Embrace Marriage as Worship
About the Guest
Our greatest need is not to be loved, but to learn how to love one another. Gary Thomas explains that God's display of His love for us is so extravagant, that our only need-in response-is to learn how to spread His love to others. The most important place to start expressing His love is with our spouses.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
Our greatest need is not to be loved, but to learn how to love one another. Gary Thomas explains we need to learn how to spread His love to others, starting with our spouses.
Embrace Marriage as Worship
Bob: We all know that, if you’re married, your relationship with your spouse needs to be a significant priority; but as Gary Thomas reminds us, if it ever becomes the ultimate priority, you’ll find something significant is lacking in your life.
Gary: You were created, spiritually, to have an eternal impact. And if we live for too small of an aim—even if that aim is the most intimate and fulfilling of marriages we’ve ever known—that’s still a selfish aim. Ultimately, there’ll be this listlessness in our souls, where we say, “I just feel like I was married for more than this.” If we’re not careful, what Satan will tempt us with is: “Yes; you must have married the wrong person, because you’re not completely fulfilled.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Have you made too much of your marriage? Has it become more of a priority than your relationship with God?
We’re going to hear from Gary Thomas on that subject today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. One of the things I love about the guy we’re going to get a chance to hear from today is that he always helps me rethink about marriage with kind of a loftier, more noble view and purpose. I think we get really utilitarian in how we view marriage.
Dennis: I think we get selfish about marriage: “What have you done for me recently?”
Dennis: And what Gary does is—he lifts us out of the ruts we’re in, and he challenges us. I’ve got to tell you—what he’s going to talk about today, I totally agree with. He basically says that marriage is a great way to learn how to love another person. It is like school—you go to school with God as your tutor and the Scriptures instructing you, learning what real love is all about. We start with puppy love; we end with real love.
Bob: And you would think that guys, like you and me—who spend a lot of time talking about and talking to people about marriage—you would think that we’d kind of have it wired and figured out, but the reality is—
Dennis: You don’t, Bob? [Laughter]
Bob: You know I don’t, and I know you don’t. [Laughter] The reality is—we all have to keep tuning up what it is we are doing in marriage. That’s why we encourage listeners to set aside some time and to come join us and be a part of one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. These getaways—
Dennis: Hold it. We’ve got some kissing going on out in the studio out here.
Bob: Who’s kissing?
Dennis: Mary and Dan are kissing out there in the studio. [Laughter] I’m sorry because Barbara’s not here, where I can go out there and kiss her too.
Bob: I know they have an anniversary that’s coming up.
Dennis: They are from Cleveland—so we’ll let them get away with that.
Bob: I also know that they have been to more than—
—they’ve been to more than a dozen Weekend to Remember getaways. They’ve worked at some of them, but they’ve also—
Dennis: —just been.
Bob: —and taken notes.
Here’s the point: “Doesn’t matter where you are in your marriage journey. It doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in or how well things are going. It is always good to build into that relationship and have it prepared for whatever is coming ahead.”
Let me encourage you to come join us this fall at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We’re going to be hosting about 40-plus of them. If you sign up this week and you pay the regular rate for yourself, your spouse comes free. So, take advantage of the buy one/get one free opportunity—it’s good through the weekend. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get more information and to join us at one of our upcoming getaways.
Dennis: And I just want to say: “If you’ve been listening to Bob and me talk about this for more than six months—some of you have been listening to us for years, and you haven’t been [to a Weekend to Remember]. I’ve run into you; and I’ve looked you in the eyes, and I’ve said, ‘Have you been to a Weekend to Remember?’
You’ve dropped your head, and you go: ‘No; need to go—we need to go there.’ Well, you know what? I want to invite you: ‘Come and experience the transformational, fun, energetic, entertaining, romantic getaway with just you and your spouse. Think about it!’”
Bob: We are going to get to hear today Part Two of a message from Gary Thomas—message he gave recently about the pillars that help build a lifelong love relationship. He’s already outlined pillar number one in this message, which is understanding that: We Are Created for More than Just Each Other. Here’s Gary Thomas with Part Two of the message.
Gary: Our greatest need is not to be loved. Here it is—and this is the second pillar—our greatest need is: To Learn How to Love. That radically transformed my marriage. It took me months, even after God had put the word of “parent” to me—
—to wrestle with it, to accept it, and to believe it in my heart.
The reason it changed my marriage so much is this—when I thought my greatest need was to be loved—and I wasn’t noticed, appreciated, or served like I thought I should be—bitterness, frustration, resentment, even anger. When I believed my greatest need was really to learn how to love—when I became convinced in my soul: “That’s what I want to grow to. I want to learn how to love a little bit better today.” There isn’t a day of marriage, there isn’t a day of parenting, and there isn’t a day at the office, where you don’t have a great opportunity to learn how to love. When you are surrounded by people who stumble in many ways, you get to learn how to love in many different, trying situations.
Now, I don’t expect you to just accept my opinion for this. I want to try to make the biblical case. Let’s look at Colossians, Chapter 3, verse 14, when Paul says this: “Above all”—
—after everything that I’ve told you / over that and more importantly than all of that, here’s what you need to do—“clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And we flip over a couple of books, and we go to Peter—
1 Peter 4:8. What are his first two words?—“Above all…” “Above all,” he says, “maintain constant love for one another for love covers a multitude of sins.”
Now, if you know the New Testament at all, these are two different writers / two very different men. Where did they get that? Why—with such different outlooks and personalities—would they be saying virtually the same thing? The answer is simple—they serve the same God, they listen to the same Messiah, they have the same Teacher. Jesus changed everything—He redefined faith.
In John, Chapter 13, the last supper—when He’s really preparing His disciples when He said these words—
—now, I don’t know if a more inspiring paragraph has been uttered or said—but here is what Jesus said in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another even as I have loved you that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you are My disciples if”—if—“you have love one for another.” Jesus is saying His master plan of discipleship and evangelism is to create a community of people that so excel at love—they’re so astonishing in their love / they love so extravagantly—people will look at the way they treat each other and they’ll say, “They must / he must be one of His.”
If we apply this to marriage, here is the standard that Jesus is setting—this is what a Christian marriage should be if we accept what Jesus is saying—here is what it is:
“Only those Christian men treat their wives like that. Only those Christian men talk about their wives like that,”—and her—“I bet you she’s a believer. Whenever I see a woman talk about her husband, or look at her husband like that, or treat him like that, I know she’s one of those Christians; because they’re the only ones that do that.” That’s the standard—Jesus said that is His plan to reach the world.
Now, how many of us think that’s how the world at large looks at us believers? How many of us think that that’s the way the world would define Christian marriages? Here’s the convicting part—why doesn’t the world look at us that way? Maybe, it’s because we haven’t accepted Jesus’ commandment as a commandment / maybe, we think it’s a suggestion: “Well, He forgives us. So, it’s not really important that I grow in my ability to love; because He’s got me covered. What does it really matter if I testify or witness to others?”
Because we don’t think it’s our greatest need to learn how to love, we don’t grow in love; and we’re not doing what Jesus said we’re supposed to be doing, which is to win others by the impact of our love.
And here’s where I think Satan has been so cleverly successful in removing the motivation of the church—because here is what I think Satan does—he says:
“Look; this [love]—I can’t fight that! If people love like that, I’ve got nothing in my arsenal to compete—lust can’t compete with that, hatred can’t compete with that, materialism / it can’t compete with that. That hits the soul. I can’t let people grow there / I can’t let people go there.
“So, what am I going to do? I’m going to tell everybody, ‘Look; don’t listen to that commandment. Here’s the greatest commandment: “Find somebody to love you—find your soul mate.”’”
You’ll never be complete or fulfilled if you search for a romantic partner, where the feelings never die. That’s what you’ll spend your whole life searching for and being disappointed in. So, you lose this person and try to start over. Then, that goes bad. Then, you start over and over. You spend your entire life trying to be loved because you think that’s your greatest need, and you never get freed to go on this spiritual journey of believing that your greatest need is to learn how to love—
—that’s what marriage teaches us to do.
When the Bible talks about marriage—Paul to husbands / Ephesians 5:25—you’ve all heard this: “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” Paul talking to women—Titus 2:4—older women should “…train the younger women to love their husbands…” Same women—you should take the call to love your husbands so seriously, you should all be kind of setting up schools in churches that practically teach women, “This is how you love a man.”
Now, tell me one passage—just one—where the Bible says, “Our greatest need is to be loved by another person romantically,”—doesn’t exist. Now, the reason this is so important is that: “What I think my greatest need is impacts what I’m willing to put up with.”
See, if we think our greatest need is to be loved, we’re like those people who drive to the gym, and then they go in, and they’re cursing out the machines the whole time:
“Oh, I hate these presses! It’s such an evil machine! Oh, these curls—I’m going to sue this club! It hurts. This treadmill makes me sweat, and I get tired.” Nobody does that. Why? They pay $100 a month to go to a club to make themselves sweat, to make themselves hurt, to make themselves sore. Why?—because they have a vision: “I can be stronger. I can be faster. I can be fitter. I can be healthier. That’s what I need.”
What if we woke up with the Bible’s agenda? It’s going to hurt to die to pride. It’s going to hurt to become kinder, if we’re not naturally kind. It’s going to tire us out to be gentle again and again / to forgive again and again; but we will do it if we think our greatest need is to learn how to love because we’ll say:
“I can be gentler,” “I can be kinder,” “I can be humbler,” “I can be more like Christ, and that’s what I want to be.” So, we won’t run from our marriages. We’ll keep going back to our marriages, just like everybody does to their athletic clubs—at least, until February, when they give up their things—but we’re not going to be that way; are we?
Okay; the third pillar is that we need to learn to Embrace Marriage as Worship. This has been a huge journey for me. God knows how to speak to us—and I have loved being a dad / my wife has just loved being a mom—it’s miraculous. It was through this love for my children that God spoke so strongly to me about my marriage, because I was not being the best of husbands. God was chastising me—He said: “Gary, Lisa isn’t just your wife. She’s my daughter, and I expect you to treat her accordingly.”
When I got kids, I got it; because, if you want to get on my good side, it’s easy: “Just be kind to one of my kids.
“Be—make them smile. Give them a good gift. Make them feel good about themselves,”—I will love you for the rest of my life.
And if you want to get on my bad side, it’s just as easy: “Be mean to one of my kids. Shame one of my kids. Hurt one of my kids.” My blood pressure will go up if I even hear your name, because I’d much rather you mess with me than one of my kids. Every parent here knows exactly what I’m talking about.
While I spent a large part of my life meditating on God as my heavenly Father—which I believe is a foundational key Christian doctrine—if you want to transform your marriage, meditate on God as Father-in-law because He is. The day you get married, God becomes your heavenly Father-in-law. When I realized that God feels about my wife / His daughter just as I feel about my girls—but with a more pure and intense passion—everything about my marriage changed, because now it’s not just:
“How do I have patience for somebody who stumbles in many ways?” but “How do I reverence a God, who has been so stupendously gracious / beyond kind to me?”
Think about what God has given us—to begin with, He created us / He gave us life! Then, He chose to make us humans, who could know beauty, and truth, and love; because we’re created in the image of God. Then, He let me be a husband, and I get to marry one of His daughters; and I get to be a dad. Then, He gives me His Holy Spirit. So, it’s not just legalism—it’s not just trying to memorize a book or do the right things—He empowers me to become the kind of person I’ve always wanted to become. He forgives me when I mess up, and He has this amazing way of affirming me while correcting me. That’s what it means to live in Christ.
Then, when He says, “Here’s my daughter—she’s so important to me,”—
—I realized the best way I can worship my heavenly Father is to treat Him as my heavenly Father-in-law—say, “I’m going to love her as well as I can.” That’s how you build a lifelong love.
I want to end with a story of a woman who started to understand these truths. Linda Dillow tells about her in her book, What’s It Like to Be Married to Me? Krista’s husband Caleb served as a brigade surgeon in Iraq. After being there for six months, Caleb sent Krista an email, saying, “Hey, I’ve got a two-week leave coming up.” Krista got it and said: “Yes! I’ve been a single mom for six months. Caleb’s coming home. I’m going to get to have lunch with Becca. I’m going to get my nails done. I’m going to get my hair done.” But then, she stopped—and she didn’t use my language, but it’s the same concept: “What if my greatest need isn’t to be loved? What if my greatest need is to learn how to love?”
She found herself praying this prayer: “Lord, how can I fill up my husband’s spirit, soul, and body so that he can go back to war for six more months?”
She waited / God spoke—practical ideas filled her mind. One of them was—she wrote to him and said: “Caleb, I know you haven’t been eating the best—you’ve been away in Iraq. What are you looking forward to?” He sent her several suggestions. She went to the grocery store and bought everything on the list. Then, she went to an entirely different store; and in her words, she “bought seven bedroom outfits in seven different colors.” She went to a bookstore—she bought a book on massage. In her words, she said she studied it.
Then, she arranged 24 hours of childcare, saying to herself: “My husband has been a solider away in Iraq. He’s going to want to come home and enjoy his wife.” So, she bought fresh civilian clothes to greet Caleb when he came back. They went out to dinner with the kids to get reacquainted; but then, she had something very special for the kids—so they went off.
She brought Caleb back home. She said she knew his love language was physical touch; so she drew him a bath. I’ll let her pick up the story:
I straddled the tub with my big sponge and began to cleanse the smells of war.
As I washed the odor of war away, I prayed to cleanse his soul from the spirit of death and destruction. As I washed his head and hair, I prayed, “Lord, let nothing he has fought harm him.” As I wiped his eyes, I prayed, “Lord, let nothing he has seen stay in his heart.” As I washed his ears, I prayed, “Lord, let nothing he has heard touch his spirit.” I washed and prayed over every part of my husband, begging God that nothing would take root / that all evil would be washed away.
It is such a powerful prayer—that, here, her husband had been serving her family by serving his country / protecting all of us. She’s saying, “Lord, cleanse him, renew him, rebuild him, and refresh him.” It’s such a spiritual moment as she cries out to God to anoint her husband—such a spiritual moment.
Later that week, she put the massage techniques into practice—middle of the afternoon. Caleb fell asleep for two hours.
He wakes up. He’s groggy in the best of ways—shuffles into the kitchen: “Honey, that was amazing. I didn’t sleep like that the entire time I was in Iraq.”
Then, two weeks [snap of fingers], they were up like that. As Caleb went away, here’s how Krista described their time together: “Our two weeks were a supernatural feast of intimacy with the Lord and with one another. There was something sacred. There was something holy about this moment.” She got there—not by trying to manipulate him, or cajole him, or saying, “You’ve got to meet this need or that need,”—she simply said: “What if my greatest need isn’t to be loved?—what if it’s about learning how to love?”
Some might warn her: “Look; he could take advantage of you. He could roll all over you.” While that’s a possibility, that’s not what happened here; because she lived with this question—these are her words again: “Have I loved him spirit, soul, and body so he was ready to return to war? Three days after he got back, he emailed me and said, ‘Thank you for the best two weeks of my life.’”
That’s where sacred marriage is found. That’s how you build a lifelong love—a couple, together, inviting God in by living according to His ways, by accepting that we were made for more than each other. He’s our partner—so, “Lord, what’s our purpose today? Are we raising our kids to follow You or just to be successful? Are we repenting of the sins that make us so miserable? Do we believe, every day, I need to get better at love, I need to grow in love, I want to accept Jesus’ commandment?” and “Are we worshiping our heavenly Father, remembering that we’re not married to a forgotten orphan; we’re married to a cherished son or daughter of God?”
Then, marriage isn’t just natural. It becomes supernatural because we’re living it the way God designed it to be lived.
Dennis: Well, I’m all-in; aren’t you, Bob?
Bob: We’ve been listening, today, to Part Two—
Dennis: All the way to the finish line—we still do.
Bob: —of a message from our friend, Gary Thomas, talking about how we get to the finish line and how we thrive in the journey.
And I had the opportunity, as Gary was wrapping up this message, to go out and ask him a couple of questions about what he had shared. If our listeners are interested, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to hear our interaction as a follow-up to this message.
While you’re on our website, there is also information available there about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. You know that this week is the week we’re offering a special offer to FamilyLife Today listeners.
Dennis: And before you get to that, I just want to change something I said at the beginning of the broadcast—I said, “I want to invite you,” but I want to change the word, “invite,”—I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to go get refreshed around some great heaven-class teaching from the Bible that’s practical, that’s authentic, that is funny, and that’s romantic.
Your marriage is going to be built to outlive your children and be built for the future if you’ll come spend Friday night, all day Saturday, half day Sunday with us at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Bob: Yes; and if you sign up today—you pay the regular rate for yourself / your spouse comes free—it’s a buy one/get one free offer that we’ve got going on this week—it ends this weekend. If you want to take advantage of this, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember getaway; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and you can register over the phone.
If you have any questions, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link for the Weekend to Remember. Most of your questions will be answered there. Or we’re happy to take your phone call at 1-800-FL-TODAY and answer any questions you might have. So, again, we hope to see you this fall at an upcoming getaway.
Take advantage of the special buy one/get one free opportunity by getting in touch with us this week.
And when you call us or when you go to our website, ask about getting a copy of Gary Thomas’ book, A Lifelong Love. The message we heard today was taken from that book. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. The subtitle is How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in Your Marriage. It’s a great book to read together, as a couple, or to go through in a study group. Again, order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy.
Now, today, the 13th of September—there is a couple celebrating their 13th anniversary today. Brian and Christine Ballard, who live Columbia, South Carolina, are celebrating 13 years of marriage today. We wanted to give them a shout-out: “Happy anniversary!” to the Ballards and to all of you who are celebrating an anniversary today.
At FamilyLife, we believe that anniversaries are important—they matter / your anniversary matters.
We hope that you are making a big deal out of your anniversary. We’ve been celebrating all this year because 2016 is FamilyLife’s 40th anniversary. We thought we wanted to celebrate just by focusing on the lives of all of the people who have celebrated more and more anniversaries because of how God has used the ministry of FamilyLife in their life and in their marriage.
In fact, I heard from one of our listeners recently who said: “We’ve been married 37 years, and we decided to help support FamilyLife. We’re going to become Legacy Partners, and we’re going to give $37 a month because we’ve been married 37 years.” I thought, “That’s really encouraging,” because, as a listener-supported ministry, it’s folks, like you, who keep this program on the air and keep us pointed at the mission that God has called us to. So, thanks for your support of the ministry.
If you’d like to help with a one-time donation or like to become a Legacy Partner, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can make an online donation or sign up as a Legacy Partner there.
Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate; or just say, “I’m interested in becoming a Legacy Partner,” when you get in touch with us.
And be sure to join us back tomorrow. We’re going to talk to Plumb—do you know her?—the recording artist. She and her husband are going to be here tomorrow. We’re going to hear about their love story, and how it almost ended, and how God put it all back together again. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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