Models of Biblical Marriage Counseling-Part Two
You were lost. You were stumbling through life incomplete. You knew you desired love and often looked in the wrong places. Then one day, this lovely woman appeared in your life, or this great guy sat beside you in biology class. Suddenly you began to feel alive. Now you look forward to biology class or making that sales call to Dr. Zuckerman’s office. When you offered Doc the same drug sample packet three Mondays in a row, he commented, “To which of my staff have you taken a fancy?”
These simple scenarios characterize how romantic relationships bud. Different relationships are watered and fed differently. One couple finds running a common point of contact. They start going to 5K races together. They enjoy a bit of competition. Some enjoy working through the finer restaurants and occasionally driving to Atlanta for a special night out for dinner. The more they connect, the greater the variety of connecting points – reading, music, serving, studying, laughing, and other activities that make life enjoyable. Somewhere along the way, they profess love for one another and explore marriage.
The Ephesians experienced something like this with Jesus. Paul writes to them and reminds them that they are lost. He tells them they were dead (2:1). Then Jesus showed up in their lives, “even when we were dead in our transgressions [he] made us alive…” (2:5). This was all of grace, Paul assured them. This relationship happened by the initiation of God (2:8-9), and it happened for a purpose (2:10). Then Paul says:
• Remember what you were before this love affair with Jesus (2:11)
• Remember that you were lost (2:12)
• Remember that you have been brought near by the work of Christ (2:13)
• Remember that he has worked in you to build you into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (2:15-22)
Every relationship a believer has is going to have opposition. We have resistance in our relationship with Jesus and opposition in our marital relationships. We have two enemies. One dwells within us. The Bible refers to this as the flesh. This sinful bent stays with us until we experience I John 3:2 – “when we see him, we shall become as he is.” Our second enemy is Satan, who, though defeated on the cross, continues to conduct guerilla warfare by appealing to our self-centered flesh.
After three years of pastoral ministry in Ephesus, Paul calls together the elders to prepare them for the next phase of life. You might think of this as pastor this morning at the seventh premarital counseling session. He is about to launch this young couple bubbling with love into the world of marriage. So, Paul calls these elders together, reminds them of how he taught, and encourages them to understand and cultivate their relationship with Jesus. And he warns them of the opposition to come.
It is opposition from within, the speaking of perverse things, and opposition from without in the form of savage wolves. So, it will be with this young couple. Our selfish desires (James 4:1-3) will cause perverse things. Culture will provide enticing lies that will twist the meaning and purpose of marriage. Culture will give appealing temptations to satisfy those selfish desires. The result will be a relationship with Jesus or a mate that will become, at the least ragged, around the edges, broken at the worst.
The Reality of the Ephesian Church
This relationship of the Ephesian church with Jesus became ragged around the edges. Hence, Jesus writes this letter through the Apostle John, which becomes Jesus’ paradigm for relationship renewal.
Jack and Jill moved to Jericho and joined the First Presbyterian (Baptist) Church of Jericho. They also began attending the Lamplighters Sunday School class. This class of young couples started their families, hence, the Lamplighters. Bill and Susie, whose parents lived a thousand miles away, invited Jack and Jill to spend Thanksgiving Day with them. This began an intense friendship that turned sour.
Jill would later refer to this friendship as a “summer romance.” Both marriage relationships had grown cold though both couples had only been married a few years. As a result, Bill and Jill clicked. It was not long before they emailed and met for lunch since they worked indowntown Jericho in the same office building. Both were attorneys, and both were tennis players. Unfortunately, neither of their mates knew much about the law and played tennis. It was not long before Bill and Jill’s friendship had deteriorated into an intimate companionship–though they kept it from becoming sexual out of their Christian convictions.
Our text (Rev. 2:1-7) is not a relationship text. It sounds more like a theological text about ecclesiology. However, as we consider this text, I believe you will observe that it is a relationship text. It is about the relationship of the church to Christ. It is about our relationship with Christ. And it is a paradigm for restoring or reviving relationships.
As you are likely aware, seven letters are addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor grouped in chapters two and three. Commentators have a variety of opinions regarding these seven churches. It is outside of our purview to consider these options this morning. First, let me say that these seven churches were not all in Asia Minor. The Spirit of God chose them because they represented problems with which churches would struggle throughout their history. One of these problems is relationships. This is the problem that the letter to the church of Ephesus addresses.
I like to read my wife’s magazines, Southern Living (LH) and Ladies Home Journal (LHJ). They are rich with illustrations. One morning I was reading LHJ while I ate breakfast, and a story illustrated our point regarding marriage. Jane discovered an email from another woman in the church sent to her husband. She confronted him, and he said, “It is nothing. We are just friends. WE OFTEN TALK when I take the children to church activities on Wednesday nights. You know, you are seldom here to talk, and I like female companionship.” Several weeks later, her seven-year-old son told her that the lady Daddy talks with at church “helped me with my math homework after church.” The article reported her reaction: “I was angry. I worked so hard. I worked late so many times so we could have all we have as a family, and then he builds a relationship with another woman!”
I am sure her husband would have praised his wife for breaking a sweat to add so much materialism to their family for a long time. But she had invested all her energies in her profession, making her marital relationship very ragged.
She invested and endured in the workplace. She became a valued employee who was promoted for her performance. This is precisely what occurred in the church at Ephesus—thefocus on maintenance replaced the focus on the relationship. The next thing we find in this passage is an accusation against the church.
The risen Christ simply says, “I have somewhat against you!”
In observing this passage, Barclay observes (p. 10), “…the rapture of and Christian fellowship [love for Christ] and love for the brotherhood is gone. In the first days, the church members of Ephesus had loved [Christ and] each other; they had been a band of brothers; dissension had never reared its head; the heart was ready to kindle, and the hand was willing to help. But something went wrong. It may be that hearsay killed love; it may well be that energy invested in rooting out all men with erroneous views had ended in a sour and rigid orthodoxy (right people with correct doctrine without relationships). It may be that orthodoxy [success] had been achieved but at the price of fellowship…It is so often true that when a minister is first settled in a new call, there is a warmth of relationship and a wealth of goodwill. Then, somethinggoes wrong, and the connection is marred by bickering, gossip, backbiting, and other relationship-destroying behaviors. The first love diminishes.
I often discuss parallel marriage in my Marriage and Family Counseling course.Unfortunately, the parallel marriage has lost its first love. Other responsibilities have diminished the love in life. Energies have been so heavily invested in supporting the relationship that the relationship withers from neglect.
Whether the relationship is with Christ or our marriage partner, or our good friend, the first love (the intimacy of the people involved) will not be lost if we intentionally refresh and grow (knowing one another) the relationship.
Just two weeks ago, my friend and colleague Dr. Dave Matthews and I walked down the hall together on our way to a meeting and virtually simultaneously said, “We need to get back to eating lunch together regularly.” We felt the strain of other good things diminishing our intimate friendship.
Christ’s Paradigm for the Ephesian Church
In the parable of the prodigal son, God used this son coming to the end of his resources to remember his relationship with his father. If you are not careful, you will think it was only because he was broke and hungry that he remembered. But a perceptive reading of the passage will tell you otherwise. He remembered all that he had in the relationship with his father. He did not believe he could ask for that to be restored, but he could be back in his father’s presence (connection) and have a job on his father’s staff. (Luke 15:17-23)
Remembering was the first step to regaining the rebuilding a relationship. Remembering the early joy of our marriage relationship is the first step – it motivates us to the following action that Christ enjoins.
Notice carefully: I will repent!
I – will repent. He does not blame his father for giving him the inheritance and allowing him to spend it foolishly. He does not blame his brother because he had the honored place of the older brother.
If our marital relationship has grown cold and troubled, we must begin the restoration by looking at our failures, owning them, and not blaming our mates for our failures. We must repent by both changing our thinking and our behavior. This young man changed his thinking from what he deserved to appreciating what he had. He changed his behavior. He stopped running, and he started returning.
I will – repent. He determines that he will take responsibility for the broken relationship. He decides that he will do something about the broken relationship. Too often, people bemoan broken relationships, indulge in self-pity over the loss of relationships, and remember the intimacy only to cry over its loss. They fail to take action to change the situation.
I will Repent – I will repent. I will take the responsibility to confess my sin and seek forgiveness. He does not go to his father and say, “You did this, and my brother did that, so I got mad and took my rightful money and left.” No! He says, “I have sinned,” and asks only to be allowed back in the household.
How instructive! If you want to rebuild a relationship and reestablish intimacy with someone, don’t blame them for the relationship crumbling. Go humbly, cite your sin, and seek forgiveness. Husbands, don’t say to your wife, “Honey, I am sorry that I’ve not given you the time our relationship needed, but you need to understand that it took everything I had to provide everything we have.” No! No, you come and say, “Honey, I’ve realized that I have put providing you with things above giving you my time, attention, and affection. I have allowed my love to grow cold. I have allowed our relationship to grow cold. I’ve diminished our intimacy. Please forgive me and help me restore our relationship”.
Reproduce or Revive
Christ’s third step in this restoration of intimacy process is to reproduce what they knew contributed to building the relationship and intimacy in the beginning.
For this church, it meant re-cultivating the love for Christ and love for the brotherhood and working at maintaining the unity of the body in the Spirit (something Paul had taught them 30 years earlier).
For our relationships, it means to love:
Love is giving of myself for the sake of the other. Paul tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, giving himself for her. When we began our relationship, we desired to be married and enjoy all the blessings we perceived that relationship would bring to us. However, we established the relationship by giving ourselves to minister to the other. In the process, we planted and grew the feelings of love to the point of saying we “fell in love.” The reality is that we cultivated the chemistry (science is now beginning to confirm a chemical connection when we develop a relationship and brain connection when we engage in a sexual relationship) that we began to feel; we did not fall in love; we manufactured love. Now we need to remanufacture it.
Love in action emanates through the following:
• Time – No relationship grows without time. We cannot say, “Okay, we have ten minutes; let’s relate and develop our intimacy.”
• Energy – Unfortunately, sometimes we have the time but not the energy left. It takes energy to enjoy each other, to do things together…
• Listening – To know someone, you must listen to that person. It is good to remember that listening involves the eyes observing “halo data” of facial expressions and bodily posture.
• Giving – Intimacy involves our offering to the other person or ourselves. It means investing energy in getting to know and self-revealing so that the other person can understand us.
• Caring – Intimacy involves meeting the expressed and projected needs of the other person. These things we did initially brought the relationship into existence, whether friendship or marriage. They are what refresh it. They are what get it back to life. And they are what maintain its life.
• One anothering – I don’t have time to develop this. It is a seminar of its own. Thirty-seven one-another passages make up God’s protocol for Christian relationships. These increase in intensity in Christian marriage due to the level of intimacy. (See my book, Thirty-Seven Biblical Strategies to Make Your Marriage Joyful, Illumine Press)
This is the Lord’s paradigm for restoring intimacy, for rebuilding relationships. The model is exemplified by our relationship with Him, but it applies to all relationships.
Conclusion and Implementation
Remember Jack and Jill and Bill and Susie? Their relationship was in the “pigpen.” When Susie discovered the emails between Jill and Bill, she confronted Bill. Bill agreed to meet with the Pastor. After several sessions, Bill admitted to being in the “pigpen.” Susie also began to see how she had changed from a woman who engaged with Bill in various activities to a hermit who told him, “Go play tennis.” Remembering what they had experienced early in the relationship brought them to repentance. Seeing how God worked in both couples to bring those remembrances to the surface was interesting. Then, through a reconciliation session with a pastor following Jesus’ paradigm, they were reconciled and began to reproduce the previous actions that ultimately built their marital relationship.
Let me ask you today have you realized this weekend that your relationship with Christ has grown cold or that your marriage has grown cold? Sit down with a piece of paper and evaluate your relationships with Christ’s paradigm. Seek His forgiveness and repent for allowing your love for Christ and your mate [or friend] to grow cold. Follow this with a written plan to reproduce or revive those that built these relationships initially.