“He (an overseer) must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how well he care for God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (ESV)
When I began my journey through seminary, I read through this passage and saw it as sort of a check list. If I’m not doing too terribly with my marriage, then I can check that one off the list and go into full-time ministry. Looking back, this was more than a little naive, and now I see that there’s more to it than that. Much more. (And if you’re not religious at all and somehow found your way in here, there is a point to all of this if you’ll stick it out to the end.)
Keeping in mind that Paul’s letter to Timothy is a product of a culture and a time far different than our own, it’s safe to say that not everyone who follows the call to minister will find full-time employment in that role. In the Baptist Association in which I was ordained, there are, as of the last time I checked, something like 30 ordained ministers on the association’s supply list, and maybe one open position. (The case throughout South Carolina in general seems to be that there are far more qualified applicants for the positions that do exist than there are positions for them to apply to.)
So what of Paul’s advice to Timothy regarding pastors (or bishops, or ministers, depending on how exactly you want to translate “overseers”)? Could it be that, far from being a check list of sorts, this is the main ministry for us as men and women?
In Ephesians 5:25-33, Paul says,
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Speaking as a man here (no offence ladies), as husbands we’re meant to come through for our wives. We’re meant to protect them, nourish them, and support them, to “give ourselves up for them” just as Jesus did on the Cross for us. Please here me when I say that I’m not trying to negate the role of women here. Any successful marriage is a team effort through and through, and the gist of this passage goes both ways. Neither am I trying to say that, as men, our wives are the report card on us, so to speak. We will still fail and fall short and screw up and disappoint, and if we believe that how our wives react in those situations reveals the truth about us, it will destroy us internally. Only God gets to tell us who we really are. (I should also point out that I’m not trying to put your spouse on a pedestal here, either. You have needs of your own, and you matter, too.)
What I’m really trying to say here is that, if we find ourselves in a situation in life where all we can do is minister to the needs of our spouse, then maybe that is enough. By all means chase your dreams, and don’t settle in life. I’d be the first to admit that the job I currently have doesn’t always fit with my calling, and I would gladly change it if I could (especially if I could find my way into ministering full-time). (On a separate note, if you’re ever calling into AT&T for help with your service, try to be to nice to whoever’s on the other end. We really do try our best to help.) But maybe, just maybe, if you find that all you can do is minister to the needs of your spouse, then maybe that’s not too small of a thing.