FamilyLife Today® Podcast


with Tom Nelson | January 18, 2013
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Just five guidelines for a successful marriage: sounds easy! Author and pastor Tommy Nelson details these important steps, and gives a few thoughts to consider before you take the plunge.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Just five guidelines for a successful marriage: sounds easy! Author and pastor Tommy Nelson details these important steps, and gives a few thoughts to consider before you take the plunge.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Just five guidelines for a successful marriage: sounds easy!

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With Tom Nelson
January 18, 2013
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Bob:  If you're thinking about marriage, is there that spark, the desire, the passion?  That can be a dangerous thing for singles; but getting married without it can be dangerous, as well.  Here's Tommy Nelson.

Tommy:  I am a believer in this.  A lot of guys aren’t, but I am.  When I say to a couple:  “Do you love the Lord?” “Yes.”  “Are you walking with God?”  “Oh, yes.”  “Are y’all heading to do great things?” “Yes.” "Tell me about your physical purity.  Are y’all staying pure?"  That guy says to me, "Well, we have no real temptation."  I say, "We've got a problem."  [Audience Laughter]  You don't just marry your best friend.  The marriage bed is the follow-through.  There needs to be legitimate passion.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 18th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   God’s design for marriage includes passion.  We’re going to hear about that today.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  I've talked to singles, who have put their checklist together.  You know what I'm talking about?  What they're looking for from a potential partner, whether it's a male or a female.  It's all of the things that you hope the other person will be.

Dennis:  I actually saw one single man's bathroom completely wallpapered with his checklist.

Bob:  He had quite a list.

Dennis:  It was a long list.

Bob:  I find that as singles get older, either the list gets longer or it gets a whole lot shorter; you know?  “I'm just looking for somebody with a pulse—someone who’s breathing steadily;” you know?

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  Yesterday, and again today, we're listening to a message that deals with an appropriate checklist—the kinds of issues you ought to be considering if you're single and you're looking around and asking yourself, “Is this someone I could spend the rest of my life with?”

Dennis:  That's right.  Bob, frankly, in this culture today, it's sad that we have to feature radio programs to do what families ought to be doing for their sons and daughters, as they grow up into their single years.  I would just say to a mom and a dad—who are raising a junior high-, high school-, or a college-age son or daughter—the topics that Tommy Nelson is talking about, both on yesterday's broadcast and today, are very important for you to consider as you equip the next generation to make this choice of selecting a life-mate.

Dennis:  Yes.


Bob:  Tommy Nelson is the pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.  He's a proponent of our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember®marriage getaways, both for engaged couples and for married couples.  I mention that because of the special offer that our team has, this week for FamilyLife Today listeners, because we are kicking off our spring season of Weekends to Remember,here, pretty soon.  We are going to start the weekend before Valentine’s Day.  You’re going to be up at the Gaylord National Hotel in the Washington, DC, area.

Bob:  The next weekend, I’m going to be out at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  That’s right after Valentine’s Day.  Then, throughout the spring, there are going to be events taking place in cities, all across the country.  This week and next week, FamilyLife Today listeners can register for any of these upcoming events.  When you sign up at the regular rate, your spouse comes at no additional charge.  It’s a special buy one/get one free offer that we’ve got going on for FamilyLife Today listeners, this week and next week. 

All you have to do, if you’re signing up, online—when you come to the promo code box, type my name.  Type “BOB” in the box.  Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  You can register over the phone.  Just mention you listen to FamilyLife Today and you want to take advantage of the special buy one/get one free offer that we have going on.  We’ll get you all registered and save you some money in the process.  So go to to register, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to register.  Plan to join us at one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. 

Now, back to Tommy Nelson—the message we’re listening to this week, from Tommy, is a message he presented to a group of students at Cedarville University.  He was talking, in the message, about five things that make up a successful marriage.  We’ve already heard him talk about the need for couples to be in theological agreement, about the need for them to have moral agreement—have the same values—and that they also need to have a common ministry mindset. 

In Part Two of the message, he’s going to talk about two additional areas of compatibility.  This is some fatherly advice to both young men and young women about the things you ought to consider, long and hard, before you look at each other in the eye and say, “I do.”

Dennis:  And if you're a parent, and you haven't had this kind of a talk with your single person, take some notes because this ought to be either a letter to your son or daughter or the topic of a date night—just share some very important principles about how to have a successful marriage.

Bob: Alright, here's Tommy Nelson with “Five Guidelines for Building a Successful Marriage”.

[Recorded Message]

Tommy:   Some guys don't believe this.  I believe it adamantly.  If I was your father—and I'm old enough; you're young enough that you could be my child—and I wanted to fix up your future mate—if you were my son, what would I fix up?  I would look for, obviously, a believer that loved the Lord—a girl that was heading where you were heading—but do you know what I'd look for, guys? 

If you were a young man that loved opera, I wouldn't find, necessarily, a girl that loved camping; alright?  I would get someone that was on the same page as you—someone, that socially, you could hold hands; and you could go together in things.  I'm a great believer in social compatibility.  A premarital relationship has to be easy.  Do you know what the problem with that is?  It's that opposites attract.  [Audience Laughter]  What will drive you crazy about your mate are the things that attracted you to them at the outset, and you have to be careful of that.  I'll make you a statement:  “To the degree that you and your future mate are socially opposite, you had better balance it out with an equal amount of flexibility and holiness.” 

Couples that are real, real close in everything that they like—if they don't watch it, they can get bored in life because it's easy just to go together—but if you're really at a disparity, that's okay—but if you’ve got 30 pounds of difference, there had better be 30 pounds of flexibility.  If you’ve got 100 pounds of difference, with you and your mate, there’d better be 100 pounds of holiness and godliness with each other. You've got to be able to enjoy the same things.

I did a wedding, one time, of the number-one draft choice in all the United States in professional baseball.  He married Miss Texas.  She was—still is—beautiful.  This girl loved to dress up.  She loved to go out.  She loved evening gowns.  She loved long, extended evenings at elegant restaurants, enjoying good company.  This guy—when baseball season was over—he had a Ram pickup with a couple of guns—decoys.  He wasn’t country.  This boy was rural!  [Audience Laughter]  You know what I’m saying?  He also happened to be handsome—off the page, and she was beautiful—off the page; and they got attracted.  Both were Christians, and they were attracted to each other.

Well, ha ha—the season would end.  He would do what he had always done.  He said, "Honey, we're heading to the woods."  "I don't think I will."  "Well, I am!"  Well, I got a phone call.  It got so problematic that she did the last thing that a woman will do, sometimes, to get her husband's attention—she fired the flare.  She said, "I'm out of here."  I don't think she meant to do it, but that's the only way she could get this kid—that all of his life, he had done what pleased him.  Well, all of a sudden, your marriage is a wake-up call.  You have to do—1 Corinthians 7—"what pleases your mate."  So, there has to be a social or some sort of compatibility.

Number 5:  There needs to be legitimate passion.  It had better be there.  I am a believer in this.  A lot of guys aren't, but I am.  When I say to a couple:  “Do you love the Lord?” “Yes.”  “Are you walking with God?”  “Oh, yes.”  “Are y’all heading to do great things?” “Yes.” "Tell me about your physical purity.  Are y’all staying pure?"  That guy says to me, "Well, we have no real temptation."  I say, "We've got a problem."  [Audience Laughter]  You don't just marry your best friend.  You have to long for things that only are done with your mate.  There is an intimacy, a passion, an excitement that has to be there.  Maybe you can turn on the switch at the altar.  I doubt it.  There had better be some sort of passion because where there isn't, that gets really old really quick. 

See, the marriage bed is the follow-through on all of the spiritual, emotional, social love that you have.  All of the delight that you feel in that woman— that has given herself and loved you—the delight of it is shown in a physical expression in the marital bed.  When a woman has such appreciation for that man—who goes out in that pit, and works and struggles—the follow-through is in the marital bed.  When that isn't there, there is a problem.

In The Song of Solomon, they're not married until Chapter 4.  There are things said in Chapter 2 and in Chapter 3, by the single woman—that are exciting, indeed.  She longs for him.  That has to be there.  Incidentally, let me throw a little note in here—when these things aren't there—when you have a couple that is getting married simply on shallow reasons and the impulse of just longing to be—this primitive desire that, “We have to be married,” you're going to start running into problems in communication—problems in keeping the excitement going. 

What happens, a lot of times, is a couple will go to this kind of panacea.  There's a salve that you can rub on a problem relationship.  It will give it immediate relief for about a 24-hour period.  It's called premarital sex.  In the midst of premarital sex, the worst of couples feels like it's a great relationship.  That's one of the great problems with premarital sex.  It's not just that it is sin, but it creates a deception.  It retards the real development of the deeper things.  The reason that a couple falls into premarital sex:  A lot of times, it is just the pure novelty of eroticism.  On a scale of sexuality—on a 1 to 10—that's about a 12, and you can't maintain that in marriage. 

When you get married, it's not going to be this explosive kind of thing that takes off.  Oh, every once in a while, things happen; but generally, it's going to be the expression of character.  It's going to come out of this fountain of character.   Now, when you get into premarital sex, you just go around the character.  What happens, though, when you get into marriage—is that premarital stuff doesn't happen like it used to.  You end up just busting it up.  Tony Evans says, “What was a great deal becomes an ordeal, goes to a new deal; and you just try a new mate, and get out of it.”

So, if I was just an atheist, just on the counseling that I’ve done, I would say, “Beware of premarital sex.”  I’ll go so far as to saying, “Some of the bad marriages that I have seen, I can ask the question, ‘Did you all fall into premarital sex?’  Usually, the answer is, ‘Yes.’”  And I tell them, “Your relationship probably wouldn’t have endured to the altar if you hadn’t had premarital sex.  You just kind of kept spraying lighter fluid on this thing, but the real coals and embers weren’t there.”

I want to share one other thing here.  The phenomena of a premarital relationship—there’s a lot of confusion and a lot of talk, right now, on dating.  Let me give you my opinion, which is equally authoritative and true on this, just from my observations.  [Audience laughter]  If you want to write it down, don’t write it down—just listen.  Let me give you, like Paul says, “One who by the grace of God is trustworthy,”—that has seen this. 

A date is a time of enjoyment and of pure recreation of people of the opposite sex at a common event.  That's all that a date is.  It's responsible people enjoying a common event.  There's no escalation, there is no continuation, there are no expectations that you put on it.  Everybody kind of “dogs” dating.  I’ll be honest with you—if it came down to me hanging out with Michael Anadero, I’d rather hang out with Sally.  You know what I’m saying?  I just really enjoyed the presence of just neat girls, and just the opposite way of men and women.  That’s no problem; okay?

Whenever that noun—a "date"—becomes a process—"dating"—you're continually seeing the same person over, and over, and over—when that happens, escalation, expectations, and temptation are going to happen.  That's a fact, and that's okay for the heat to build.  But when you start seeing the same person, over and over, what you’re getting into is preparation for courtship.  The problem we have, in our culture, is we don’t have a fearfulness of dating.  Call it what you want—going steady—when the same people keep seeing each other, it’s going to escalate.  There are going to be expectations.  There are going to be temptations.  That’s okay if you have a man and a woman that are theologically, morally, philosophically solid.

If that man, financially, can take on where that dating is going to go into courtship, is going to go into marriage—if that man is in place—if you have two people who are solid, who are sound—that process that leads into courtship, that goes to the altar—that's okay.  But if you don't—if you're not there socially, you're going to have to put off that wedding for years, and years, and years.  That becomes a frustration and a temptation.  

And if you're not there spiritually, then there are temptations that will come by that continual kind of relationship.  Immature people in the continual same social context are—I mean, it is striking matches, knee-deep in kerosene.  So, dating is a thing all of you are going to do with the same person; but it demands a great deal of trepidation.


Bob: That is Tommy Nelson, the pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas.  Not long ago, he spoke to students at Cedarville University about what to look for and what to be if you want to be a married person someday. 

I'll tell you, there had to be a wake-up call in that chapel that day for a lot of those college students who kind of thought, "Okay, maybe I've been approaching this thing a little too casually.  Maybe, I need to approach it with a little more earnest—not only who I'm looking for, but who I am—whether I'm the right kind of person to even be looking in the first place."

Dennis:  Bob, I think that's extremely important.  When a single person is in the process of becoming God's man and God's woman, and they do have what Tommy was talking about—that edge to their lives—an edge in the sense of growth, an edge in the sense of mission in what they're about as an individual—it's so much easier to balance that tandem bicycle when it's moving, and it's moving in a direction.

Spiritually-speaking, I think what God wants from all of us is—He wants us moving toward Him and moving in the direction of what His mission is for our lives.  Single people really need to be a part of the Great Commission.  In the process, as they find other people who are going with them in the same direction, that's when you meet your spouse. 

That's how Barbara and I met.  We were in the process of investing our lives in college-age students and high school students.  In the process, came together.  We didn't have to talk about our direction.  We both had that direction. 

Single people, however, who aren't involved in going somewhere, sit back on a hammock.  They begin to panic, and they begin to try to force relationships, and they fret.  Instead of becoming the right person, they're looking for the right person.  What singles today need to do is not panic; but they need to believe in God, and trust Him, and get on with life—get on with being God's man, God's woman, and who He created you to be.

Bob:  That's back to what Tommy said in this message.  I love this quote from him:  "If you're single and you want to know who to marry, run as hard and as fast toward Jesus as you can.  If, out of the corner of your eye, you see somebody running in the same direction, take a second look."

Dennis:  There you go.  That's right.

Bob:  That's the kind of advice singles need to hear.

Dennis:  And then, you may lock arms together and run in the same direction toward Christ.  I have no idea what that decision to follow Christ has saved Barbara and me from, as we've run toward the Savior; but as I look around, in the culture, I see a lot of people who are bored, a lot of people who are running off to have an affair, a lot of people who are married to their jobs. 

I'm telling you, Bob, this is a difficult culture to have what Tommy Nelson was talking about—a successful marriage.  I think that's why the spiritual dimension of life has to be at the very core of who we are and what we're about.

Bob: I talked to a friend of mine, just the other day.  His daughter is just recently married.  Two months into the marriage, she and her husband are experiencing financial difficulties.  She just found out that one of the reasons for that is because some of their money is going to pay for internet pornography. 

I think to myself, “I wish she could have heard Tommy's message, yesterday and today, when he talked about moral compatibility, theological compatibility, and ministry compatibility.”  You don't think about those things when you're head-over-heels in love with some smooth-talking guy or some real good-looking young lady.

Dennis:  Right.

Bob: Yet, you've got to pull back and think about those kinds of things or you'll wind up like my friend's daughter, two months into her marriage, and full of heartache, and a loss of hope, wondering:  "How do we fix this?” and, “Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life?"

Dennis:  Bob, you've hit on something there that a single person can't begin to appreciate unless they experience it.  That's why they need to take our word for it here.  You want to be in the process of becoming God's man and God's woman—totally sold out to Jesus Christ—not having to battle over the issue of whose you are. 

Bob:  Right.

Dennis:  Are you Jesus Christ's bond slave?  Is He your Master?  Have you written over the title deed of your life to Him?  Once those issues have been settled, I'm telling you, the other issues that come your way are going to be much easier to deal with if you settle the issue of who is going to be your Lord and your Master.

Bob:  And if you’re going with somebody right now, or you’re engaged to somebody right now, and they don’t show that kind of spiritual vitality—

Dennis:  Be careful.

Bob:  Oh, man.

Dennis:  Beware.  I’m telling you, you could be walking off into quicksand.  There are people who get a form of religion for a period of time—

Bob:  That’s right—right before the wedding.

Dennis:  I’m telling you—on that, too.  You and I have both seen couples who have been pulled, and lured, and sucked into relationships.  Truthfully, they’ve been manipulated.

Bob:  Yes.  At the Weekend to Remember marriage getaways that we do—on Saturday, we have a couple of breakout sessions with the engaged couples—we give them a process to go through—a checklist to look at as they consider, “Am I making the right decision by committing myself to this person for a lifetime?”  We’ve seen some couples walk out of that session and go:  “You know what?  We don’t think that this is the right direction for us.”  Or maybe it’s been one of the two that’s made that decision.

But we’ve said many times, we would rather have those people make a hard decision, at that moment in time, than to go ahead, and get married, and find themselves, later on, going:  “Did I make a foolish choice?  Did I walk into something that, if I had been paying more attention, I would have waited a little bit?”

The Weekend to Remember is designed to be a fun and a romantic, relaxing getaway for married couples to get a deeper understanding of God’s design and purpose for marriage. But it’s also designed to be an equipping weekend, both for married couples and engaged couples, so that they can have a better understanding of God’s purpose, and plan, and design for marriage—all of it rooted in the Scriptures—presented in a way that is engaging—a way that is compelling.

We just want to encourage our listeners, if you’ve never been to a Weekend to Remember, now is the time to sign up.  If you have been, you may be overdue for a refresher course.  If you’re engaged, this is the perfect time to go and think about what kind of a plan you’re going to follow as the two of you get married.

In fact, if you know somebody getting married, you ought to get them a gift certificate so they can attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.  Right now, when you sign up for one of the spring getaways, you pay the regular price for your registration, and your spouse comes free; or your fiancé comes free.  It’s a buy one/get one free we’re offering.  It’s this week and next week only.  So, if you want to take advantage of this special offer, get in touch with us today.

Call 1-800-FL-TODAY.  Say: “I listen to FamilyLife Today.  I heard about the special offer on the radio, and I want to get signed up for a Weekend to Remember.” Or go, online, at  You can register online.  When you come to the promo code box, type in my name—just type in “BOB”.  That will qualify you as a FamilyLife Today listener for the special offer we’re making this week and next week.  So, let us hear from you.  We hope to see you at one of these Weekend to Remember marriage getaways this spring.

And we hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your spouse are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we’re going to meet a couple who got married without a plan.  It didn’t take long for them to realize how dangerous that can be.  You’ll meet Hans and Star Molegraaf on Monday, and I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and 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

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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