What does a marriage (or a dating relationship) have to do with sharing Jesus?

For many, there would be an awkward, almost-panicked pause here. There’s a right answer, you might be thinking. But what is it? Others might point-blank say, “Nothing.” To them, marriage and evangelism are two separate purposes or ideas– one is for the “experts” at the pulpit and the other is for the rest of us who just want to enjoy our lives together while sprinkling in some religious knowledge about who God is.

But what if I were to tell you that these two ideas were never meant to be separated? What if the idea of marriage was intended to be its own version of evangelism in itself? It’s really pretty basic, but let me provide four quick examples:

1. Both can’t be done well when separated
This whole issue really comes down to a matter of priority, and it doesn’t get much clearer than the Greatest Commandment. It says to love God with all of our hearts. That includes how we acknowledge Him before others. It’s a package deal. But a healthy marriage requires total devotion as well. When approached separately, we can only work for one at a time, which means that one of them is always suffering for the sake of the other. But if marriage is a gift from God, then it can’t be biblical to let either our witness for Him or our marriages suffer. Besides, no one wants a miserable marriage. Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that we cannot serve two masters. He was making the comparison between God and money, but the teaching rings true for any form of idolatry, marriage included. You cannot love something fully if you love something else with a separate part of your heart. I could draw a pie chart here, but I think you understand. The original design is to love God first, and to love everything else through that love for Him–relationships included.

2. No one is exempt from the Great Commission
In 1 Corinthians 7:29, Paul doesn’t say that those who are married are exempt from the Great Commission. He says that our priorities and lifestyles should have the same focus as that of a single person. The fact that some of us are married only slightly changes how we go about that commission. It’s still a mandate and we are really never given permission to hunker down, huddle up, and forget about Jesus’ last command for the sake of building a family. Married or not, with kids or not, God is still God and deserves our entire lives. We are united to each other by having a common mission of spreading the gospel.

3. To show each other who God is
The purpose of marriage isn’t to fulfill us. Again, that sounds more like idolatry than following Jesus. The very concept of marriage screams faithfulness, love, selflessness and grace, which can only be explained with God in the picture. And the two people who have entered the covenant relationship themselves should hear those screams just like anyone else watching. For them, marriage is their safe place to practice and help each other prepare for eternity– to witness to each other and serve God through a relationship with each other. Ephesians 5 doesn’t talk about conflict resolution, communication tactics, or easy tips on how to fulfill each other sexually in order to “keep him/her coming back for more.” You’ll find more of that in any issue of Cosmopolitan or Men’s Health than you’ll find in the entire Bible. The relationship advice God gives us through Paul is to let marriage be used as a picture of His fierce, loving pursuit of us through Jesus, and also of our submission to Him. Marriage is our chance to show each other just a glimpse of how amazing God’s love and grace really is on a much more intimate and personal level. If another sinful person could love us so unselfishly and purely, how much more must God, who is perfect, love us?

4. To show others who God is
So many of us fail miserably at this. Even though we are all sinners, it’s pretty inexcusable. According to Jesus, our love for each other was meant to be a defining characteristic of those who trust Him. Jesus saw love as a natural reaction to knowing God personally. It definitely wasn’t a subtle suggestion, free to be tossed out for the sake of enforcing truth. I think Jesus united the concepts of following Him and loving others at least partly because He knew that people are watching. Marriage in this context is extremely valuable common ground, because people who don’t follow Christ want to get married just like those who do follow Him. What easier platform could we have as Christ followers to show the attractiveness of trusting God over ourselves? It’s our chance to openly and even excitedly invite comparison from those who base their marriages on their own fulfillment or their own power. We can preach all we want, but people like pictures, too. Christian marriages are the illustrations that God has provided for others to understand His church and His love story with us. So how attractive are we showing Him to be? All too often, the illustrations we show others about the God we represent makes this idea of Him being “good” a completely ridiculous claim. If we are each supposed to be salt and light that preserves, gives flavor and reveals hopeful truth, that has to extend to everything we do, including the way we marry. Here’s one testimony from someone who decided to give the idea of trusting God a chance based on her exposure to humble and devoted Christian marriages around her. The attractiveness of those relationships that were putting Christ first in comparison to what she saw elsewhere led to her entire lifestyle being transformed.

That brings me to another question: If our relationships are meant to be a tool for our witness to God’s love, and His trustworthiness, and His goodness, and His power, then what should your relationship look like? Or maybe the question is, how should the focus and habits of your current relationship change? Ask God and let His Spirit give you an answer based on His truth. Just don’t shut down when you sense a bit of conviction about something. Full surrender takes constant repentance. It’s ridiculously tough at times, but worth it.