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About this series
Keeping Love Alive - Volume 2
Four Biblical Skills Great Marriages Have in Common
It’s hard to believe there are couples who’ve been married for thirty, forty, or even fifty years. So, what’s their secret? In this series, Chip shares the newest volume in his ongoing series, “Keeping Love Alive.” As he teaches from the book of Colossians, he'll highlight 4 important skills every healthy marriage has in common. Learn how to be better connected spiritually… communicate more effectively… resolve conflict peaceably... and manage your finances wisely. Discover what you need to improve your relationship and start making a change or two, today!More from this series
You’ll notice on your notes, it says, “Sometimes it’s harder to keep love alive than others.” Sometimes you cope in a crisis. I don’t know about you, I mean, I have been married forty-two years. This was one of the hardest years of my marriage.
You know, we had a number of things planned, they all got canceled. We had certain rhythms where we went and did certain things; they were all canceled.
But there’s all kind of times. Times when you have a health issue. Sometimes when you’re separated or relocate. Sometimes financial stresses put a lot of pressure on you. Or you have a family crisis or one of your parents is dying or going through a hard time. Or one of your kids is either making you crazy or you don’t know what to do with them. Or there’s a moral failure.
And all I want to say is going through really challenging times doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or your marriage. In fact, after forty-two years I can tell you, not that I have liked it, but it has been in the most difficult, the most painful, the times when I honestly wanted to give up – those are actually the windows of times where God can get your attention. And instead of just having an okay marriage or getting along or being compatible, some really supernatural, deep things can happen. And He works in each of you individually and then He works with you as a couple.
When you’re going through difficult times, the person you generally take it out on is – who? The person who understands you the most.
And you’ll be critical in your tone of voice. I was in pain a lot, so I had lack of patience. And Theresa was very kind. It was, like, “What’s wrong with you?” And so, after all these years, I would just sort of retreat a little bit. But what I knew was our marriage, because of all those things, was doing this. And if you have been where I have been, even the little bit of this starts to scare you.
I think there are times when you get discouraged or it gets dark, it starts looping. And I would pray, I would read, it just kept looping.
And I remember saying, “Lord, I really – this is weird. I really need Your help. And I have certainly been here before.” And I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, Chip, draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.
That’s a promise from God. And then I thought, What if all the things in all my years…? Because at this stage of my life, when it gets really dark and evil, I know something is up. And I thought, I went back to my earliest days and I thought, When I memorized big chunks of Scripture, and renewed my mind… And part of it was you’ve got back pain, you’ve got people on the news yelling and screaming at each other, you’ve got violence on the left, violence in the right, you’ve got a country falling apart, you’ve got, I mean, there were so many things that emotionally just… And what I realize is I, so I put the pause on all that external stuff and then I went back to John chapter 1 and rememorized verses 1 through 18. And then I went to Colossians 3.
And then I would jump over to Philippians 3 and I would walk through that and I went on, like, a rampage of: I am going to bombard my mind with truth.
And everything we are going to talk about is how do you move up toward God and closer to one another? And there are things you need to know, but there’s also skills you need to develop. And what I want to talk about in our time is four skills that we need to develop.
But before I do, I’m going to, remember I told you I was in Colossians a lot? As I prayed about what to share, I literally, I bet – I’m not going to exaggerate – but verses 12 through 17
I bet I have gone through that in my mind hundreds of times. I have said it out loud in the car, I have prayed it word by word, verse by verse. And what I realized was all the skills that I wanted to teach you, they all grow out of this one passage.
“So as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,” that’s who you are, here’s what you do, “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone. Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called into one body. And,” command, “be thankful. Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart to God. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
Let me just give you a brief little outline – the first line of chapter, verse 12 tells you who you are. And so those of you who are, in other words, when God sees you, you are chosen, you are valued, you are precious, you are holy, you are set apart because of your connection to Christ. And the word “beloved”, it means you are deeply and dearly loved just for who you are.
Here’s what you need to understand, how you see yourself and how you see or believe that God sees you is the fundamental issue behind loving any person in the world. Because if you don’t grasp and accept that you are deeply loved, just for who you are – not for how you look, not for how you perform, not for what you have done, not for what you have accomplished – then you will try in every relationship to get someone to validate that you are an okay person.
And you cannot impart what you do not possess. People who have great marriages are not trying to get the other person to make their life work. They are understanding: I am already chosen, I am holy, I am deeply, unconditionally loved. And it’s out of that, it’s out of His love that I love my mate.
The first command is: Put on a heart. In other words, it’s not just an activity. Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Can you really – think about this – can you imagine if each and every day those things were growing inside you, just in your relationship with your mate? You were more compassionate, you were kinder, you were more humble, you were patient.
“Bearing with one another.” Literally the word means putting up with the idiosyncrasies, “Forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint, just as the Lord forgave you.” So, the first command is that we put, or clothe ourselves. It’s what we do in relationships.
And then notice the second command, “Beyond all these,” it’s not just doing the things. Put on love. Unconditional, “I’m for you.” I give whether I get anything back or not, which is the perfect bond of unity.
And the third command, it’s interesting, and sometimes in the text it looks so small. It says, “Be thankful.” That’s a separate command. In other words, be grateful. Focus on what you do have in your marriage. Focus what you do have in life. Thank God for what you do have rather than focus on what you don’t have.
And then he goes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Another command. We’ll talk about what that means.
“Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you,” another command. And then, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
So, let’s dig in. Skill number one. How do you develop spiritual intimacy? Spiritual intimacy with Christ is cultivated by actively believing two things. Number one, whose we are. In other words, that you are chosen.
Now, you’ve got your notes, but open your Bibles if you will and I’d like to read from Colossians chapter 1 and I want you to listen. This is true of you. If, at a certain day, on a certain point in your life you have grasped that you’re not perfect, you don’t have it all together, and if God was giving out a score and your score would not be a hundred, what the Bible calls that is a “falling short” or you have sinned.
If you have become aware of that and realized because that creates a barrier with the perfectly holy God, and you needed help, and in the empty hands of faith you put your trust in Jesus to pay for your sin and to cover your sin and connect you, by faith, to a living relationship, the Bible says you were taken out of the kingdom of darkness and you were placed in the kingdom of light, because you are united now with Jesus. That you actually died with Him and you have been raised with Him and now you are connected with Him and He actually lives inside of you.
And if that’s true, then this is who you are. Follow along if you will. Verse 13 of chapter 1. “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son that He loves, in whom we have redemption,” what’s that? “…the forgiveness of our sins.”
And now, speaking of Jesus, this is who chose you. “He is the image,” or the icon, “of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning of the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.
“Once you,” that’s you and me, “were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you.” Some of you know what reconciliation is, right? It’s when you’re enemies and then you’re friends.
We were enemies of God because of our sin, going our own way, either by passive indifference, “I don’t care much about God,” or active rebellion. We were reconciled by Christ’s physical body, through the death, to present you holy in His sight without blemish and free from accusation.
“Since you continue in your faith, established firm, and not move from the hope held in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
Spiritual intimacy with Christ is cultivated by actively believing whose we are. You’re His. You can’t work your way there; you can’t get Him to love you more. Here’s a thought that has just so blown my mind: In this very moment, there is nothing you could ever do to get God to love you more than He loves you right now. And it gets even more amazing. There is absolutely nothing you could do, nothing, that could get Him to love you less.
Now, you could make some decisions and have some behaviors that could cause some consequences that, out of His love, He might bring sort of the velvet vise to restore the relationship, to help you grow. But He doesn’t love you more when you read the Bible, He doesn’t love you more when you pray, He doesn’t love you more when you do good things, He’s not shocked when you fall back into a sin pattern.
If you could ever grasp how much He loves you and chose you – we all say we believe in grace but we act like, “Oh yeah, I got in by grace, but now I’ve got to, it’s up to me. God loves me when I’m good and He doesn’t when I’m bad.”
He loves you, period. He chose you. He’s for you. He delights in you. “The prayers of the upright are His delight.” He sings over you. He takes great delight in you.
I was in a conversation at the supper table and the lady I sat next to, I had such an invigorating conversation. And we were talking about this. She goes, “You know, I just learned that God doesn’t want my devotions. He wants my devotion. It’s about us, our relationship.”
The second thing, because see, you won’t have intimacy with Christ if somehow you keep trying to earn it. The second is: Who you have become, that you are holy.
Chapter 2, picking it up at verse 9, “For in Christ all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form,” that means all there is of God was in Jesus, “and you have been given fulness in Christ, who is head over every power and authority. In Him you were also circumcised in the putting off of your sinful nature. Not with the circumcision done with hands of men, but a circumcision done by Christ.” A circumcision of the heart.
“Having been buried with Him in baptism, raised with Him through faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature God made you alive with Christ,” He forgave all of our sins, “having canceled out the written code with regulations that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it all away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed,” this is the spiritual powers, “and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
God looks at you this day through the lens of the blood of His Son. Not only you are precious and loved, but you are forgiven. You are clean. That is your position with Him. And when you understand that, that’s the first step toward, on that triangle, you as the man, you as the woman drawing near to God.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up as a Christian and I did lots of things that were not good. And after I became a Christian, every time I messed up, I didn’t want to talk to God. I thought I was going to get the hammer.
I had no idea that His love doesn’t change just because I mess up. But just like a father, I have these little grandkids right now, some big ones and some little ones. And they get to be about nine to twelve to fourteen months, they start walking. And some of you have kids or grandkids and when they start, right? They get on the table and they do this little bit and then – what? Bam! Right?
And their parents do what every good parent does, “Get up! What’s wrong with you? Man, you’re ten months old, you ought to be running by now. Get up right now. Come on, honey, tell them to get up.” Is that what you do? What do parents do? Or grandparents? We are worse. I got the gene myself. “Here! Here! Johnny! Johnny! Johnny! Oh! Oh! Oh! Ooh! Get the camera! Get the camera! Get the camera! He took two steps.” And we post it on Facebook, Instagram – “Oh my gosh, can you believe that? She took two steps!” I mean, they go nuts! So where do you think you get that?
When you say to God, I’m going to choose to be the one that says I’m sorry even though I think it was eighty percent her fault and twenty percent mine. God, I don’t feel like, I don’t feel like reading the Bible, but I made this commitment and I want to develop this and it’s kind of hard for me. I’m ADD. I get distracted, but…
And your heavenly Father, He just leans in. He just wants you. Intimacy. It’s believing that He wants you, that He loves you, that He is for you, that it’s not for someone else, that when you draw near, He’ll draw near to you.
And in terms of marriage, here’s what I want you to get. I said it earlier: You can’t give away what you do not have. Until you see yourself the way God sees you, and love your mate out of overflow, you will instead have loving acts to get your own needs met, to get what you want, and to benefit you.
And when you don’t get them, you get angry. And if you watch enough TV, you’ll believe lies like there’s someone better out there. Or that you ought to have no problems and this person ought to come through. And so, you will love conditionally, and your love will be fragile, and it will only be horizontal, and it will crack under pressure. And you will probably live a very painful life to learn that there is no human being on the earth that can give you what you’re looking for.
But you’ll go through relationship after relationship after relationship demanding something that no one else can deliver. Or you can come to believe and accept that God will give you all that you have, but you need to receive from Him first before you can give. In my deepest times when I wanted to walk out of our relationship, by the way, I was in seminary. Not a good place. Because even during counseling, I would learn what we are supposed to do and it was like, Okay, I’m doing my part. “Theresa, get with the program! Hey, we were supposed to do this. I did this. You’re supposed to get affectionate now! I took out the trash three times this week! What don’t you get about this marriage?”
Perfunctorily with a bad attitude, but that’s beside the point. I did the right thing so she would respond in ways that I wanted her to. Our marriage stopped when I took a long walk with God and in tears said, “God, I can’t change her.” And I heard the Holy Spirit, you know, sometimes He whispers. I think He shouted on this one. That’s not your job. There’s only one person you can change, Chip. That’s you. I don’t – if she never responds, you made a vow. She is My daughter. I want you to treat her like my daughter. I love her. I want My love to go to her the way I give it to you: With no expectation of return. She doesn’t have to be more affectionate, she doesn’t have to say kinder words, things don’t have to be warm or better. You are now going to love her. And if the only reason you do it is to please Me, that’s enough.
And I did. And she did. I have been doing this for a long time. I’ve been a pastor about thirty-six, thirty-eight years. And I’m going to say this and some of you it’s going to be like BBs off a tank. But for the ten percent that will actually listen, if I told you how many marriages are in separation or divorce or broke up because they had what they thought was a really big problem that was about this big, and instead of recognizing, yes, it’s painful. Yes, you feel rejection. Yes, you have feelings and thoughts and anger and emotions you thought you could never feel toward this person that you love – I get it, okay? And you’ll get through it.
You roll up your sleeves and you say, “This marriage is terrible right now.” And then you make a huge shift and say, “I’ll never change him. But I’m going to let God change me.” And, you know, you understand that every relationship is a system. When one person changes, the dynamic changes. It just changes.
Spiritual intimacy is cultivated with your mate by recognizing the supremacy of Christ’s role and relationship in your marriage.
I read verses 15 through 18 where He is above all things, He is the icon. The word, it’s a really interesting word. If you take a piece of clay, soft clay or, in our day, playdough. And if you took, like, a coin, like a silver dollar, and if you pressed it into that real hard, and then you pulled out the silver dollar, what would you have in the playdough? You’d have the exact image of that.
Jesus is the exact icon, image of the invisible God. All the fullness dwells in Him. Did you remember what we read? He created all things; He sustains all things by the word of His power. He created – all things were created by Him and for Him. And He is the head of the Church and He’s the firstborn from the dead, and He has supremacy over everything.
If you want to have intimacy in your relationship horizontally, He has to have the same place in your life and the same place in your marriage that He has in the universe. That means if He says, “Men, I want you to love your wife.” Good days, bad days. What does love look like? Well, just ask Jesus. Well, what do you mean? He was willing to die for His. You need to be willing to die for her. And not just metaphorically.
Well, put her needs ahead, cherish her, protect her, provide for her, live with her in an understanding way. You be Jesus to her. That’s your call. Regardless of how she responds. Well, why should I do that? “Because I am God and I created it and I designed it and I told you to. How’s that?”
No, we’ve got, we’re in such error. The byproducts of marriage happen to be that you get to have children, you’re not alone, you have good sex if not great sex occasionally, and you have a life companion. But the major point of marriage is not so that you’re happy or even fulfilled. The major point of marriage is it’s a metaphor declare Jesus and the Church. Your marriage, your love, your forgiveness, your working through problems, you caring and loving and cherishing and respecting is to be the picture of Jesus and His bride.
And the loudest, the loudest, the greatest picture that the world will ever see of Christians is marriages where they love one another. Well, it’s easy to love one another – I mean, pagans can love one another when everything is great. The Church, your job, my job is to demonstrate as a man what Christ’s love is like to the Church; and as a woman, what is it like for a church to respond in love and respect and tender consideration and connection to Christ?