Ephesians chapter 5, verses 1 and 2. And I put the text in your notes.
In the first half of that book, he tells us who we are in Christ, and how precious we are, how loved we are, what He’s already done for us, that you are a son of God because of Christ, and that you are adopted, and He cares for you, and it doesn’t matter how you look, and He actually wanted you to be exactly the height that you are, with the eye color that you have, with the personality that you have, and He actually likes you. And you don’t have to be this skinny, or this hard-bodied, or wear these kinds of clothes. He loves you, just the way you are.
And, by the way, that is the key to experiencing great love with other people. Because until you understand how deeply loved you are, you will try and find that love, and make someone else the completion to make your life work, and it always ends in disaster.
And so, he says, “Therefore be imitators of God” – how? – “as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
Now, pull out a pen. I’m going to ask you just to make a couple of observations. This will really help you.
Put a line under where it says “be imitators of God.” Just put a little line under it. And then, above it, write, “Command number one.” There are two commands in this passage.
The word is mimic. Literally, it’s – command – mimic God. Do in relationships with others what God does to you. Mimic Him. Now, notice, I want you to put parentheses around the next phrase. It’s “as beloved children.” So, put a parenthesis.
So, I’m to mimic God. I’m to love the way God loves in relationships with other people, but I’m to do it as someone who is already dearly loved, and accepted, and precious to God.
Command number two – underline “walk in love.” “Walk in love.” It’s a command. Notice, the line that comes up next describes what it means to “walk in love”: “just as Christ also loved you.” Put parentheses around that.
So, command number one: I am to imitate God. How? As someone who’s deeply loved and accepted just for who I am. Command number two: I’m to walk in love. Walk is a choice. Walk is progressive. Walk is steps. Sometimes you fall down. But I walk, how? Just as Christ loved me.
The rest of the verse says – Well, how did Christ love us? “Who gave Himself for you.” It’s a picture of, in the portal of all time and all humanity, God saw you, and He saw me, and when Christ was hanging upon the cross, He died in your place, and in my place, to pay for our sin.
And then, He rose from the dead to prove that it was true, to offer spiritual life – just as we’re physically born, to offer a spiritual birth, and a new relationship with God.
Question: He does it to God. It’s an offering; it’s a sacrifice. When Jesus was praying through – For those of you with a little Bible background, remember the Garden of Gethsemane, or maybe you saw the movie? Did He, emotionally, want to go to the cross? Yes, or no? Emotionally. I didn’t hear you. No.
So, He is agonizing, why? He understands separation from the Father, He understands the cross, He understands the thorns, He knows He’s going to get beaten within an inch of His life – all those things. But He looked at you, and He looked at me… And here’s what love is: Love is choosing to give another person what they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost. That’s what He did.
And, see, it changes your relationships. It’s not, “Well, how do I feel? Is she meeting my needs? Are things going well?” You know, “Our sex isn’t as hot as it used to be.” “He’s gained a couple of pounds.” “This is really difficult with our kids right now.” “There’s a lot of pressure in our jobs.” “I don’t think she…” “I don’t think he’s really the right person.” “I think we’re growing out of love.”
No, no, no, no. Those are feelings. And those are movies playing in your head. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice to give another person what they need the most – not when they’re being good – when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost.
Now, notice, if I could take all this passage and put it in four steps like Hollywood’s formula, it would look like this. Number one, become the right person. That’s what God is saying. Become the right person.
If you have your Bible or mobile device, open up to Ephesians chapter 4, because it says “therefore,” right? It says, “Therefore be imitators of God.” You need to look behind it, because what he is going to say is, there are certain attitudes that you need to get rid of that are poison in relationships, and there are certain attitudes that are like God’s that will transform relationships.
So, notice, Ephesians 4 – pick it up with me at verse 31. It says, “Get rid of” – what? – “all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice.”
Any of you ever struggle with having some of those attitudes, actions, or words come out of your mouth in your relationships with the opposite sex? Oh, good. I do. When you get hurt, and you get rejected, when you’re confused, when you feel betrayed – anger, bitterness, slander – you start telling other people – malice – how do you get back at them?
But notice, look at verse 32, “But be kind to one another, compassionate” – or “tenderhearted” – “forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” When he says, “Mimic God,” he says, “Become the right person.”
You become a person that is kind. What is “kind”? You do nice things for other people, just to bless their life.
Compassionate – that means you’re tenderhearted, and you walk in their shoes, and you’re empathetic, and you understand where they’re coming from. And it’s not demanding about, “What do I get?” but it’s, “How do I give?” When they blow it, you’re forgiving.
It’s not that you become a doormat. It’s not that you’re doing that. And there are boundaries, of course. But when they blow it, just like you blow it, you don’t hold it against them. You get it on the table, and you forgive them. Mimic God.
Here’s the deal, here’s what is wonderful about God’s deal. For those of you that are divorced and not in a relationship, for those of you that are single and not in a relationship, for those of you that are thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen and thinking, I’m not exactly sure what all this is about, but my parents said it would be a good idea for me to sit in on this… All right? And I can hear them saying, “I know a lot more of what this is about than this guy thinks,” which is actually quite true. You don’t need to be in any relationship to become the kind of person who mimics God.
Let me ask you this: If you found a person to date that was kind, compassionate, tenderhearted, others-centered, and forgiving when you blew it, would that sound like a pretty good catch? That’s a different set of qualities than, “Man, she looks good in tight jeans,” or, “I love him in a tight t-shirt,” or, “He drives a Ferrari.” That’s really different, isn’t it?
And, see, the thing is, the people that are really kind, and very loving, and forgiving, and godly – guess who they’re looking for? They are looking for other people that are very kind, and very loving. Right?
So, the way to get the best is to become the best. You need to become what you want. And you can work on that every day. That’s why the greatest thing I do for my wife, every single day, is pursue, passionately, my relationship with Christ, so I can become more like Him, as His Spirit creates in me, through His Word and community, the living Christ in me.
The second thing is, rather than finding the right person, you become the right person. And then, it’s, you don’t fall in love, you walk in love. You walk in love. So, it’s a choice. And we have defined it. It is… You got it yet? Love is giving another person, what? What they need the most, when they deserve it the least, at great personal cost.
See, what I can tell you is, I didn’t know any of this. I never picked up a Bible until I was eighteen. And I did the whole deal Hollywood’s way, until I was in my early twenties. And all the fallout, and all the mess – Get it. Okay? And then, I got married. And in our relationship, we really did do it God’s way. So I thought, It’s God’s way. It’s going to be great! It’s going to be awesome!
Well, it was, for three months. It was really awesome. And then, I found out that I needed to walk in love, and Theresa wasn’t going to meet all my needs. And I didn’t know that if you’re the son of an alcoholic, you become the “rescuer.” And my antenna was always up, everywhere: How do I help? How do I rescue? Because I feel good about me when I rescue people.
And she had this little light that said, I came from a difficult home, and then I got abandoned by this guy, and he was selling drugs and ran off with another woman. And I have these two kids, and I’m looking for help! Well, we were a match made in hell.
And I don’t mean that as a cuss word. I mean that as a description. And so, we both loved God; we got married. Well, three months in, she really doesn’t want me to fix her, because that’s all I can do. And I am really struggling with some of this dysfunction that was really attractive, because…
So, we’re married, like, three, six months, and now I’m in seminary. Now I’m in counseling. It’s the best money and the best time I ever spent. Why? Because you can only walk in love as a dearly loved.
I have the word beloved – we don’t use that a lot. Think about this: Walk in love, as someone who feels God’s love and acceptance pouring over your mind, and your heart, and your soul, so at some level, you don’t care what anyone on the whole earth thinks about what you think, what you wear, what your body is like, because you are so precious, and so loved, and you are someone’s son, or someone’s daughter, and He made you special. And when you get that… Now, instead of needing, you can give.
And so, I had to learn how to do that. But a lot of it was… I mean, I made her nuts; she made me nuts. And she tried to fix me. It did not work. So, I tried to fix her. It did not work.
I talk to couples that are going through really hard times – it goes something like this: “Well, if she would – Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! – then this would be okay.” “Well, I would do that, if she would, like, pick up stuff around the house.” And, “Before we got married, we used to have sex! And now, it’s kids, and stuff, and work, and pace, and pressure, and…” And then, “Before we got married, he did silly stuff, like open the door. He jotted me notes. He’d call me: ‘I’m just thinking of you.’ We’d talk for an hour and a half on the phone. Now I can’t even get him to text me back! And then he wants to make love! Are you kidding me? Give me a break, dude!” Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!
And you know what? Someone has to stop and say, “You know what? I’m not going to keep asking, ‘What do you give me?’ and ‘Am I fulfilled?’ That’s Hollywood.” Someone steps up and says, “You know what? We can break the cycle. I am so deeply loved by God, in the midst of all this – yeah, we probably need to get some help, and we probably need to get some good counseling, and we probably need to get in a small group with other people that are as messed up as we are – because everyone is messed up; they just don’t admit it. And we are going to help one another. And I am going to choose to give my mate what they need, even when I am not getting anything back.”
Because once that happens, a cycle breaks. Hearts get tenderized. Restoration occurs.
The third is, you not only become the right person, and walk in love, but you fix your hope on God. And you seek to please Him through this relationship.
So, see, at the heart of all of Hollywood is narcissism. We will be nice to people, we will do things, but there is always sort of a, “I’ll do this, if you do that. I’ll act like this, if you’ll do that. I’ll give this, to get that.” That never is sustainable.
And then when you put your hopes and dreams on this person, and then things break apart, you’re devastated. God is the only one that can make this work, and until you are whole with Him, you don’t have the ability, or the capacity, to really love.
There are a couple of professors at Seattle Pacific, and they teach a course that everyone takes that is not required. It’s about love, and relationships, and how to find the right person. And there are no notes – you don’t have to take any notes – you don’t have to come to class, but they come, thousands of them.
But they read this statement at the first class, and everyone has to memorize this statement. And they go over it every week, and then they teach people about how this works.
Les and Leslie Parrott write, “If you attempt to build intimacy with another person, before you have done the hard work of becoming a whole and healthy person, every relationship will be an attempt to complete the wholeness that you lack and end in disaster.” Boy, we could have… If were like one of those old-time tent meetings that I’ve seen on TV, I’d say, “Can I get a testimony?” Right?
We’ve all done this, haven’t we? We have all done this. We are trying to find someone to fix these holes in us. And, see, if you just say, “You know what? No one has the power to do that…” I don’t care who they are, or what they look like, they will always let you down – because they’re human – just like you let them down.
And the paradigm is, “I am going to become the right person. I am going to walk in love with my heavenly Father, so I can choose to give what only He can give me. And I am going to fix my hopes and dreams not on this person, because they are going to let me down, but this marriage – as much as I want to be fulfilled” – and that will be a nice byproduct – “I want this to be an offering to God.
There have been times in my marriage – I’ll admit this, even as a pastor – it was like, I don’t want to stay in this marriage. This is too hard. I am too frustrated. I mean, in a nice way, she makes me nuts! And we had so much stuff to work through. And we needed all the counseling, and a little bit more.
And since then, thirty-five years later, we have read so many books, and listened to so many things, and gone away on weekends. You know why? Because we are desperately needing to learn how to love God, and to love each other.
But you know what it did? It sustained us through the little hard times, sustained us through the years three through six, and sustained us with a baby in diapers, when you didn’t have much time, and it sustained us when some of our teenagers were going crazy.
And then, boy, the empty nest – it was hard for me. I was real excited about it, and my wife had all this grief – we were losing our kids – and ministry went this way. All kinds of seasons… They have difficult, difficult times.
And God wants you to know, if you could but grasp that in a fallen world, you will always have difficult times, but if you become the right person – if you walk in love, and you set and fix your affection on Him – He will take the difficult times, like a piece of sand that rubs the wrong way in the oyster of your heart, and you’ll create a pearl.
And you will end up, if you persevere – like, I have hit a window that I never dreamed was possible. I’ve got thirty-five years to look backwards. The intimacy in the marriage that I have is beyond anything I dreamed. Every area of my marriage is better than I thought it could be. And every area that you can imagine, we have struggled in.
And then, the best we could, out of all of our dysfunction, we tried to model for our kids, “This is the direction to go.” And they grew up, and they said, “You know what? I think I’m going to do relationships God’s way.” And they found mates that love God, and now they’re raising kids like this. And adult kids that want to be around you. It’s like, are you kidding? And now they’re having little kids.
And here’s what I will tell you: The rewards that God has for you are beyond your wildest dreams. And the great majority of people, and the great majority of Christians bail out too soon, too early, because, basically, you’ve been believing this stuff. And these are just magazines.
You can’t watch five Netflix movies a week, and watch three reality shows, and it just seems like all the action is out there. The fact of the matter is this – interesting research: Those who walk closely with God, pray together as a couple, are in God’s Word on a regular basis, and worship together – divorce is in the low single digits. It happens. Very rare.
And then – this is research. I mean, someone has to do this, so I thought I would. You know where the hottest, greatest sex is in America? It’s not in the singles, at all. Monogamous couples with deep spiritual values, and commitment to one another. You know why? Because sex wasn’t designed to “just have a physical experience.”
When there is a spiritual connection, and a connection of the soul, and the heart, and the mind, and when there are two people doing life together, coming together physically is a celebration. And God says, “The marriage bed is holy.” It’s not dirty. It’s holy! And there’s something that happens – even the current research about, in a man’s brain, certain things happen inside our brain that allow walls to come down as we’re with our wives, in intimacy, that allows a depth of sharing.
God’s plan is, you become the right person, you walk in love, you set your affections on Him, and when failure occurs, repeat steps one, two, and three. And it will.
After thirty-five years, does anyone think Theresa and I ever have an argument? Raise your hand. Yeah. Put them all up. Of course! After thirty-five years. I mean, thirty-five years of working hard, does anyone think that she disappoints me, or I disappoint her, and we hurt each other’s feelings? Yeah.
So, in the old days what I did was, Man, this – you know what? This is what she’s doing. And when she changes, then… And she was going, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll change when you change.” Because it was all about finding the right person, falling in love, and... And now, when that happens, I’ll go back to step one.
The grammar actually isn’t just, “Become the right person.” It’s, literally, not just, “Imitate God.” The grammar is, “Demonstrate yourselves as imitators of God.”
And I go back, when we’re having a conflict – and it’s a choice – and I say, “God, this is not – I’m not happy. So, what do You want to do in me? What is it about me, as a man, what is it about me, as a father, what is it, about me as a husband that You want to change, that needs to change?”
Because I tried, for years, to change her. That’s not going to work. I have zero control of her, a hundred percent of me. So, I go back to step one. I want to become the right person.
So, I’m going to own. Even if, in my perverted little heart, it’s ninety percent her, and ten percent me, I’m going to own my ten percent, and I’m going to repent. And it’s probably sixty/forty. And it’s probably me the sixty. But I’m deluded, like you. It’s the way we are.
And, now, I say, “God, I’m going to walk in love. And I’m going to give her whatever she needs, and I don’t feel like she deserves it. And I’m going to choose to do that, not even for her. I’m doing that for You.” And I will tell you – whoo! – power. Forgiveness. Breakthrough.
I come from a non-Christian home, little Christian exposure. I thought born-again evangelicals – whatever the term is of people that actually believe the Bible, and have a personal relationship with Jesus… I grew up thinking you all were just nuts. Okay?
Until I saw it lived out. And then, I watched how the world lived, and I thought – You know, I’ve always been at least shrewd. Maybe not smart, but shrewd. And if you’re shrewd, what you look at is, Let’s see, fifty percent chance, round one, it won’t work; seventy-five percent, round two. I don’t know if I can afford to be on a diet and have a hard body the whole rest of my life. This is a lot of work that doesn’t work for almost anybody. I’m probably not in the one percent of the gene pool. I don’t look like Brad, Jolie, Christie, whoever. You know, maybe God’s way does look a little better. Right?
And so, I want to take everything we have said about God’s way of doing relationships, and put it on a little pyramid. If you are single, or if you are divorced, and feel like there is a freedom to pursue a relationship, if you’re a widow… Now, by the way, if you’re married, you can say, “How am I doing at this?”
Here’s where you want to start. The issue is not, Does she look good in tight jeans? or, Does he look good in a tight t-shirt? and, What does he drive? The issue is spiritual. Is he a godly person? Is she a godly person? Integrity. Character. That’s what you’re looking for, number one. Regardless of if the little electricity goes through your head. You can hold off on that.
Secondly, you want to see them in a social situation, with no dating. You want to see how they treat friends, and people. And you go out, and you hang out, and you see them at work, or see them with friends. You want to see them socially, so they don’t put on their “I’m trying to get you” face. The moment you start dating, you paint your face, he paints his, and you play a game.
Third, then, you want to really get to know the person, more beyond a little psychological profile that’s on the Internet. You want to get to know his heart, her heart, dreams, personality, what they want, kids, finances. You want to really get to know them.
All the research tells us that before 1960, the reason that there were so fewer divorces is that people took a long time and a slow road toward relationships, for a number of reasons. Number one, there was the taboo of getting divorced. Number two, there weren’t contraceptives, or acceptance of cohabitation. And so you realized, if you get in a relationship and you get pregnant, you’re stuck. And so, people took a long time to figure out, Is this the right person? They evaluated.
In1969, the reform of the laws changed. There was “no-fault divorce.” Pretty soon, cohabitation went from a thing that people should never do, whether you were a believer or not, to, It’s normal; it’s accepted. So, people slide into relationships. They slide into relationships, now they feel trapped, now they have a baby, and now it’s like, This is not the right person, but it took me two and a half years to find out. And so, now, I’m going to get a divorce.
And so, you want to know this person. Then, you hold back those emotional feelings, and as God gives you green lights, then you click in on the emotion. And next week – don’t miss it – we’re going to talk about how to know, how to really know if you’re in love, and the difference between love and infatuation.
And then, are you ready for this? As these things line up, you get married. Okay? You get married. And then, the spiritual, and the social, and the soul, and the connection… And you don’t just have sex. You make love. And the angels in heaven and the God of heaven say, “Far from being dirty, this is a holy and pure thing.”
And so, when your kids are small, and they ask about sex, you tell them, “Absolutely, it’s a wonderful gift from God.” And then, when they’re pre-teens you say, “Yeah, pretty soon your body is going to be changing, because God is preparing you for something very wonderful.” And then, when they are teenagers, you talk about sex, and what a sacred stewardship it is, and why, and… And you know what? You train your kids. You give them God’s prescription, early on, and all the way. You’ll be glad you did.
Now, that little pyramid that I gave you… I did, for a number of years, a divorce recovery program in our church. It was another church, in another day, and about eighty percent of the people would be people that were not Christians, but they’d been divorced, and they’d found out this was a really good place. And so, they would come. And I thought showing them that pyramid, and what they ought to do, would probably not go over real well.
So, here’s the one that I showed them. I put it just on a big sheet of paper, and I put it up. And I said, “Hey, you probably think I’m a pastor, and I’m going to really shove Jesus down your throat, and tell you how terrible you’ve been, and what you need to do.”
And I said, “Actually, I’m pretty new. I just became a Christian in early adulthood. Let me just talk about relationships. This is how I learned to do relationships, and just let me walk through this.
“I learned to do relationships this way: I was looking for a hot girl – maybe you too. And I would go to bars, and then, like most of you, probably within at least a week, if not that night, you hook up, and you get involved sexually, or at some level. And then, pretty soon, you have the dropping of thirty points of IQ, and you have these overwhelming feelings of, Oh, I’m in love, and I’m loved!
And then, you kind of get to know them. And sometimes you start to get to know her, and you go, Oh my lands. She is so hot, but there is zero between her ears. Right? Or, This guy, he is a hunk! And he’s into self-worship. He kisses his own biceps all the time. He’s a narcissist! It’s sickening being around him! He looks good from a distance. And so, you go – what? – “Ah, that’s not the one for me.”
So, what do you do? You go back fishing. Physical, emotional – and then, you find someone: Hey! We really connect. And as you really connect – and, for many people, you’ve already started living together…
And then, you get social. You’re around his friends, your friends, even family. And then, you usually move in together, and you do it for three months, or eight months, or a year or two.
And what is it about all the celebs, and all people – at some point, there is this sense, There’s more to marriage than just cohabitation, and having kids, and sharing jobs. And it’s like – because God has put it in the DNA – it’s a spiritual moment. And what do they want to do? They call people like me and say, “Would you marry us?” Right?
And so, I asked them, in the divorce recovery, “How many of you did relationships that way, like I did?” Whoo! A hundred percent of the hands. And then – this was before Dr. Phil, so I feel very proud of myself at this moment. I said, “Let me ask you – so, how did that work for you?” I mean, we’re in the divorce recovery class. And they’re going, “It didn’t.”
And so, what I did, I said, “Okay, are you all ready?” It was on a sheet of paper. I said, “Ready? One, two, three – turn the sheet of paper over.”
And I said, “You know, if the pyramids were made like that, they probably wouldn’t be here today.” And then, I said, “Look at how they’re made. This is God’s design. If you really want help, first, get right with God. He loves you. And go on this journey. And it’ll transform your life.”
And for some of you, that’s the message He has. In fact, let me give you a couple “to-go” thoughts, and then we will wrap things up here – three or four quick questions.
Question number one – sort of an honest moment, just between you and yourself: Which triangle most represents your approach to building lasting relationships? Whether you’re married or not. If you were honest. Don’t tell anybody. But which one? Hollywood’s, or God’s?
Second, what would your present and/or future relationship look like? What do you want it to look like? God’s, or Hollywood’s?
Third, what specific steps do you need to take to begin implementing God’s secret to a lasting relationship? And let me do a little coaching here.
If you’re an uninvolved single – what I mean is, you’re not in a deep relationship. Don’t do the dance. Don’t do the little thing, the little – you know? Go through that process. Hold your emotions back – we’re going to talk about – until a green light comes on.”
Second, if you’re an involved single – you’re dating someone, or maybe you’re living with them right now. But let me encourage you to take that triangle out and say, “Where are we? What did we skip? What would we need to do to get this relationship where it really functions the way we want it to, and God wants it to?”
If you’re married, I encourage you to sit down over a cup of coffee this afternoon, and look at that triangle, and look at each area, and just say, “How do you think we’re doing? On a scale of one to five – ‘one’ maybe not so good, ‘five’ awesome. How are we doing in spiritual, social, emotional, psychological?”
And then, will you please – I’m going to talk to the ladies first. Do not use this as a club. Okay? Remember? You’re going to mimic God. Kind, compassionate, forgiving. See, if someone says, “I’m sure glad we went to church. I finally got you to go. We never pray together! You don’t come to church with me! You’re not spiritual!” I’ve got news: He is never going to, ever.
Or if you’re the guy, you’re going, “Hey, man, finally someone is talking about sex! I’ll tell you what, I’ve been trying to get through this; it’s kind of hard to bring up, but… Well, yeah, honey, those other four things are really important, but let’s talk about the top of this, and how we’re…” Don’t do that.
Take that sheet of paper, and a cup of coffee, and say, “You know something? We all struggle. Let’s just talk about – where do you sense we’re at with the gentleness? And what would it look like to maybe just – maybe you choose an area that we could make some baby steps toward, and I’ll choose an area. And could we talk about what it would look like to live before God, and to be kind to each other, to forgive each other, and to make progress?”