Helping you grow closer to God
Download the Chip Ingram App
Marriage that Works Resources on sale now.
About this series
Marriage that Works
God's Way of Becoming Spiritual Soul Mates, Best Friends, and Passionate Lovers
It's no secret that marriage is in trouble in America. This foundational building block of society is crumbling before our eyes. And Christians are not exempt from this trend. There is hope. Despite the mounting pressure on couples, you really can have a great marriage, raise Godly kids, and experience a healthy, life-giving home-life with the stability to weather life's storms. Join Chip Ingram as he challenges the status quo and gives clear, compelling help for couples that long for unity and fulfillment in their marriage.More from this series
Agape love is a choice. It’s a choice. When I, as a man, treat my wife well, when I’m sensitive to her, when I care about her, when I respond in ways that God wants me to because I feel really good about her, that’s a good thing.
It’s a far greater thing when she hurts me, and wounds me, and is acting in ways that make me feel like I want to push her away. Agape love is, I give her what she needs the most, when she deserves it the least, at great personal cost.
Now, women, that’s what God calls your husband to do to you.
That’s not hard, again, that is absolutely impossible [apart] from the Spirit of God working inside your husband’s heart and life and him being absolutely committed to doing that.
Notice, it says, “That He might sanctify her.” Will you circle the word “sanctify her” and underneath that it says, “present to Himself.” The word “sanctify” means to “set apart.” To make her holy.
And don’t let that word “holy” conjure up big, black robes and candles lit in a dark room. It means “special.” And the “set apart” just means absolutely special.
And He says, Jesus did that for us, His Church. As a man, my job is to help my wife become the special person that God wants her to become.
Jesus did it by the washing of the water with the Word. The word there in Greek, it’s the rhema. Not just the logos but it’s the spoken word. Jesus speaks life into His Church. My job, as a husband, is speak life into the soul of my wife. Affirmation and encouragement. Truth from God that is given to me. Caring for her.
It goes on to say, notice those two little words about how this happens. Nourishes and cherishes. Put a box around “nourishes” and put a box around “cherishes.” How do I love my wife?
The word “nourished” literally means “to feed.” It means to be devoted to. It means to provide for, in everything. It means to promote the development and the maintenance of the health of something.
So, to nourish something, now, think of this, guys. This was so foreign to me. , I just basically thought, “You get married, you fall in love, you’re attracted to her, you have some kids, things work out. You play a lot of softball and basketball and she cooks a lot and you hope it works.”
I’m sorry. That’s all I knew. And then I became a Christian. And then I realized, God has all these needs that He created my wife to have, and He created me as the instrument that He wants to meet many of those needs, just like He created her to meet many of mine.
And so, I’m to develop and maintain and help her mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally become all that God created her to become. That’s to nourish.
And the word “cherish” here literally means “to keep warm.” It means to commune in ways that make sense to her. It means to be to her that sense of safety and comfort. It’s, guys, why they want to do things that don’t make any sense like, “Let’s talk.” And you say, “What about?” And they say, “Nothing.” “Then, why do you want to talk?” We want to get something done. “Because, well, how did your day go?” “Fine. It went fine.”
No, no, no. She wants to hear what’s going on inside. Why was it fine? What happened? She wants to be connected to your soul. She wants to know that you ask questions like, “How are you feeling? What’s going on inside? What are your concerns? What’s your biggest fear right now? How are you handling it? Do you want to stop right now, together, and pray about that?”
What she needs is a leader. What she needs is a man. A man who sees his role, not as: what can I get? But a man who sees his role, from God, to provide everything for his wife that Jesus gave to the Church. Clarity, leadership, cherishing, devotion, development.
And, for most of us as men, we never saw that. We never saw that in our home. And so, it’s pretty hard to pull off. But I will tell you, you say to God, “God, will you help me be that kind of man?”
Whether you’re thirty or fifty or seventy, God will answer that prayer. And the moment you begin to become this kind of man, really significant things happen.
So, in summary, what we have is a man’s role is to assume the same kind of responsibility for their wives and give the same kind of love to the point of actually, physically dying for your wife, that Jesus did for the Church.
I, in summary, would say, that’s what a leader is, in the home, okay? That’s a real man. A real man is not playing hard, making money, dropping it in, and living your own kind of separate life, and longing for everyone to meet your needs.
Down deep, what I can tell you for most of us “men” is that we don’t know how to do what I just described. All people and especially we, as men, are very insecure. The reason that we spend so much time in sports and work is we’re competent there.
And men like to do what we know how to do. I know how to shoot a basketball. I can hit a baseball. I know how to work. I can be successful there. I’m comfortable there. I don’t know how to pray with a woman. I don’t know how to be a dad. I don’t know how to discipline a kid.
All I knew was, it’s a very thick book and it’s got a lot of pages and I’m supposed to know it? Are you kidding?
I don’t know how to develop a woman’s femininity in my daughter. But I’ll tell you what, I came to the conclusion, I was going to make it a primary goal of my life after knowing God.
Let me ask you six diagnostic questions about who’s carrying the weight of responsibility in your home. Or you could say, who’s leading?
And these are not in your notes. Just listen. And all I want you to do and this, again, this is not to make you feel bad. This is just to bring you out of denial. If you would, if I would have read these questions to me the first two years of our marriage, just, in advance, I want you to know, five out of six I would say Theresa does. That’s not true anymore. And that’s grace.
Question number one. Who initiates spiritual growth in your home? Is it the wife or the husband who says, “Why don’t we sit down and let’s talk about this. Or, why don’t we get in the Bible together. Or, let’s clear up the dishes. Or, wow, that’s difficult. Let’s stop right now and pray.”
Second, who handles the money? I didn’t say, “Who makes the most.” Who handles it? Who feels the pressure that: did that bill get paid? Did we pay that online yet? Is the check written out? Where are we at? How much debt?
Third, who disciplines the children when you’re both at home? You? Or your wife?
Fourth, who initiates talking about problems, future plans, and areas to develop? When are we going to, what about retirement? What about our kids? What school should they go to? Do we want to have kids? How many? What, what about, what about, what about?
Who’s asking the kind of questions that beg the question like, “Where are we going?”
Fifth, who asks the most questions in your home and who gives the most statements? Who’s constantly asking questions like, “Well, have we made a decision about what we’re going to do with…?” Who’s doing that in your home? See, that’s the person that feels responsibility.
Well, how do you move on? How do we get this in a way that becoming real men where we’re at? How do we assume the responsibility? And what does it mean?
Let me give you three very specific ways, as men, we can start. Okay? And, by the way, if you’re still, if you’re feeling a little bit like, “My lands, this guy is killing me.” I understand. But how you’re living, down deep, is killing you. You were made to lead. You were made to be strong. You were made to have courage. You were made to make a difference. You were made to feel the responsibility and the joy of watching something bloom and develop and have kids look up to you.
You are not Homer Simpson. You matter. You’re smart. You’re valuable. You have worth. And you can do this, by the grace of God. How?
Number one, husbands must love their wives sacrificially. That’s out of verse 25. Love her in a way, sacrificial means, love her in a way that costs you something. And under that, in your notes, I’m going to give you three specific ways to love your wife where it costs you something.
Number one is in preference. Okay? Sometimes, you need to communicate to your wife, especially if you’re coming out of, like I was, really consumed with me, and my world, and my stuff. Sometimes you need to do something where she knows you really love this and you choose to do something that says, and she looks at you and goes, “Are you kidding? You gave up that?”
Now, this is a very trite illustration and turn the clock back and I’ve got young children and I’m not the leader that I need to be. And, God, I’m on this journey. I’m just learning to do this. And I know I need to live sacrificially.
Well, they used to have the slam-dunk, like, at half time or something. And so, the All Star game is on, it’s slam-dunk, I’ve got my little boys, we’re all rooting and screaming like guys do.
And I’m sitting there like this and I’m watching it. And, I’ve been waiting all year for this. And some of the old greats of many years ago. And the guys are slamming, slamming, slamming. It was really great.
And I just happened to look over and I saw my wife and she wasn’t mad, she wasn’t upset, I didn’t get any feeling like, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” But I read on her face just her countenance. Something’s disturbing her.
And then a thought that could have only come from God because I would never think it. And I heard this little voice inside say, “Chip, why don’t you get up from watching this game and ask Theresa if she wants to go on a walk and find out what’s going on inside.”
And I, literally, in my mind and heart, said, “Surely you jest.” Are you kidding me? And nothing, I’ve never had these promptings before but I actually, somehow, by the Spirit of God, “Ahhhhhhh.” I actually went.
And I walked over and I said, “Hey, honey, how you doing?” And she said, “Oh fine, you can watch the game.” I said, “No, no. You want to take a walk?” “Well, don’t you want to watch it?” “No, that’s, I’ll, I can catch that later. There will be reruns or something.”
And so, we take a walk. And all of a sudden, there’s all kind of stuff going on in her heart. And she starts to open it up and talk and then we ended up, I think getting a cup of coffee afterwards and talking a little bit more.
And it was one of those windows, one of those moments. And then she said this weird thing. She turned to me and said, “Gosh, Chip, I feel so loved right now.” I said, “I didn’t do anything.” I’m walking around, I ask a few questions, and I listen for, like, an hour and fifteen minutes. What’s that got to do with love? We didn’t accomplish anything. Men, men think, right?
And she goes, “I know how addicted you are to sports. And that you got up for me sent me a very powerful message.” Where do you need to love your wife where it costs you in preference?
Second, it’ll cost you in, write the word, “time.” The second place you need to love your wife is in time. It requires time.
The long, long, long, long work hours, and the hobbies where some of you only have one day off a week, and five and half to six and a half hours is on a golf course and your family doesn’t see you, let me just tell you, is stupid. Okay? It’s just stupid.
Because I’m going to tell you that once all that stuff happens and your kids get grown and they’re away, you will wish you could get some of those hours back that you worked and you got plenty of time to get better at golf.
Now, I’m going to tell you a little bit later you need to have hobbies, you need to have men friends, you need to work out, you need to have fun with guys. I’m not saying that.
I’m just saying to be a leader in your home, like anything, it requires time. So, you lead and you say stuff like, three or four in my case. I was leading a very large church at the time, five or six nights a week, we ate together at five thirty.
Did I have work before five thirty, after five thirty, and demands? Absolutely. But my family, and my wife, knew we’re going to eat together.
And after we ate, we did this crazy stuff. We actually pushed the plates to the middle and we talked. And then we often prayed. And at least a couple times, during the week, I would say, “This is what I’m learning right now.” And then I’d ask some of the kids, as they got older, what are you learning?
And my kids knew, rather than perfunctory devotions, everyone spends times in God’s Word, everyone’s listening from God, we eat together, we share together.
Second, time, I tuck my kids in. Not every night. But I fought with Theresa. Don’t let your wife have all the fun. And, by the way, talk about an “I love you.” “Hey, honey, I’m not as good as you and they probably won’t get as clean. I’ll do the baths and I’ll tuck them all in. Why don’t you just go hang out and do something?” She’ll rise up and call you blessed.
And you know what? And there’s a connection you’ll get with your kids. It requires time. You put them to bed. You eat together. You stand up.
The third one, be on time. I had a date every week with my wife. Now, I didn’t even know what a date, I never saw a married couple have a date. , that was so foreign to me.
But I thought, if she’s going to be important and valuable, every Friday was my day off. We went to breakfast and she knew she had three or four hours, no matter what, that we were going to hang together. It shaped our marriage.
Now, in that, too, in terms of time, since I didn’t know what we were doing, we read books together, we listened to CDs together, we discussed them together. Why? Because I didn’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to be a dad, I didn’t know to be a husband, I didn’t know how to be a man.
But, you know what? There are a lot of people that have gone ahead of you and me, and I was insecure, and she’s going to know that I don’t know what I’m doing.
But when we, just the fact that I stepped up and said, “Okay, let’s try this,” she was very cooperative. And very encouraging. But it takes time.
Finally, the cost is rejection. When you be the man in your house instead of passive, like letting the woman deal with things. And, “Hey, give him twenty bucks and he’ll be quiet. He slammed the door but they’re just going through a phase.”
All that stuff, as men, where we want to go into denial. You’re going to get rejection because you’re going to say, “Hey, everybody, we’re going to sit down and have a meal.” “I don’t want to. I want to eat in my room and I want to watch this show and my friends are calling and I got practice.”
“No, no, no. We’re eating together.” And they’ll roll their eyes.
And, you know what? If you can’t take that rejection, you know what leaders are? Leaders change things. Anytime you change things, people don’t like it. The status quo may not be good for them but they don’t like to change.
And you’re the dad who says, “No, we’re going to eat together.”
And then, one of your kids, in a weak moment, is smart aleck, says, “Well, who the heck do you think you are?” And you say, in your dad voice, not in the lovingly parent, “Well, Johnny, I really don’t like it when you talk to me that way and I don’t think that’s the way we, as families, ought to talk to one another.”
Unnnggrrrr. “Johnny,” then the low voice, “you better shut your mouth right now, sit down at the table, and that cell phone you have, I’d like to, right now. No, now. Thank you. When you can learn to speak to me and your mother respectfully, uh, looks like it’s going to be about six days on this one.”
“Well, you can’t do that!” “You know what? Excuse me. The keys right there? Want you to hand those over too. Thank you. I don’t accept that kind of behavior, ever, in my house toward me or your mother. There’s a new sheriff in town who loves you very much. And this is not how we live.”
Boy, where did he go to church? “And, by the way, you know that car that I bought, with the insurance that I pay for, with the gas that I put in it? Um, you learn to behave in a way that’s respectful to me and to others, I’ll let you drive that again. Until now, I got the keys and the cell phone.”
Parents, don’t give me all that stuff that, “I don’t have any control and I just don’t know what’s wrong. And they go to their room and they slam the door and all they do is play video games and, oh gosh…” Whose food are they eating? Whose cars are they driving? There’s not some gun to your head that, “If I can’t text, I’ll die.”
And so, guys, so, do you hear this? The reason that adolescent boys have big problems when there’s not a man around – a woman, by and large doesn’t do well with what I just did.
But I got news for you. When you get the manhood gene that God gives you and you act that way and they have a problem, those kids will come back and say, “Thanks, Dad.” And guess what? They’ll become those kind of fathers. Because kids need deeply loved and clear boundaries. So, you love them sacrificially.
Second, you’ve got to love your wives intentionally. Verses 26 to 28, Jesus, very, He sanctified them. He had a plan. And so, purposefully seek to develop your wife’s greatest beauty and gifts: spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
You want to see your wife as a flower that you’re an instrument in the hands of the living God that will bloom in ways that will produce beauty like you could never imagine.
And you’re on her team, you’re her number one cheerleader, you’re seeing gifts that she has that she doesn’t see.
Early in our marriage, I remember, my wife wrote a Christmas letter. It’s our first Christmas letter. We’re just married. And I read it. And I was writing all these papers in seminary.
And I thought, “Man, she writes way better than me.” I said, “You write, really good, honey.” “Oh, no. You’re just saying that. You’re my husband.” “No, this is really, really good.”
And then I heard her explaining to someone. I said, “Honey, I think you communicate really well.” “No, I couldn’t.”
So, anyway, first church. These ladies ask her to speak. And I said, “Honey, I think you can. And let’s go over the outline together and…”
And I, literally, she did it. There were ten or twelve women, which was a huge group back then. And she would, literally, throw up and be sick two days before she spoke. And you know what she needed? She needed, just needed someone to believe in her. Someone to say, “You can do that. You’re gifted at that.”
She did a series called, “Precious in His Sight” at a women’s retreat and it helped women so much so we had a gap on the radio – a week we needed to fill.
And I said, “Why don’t we put my wife’s stuff on there and see what happens.” So, we did. It sold more than mine.
And I could have been threatened but then I thought, “Now, wait a second. I’ve been, for twenty years, dreaming a dream to see her…” And that’s one of many, many things.
I remember when she was hitting the early part of mid-life. And, as a woman, you’re thinking, there’s osteoporosis out there, I need to be in shape, and there’s also, your body starts changing, and you need to fight against gravity.
And I came from this athletic background. I’d work out twice a day still, if I could. I just love to. It’s not a discipline. But she came from this total, never, she, nothing.
And so, we were up in Tahoe on vacation and we were talking about our relationship and where we’re headed, and what concerns you? And she said, “You know it kind of concerns me?”
And so, I said, “Well, why don’t we start walking together?” And we’ve been walking together ever since. Some of the best times of conversation.
And early on, it was literally, , I felt like I was walking slow. “You coming?” Yi-yi-yi. And then eventually it got where, “Hey, honey, could you slow down?” At one point in time, she just realized, she goes, she was really intimidated by the gyms and never…
So, I rearranged my schedule for two years so Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for fifty-five minutes during my lunch hour, we went to a gym together, I showed her how to use the machines, and we lifted and worked out.
And my wife, guess what – did that, man, that had huge difference. What am I saying? I’m responsible to be intentional about helping her develop.
We just decided on the book that we’re going to read together and then I read a chapter, she reads a chapter, we’re going to discuss it later this week. It never ends.
I’ve got to be intentional about developing her spiritually, emotionally, relationally. And loving her and helping her see what she can’t see in herself. Do you get it, guys? It’s a big job. Sacrificially, intentionally.
And, third, sensitively. That’s the nourish and the caring for your wife. It’s the little things that are big things for a woman. Little words of encouragement. It’s when you call for no reason. I know it doesn’t make sense but, believe me, it does to them somehow.
It’s when you take a walk, it’s when you talk, it’s when you plan in a date and you plan the date and you get the babysitter. Why that matters? I don’t know. It seems easier to her, she knows her better, but, okay guys, I’m just telling you. This is what’s called sensitivity.
And there’s something about, it’s noticing what’s going on around the house that’s broken.
I was, I’ve got to share this with you. This is so embarrassing. See how faded these cards are? These cards are from the early eighties. I was married about four years. And I was learning exactly what I’m teaching you.
And as I was learning it, I just realized, I am clueless. And my mind, it doesn’t – it’s one thing to hear a message or read a book. I don’t know about you but I default back to how I grew up.
And so I thought, I’m going to write down on these cards the kind of husband that I want to be and each day, I’ll just read them over and maybe, someway, somehow, over time, it’ll stick.
Because it wasn’t sticking. Oh, I was sensitive for, like, one day in a row. Oh…the next seven weren’t very good. And so, this is “life-goals with wife.” Life goals:
“My goal is to love Theresa sacrificially in a way that makes sense to her.” I just wanted to remember that was what the job was.
“My goal is to be the leader and initiator in our family that God wants me to be.” I just, I never saw that growing up.
“My goal is to get away with Theresa alone three times each year.” Now, just to be fair, guys, I don’t think I ever did it three times. But the fact that I wrote it down and said it, we usually got away at least twice, which was two more times than ever before.
“My goal is to make our home a beautiful place to live in within our priorities financially, as a gift to Theresa.” I just didn’t notice our home. At all. The washer, when she did dishes, we had this old dishwasher and so water would come out. And so she put towels underneath of it.
And the kid’s rooms, we had really old windows and so, when it rained, the water would come in and she’d put towels there.
And she would tell me these things. And I would say, “I don’t get it. A dishwasher costs a bunch of money. We don’t have a bunch of money. Those towels work. And the towels work over here. What’s the big deal?”
And then I realized, that’s her world. You know what? That’s where God designed her to oversee. I need to cooperate and I have since seen, I’m going to do everything I can, without being opulent or crazy, to create a world and an environment where where she lives her life works for her gifts.
Guys, I never did that. So, I had to write it down.
Another goal is, “My goal is to read with Theresa once a week, either a book together or separately.” Now, do I do it every week of every year? Of course not. But I can’t tell you how many dozens of books over the last thirty-two years we’ve done.
“My goal is to pray seriously with my wife once a week and briefly each day.” That doesn’t sound like a big deal. I’ve been in pastor’s conferences and I’ve asked pastors, “If you pray with your wife, no lying, raise your hand.” Less than ten percent of pastors pray with their wives.
“My goal is to give my wife what she needs instead of what she wants.” There’s a danger that I’ll touch on – one of the dangers, if you get real serious and if you have a passion to do what God wants you to do, is that you’ll think that anything your wife wants, a really good, loving husband says yes to, which produces codependency.
You need to lead – what’s best. You want to give her what’s best for her, best for the family, best for your marriage.
And, at times, that means you get rejection from her because you say, “You know what? Honey, I’d really love to do that, we really can’t afford that right now.” “But, why not?” “You know what? We really can’t”
So, are you guys getting what a man looks like? And the power, when a man shows up like this in a relationship?
As you turn the page, I want to give you a warning. The warnings are what this does not mean and I’ll give them to your briefly. But I need to balance it out.
It doesn’t mean, as I just stated, you always give your wife what she wants. I did that for about a year and a half and then I read a book on codependency and it was me. And I thought, this is not good.
Number two, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a life of your own. You need to have friends, male friends, you need to have hobbies. You need to do things planned into your life where you get from other men, and have fun, and have a world of your own that refreshes you so you can show up and bring something great to your wife. And so, wives, you’ve got to participate with that.
Now, you’ve got to balance that out. Some of you guys have really got the world of your own down. And what you got to get is what’s it mean to be a husband or a husband and a father.
Third, it doesn’t mean that you make her dependent on you. Don’t smother her. Don’t take care of things. Part of developing something is, “You can do it! Go for it!” “Oh, I don’t think I can.” “You’ll be great.”
I remember in Dallas, six lanes of traffic and mix-masters and my wife came from a little town of about two hundred. And we’d moved there, it was like, “I don’t want to drive there.” So, I drove when we had to go downtown.
And then I realized, “I’m making my wife a cripple.” Guess what? You know how you get confidence? Driving in six lanes with people going like this and realizing I did it once…I did it again. So, now she can drive anywhere. So, you don’t make your wife dependent.
And, finally, it doesn’t mean you call all the shots. It means you talk, and pray, and get God’s counsel, and you work as a team and, at the end of the day, you do what we’re called to do.
Remember that, in that one line? Step up. Step up.