministry.
Luo Yi (Pastor Xi’s wife): Homes should be built upon love. If you establish your home upon reason or good sense, you will inevitably argue and hurt each other.
Pastor Wu: Over the past few years, the best thing that has happened to me has been truly understanding the message of the gospel and of grace. Christ is with me in all areas of life—church, family, and myself. In this secular world, we accept ourselves only when we reach the goals we set. It’s easy to determine whether we have “successful” families based on our management skills as parents, similar to how companies determine success based on whether their teams meet specific metrics.
Our lives are measured by performance and results. If you run a company, you are considered successful when your company grows and has abundant funds. However, the church is different. We cannot judge the church by worldly metrics. The church only accomplishes her mission when we truly experience Christ in our lives, our families, and our churches. Churches are forgiving places. They won’t fire the pastor because of fewer members or smaller offerings. You won’t be fired because you’re less gifted, or because you aren’t a great preacher. This is not how the church operates.
It’s the same with your family: your wife won’t walk away because you’re not good enough, or because you don’t speak romantic words, or because you don’t apologize. It’s the same with yourself. You can still live with yourself after you realize that you have many issues and are truly a wicked sinner. Praise the Lord! Christians have hope in the Lord, and we can enjoy the presence of God.
Huang Shuhao (Pastor Wu’s wife): My husband mentioned the word “hope.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” This hope in marriage is real. One Autumn Festival, we had a long conversation with a pastor who was counseling us. This pastor made me feel truly hopeful when he said, “The feelings of love you thought were long gone will eventually come back.” Today, I realized when my husband was preaching that he looked quite handsome from afar. At one point, I thought our feelings of love were gone, but I truly believe the feelings have come back. Thank you, Lord!
Pastor Cheng: Let’s thank God for the victories, struggles, and failures of these pastors and their wives. Let’s pray for their marriages and the churches they are pastoring. God has chosen us from his family to lead his church. If we cannot manage our own families, how can we lead God’s church? In God’s grace, he uses us to minister among broken people. This is a profound mystery, but we experience the fullness of this grace and continually receive more of it.
This content was excerpted from a panel at a marriage retreat for Chinese pastors and their wives. All names are pseudonyms.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
-Pray for the marriages of Chinese pastors and ministry leaders. Pray that Christian leaders will experience God’s grace in their marriages and that their marriages will, in turn, bless their churches.
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