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Sanctification Through Marriage

Why did God design marriage? What can we learn about the character of God and His perfect love through a marriage relationship surrendered to Him? In this episode, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff take a deeper look at God’s purpose for marriage as they discuss insights from Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Marriage.


Transcript

Chris:

Welcome again to another edition of The Art of Relationships Podcast with Dr. Tim Muehlhoff. I'm Dr. Chris Grace and we're here at Biola University and the Center for Marriage and Relationships.

Tim:

We're on our third year now.

Chris:

Third year, that's awesome. One of the things Tim that I value and love, it's this time together just to talk about all things relationships, right? Whether it's a relationship that you're dealing with in which it's going well and awesome and you want to hear about more and talk about some things or hear some things, or maybe you're struggling in a marriage or in an engagement or something, you just want some insights. I think that's what's fun, is to talk about this area.

 

We've been talking about recently some different researchers, some different authors and some different books that have impacted us. One that we both landed on that we have recommended to people is Gary Thomas, an author who has written a couple of books, one on Sacred Marriage. He has been writing in this area for a while now and he's got a couple of books, Sacred Pathways, Sacred Parenting. Tim let's talk a little bit about some of his work, and maybe Sacred Marriage in particular.

Tim:

I hope the listeners are understanding that what we're advocating is a library that over time buying some books that just help you think about things, not that you agree with everything the author is saying, but they're good conversation starters between you and your roommate, you and your spouse. What we want to advocate, that in that library you've got to have what we call a theology of marriage book. I think this is what Sacred Marriage is.

 

Now what do mean theology of marriage? If we were to go out and do random surveys with people and ask them, "Hey, why get married? What would be the reason you want to get married?" I think they would say things like, "I want to start a family," "I want to be happy," "I want to be fulfilled," "I want to leave a legacy," "I've always wanted to have a family," "I always wanted to have a marriage." All of those things are good and fine, but what a theology of marriage book does is ask the question, "But why did God create marriage? What was His intent for doing it?"

 

In his book he gives us the answer. By the way, the answer is found in the subtitle. The name of the book is Sacred Marriage, but the subtitle is, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" This is one of his famous quotes, "What if God didn't design marriage to be easier? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place? What if God's purpose for marriage is that He wanted you to grow in character, He wanted you to experience the love of God through another person?" Just as God loves us, we're to take that kind of love and pass it on to a spouse.

 

When you start to think of it that way you realize that knowing the love of God and revealing the love of God to each other is a main purpose of marriage as we become more holy, not that we're ever going to be perfect. The hard times that hit marriage are great opportunities for you to love as God loves. There'll be times your spouse doesn't have his or her A-game. We all go through seasons where life gets hard and we don't do a great job coping. That's when we love people with God's gracious love. That's when we lavish each other as Paul would say in Ephesians, we lavish each other with God's love. That's what we mean by a theology of marriage book, is to see marriage through the perspective of what God intended when it came to marriage.

Chris:

I think Tim that when we start to think about that thought, that is, "What is this purpose? Why are we together?" I think what Gary has done here is done something very cool, and that is that notion of there's a bigger purpose to marriage. There are some other ways of course, other people have seen this, another way of looking at marriage could very well be that marriage is a way that God has done, or given to people, in order to rescue human kind. I know that sounds weird, but at the end of the day He's saying, "You get together, this models my love for you. This is my model with the love I have for humans, for the Church."

 

In a sense what happens is, His goal and His purpose in the gospel is to get those that are outside of that to be brought back in. One of the ways we do that is by His working of grace in a relationship and showing His kindness there. It becomes even this broader, bigger thing than just us as a couple, it's this kind of almost outward looking love that flows from it. That's a cool way of looking at relationships and looking at marriage in particular.

Tim:

And it will change how you view every aspect of your marriage. For example, if God wants us to understand what His love is like, this unconditional love, and if God wants us to understand what Jesus' love is for the Church, then marriage takes on this import where divorce is not an option. Because if we divorce, then what does that say about Jesus' love for the Church? Well, that it could end. What does this say about God's love for humankind? Well, it could end. Divorce isn't just because I want to get out of this really difficult marriage and I want some peace and quiet finally. But no, we have to think in bigger pictures. What's the message we're giving our kids, neighbors, coworkers? What are we inadvertently telling them about the love of God, is that the love of God could end.

 

Some ancient church fathers have thought, even your marriage is a sign of the trinity. You have the husband, the wife and the love that exists between them, trinitarian, right? 3 parts to that marriage relationship. If we get a divorce what are we saying about the trinity? The trinity could end, it could dissolve, it could break up. That's a pretty powerful way to think about your marriage is, this is so much more important that the message I'm giving other people as they watch me and Noreen interact. Doesn't mean we don't have struggles, we don't have conflict, but the impetus to resolve that conflict is, I really want to protect the metaphor of what my marriage is supposed to look like. That's a great way to think about marriage.

Chris:

It is Tim. I think what happens is when you start to view your relationship that way, your marriage that way, it almost becomes other focused rather than self focused because you begin to see that marriage is almost transcendent. It begins to fulfill the great commission by rescuing people, almost from “lost-ness” and so His approach in bringing in people into His kingdom can be used. One of the metaphors is in a marriage relationship. You see this transcendent purpose and that's kind of cool too as well.

Tim:

The president of Multnomah Bible College once said, "The greatest evangelistic tool today is a healthy marriage because it's a modern miracle." I do think there's really power to that. By the way, one warning we should give about Thomas' book, it is filled with amazingly convicting quotes. It is all over the place. Here's one quote about how to view divorce, he says this, "How can I tell my children that God's promise of reconciliation is secure when they see that my own promise doesn't mean anything?"

 

Now listen, we're not advocating that there aren't any reasons for divorce. Maybe that's a whole podcast we need to do. I think we're in agreement that Jesus does give very limited open doors to divorce so we're not saying that there's never a situation in which that wedding vow wouldn't be dissolved or broken, but generally speaking most Americans when asked, "Why did you dissolve this marriage?" They would say, "I'm not happy," or, "Irreconcilable differences." I think you and I would both agree, that's not what Jesus is talking about. That would not fall into those parameters.

Chris:

That's right.

Tim:

Those who are single, listening to our podcast, it ought to scare the “bejeebees” out of you to stand at an altar and look at another person and say, "I am now committed to you." All my best friends were here, all your best friends, my family, your family and in the sight of God, we are saying we're going to be in this the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years. We're in, there's no backdoor. That's why we don't advocate people getting married quickly, that there ought to be courtship, you ought to get premarital counseling because that is a massive decision that's going have huge ramifications.

 

I want my marriage to be a living metaphor of God's love for humanity and Jesus' love for the Church. That ought to make all of us go, "Am I ready to do this?" But that's the beauty of this book, is it forces you to think about marriage through a different lens, not just the typical American, "I'm going to stay in this if it's fulfilling for me," but no, "I'm staying in this because God has deep purposes of communicating to a fallen world through your marriage."

Chris:

Yeah. Let's try another text that Gary Thomas has written, I think that's an important for relationships to talk about and to think through. This notion of a sacred purpose, that is that he has what's called a spiritual temperament survey. In this spiritual temperament survey what he's done is he's identified different ways that people are designed to relate to God. This has been a very interesting help for some people I have found, and that is they realize, "Oh, I feel closest to God when I am walking on the beach and I'm out in nature."

 

By the way, that's my wife, she absolutely says that for her one of the best things she could do to feel close to God is to be on a hike, to be walking on a beach, to be in some place out in nature, and that is really interesting because for a long time she would go, "Let's go to the beach, it's so awesome and I feel so peaceful there. I feel God's presence," and I'm thinking, "I feel dirty at a beach, there's a lot of sand and dirt. I don't want to go." We realized that one of the things that for me was very helpful is when she identified this as one of her spiritual temperaments. That's how she related to God.

Tim:

By the way, that's Noreen.

Chris:

Is it really the same way?

Tim:

Noreen grew up on the beach. She would love to sit on the beach, read her Bible, watch the sun set. I'm sitting there thinking, "Wow this is itchy. This is kind of itchy."

Chris:

Yeah, I realized for me in doing some of this, and I think Gary's work has helped me to identify a little bit of this as well, that one of the ways that I feel closest to God is when I'm able to sit with a great book, or I'm able to engage with an idea. I can sit there and process and see God's deep love for humanity in somebody's work or in a writing. That's very different than walking out in nature. I don't mind that so in the end I think what Alisa and I agreed on is, let's take a great book and sit on the beach. She can sit out there. I can read. That's another way.

 

I think that idea of how do you feel and when do you feel closest to God is one of his insights that can help people. We had a couple one time Tim, it was a woman who came to us. We suggested, as she was talking about some different ways and how she simply was concerned about her adult daughter, she felt like maybe she had, maybe not even a spiritual walk, or wasn't ... She was even doubting any of her faith, and then she took this temperament test, and you know what she realized? She realized that her daughter felt closest to God when she was serving others. It was completely opposite from hers and she realized, "Wait a minute, my daughter does love God, does feel close to Him. She just does it in a different way. I always thought she was out there doing these things and feeding the homeless and it had nothing to do, but this is how she felt the presence of God," which really impacted and changed their relationship. She said it came to a new level, a new understanding and a new appreciation for each other. That's been some good work.

Tim:

This is where we need to give preference to each other Paul would say. Because again, it might not totally float my boat to do what my spouse or child likes to do, but I need to think if this is drawing them closer to God, then I give preference to that. Again, hopefully it'll be mutual. This spiritual temperament test, that's mostly his book Sacred Pathways, right?

Chris:

Yes.

Tim:

Yeah, which definitely check that out as well. He also has a great book called Sacred Parenting.

Chris:

Yes.

Tim:

Again these are all books that generally I think everybody should have a good book on parenting, everybody should have a good book or 2 on marriage and spirituality, a theology of marriage type thing. He has another concept that I think is fascinating. He talks about love being a muscle, and that marriage is a gymnasium that causes you to flex your love muscle, that you express and you strengthen and you're further developed. All of us would love to be in shape. All of us would love to be more toned. But then you realize it takes repetition and it takes resistance. That's the thing.

 

What does James say in The Book of James? He says, "Consider it joy when you hit these trials because this is resistance. You're doing resistance training." Of course your spouse is going to act in ways that sometimes you're like, "I'm not going to love this person unconditionally, I'm not going to exhibit grace," and God is saying, "No, no, no, no. Work your love muscle right now." That is a great way to think about the more I love my wife unconditionally, the more I understand what God's unconditional love is towards me.

 

The Psalmist does this all the time. In Psalm 103, the Psalmist says, "Just as a father has compassion on his children, God has compassion on us." As I exhibit that compassion towards my kids I realize, "That's how God is compassionate towards me." When I love my wife at her worst, that's how God loves me at my worst. I love the idea of this love muscle, which means have a plan of regularly working the muscle. Paul would say even with your enemies work the love muscle. I think that's a message we need to hear today as well. I love that metaphor, the gymnasium of love.

Chris:

Yeah, and as Paul says in Philippians of course, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility in mind. Let's regard one another as more important than ourselves." That is putting into practice something that I think He's recommending and it's a great way of being able to see and recognize and to put into practice and exercise this muscle. This daily discipline of looking out for the interest of somebody else. Then in the process, as you said, we become closer, more like God, more able to be shaped by Him as we open up in our relationships to the way and to our own lives, to God working on us. That could be hard, but it's also another way of growing.

Tim:

I think God is saying to us in all relationships, He's saying, "Listen, you be the change agent. You be the one that pursues," just as God pursued you, Romans chapter 1. God is saying, "I want you to pursue that person," and boy, my self talk at that point, I go through the gamut. I say, "Listen, that person doesn't deserve it. If I loved this person, they're getting away with what they did." God's saying, "No, no, no. Understand what Paul's saying, when your enemy is hungry, feed him," and the result of that will be that God's Holy Spirit, he calls it burning coals, that's how he envisions it, falls on a person and convicts them.

 

God wants to minister to a person and use you as the person by which God's grace and even conviction can be made present, but you've got to move first. I hate that. I think Paul would say, "How long you've been a Christian? You've been a Christian for a lot of years, I expect more of you. I expect you to be the varsity, I expect you to take the initiation, I expect you to love first." But that's hard stuff.

Chris:

Yeah, it really is, it's hard stuff. You know, I think one of the things that he brings up that could be another challenge for me is, he mentions a quote, I love this quote. He says, "We can't always control whether or not we fall, but we can control the direction in which we fall toward or away from our spouse." What that means is, I think, that ultimately in a lot of our relationships we're going to mess up, right? We do mess up at different times, but the interesting thing is the ability that choosing to turn towards our spouse. Then the role that forgiveness comes and plays in a relationship, how powerful that is in creating and modeling the relationship. It's things like that. It's gratitude, it's forgiveness, it's recognizing and understanding and being selfless as much as possible.

Tim:

I love how you phrased that, moving towards the person. That's hard. With my students and when I speak at certain conferences I play 2 songs back to back. One is by a group called Death Cab for Cutie, love that title. It's called Brothers in a Hotel Bed. Remember, I have 2 older brothers, so of course the parents would always want to save money when you travel, so all the brothers are going to sleep on the bed together, which was just gross. You didn't even want to touch your brother, it's like, "Hey scoot over." That song, by Death Cab for Cutie, is about marriage, it's about a loveless marriage. Those 2 people in bed are like 2 brothers in a hotel bed, powerful metaphor.

 

The other song I play is by Sarah Groves, a popular Christian artist, and it's called Roll to the Middle. I saw her interviewed one time, she literally wrote the song the night they had their worst argument that morning. She said, "You know what, I'm going to bed with my husband tonight, and we're going to be like brothers in a hotel bed." We've all had that horrible moment where your backs are to each other. She wrote this song called Roll to the Middle.

 

I think that's what he's talking about, is when I can't do it I need to think, but when my back was to Christ, He rolled towards me, He moved towards me, I cost Him dearly. Those are 2 powerful songs man.

Chris:

They're great. Another word comes to mind Tim, and that is that notion of falling towards, that idea of compromise is right, making that step, being the one who's willing to ... I think often times for spiritual growth it becomes one of those moments in time where God uses those times, those situations to draw us closer to Him. That could be very, very powerful and very important moments. I always tell in relationships when couples are struggling in these areas and they're talking about it, to learn how to pray for your spouse, to learn how to lift them up. It just starts to soften your heart as you do that in your intentions.

Tim:

In the book he identifies something that a lot of comm theorists identify, a lot of psychologists identify, and that's the whole area of gratitude. He says it's incredibly important, that marriage is about gratitude. I love what he says. He says this, "I never eat at somebody's house without thanking them for providing a meal. Why should I not give my wife the same thanks I'd give somebody else?" Remember on a couple of podcasts ago we were talking about John Gottman, one of the top researchers. Gottman said the first thing to die in marriage was gratitude, saying thank you. He's saying, "Gratitude is so important to a healthy marriage," and then he talks about the great enemy of gratitude in a really cool chapter. He says, "The great enemy of gratitude is familiarity."

 

He says this, "Every marriage goes through this stage, a love quiets down to a predictable routine. The mystery is replaced with an almost comical familiarity. The wife knows exactly how the husband will sit on the couch, the husband knows exactly how his wife will answer the phone." Man when we're dating, ooh Chris, I was insane when I was dating Noreen. An older man needed to come grab me and say, "Dude it's a marathon not a sprint."

 

Chris, we had a Valentine's day one time when we were dating, I read this article about the top 12 ways people show, men show love towards women on Valentine's day, I took a clip board. I had all 12. Chocolates, walk, love poem, blah blah blah. I did all 12 in a day. Noreen was like, "This is amazing." She literally said to me, "Are you this good?" I said to her, "Yes." Right? We're dating, oh my gosh. Then you get married and it's the first year of the marriage, it's the honeymoon year. But then you start to get into your career, you start to pursue grad school, you start to have kids perhaps. After a while, it's like… I think the routine thing is you start to take your spouse for granted.

Chris:

Yeah, I think Tim, one of the things you could do to avoid that, or if you're thinking this could be an area that you'd like some work on, there's a couple of things you could do with gratitude. You could just write a list of 3 good things that your spouse has done or is doing and tune into those things. Even writing a letter expressing thanks, I call this the gratitude letter, and deliver it in person to somebody that you want to be thankful for, right?

Tim:

By the way, studies have been done on the gratitude letter. It is profound. By the way, the one study I'm thinking of is just writing it, but not necessarily even giving it to a person, has a great benefit for a person.

Chris:

It increases happiness, it increases the way in which we view things. Even keeping a gratitude journal. It is so amazing how often that will allow you to begin to think about cool important things that have happened, that are going on in person and we now begin to see them in a new light that maybe we've been forgetful, we've ignored and we've missed or lost the good intentions that they've had for us, and that's where that journal, keeping something like that could help us off.

Tim:

All right, I'm going to date myself right now. You tell me if you know this song, come on. By the way this song, Google it, is the most, I want to think, the most Googled song in the history of iTunes, it's called the Piña Colada song. Do you remember the Piña Colada song?

Chris:

Yes.

Tim:

Okay. The Piña Colada song is this really interesting song about a couple that are totally bored with each other. He joins ... This is way before eHarmony, or whatever. He joins, he just puts an ad in the paper that says, "Hey, if you like Piña Coladas, getting lost in the rain, then man, let's meet tonight at this one place." She responds and they sit down and they laugh and they go, "You know what, I totally forgot that you liked this." You can see how couples do that, it's like, "I forgot how fun we were, because we got consumed by life." But boy that's interesting. The gratitude project is you just take time. Chris, it could be a text.

Chris:

It is, that's right.

Tim:

It could be a card. I remember reading this book called 362 Ways to Romance Your Spouse.

Chris:

Yeah, yeah.

Tim:

One of them simply said, "Right now go to a drug store, buy 10 greetings cards and then periodically out of nowhere, for no reason, this isn't Valentine's day, this isn't an anniversary or birthday, just send your spouse a card." Boy, I think that's a great idea.

Chris:

You know it reminds me-

Tim:

That I haven't done yet, but philosophically ...

Chris:

It's there.

Tim:

I'm there.

Chris:

Yeah. It reminds me of research by Shaunti Feldhahn and we talked about her in the past. She found, a fascinating quote, over 70% of men are more powerfully affected by hearing, "Thank you," than by hearing, "I love you," and-

Tim:

Say that again. Say that again. What?

Chris:

70% of men are more powerfully affected by hearing, "Thank you," than by hearing, "I love you," from their spouse, and they're more affected by hearing their wife say, "You did a great job at that." Listen, what that is is this notion of, "Thank you, you did a great a job," is about expressing gratitude. It could be a deep and cool way, right? I think that's what Gary Thomas points us to, is seeing how we can grow spiritually together in this and do it well and do relationships well.

Tim:

One last concept from his book that I think in our fast paced techno savvy world we run roughshod over this idea. In it he talks about a Sabbath, Sabbath rest. Part of the Sabbath is looking back on the previous week, the week you just went through and saying, "Where were God's good graces?" Remember James says, "Every good gift comes from God." To stop, this one day, it could be a half day, where I literally look back and I say, "You know what? Here's what my kids did for me. Here's what my coworkers did. Here are the good gifts my wife gave me," and to be attentive to that, and then to write a thank you note, a thank you text to acknowledge that.

 

But for many of us, and it doesn't have to be Sunday, but for many of us Sunday is a crazy day. It's crazy. We had kids playing sports, we're pulled in 5 different directions, but that Sabbath is looking back and saying, "God, I want to thank you for the good gifts that you gave me this previous week." Our spouses just need to be at the top of the list. I love that. Thomas reminds us of that ancient principle of a Sabbath.

Chris:

It's a great book. We talked about a couple of different ones, including Sacred Marriage and this a great way to get involved in some of this research if you're interested in this. Dr. Muehlhoff it's been great having you.

Tim:

These are great books, great conversation starters.

Chris:

We're so glad to have you join us. Check out our website, Center for Marriage and Relationships, cmr.biola.edu. Come by and visit and see our center for marriage, listen to some podcasts, we have blogs and everything else out there, we have events, different conferences we put on. Tim I know you speak all over the place, we do the same thing and we have a listing of all of those places. We're just glad to have you joining us here on The Art of Relationships. See you later.

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