28 August 2008

Marital jollity: thought-provokers

by Dan Phillips

Pastor David Wayne (the Jollyblogger) just shared Ten Things I Think I Think About Marriage and Marriage Counseling. If I'd written it, my dear wife would say it was too long, and (if I'd written it) she'd be right. But I didn't, so....

Some of Pastor Wayne's more memorable assertions, bolding added:
I think I think we focus too much on marriage and work too hard on our marriages to really be of any help.

...But a reading of the New Testament doesn't reflect an overwhelming concern with marriage and the family on the part of it's [sic] author (God!).

...Almost every serious marital conflict I get involved in eventually becomes a contest of wills, and the struggle is over whose "will" will prevail. This is a contest to rule.

...I think I think that we could improve many marriages if we could treat one another as enemies. In fact, I think that in many cases the relationship could improve immeasurably if Christians could elevate their spouse to that of an enemy.

Biblically, the Christian is called to love his/her enemy. According to Matthew 5 the Christian doesn't retaliate against his enemy, gives twice what the enemy asks, works twice as hard for the enemy as the enemy wants and blesses the one who treats them badly.

I'm thinking that if I weren't a Christian I would want to be the enemy of a Christian, because that's a pretty sweet deal relationally.

...In my pre-marital counseling and marriage counseling I try to tell people that there is no special category of counsel called "marital counseling" [ — ] it's all about basic Christian discipleship. This takes me back to my first point where I say we are missing the boat in marriage and marriage counseling.
I hope that whets your appetite. But do note, they're all out of context. Do not comment on Wayne's thoughts until you read the whole!

Now, here's what I think I think about some of what David thinks he thinks.

First, I think his central point is a really good point. Here's how I'd put it: there isn't a marriage failure that isn't also (and more fundamentally) a failure of discipleship, a failure as a Christian. I have thought that more times than I can possibly count, wanted to say, "You don't get this. It isn't simply that you need to be a more faithful husband/wife. You need to be a more faithful Christian. This isn't just about you and Mary/Bob. This is about you and Jesus."

Or, rephrased once again, you cannot legitimately say, "Yeah, I'm not much of a husband — but I'm a spankin' good disciple of Christ!" Nuh-uh.

Second, of course I think one of the ten things David thinks should be the big thing I know I think. I laid it out over two years ago in Pastoral marriage counseling: What if? Don't know whether David ever read it. Hope you do.

In that (among other things), I said:
What if, when the pair began to trade accusations, [the counseling pastor] held up his hand, and said, "Not yet. We can get back to that. What I want you to tell me now is what Jesus Christ means to you. Bob? You first. Then you, Tina."
And then I suggested that the pastor assign some directed Bible study on the nature of marriage and the nature of vows, have the couple bring in their marriage vows, and work from that basis. As Christians who've made sacred, binding, lifelong promises.

That goes right along with what I think David's main point is.

Pastor Wayne's other point (not mine), in my own words, is that we can mess up marriage by focusing on marriage as if it were a special, detached thing, rather than simply a facet of discipleship. It's equally an error to treat it as if it's unrelated, and to treat it as if it's everything. "You shouldn't talk to your husband that way" sometimes is equally "A Christian shouldn't talk to anyone that way"; as "You shouldn't treat your wife like that" sometimes is equally "A Christian shouldn't treat anyone like that."

So David is saying that if we focus on what should be central (loving God with everything, loving our neighbor as ourselves), that itself will improve our marriage.

I would, however, add this — and David can say for himself whether or not he agrees: it isn't pastorally wise to approach a troubled marriage and just say, in effect, "Be better Christians and everything should work out fine." As simplistic as it sounds, there is truth in that... but there's some important truth missing, too.

I think of it as analogous to physical health. Anything I do that's good for my body is also good for my finger, my leg, my heart, my kidneys. But if I develop a problem in one of those areas, I can't and shouldn't just ignore it, saying, "I'm not going to be distracted from doing what's good for my body, and throw my focus off onto something peripheral." When some part of my body suffers, I need to do something for that part, because it is a part of the whole.

Now it may turn out that B really is affected by neglect of A. Maybe I'm having kidney stones because I never drink enough water. So I need to drink more water. That would be good for my whole body, and especially for my kidneys. But, while I'm having kidney stones, maybe I need pain meds, or maybe I'll even need some sort of surgery.

HSAT, it's always good to be reminded: God's goal should be our goal, and His stated goal is that Jesus Christ come to have first place in all things (Colossians 1:18).

Including our marriages.

Dan Phillips's signature


John said...


Well said.

It is helpful for me to remember that the chapter in which Paul tells husbands to love their wives 'even as Christ loves the church' (Eph 5.25) begins by telling us to be imitators of Christ.

How much better would our marriages (and all relationships) be if we remembered to be imitators of Christ!

James Scott Bell said...

I love that question of yours, Dan. "Tell me what Jesus Christ means to you" BEFORE getting to anything else. That's one I'm going to use.

donsands said...

It's the blame game when dealing with disputes.
She does this. He does that.

I had a marriage where the husband pointed a gun at his wife.
"What's up with that", we asked the husband.
He said, "Well, she pulled a knife on me once. And I was really pointing the gun at her, I was just cleaning it."

Thanks for the good post. Some very good wisdom for us to apply to our own marriage, and wisdom to help others.

DJP said...

I'm going to go out on a limb here, Don, and say that was a seriously messed-up marriage.

James Scott Bell said...

I don't know, Dan. Weren't they treating each other as enemies?

FX Turk said...

Wait -- you mean to say that marriage isn't about what I am going to get out of my spouse, but instead what I am intent on pouring into and pouring out for my spouse?

It's people like you what causes unrest, DJP. Sleepless nights.

donsands said...

One thing I learned, as I saw more than a few marriages break up, is that the wives would cry rel tears, and we elders would lean toward the wife more than the husband.

But I found out these tears wer at the best half & half. Perhaps half for the whole situation, but the other half was for me, myself, and I.

And you don't know that up front, but the truth comes out as time wears on.
And then you realized you being played big time.

Hey, but that's how we learn.

DJP said...

I hate that whole learning-curve thing. I want it to have been a learning-spike.

It doesn't help that there seem to have been individuals who had just that very thing happen, such as Spurgeon.

Nor does it help when one has the feel that people would like that to have happened in your life, too — that they expect that of you as a pastor.

Who can blame them? Who wouldn't rather have a pastor who's already "there," rather than a work-in-progress?

Unknown said...

Great thoughts. I remember my pastor-mentor telling me when I was a youth pastor that if you really want to teach kids to be sexually pure don't teach them about sex teach them about God, to love Him and delight in Him.

What you and the Jollyblogger said about marriage could apply to almost any issue we handle in the church today. It seems to me we tend to focus on the smaller issues and symptoms, how to be a better X... 10 steps to a healthier Y. And we neglect the larger issue of God-centered, Christ-centered Christian discipleship.

Granted there are times like an ER doctor we need to patch the immediate wound. But overall one can't help but wonder if the law of unintended consequences comes into play in our great evangelical quest to make Christians better at X, Y or Zs we've contributed to the problems that create it--Christians less interested in discipleship and obedience in the whole of life.

There is a difference between fixing a broken marriage and glorifying God in marriage. The latter brings the former, but a person with the goal of the former doesn't neccesarily desire the latter. Doing the former alone can bring self-righteousness and narcissism--which feeds bigger monsters.

Scott Berry said...

Very thought provoking! And I am talking about the picture of the man with the teeth. It's hard to get passed "jack-o-lantern-man". I don't know whether to feel sad, or to smile with him.
Oh, great post about marriage and counseling.


DJP said...

Well, I can say that he'd not be eligible to fight on the Continental Army.

Phil Johnson said...

Is the gap-toothed gentleman really jolly, or is he wincing in pain?

Hard to tell. . .

Stefan Ewing said...

My wife and I have had our ups and downs. Becoming a Christian and then learning what my responsibilities are as a Christian husband (especially 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Peter 3) has helped stabilize our relationship.

...And the understanding that one of my ministries (we all have ministries, even as lay believers) is my own marriage, especially since while I am a believer, my wife is not (yet). And by ministry, I mean service, honoring Christ (not that I always do), and so on.

DJP said...

I don't know, Phil. I always thought he was smiling or laughing. But it was your picture. Had you stepped on his foot, or read him some Rob Bell, or something?

Michael said...


Very well put...we first need to ensure that we are imitating Christ. Philippians 2:5-7 came to mind while I was reading your post...

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men."

If each partner really internalized this concept, and took the "it's not about me" approach, then we could lay aside our "rights", stop the trading/tit-for-tat mentality that goes on (I do X, so he/she should do Y), and find our freedom in the servants role.

Great post !

Solameanie said...

As a confirmed bachelor, I was going to make some tongue-in-cheek, catty remarks about getting married in Reno. But I can't. I just can't.

That opening photo was so gruesome, I just can't function. I'm destroyed for the rest of the day. I'm going to have nightmares tonight. It makes the alien creature in the film "Alien" look like a Ken doll in comparison. It makes the demon-possessed voodoo doll in Karen Black's "Trilogy of Terror" look like Chatty Cathy.

Daniel, how could you do such a thing to me? In penance, you have to attend services at the Crystal Cathedral for a month.

Josh said...

When I am doing pre-marital counselling with a couple I like to tell them that God's highest goal for their lives is not happiness but rather holiness.

I emphasize that a relationship with the Lord that is striving towards sanctification will also bear the fruit of a marriage that is headed in the right direction (and I never promise that all things will be good, because that's just a lie).

~Mark said...

Sweet. This post sums it all up very well. Relationships I've seen break up are never a situation where Christ is being given His just due. Being more faithful Christians will take care of SO much other stuff.

We'd also suddenly find ourselves with churches with huge payrolls of employees that no longer have a role to fill! ;)

Rachael Starke said...

"When I am doing pre-marital counselling with a couple I like to tell them that God's highest goal for their lives is not happiness but rather holiness."

Not that that's not 100% true, but I often find, in myself and in others, when we are already wallowing in the filth of sinful anger, bitterness, self-pity, etc., holiness is the very last thing we want. And (if we we're a child of God), we might mentally acknowledge that happiness ought not to be what we want,either, but it feels like a really great compromise.....

So that's why Dan's words are so right on. We need to spend the majority of our time pointing ourselves and others to what we did to Jesus, and what He in return did for us. Seeing that will transform our perspective on what (we think) someone else has done to us....

I'm so thankful that God has granted me a mrriage where this has become an increasing pursuit, but I do have very difficult family relationship which would benefit from this approach. And in God's providence, we may be seeing eachother or at least talking together soon for the first time in over a year. I've been praying about what the one thing might be that God would have me say or ask(as it may be the only thing I get to say before she cuts me off again), and I think this might be it. Thanks Dan.

Stefan Ewing said...

~mark wrote:

"We'd also suddenly find ourselves with churches with huge payrolls of employees that no longer have a role to fill! ;)"

Huge payrolls? What church do you attend? (Don't say, or you might suddenly get a thousand applications for pastoral ministry.)

Stefan Ewing said...

Forgive me...I know what you meant...but it was just too good an opportunity to pass up.


Be true to your teeth and they won't be false to you. Being true covers a multitude of stuff.

Kay said...

What's so upsetting about this is that I know someone who was treated like an enemy by their Christian spouse, and not in the way Dan and David Wayne mean, either. And this person did respond in the way advised by Dan and Pastor Wayne, for 18 long years until breaking point. There's some pastoral ministry in this post I would like to tenderly apply to that person's Christian spouse with a meat chub, in love. Which I suppose means it's just as well Dan and Pastor Wayne are called to pastoral ministry, and I am not.

*Disclaimer: All references to violence with meat products in this post are hyperbolic

Mike Riccardi said...

When I am doing pre-marital counseling with a couple I like to tell them that God's highest goal for their lives is not happiness but rather holiness.

It might be helpful to spend some time on the point that these are not different things.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

If I recall correctly, there have been some well-known Christians who did wonderful ministry work while having difficult marriages (contra 1 Tim. 3): Wesley and Tozer. FWIW, I think Martin Luther King had an affair too.

Contemporary examples? If Franky Schaeffer is to be believed, then Francis and Edith Schaeffer had a troubled marriage.

candy said...

SolaMeanie said: As a confirmed bachelor, I was going to make some tongue-in-cheek, catty remarks about getting married in Reno. But I can't. I just can't.

Well maybe you can't Sola but I can since I got married in Reno, and in fact, live in Reno.

We used to boast of 24 hour wedding chapels, because we were the Divorce Capital of the world. Once upon a time, people could live here for a short time in order to get a quickie divorce. Other places would not allow quickie divorces. So...a quickie divorce and a quickie wedding at a plastic wedding chapel. Yay, what fun. "rolls eyes". BTW. I did not utilize local wedding chapels.

Oh, the other tradition was to throw your wedding ring in the Truckee River after the divorce.

~Mark said...

"~mark wrote:

"We'd also suddenly find ourselves with churches with huge payrolls of employees that no longer have a role to fill! ;)"

Huge payrolls? What church do you attend? (Don't say, or you might suddenly get a thousand applications for pastoral ministry.)"


Solameanie said...


I know! LOL. My crack was going to be something along the lines of getting married in Reno so you could get the divorce in the same town in short order, but I chickened out. I certainly don't advocate divorce, and some might have been offended at the joke.

I am a real lover of old films dating from 1930-1955, especially black and white film noirs or occasionally comedy. I began noticing how many of these films referenced heading to Reno for the quickie divorce, so I did some reading up on it. I guess since no-fault laws have taken over the country, Reno isn't the divorce capital anymore, but it does have a firm place in cinematic history!

There is a hilarious film from 1939 or 1940 called "The Women" with Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine and a host of other top actresses of the period. They all ended up at a Reno divorce ranch. You should check it out sometime.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

Deleted my last comment, because it was totally off-topic.

candy said...

Sola. I have seen some of the movies about old Reno, and we still have ranches that used to house folks while waiting out the time period before divorce. Lots of celebrities used to live here for short periods of time. I think I read once that it is how "Dude Ranches" started. We had other questionable ranches in Nevada too, but you don't want to hear about them. Sad legacies for my area and nothing to boast about.

Boy. Way off topic.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

There are pastors that counsel with printed materials where husband and wife must check off the laundry list on what one likes or dislikes about the other(leaving the cap off the toothpaste tube, degree of toast darkness...)...and what one expects of the other to be happy(flowers/candy, slippers & pipe j/k, help with the vacuum or dishes, newspaper folded just so with breakfast, socks in hamper, makeup and hair fixed just so...performance-based acceptance). Asking where the relationship with Jesus factors in receives the response of talking about that being much further down the road as we don't want to provoke the other to bolt from weekly attending court-ordered appointments and the material the church purchased. Do we? Oh. Yes. We. Do!

From personal experience what you've shared is what God uses to get to the heart of what "snaps out of it" a couple professing Christ not walking as one spiritually to the reality of Dysfunction Junction(the problem is sin and sin must be dealt with concerning each me...no wagging the "you, you, you...you're the problem" finger. And it is paramountly against God and that humbles.), Dan. It works because it isn't a Bandaid approach with the pride of self festering beneath(or being fired up by laundry lists) that will turn into sepsis and eventual putting asunder of a marriage between professing believers...and it works because it doesn't promote the world's way of seeking love and happiness in things and people rather than in Christ. God is good. Even when doing it His way means a spouse previously professing to be a believer is flushed out as an unbeliever and departs from the believer(and God still provides for that!).

The truth may not sell many books but it does give God the glory and needs shared.

Keep elevating the only Way Who is good. He alone changes hearts/minds and lives to point to Him. Alone.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Let's amend...

and it works because it doesn't promote the world's way of seeking love and happiness and worth in things and people(all the wrong places) rather than in Christ.

DJP said...

CandyBoy. Way off topic.



Stefan Ewing said...

At least she was writing about marriage and divorce. I was commenting about old movies.