Your Spouse Can’t Be Your Church

It was our first real argument since becoming friends. I was a sophomore in college and had become good friends with another guy in my dorm. The first semester of that year we were tight. We ate together, hung out in one another’s rooms, and were pretty much always around. Then, I got engaged and Krista moved to join me on campus. Suddenly, I was no longer around for my friend. When he broached the subject I made him feel guilty and dumb for even suggesting that I shouldn’t spend every waking moment not in class with my fiance. I was wrong, and so is every newly married person who shuts out the rest of his/her community. The tendency towards isolation once married harms us and our marriages.

I get the impulse, after all I lived it. Newlyweds are infatuated with one another and have this grandiose vision of marriage. This person will “complete” them, will make them happy, and will fulfill their every want and need. While this person isn’t perfect they are pretty close to perfect, and time spent with them is always “magical.” Culturally we don’t help newlyweds either. We suggest to them that their spouse will be their best friend and that they will essentially need no one else once married. Many couples live that way, then, once married. They spend every night, every weekend, every moment not working in each other’s company. While it all sounds dreamy and romantic, in reality it is disastrous for our own health and the health of our marriage.

I have written elsewhere about the reality that our spouses cannot meet all our relational needs, but neither can they meet all our spiritual needs. While we ought all to be fulfilling the various “one-another commands” of Scripture, I recognize that sometimes my spouse is not the best person to take on a specific need. For example, there are times where the command to “teach and admonish one another” (Col. 3:16), is best done by someone other than my spouse. The command to “rebuke” might specifically be better fulfilled by a close friend or a mentor than my wife. That is to say, because of the nature of a marital relationship, some corrections are better received and better offered by those with some distance. Furthermore, while all ought to “bear one another’s burdens” (Ga. 6:2), some burdens are big enough that multiple hands are needed to carry them. When my father passed it was too much to ask my wife to bear that burden alone. She needed the company and help of other friends who could walk with me through that journey of grief.

The one-another commands, the task of discipleship, is given to the church as a whole. We need the body of Christ, then, not simply one believer, to help us grow. The various strengths and passions of the collective church are for our good. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul notes the diversity of members of the body of Christ. That diversity is for our good and it is necessary for our growth. So, Paul says:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (v. 4-7)

Each individual is given a gift for the purpose of serving the collective whole. Each unique gift is for the “common good,” he says. That means I need the various members of a local church to help me grow. My spouse has only some gifting, while others have different gifts that I need as much as I need my spouse’s gifts. Paul continues with this line of thinking, he says:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (v. 14-20)

We need the whole body for our growth, not just our spouses. For our own spiritual sake, we must not isolate once we are married. Our spiritual growth depends on the diversity of gifts within the church. Your spouse can’t be your church.

Not only does post-wedding isolation hurt us, it actually hurts our marriage. Expecting more from our spouse than they can give puts an unbelievable burden on our marriage. My spouse is one member of the body, but they are being asked to carry the load and responsibility of the whole body. To further Paul’s analogy: imagine you have a weak knee. In order to continue walking around you will compensate by making your good knee carry more weight and do more work. This can be effective for a while, but only for a while. Eventually your good knee will become exhausted and over-burdened. It will eventually burn out and you will be left with two weak knees. Within our marriages asking your spouse to be the whole church may work for a while, but eventually he or she will burn out. They cannot function in such a diverse role as simply one individual. Your spouse isn’t the church, and therefore can’t function like the church.

The temptation when you’re newly married – or when you have young children, or when your first become empty nesters, etc. – is to isolate. We are tempted to turn inward and to focus on our own home, our family as an extension of ourselves, and our personal interests. The excitement, or stress, of this new stage of life entices us to isolate. Such an approach will weaken both our own spiritual lives and the relationships of our home. We need the church, the whole church! Your spouse is not your church, and making them act like it will be disastrous for you both.

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