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About this series
Love Sex and Lasting Relationships
God's Prescription for Enhancing Your Love Life
Everyone desires to love and be loved. The pursuit of "true love" is everywhere you look! It's romanticized on TV and in the movies we watch. Countless books and songs are written about it and hundreds of online dating websites and relationship seminars abound - all of which are designed to "help" you find that special someone to love. So why is "true love" so elusive? Could it be that the picture of love we see in today's culture is nothing more than an illusion? If so, what does real love look like? In this series, you'll discover God's way for finding love, staying in love, and growing in intimacy for a lifetime.More from this series
Well, love is a tricky business, and falling in love is even trickier. The ancients talked about falling in love, and they compared it to going insane. It’s true.
One American author says, “Falling in love is the taking over of the rational and the lucid mind by delusion and self-destruction. You lose yourself, you have no power over yourself, and you can’t even think straight.”
Nietzsche even weighed in on what it means to fall in love – and this is his objective view of people who fall in love: “Love is the state in which a man or a woman sees things most widely different from how they really are.”
And then, finally, relationship experts Les and Leslie Parrott write, as they counsel thousands of students, “Indeed, steamy starts do not promote our best thinking. Intense emotions often block us from taking a careful and objective look at ourselves, the person that we’re dating, and the relationship that we’re forming together.”
A question I would ask you is: If we have this insatiable, internal, God-given drive to passionately find the right person, to connect with them at every level – spiritual, emotional, and physical – and then we want it to last and be great forever, why is it, when we fall in love, we make some of the poorest decisions that produce some of the most dysfunctional relationships and pain in all of our life?
So, you really need to understand if you’re really in love. To do that, we’re going to answer two questions, and then we’re going to go on a quick, little journey.
Question number one is: You can never know if you’re in love, unless you define clearly what love is. We use love for, “I love pizza,” “I love the NFL,” “I love God,” and, “I love you.” Now, I’m not sure about that, but that can’t all mean the same thing. So, we’ve got to define what love really is.
The second thing we need to do is, we need to understand, what is the difference between love and infatuation? We will define both of those. If you are wrong, if you don’t understand, if you’re confused, boy, you’re in for real pain. And so, we’re going to take, actually, a little test, where you can know whether you’re in love, or whether you’re just infatuated.
And then, I want to take the last portion of our time and I want to talk about, “Well, how do you nurture love?” Whether you are not in a relationship, whether you are dating and pretty serious, or whether you’re married, how do you nurture the love that God wants, in every area of your life?
Question number one, let’s ask and answer: So, what is love? We use one very general word in English; there are about four in Greek. I want to deal with three of them – three very different definitions of love, in Greek, three different words.
The first kind of love is called eros love. This is a need-based love. It’s a physical attraction. This love is necessary for a marriage to succeed; however, marriage cannot be sustained by eros love alone.
Can anyone think of an English word that remotely might come out of this Greek word, eros? Erotic. That’s right. We said it out loud, and in church. Okay? God wants married couples to have erotic love, to be passionate for one another, physically.
In fact, I’d ask you, if you will, to follow along as I read Proverbs chapter 5 verses 15 through 19. It’s a, maybe, PG-13 passage. But so often, we have, in Christian circles, not talked about sex the way God views it. And because of that, we have all these hang-ups.
The wisest person who has ever lived – Solomon – wrote, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow into the streets, and your streams of water into the public square?” And he’s talking about your sexuality. He says, “Let them be for yours alone” – speaking about your wife or husband – “never to be shared with a stranger.”
And then speaking to the man, he says, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always; may you ever be captivated by her love.”
Depending on the text that you’re using, that word, captivated, it’s literally intoxicated. It’s these wild, passionate feelings that we have that God has given us, that are one component part of love that really matter. It usually starts on the front end of relationships, and unless it’s nurtured, pretty soon, people think it’s unimportant. It’s a critical part of a loving marriage.
Second aspect – because eros does not keep love alive. If you think about building a fire, eros is like the paper, and the little twigs, and a little gasoline. And it flames up quickly, and gets hot very quickly, but it doesn’t keep you warm, and it’s not sustainable.
The second type of love is phileo love. This is friendship love. The Bible uses the word companionship several times to describe a marriage relationship. Phileo love is a reciprocal, or sharing, love of activities, home, hobbies, games, objects in common, fellowship. We get our word – what’s the city in America? The city of brotherly love? It’s Philadelphia. Right.
Romans chapter 12, describes authentic community, and authentic community has to do with phileo, or “best friends” type of love. Eros love is, you are passionate lovers with your life mate. Phileo love means you become best friends.
And in Romans 12, it says, “Let love be sincere. Abhor what is evil. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” And then, it goes on to talk about, “rejoicing in hope, and persevering in prayer.”
It’s talking about all these kinds of relationships where you’re devoted, loyal, friends, caring. This is grinding out life together. This is doing the bills together. But it’s also taking walks, and playing a board game. This is walking around the mall when you really don’t want to walk around the mall, but you do. This is watching a ballgame, and you’re thinking, I hate ballgames, but my husband is into this. This is putting some popcorn on, and watching an old movie, and cuddling up close together. It’s becoming best friends.
Love has an eros component, it has a phileo component, but it also has an agape component. This love is a giving love. This can be unilateral, in that one loves even when the other doesn’t respond as expected. It’s a self-giving, and meeting the real needs of the other person, with the purpose of helping that person become better, more mature, a godly individual. Agape love takes the initiative. It energizes the other two kinds of love.
And agape love is characterized in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. It’s patient. It’s kind. It doesn’t envy. It doesn’t boast. It’s not proud. It’s not rude. It’s not self-seeking. It’s not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn’t delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects – notice the word always – always trusts. It always hopes. It always perseveres.
See, you can’t give a supernatural love to another person, unless you get it from God. And agape love is giving that other person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost.
And see, it’s a choice. It’s a commitment. It’s understanding, in a relationship, that my wife needs phileo love, but there is the NBA All-Star game on, and I haven’t checked my email, and I’ve got all this business stuff in my mind, but I need to stop, and choose to meet that need. It’s a woman saying, “My husband needs some eros love, but I’m really tired, it’s been a really rough day, and the last thing I feel like doing is being affectionate, let alone making love.”
And there’s a little moment that happens in a couple’s relationship where, Oh, God, I don’t have in and of me what I need to give to this person, and, honestly, the way they’ve treated me lately, I don’t want to give it to them. But I want to honor and love You, and I want to choose to love. And as I choose, will You give me power?
And that is what produces this amazing relationship. But you have to understand what love is. Three types. A relationship that really works needs all three. We’re going to talk about how to nurture each one in just a minute.
The second question we need to ask and answer is: What is the difference between love and infatuation? Well, we’ve said love, biblically, is three different things. But the fundamental aspect of love is, it’s a commitment, and it’s a choice.
Infatuation is a strong, passionate feeling that comes through chemistry. In fact, I have a quote from Dr. Michael Liebowitz, from the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and they’ve done research that shows when passionate attraction occurs, a chemical substance called “phenethylamine” is released in the brain, causing feelings of elation, and excitement, along with a physical sensation such as light-headedness – that’s that tingling feeling – and a sense of being short of breath.
So, what you need to understand is, when you are infatuated, when you are attracted, when those things start bubbling inside your head, and your body, this isn’t you having an illusion. It’s real. It’s chemical. It’s physical. And it produces these amazing good feelings.
It also produces, as we’ve talked earlier, about a drop of thirty to forty points in your IQ. And when you’re infatuated, you get these new glasses. And this is where Nietzsche says, “You get these new glasses, and you start perceiving things, and life, and people, and priorities as far from reality as you’ll ever do in your life.” Now, there’s a right time, and a right way, and infatuation and those chemicals are a gift from God. You just need to know when to use them, why, and where.
So, here’s what we’re going to do. I have twelve questions for you, and we’re going to walk through and find out whether you’re in love, or infatuated. And as you’re sitting there, you might go down through, when I go through them, and put an “I,” or an “L. Now, if you’re dating someone really seriously right now, I suggest that you do not do that in writing. I suggest, maybe on your fingers.
But for those of us who are married, I’d like you to think about, How am I viewing the relationship? When I see the difference between love and infatuated, am I in love? Ask yourself, What is the application in our relationship?
So, are you ready to go? Test number one is the test of time. Love grows, and all growth requires time. By contrast, infatuation may come suddenly. The feelings, they just explode. You don’t have to know the person. You can bump into the person – you’re at a Bible study, you’re at a coffee shop, you go to a meeting, it happens at work. Someone has a bright-colored something that they’re wearing, he looks really handsome, the light shines through, and all of a sudden, these chemicals start. Real love takes time. Infatuation can just drop on you, like – boom!
The second test, closely related, is the test of knowledge. Love grows out of an appraisal of all the known characteristics of the other person. In other words, to love someone, you need to know them. Who are they? What are their values? What are they like? Where do they come from? What matters to them? What are their priorities in life? What’s their vision? Where are they headed? How do they treat other people? In other words, to love someone, you have to know them.
By contrast, infatuation may arise from an acquaintance, with only a few, or one, of these characteristics. You can know almost nothing about someone. In fact, I shared a little earlier when my roommate from college, he came in and said, “I am in love!” I said, “Wow, that’s great! What’s her name?” He goes, “I don’t know. I don’t know!” No, he’s had infatuation chemicals go off in his mind. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s just not love.
The third test is a test of focus. Love is other-person centered. It is outgoing. It results in sharing. When you love someone – here’s the shift: How do I help them? How do I encourage them? What do they need? What is going to make this relationship work? How do I create time, and space, and structure, and resources, and energy, and finances to help this person? That’s love.
By contrast, when you’re infatuated, you get very self-focused. Now, if some of you will have to go back a few years, and others, you’re living right in the middle of this. And maybe you have a roommate, or you have a close friend, and someone has just met someone, and they’re in what I call the “ga-ga,” “Oh, man, he is so cool! He is so hot! He is so handsome! He is so strong! When he turns his head, his chin is like this. It’s just amazing! And I feel this – I feel these feelings all over! It’s wonderful!” Right? You know? Men have it. Women have it.
And so, it goes like this, and your roommate goes, “I’m going to go to work today, because he works at work, and he’s three cubicles over.” And, “What’s going to happen? What do you think? Is this dress – does this look good?” And then, she goes and changes it. “No, no, no. What about this today?” I mean, three, seven outfits. Why? To go to work!
And then, you go into a little meeting, and you talk in the little meeting, and you walk out of the meeting, and the guy goes, “Oh, my, I want to get to know her. Why did I say that? What was I thinking? I bet she thinks I’m a nerd. She thinks I’m a dumb jock. Why do I say stupid stuff when I’m around her?” Where is the focus? Self, self, self. Me, me, me. When that is the focus, it’s infatuation.
The fourth test is the test of singularity. Genuine love is centered on only one person, and an infatuated individual may be in love with two or more persons, simultaneously. Now, there are times that, as a pastor, you share illustrations, and you try and be open, and vulnerable. And there are some that you share that are way back in the rearview mirror, especially if you’ve been married over thirty years.
And I didn’t know any of this when I was growing spiritually, but I had made a commitment; I was walking very closely with God. And I was in my early twenties, and I thought, I’m really looking for that right person.
And I had been out of school for a year. And I was on one campus teaching high school, coaching a basketball team, and then doing a ministry on the weekends. And there was a girl about three hours away, at another school, that we were good friends, but I thought something might develop. I had been asked to play on this Christian team, and so guys from all over the United States, and then we played in every country all throughout South America. And so, I’m thinking to myself, I really think I have feelings for this girl, and, She’s the right kind of girl, and nothing’s official, but that’s in my mind, in my heart.
And the first stop was the Dominican Republic. And we’d play a game, and then there was a girl there who was on a short-term mission trip. And the chemicals went off in my brain.
And so, we went on a picnic the next day. And I can still remember the red and white basket, and there were some trees, and it was beautiful, and it was the Dominican Republic, and we had a little hour block.
And after one picnic of two and a half hours, I was like, Oh my lands, now I know why God put me on this team. I’m going to marry her. She is amazing. She is beautiful. We connect. She understands me like no one’s ever understood me – you know, after two hours. And I’m telling all the guys on the team, “I am in love! This is amazing! I’m in love!” And so, unfortunately we’re going to have to stay in contact, long-distance relationship, because we go to the other countries in South America.
We get to Quito, Ecuador. We get to Quito, Ecuador, we play two or three games, and then we have a big meal and there is a missionary’s daughter! And I’ll be darned, I fell in love again!
And we had a little break, and we sat next to each other at the same table, and then we talked, and we exchanged addresses, and we had a little window of time; we had a couple of meals together.
And I thought, Oh, my gosh, now what do I do? Because I think it was the girl in West Virginia, then it’s the girl in the Dominican Republic, but now I really know who I’m in love with, and God is amazing! He is filling my life! Until we went to Chile.
And we got to Santiago, Chile – this is a true story, and it’s so embarrassing. I mean, it’s embarrassing now. I’m thinking, This is awesome, you know? And so, we get to Santiago, Chile, and the president of the federation there, and I came to think, in all my travels, that Chilean women were the most beautiful in the entire world.
And I’m sitting across from the daughter of the president of the federation, and she’s probably about my age. She has these dark eyes, unbelievable skin, and this dark, long hair. She doesn’t speak English, and all I can do is talk about food and, “¿Dónde está el baño?” and a little bit about the Lord. And we sit across from each other for an hour and a half.
And I can’t even talk to her, but I find myself walking all afternoon the next day, with her, through the markets. We can’t even communicate, and I’m convinced she’s the one.
And now, the guys on the team are just, it’s ruthless. They are just ragging on me, and, “You’re in love!”
I didn’t understand the difference between love and infatuation. And, by the way, it’s a funny story – I mean, it’s funny now. It was confusing then.
But can I tell you? That’s not just when you’re dating. See, genuine love is singular. And, see, here’s what happens: When you get married, and then you have some kids, and then there’s some pressure, and then there are some financial issues, or some health issues, and that triangle of God that is agape and eros and phileo, and parts of that aren’t working too well, you need to understand that just because you’re married, infatuation doesn’t stop. The chemicals in your brain don’t go, “Oh! You’re married! We’re not setting them off for you.” They’re just chemicals. There’s just attraction.
And so, pretty soon, you’re married, and it’s a difficult time right now. And in that difficult time, some people don’t look as pretty and so wonderful, and he’s gained a few pounds. And pretty soon, you go to work, and someone is very responsive, and there’s just something about them, and there’s a connection. And you believe the Hollywood model, Maybe I have the wrong person. Maybe this is my right mate. I’ve fallen out of love, now I’m falling in love.
That perspective will destroy two families. And, at best, it’s going to last six weeks to eighteen months. And you’re going to wake up and realize you’re the dumbest person on the face of the earth. What you needed to do was realize what real love was, realize the difference between love and infatuation.
In fact, I had a guy recently call me from a far, other state. And he’s a very educated guy and he’s a very committed Christian. And he said, “I have a problem. I can’t even talk to my pastor, because I don’t even know how to handle it.” And he began to talk to me.
And I said, “Well, what’s the deal, man?” He said, “There’s someone at work – and we’ve not done anything; we’re not involved physically, at all, but all that stuff you talk about going on inside your head. I just acted like it wasn’t happening. I found myself wanting to be around this woman at work. I found myself talking to her in a different way. I can sense that she’s probably on the same page. And it’s a difficult season at home. Chip, what do I do?”
I took a deep breath, and I said, “Number one, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It’s pretty normal. Most people aren’t this honest about it. And then, let me give you Jesus’ advice on this, and it’s the only way.” He said, “Oh, great, what is it?” I said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And if your eye causes you to sin, poke it out.” To which he said, “Thanks?”
And I said, “Look, you are on a collision course to destroy your life. That infatuation – it’s real; there’s chemistry.
And then, he talked about the relationship, and the company, and what he would have to do. I said, “Buddy, I got news for you. If you have to quit your job, or sell your company, to be righteous, and have a family intact five years from now, it’ll be the smallest sacrifice you ever made.”
How are you doing? Do you see how important this is? Love, or infatuation? Ooey-gooey feelings, or a relationship that lasts a lifetime?
Number five is security. An individual in love tends to have a sense of security, and a feeling of trust, after considering everything involved in the relationship with the other person. In other words, there’s a sense of loyalty. There’s a safeness to being together.
An infatuated individual tends to have a blind sense of security based on wishful thinking, rather than upon careful consideration. He or she may have a sense of insecurity that is sometimes expressed in jealousy.
See, when you’re infatuated, and it’s all about feelings, “He’s talking with so-and-so.” “She’s talking with so-and-so.” “You’ve got a meeting where, with whom? I want to know about that.” When you find someone, especially those in dating relationships, where there are high levels of jealousy – ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. This probably isn’t love.
See, when you know someone, when there’s time, when it’s based on character, when there’s trust, it produces security.
Test number six is work. An individual in love works for the other person, or for their mutual benefit. He or she may study to make the other person proud of him or her. Their ambitions are spurred on, and they plan and save for the future. He or she may daydream, but the dreams are reasonably attained.
By contrast, an infatuated person may lose his ambition, his appetite, his interest, his affairs in everyday life. He or she may think of his own misery, I just can’t live without them. I haven’t seen him in forty-five minutes.
They often daydream, but the dreams are sometimes not limited, or attainable. They’re given free rein. At times, the dreams become substitutes for reality, and the individual lives in the world of his dreams.
I remember when my oldest boys were in their early twenties, and we had a young man who was good friends with them. He hung out at our house, and a really neat young man, and a good-looking guy – big, tall, handsome guy. And so, he became a part of our family, and ate a lot of our food, and hung out at our house.
And so, one day, he comes and says, “Mr. Ingram, Mr. Ingram, I’m in love! I mean, I am in love!” I said, “Well, what is her name?” “I just met her, but I am in love!” And next week, “What happened?” “I talked for, like, four hours on the phone, and I got my phone bill, you know, like a three-hundred-dollar” – and this was before cell phones. “I got, like, a three-hundred-dollar phone bill.”
And then, he knows her by phone for three weeks. And then, he comes and he says, “You can’t believe what I did this weekend.” I said, “What?” He goes, “I got in my car, and I drove eleven hours to Phoenix, because she lives in Phoenix. I knocked on the door, and I had one rose, and a piece of candy, and I said, ‘All I know is, all I think about is you.’ And then, I had to get back to work, and I drove eleven hours, and I got back in time – five a.m. – to go to work at six.”
The next weekend, he drove again, but then he couldn’t tear himself away and missed two days of work. He was convinced he was in love. Believe me, he was not. He almost lost his job.
See, when you are acting irresponsibly, and your emotions are driving your life, you may be deeply infatuated, and the chemicals may be bursting in your brain, but it’s not love.
The seventh is a problem-solving test. By the way, how are you doing? At least, mentally? “L”? “I”? Love, or infatuation? Problem-solving: A couple in love faces problems frankly, attempts to solve them.
If there are barriers to them getting married, these barriers are approached intelligently and removed. And the ones that can’t be removed, they may be circumvented, but with the knowledge that you are deliberately doing that.
In other words, people who are in love realize, Wow, man, I think God is bringing us together but, boy, our family backgrounds are different. You know what? We have a lot of debt. Your school loans, my school loans. You know a lot about the Bible. I don’t know very much about the Bible. Your life vision seems – they’re close, but you’re going this way, and I’m going that way. You’re wanting to have, like, nineteen kids, and I’m not really big on kids.
A couple that is really in love gets all those things on the table and says, “You know what? We need to be objective, and reasonable, and what is it? Are we going to work through these things? Can we work through them?”
When people are infatuated, it goes something like this: I’ve been married three times; you’ve lived with two different people. You want nineteen kids; I absolutely don’t want any. I’m sure it’s going to work out, because love covers everything. Right?
Test number eight is distance. Love tends to be constant. Infatuation often varies with the distance between the couple.
One of the greatest things that could happen in a relationship is a little window of distance. When you’re really in love, you keep writing. You think about the person. You keep the relationship up. When you’re infatuated, it starts to be a little “out of sight, out of mind,” because so much of what’s sustaining the relationship is how they look, and physical attraction, and all the little buzz that you get.
I remember my youngest son, he was very direct with us. He said, “I know who I’m going to marry.” “Okay.” And we got to know her, and then she went full-time with Campus Crusade, to Sweden.
And I watched him, like – whoo! And they wrote. And he was poor. Believe me. He saved up his money. Six months later, he flew to Sweden. I watched him do a long-distance relationship for a year, because he loved her, he was focused on her, and she really mattered, and he knew this was from God.
See, when distance causes your heart to wane, it’s probably infatuation. When distances causes you to begin to write, and to communicate, and think, and use the distance to deal with issues, it’s love.
Test number nine: physical attraction and involvement. Physical attraction is a relatively smaller part of the total relationship. And, by the way, smaller part. Let’s not over spiritualize. If there are no juices going toward this other person, if there’s not some attraction, I’m not sure what it is, but it may not be from God.
I’ve been around groups that are so spiritual, it’s like, “We align, and we have all these things in view, and she loves God, and I love God,” and you sit with them, and they’ve dated for sometimes a year or more, and they’re sexually pure, and sometimes I sit down with a guy and say, “So, you got some passion in there?” “Well, not really.” “Well, you’re not marrying your sister. You know this, right?” Okay?
We have to be careful that, the culture is so out of balance, our biblical response can really get skewed. It’s a relatively smaller part of the total relationship when a couple is in love. It’s a relatively greater part when they are infatuated. When a couple is in love, any physical contact tends to have meaning, as well as be a pleasurable experience in and of itself. It tends to express what they feel toward one another.
In other words, when you’re in love, you want to guard the relationship, and so, actually, holding hands means something. Any progression in the showing of affection has to do with a greater and more significant commitment, while remaining sexually pure.
When you’re infatuated, you just want to get as close, and as much, all the time, as you can. It’s what drives the relationship. In infatuation, the physical contacts tend to be an end in themselves. It represents a pleasurable experience, but often devoid of meaning.
Jot in your notes, if you would, 2 Samuel chapter 13. It’s a very interesting biblical picture of this. David has a son, and David also has a daughter of another wife. The daughter is named, Tamar, and in the biblical usage, she is hot. Very attractive. Absolutely beautiful.
His son just is infatuated, overwhelmed with her beauty, and he wants her. And so, instead of going the right route – instead of building a relationship, instead of checking things out – he comes up with this plan, along with a friend, to pretend to be sick, asks the sister to come in and bring some food for him.
And if you read the story carefully, he begins to take her, physically, and she says, “Let’s do this right. Talk to your father. It dishonors God. It will dishonor me. It will ruin our relationship.” And he doesn’t listen. And he rapes her.
And then, there’s this amazing, interesting line – long before psychologists. And the interesting line is, “And he had now the same level of hatred for her that he had in love before he raped her.”
See, infatuation causes you to use people. The physical connection – we’re going to talk about that, very specifically, about the relationship, and knowing the difference between love, and sex, in our next time together. But physical attraction involvement – it’s normal, it’s important, but it means one thing to those who really are in love, and it’s at a progress where you remain sexually pure. And it means something totally different, and becomes an end in itself, when you’re infatuated.
Test number ten – very similar – is, in love, an expression of affection tends to come relatively later in the couple’s relationship. In other words, there’s time. “I want to get to know you. I want to see you with other people. I want to build a relationship. And so, I’m not going to begin to express affection until there’s a basis for it.”
By contrast, in infatuation, it may come earlier, and sometimes at the very beginning – in fact, usually at the very beginning.
The test of stability: Love tends to endure. Infatuation may change suddenly, unpredictably. I remember listening to Julia Roberts, a number of years ago, being interviewed on Entertainment Tonight, or TMZ, or something. And she was so honest. It was a season where she was in all the tabloids, and this partner, and a different partner, and did a movie, and she loves this person and that person, and she is “the Pretty Woman.”
And I thought it was such an honest comment, because they were asking her. She goes, “Well, you know, relationships can be very, very hard, and what I realized is, that first year or so is the part I really like.” And she was honest. In fact, she made this statement. She goes, “I think I’m really in love with being in love.” And I just thought, So perceptive.
I wonder how many of us have so been skewed in our thinking that what we’re really in love with is being in love, and in our marriages, if all the buttons aren’t firing, and if we don’t have these emotional experiences, we’re starting to privately question, or ask, Do I still have the right person? Or if you’re not married, I wonder how many of us are really unconsciously or very consciously basing everything about, Is this the right person? or, Who should I date? really, primarily, on physical attraction, then followed by, Is my brain kicking in, and giving me these euphoric feelings? See, love is stable. Infatuation comes and goes, like a bird that lands, and then just takes off.
The final test is the test of delayed gratification. A couple in love is not indifferent to the effects of the postponement of their wedding, and they do not prolong the period of postponement, unless they see that it is wiser to wait a reasonable time.
They don’t feel an almost irresistible drive toward haste. When you’re infatuated, and you think, This is the right person, when anybody puts a little roadblock, like, “Hey, how about some premarital counseling?” or, “You know what? There are some issues to get resolved,” or, “You know, why don’t you come up with a financial plan?” or, “Don’t you think that your parents ought to be at least reasonably involved in this?” “No. No. We can’t. It has to be now! We’re in love!” Probably not.
Infatuated couples tend to feel an urge toward getting married. Postponement is intolerable to them. And they interpret it as a deprivation, rather than a preparation.
And I’m mindful of, reading the story of Jacob, and it says he waited seven years to earn the right to marry Rachel. And it says it flew by. And it flew by because he loved her, and he was willing to wait.
I do not recommend seven-year engagements, by the way. Take your time, process, get good counsel. We’ll talk about some specific ways. And then, once you’ve done all the hard work, and you allow the emotions to kick in, and allow the chemicals to go off – based on the spiritual, social, psychological, and God’s leading – then have a pretty short engagement. Because lots of bad things happen in really long engagements. And then, thank God for the gift that He has given you.
Well, let me ask you, just honestly, how are you doing? How are you doing? As I went through that, as a married couple, did you say, “Yikes, I’ve bought into testing the love in our relationship a lot more that’s infatuation than love”?
Or if you are here, and you’re dating someone, is it like one lady told me? She walked up to me in an airport, and she goes, “You know that book, Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships?” I said, “Yeah.” She goes, “I read that. Thank you very much.” I said, “Well, why?” “Well, you know that chapter on the difference between love and sex?” I said, “Well, yeah.” She goes, “Well, I’ve been married twice. I was in another relationship. I was goo-goo, ga-ga, all that stuff – brain cells, IQ dropping. And I read that, and I went through, and ten of the twelve things were infatuation, and not love.” She said, “I broke off the relationship. I have stepped back. I’m getting whole personally.” And then, she said, “So, how come you didn’t get this to me two marriages ago?” To which I said, “I’m sorry.”
But do you understand? Think carefully, as a parent of pre-teens, teens, college ministry, young professionals. Your mate died. You’re divorced. You’re in that forty to fifty range. And you’re saying, “I believe there’s someone for me,” now.
If you believe that infatuation is love, you will be a part of that next percentage of people where the next one doesn’t work out, or you will be a part of that great population of people that, Wow, marriage is great for the first two years, and then that window between year three and year six, when it requires love, not infatuation – you’ll see this happen. God has better. Okay? So, let me give you some ways to nurture the kind of love that He has given us. Are you ready? How to improve your love life.
I’m on the back page, and notice our picture. You might want to, at the very top, write the word God. You might, on the triangles, put the man on one side, the woman on the other. We know, you might even put an arrow of the man and the woman – God’s goal in marriage is oneness. It’s intimacy of spirit, mind, body, and soul. And you’re going to see that, in the center of it, is God wants you to experience love.
Now, the basis of love, what allows you to love, in both ways, is agape love. “Being dearly loved by God, walk in love.”
And then, the eros love is a very important part of God’s – the sexual attraction, the candlelight, the weekends away, the negligees – all the good stuff, all right? And the walks, the talks, the board games, the popcorn, the movies, the walking in malls.
So, over here, we have phileo love – best friends. Over here, we have eros love – passionate lovers. And here, brothers and sisters, living under the Word of God.
So, let me give you two suggestions. If you are a single, keep your emotions and physical involvement behind your leading from God, and commitment to the other person. Keep your emotional and physical involvement.
So, if we would go back to the triangle, God’s way, spiritual: Do they really walk with God? In fact, do they love God more than me? Social: How do they treat other people? What is their behavior before we start dating? Psychological: I want to really know them – their heart, their soul, their mind, their personality.
Now, all those things line up. The Holy Spirit has given you a green light. Ding! Let your emotions kick in. See where God takes it then. And save the full expression of God’s design, because the marriage bed is holy.
Now, this is a choice, by the way. It doesn’t mean you don’t have those feelings. You don’t have to share them. You don’t have to act on them. You don’t have to tell them. You hold them.
When I met Theresa, those feelings went off the first time I saw her. I can tell you the color of her dress. She had hair down to here. I was walking into a college campus, looking for a job, because it was getting too cold to lay bricks. She walked out – and here was my first thought, guys, Lord, if she is not a Christian.
Now, I found out she was a believer.
Now, I had already decided. Everything I’ve talked about, about how not to do relationships, I had already done. It’s dysfunctional. I knew it wouldn’t work. And so, I decided I wasn’t going to marry just a Christian, or date a Christian.
I was going to date a Christian who loved God more than me, who was passionate about living the life. Because I tried all that other stuff. But I’m not going to deny, when I saw her, it was like, Oh my lands. Ding, ding, ding, ding!
Well, for the next year, I took those emotions, and I set them over here and said…and then, I found out she was a believer. Then, I found out she really walked with God. And then, we had big problems to face.
The first one was, she had been married before. The second one was, she had these two little kids who were two years old. The third one was, I was very poor. The fourth one was, I had people telling me that God would never use my life if I married her. The fifth one was, I wasn’t really sure what God said about divorce and remarriage when someone has been abandoned, and they have had adultery.
Those were real problems. It took me a year to observe her life, to work through all those, and then, together, almost another year to deal with those, until God gave us the green light. But I kept my emotions – in fact, she will tell you, it was semi-ridiculous. I went a little overboard, probably. No, I did.
Our dates were, she would play the guitar, we would sing worship songs, read the Bible, and pray together. And then, after a number of months – because I don’t want to mess up these kids, I don’t want to break her heart, and I know how passionate I am – we start down a trail that’s not going to be good.
And so, later on she tells me this story: “The most affectionate thing Chip did, as we were processing this, was, he got up – and he must have felt very affectionate. And he tapped me on the head as he left.” You know, she’s going into her room going, This guy is nuts! I’m praying for a husband, and here we are, singing worship songs and praying. But I knew how not to do a relationship. And you know what? I’m pretty excited with the result.
If you’re married, a word to the married: Love requires the nourishment of all three kinds of love. Examine which your mate needs most, and then choose to give that as an act of worship. Examine which one, of the kinds of love above, does your mate need, and then, as a choice, as an act of worship, you give it.
Let me just, this is a general principle. Don’t take this to the bank; it’s not always true. In general, when I talk to men, or have done counseling for most men are saying, “The eros part of our relationship is not really what I would like it to be.” Most women say, “The phileo part of our relationship isn’t really what I want it to be.” And so, men are engaged in their work, and women are engaged with work, and kids.
And so, often, it goes like, “You know, if she would really be more affectionate, I would step up and be the man in the house.” “Well, until I’m nurtured in love, and cared for, how can I be responsive at ten or ten thirty at night, when here he is. We haven’t talked. I have all the kids. I also work. You know what? He hasn’t shaved in two days. He thinks I’m attracted to him? Are you kidding?” “Well, why should I read bedtime stories, come home for dinner, be this super-dad, when, you know what? I feel like I’m a monk?”
And most men will tell you, “Let’s see, it’s been seventeen days. It’s been six days. It’s been ninety-three days.” They know when the last time was they had physical union with their wife. Okay? And so, it becomes this unspoken standoff, often, that is not communicated.
Let me give you some specific ways to nurture. Eros love nurtured: Have a date night. Once a week, go on a date. Hygiene. Everyone, after they get divorced, what do they do? You go to the gym, and get in shape. Go there now! Eat better now! Shave now! Use deodorant now! I’m serious! Don’t come home, you come home to your mate, and if it’s, like, sweatpants, and everyone is dressed up at work, and you come home, and your wife looks like, Well…I mean, you love her but…
One of the greatest things Theresa did all of our married life was, boy, when I came home, she looked great. She actually prepared for when I got home. And it has been a huge help to me.
Non-sexual touching – guys! Every time you touch your wife, and she thinks, Oh brother, it’s the sex maniac again. She wants to be nurtured, and loved. Make it a priority.
Everyone wants everything to be so spontaneous and wonderful. Set a night a week – if you have kids, figure out what to do with the kids – and at least you both know, once a week, you can have something to look forward to. “Well, that’s not spontaneous.” Well, how is that, compared to what your current romantic life is like? I’ll leave you with that one.
And then, plan a weekend away. There is something that happens when you get away from work, and kids, and get away, where God allows you to really connect at the eros level.
In terms of the phileo, take walks. Have talks. Find something – a hobby, or something you do together. Discuss hard issues. Sit down and do the finances together. Play some table games. Throw on some popcorn. Watch an old movie. Get away together. Do things that nurture the relationship.
Now, you won’t feel like that, but remember, love is not a feeling, correct? Infatuation is a feeling. And so, what you need is supernatural power. You need agape love to choose to give the other person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least.
And so, here are a few suggestions to develop agape love. You personally begin to get into God’s Word, because there is no power apart from His Word. The Spirit living in you, as a follower of Christ, needs the raw material of God’s Word to translate the written Word to the living Word that births conviction, that the Spirit uses to change your life. No Word, no power.
Second, pray for your mate, the things you really want to see change. Nagging – how is that working? Or hinting. “Honey, I think you’re eating a lot of chocolates.” Oh, she is really going to love you now. Pray for them. What do you want to see happen in their life? Ask God to work in them. Pray together. Forgive them.
Some of the big barriers, you don’t want to be connected, you don’t want to talk because, if the truth is known, this happened, this happened, this happened, this happened, and you are bearing a grudge. You have to release them. You have to forgive them. “As God has forgiven you, so freely forgive.”
And that is the beginning. You get in God’s Word, you begin to talk, you begin to pray, you begin to pray together, you begin to say, “Coming to worship is a priority for our family” – God will work. In fact, I came across something – this is so good. I’m going to finish with this.
A little article, it’s very, very brief – it’s about a man. He said, “I made a vow to myself, as we were driving toward the vacation beach cottage, that, for two weeks, I would try to be a loving husband and father. Totally loving. No ifs, no buts. The idea came to me as I was driving in my car, and listening to someone teach on the radio, where he quoted the passage that ‘to love your wife is to love her in an understanding way.’ And then, he said, ‘Love is an act of the will, a person can choose to love.’”
And then, in a moment of honesty, he said, “To myself, I had to admit that I had been a selfish husband, that our love had dulled by my own insensitivity, and often in petty ways, like insisting that the TV channel that we watch is the one that I want, throwing a day-old paper away that I know she still wanted to read. “Well, for two weeks, all that would change, and I did it, right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, ‘That new yellow sweater looks great on you!’” I mean, he had been out of town, she had been with the kids at the cottage. “‘Oh, Tom, you noticed!’ she said, surprised and pleased, maybe a little perplexed. “After the long drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested we walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, Evelyn has been here alone with the kids all week, and now she wants alone time with me. We walked on the beach, while the children flew kites. “So it went: two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I’m a director, a visit to the shell museum. I usually hate museums. I actually enjoyed it. Holding my tongue when Evelyn made us late to the dinner date, like normal. Relaxed and happy, that’s how the whole vacation went. And I made a vow to keep remembering to choose love in my relationship.
“There was one thing that went terribly wrong with my experiment. Evelyn and I still laugh about it today. On the last night at our cottage, preparing for bed, Evelyn stared at me with the saddest expression I’ve ever seen. ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked. ‘Tom,’ her voice filled with distress, ‘do you know something I don’t?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, that checkup I had several weeks ago – our doctor, did he tell you something about me, Tom? Tom, you have been so good to me. Am I dying?’ It took a moment for it to sink in, and then I burst out laughing. ‘No, honey, you’re not dying. I’m just starting to live.’”