Francis and Lisa Chan present a beautiful description of how love should manifest in our marriages:
This is how our lives should look. We are filled in Christ. Beyond filled. Overflowing. So we turn to the people around us and share the abundance of love, peace, joy, and life.
Here’s a blueprint for marriage:
1. We become overwhelmed by Christ’s care for us.
2. So we shower our wives with the same love we receive from God.
3. Then, people are shocked by our extravagant love toward our wives.
4. As a result, we are given an opportunity to tell them about the love of Christ that compels us. Page 80 (Emphasis mine).
I wrote previously about how Francis and Lisa Chan observed that “beautiful people make beautiful marriages.” And, to be beautiful, we must be Christ like, which means giving and giving and giving. It means approaching mistakes and disputes in humility and not pride. It means pouring out our love towards our spouses so extravagantly that others are shocked and amazed (I note this is consistent with what Gary Chapman so elegantly describes in “The 5 Love Languages”). To be in a competition to out give the other—right where each of us needs it—THIS is what God envisions for relationships and marriage.
This is all well and good.
We learn, next, that we need to get our relationship into the fight for Christ. Francis says, “Being at war together [for Christ] is what keeps us from being at war with each other.” (page 97). I used the analogy of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder with guns blazing at a common enemy. Would not that serve to unite us while also minimizing differences? Like, duh…
Then, for this fight, we are exhorted to use our gifts and possessions. I explained that I feel called to reach out via the written word and perhaps in bible studies on relationships. Later, perhaps, to speak on these matters. I asked you to consider what it might mean for you.
This is exciting and deeply convicting…
To look forward to loving a wife with such intensity and abandon AND THEN to have that love on display to testify to God’s power… Sigh… This is the answer I’ve been seeking for the question, “How do I put God in a relationship?” beyond the easy answer of prayer and loving works.
So far, so good.
But then we ran into some controversy when I made a post on Facebook I noted, there, that the authors seemed to get a bit excited when they told us that our priorities were not correct if we would choose to raise our kids over the option to leave the world to be with God. I indicated that I cannot fathom God applauding a parent’s choice to leave her kids so she can rejoice in seeing Him. To me, this is to deeply distort who God is by making him into something disquietingly self centered. Moreover, relying on God to provision for these parentless children, as the authors exhort us to do, is akin to saying, “well, we ought not get excited about divorce leaving children with one parent, or with teen pregnancy in the inner city… because God will take care of them just as well as if they had parents.”
No. This is not what God wants.
I’m pretty sure he wants us to be concerned about and work to correct these societal problems precisely because He wants us to raise our children as best only the biological parent can.
Now, He may take one or both parents before their time. But that is HIS choice, or rather a tragedy arising from their or someone else’s mistake. And yes, Romans 8:28 is true, and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose. So, yes, God will make something good out of whatever mistake happens on earth. But that does NOT mean he intended for the parent(s) to get killed by that drunk driver or cancer. He will grieve the consequent disunion of parent and child. Not applaud it.
There was further controversy when Luke 14:26 was mentioned for the proposition that we must hate our wives. First a little more discussion on the point. Luke 14:26 says:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
I pointed out that such a statement should not be taken any more literally than the command to pluck our a lustful eye, or cut off a sinful hand…
But, Francis Chan also seems excited or inspired by this admonition to hate our wives when he contrasts the love we are supposed to have for our wives with that we are to have for God:
It’s not that we should love Him a little more than we love our families; our love for Him should be in a different category. He is far beyond us, so our love for Him should be far beyond our love for others. The gap between our love for God and our love for our spouses should be massive. The two are not worthy of being compared. (Emphasis mine).
While God is indeed far beyond us (He is God, after all, and we are humans), it does not follow that our love for him should therefore be far beyond our love for others. That statement does not stand up to careful analysis. Look closely…
What is the ultimate display of love (on earth or in Heaven)?
Is it not the love God displayed for us in handing his Son to be crucified for our sins?
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
Love does not get bigger than that.
And yet, that is exactly the level, the depth, the totality of love we are to have for our wives. Ephesians 5:25-29 makes it clear:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her… So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. (Emphasis mine).
Think of that. God, Jesus Christ. They (He) set the bar for love. Jesus on the Cross is GOD’s ultimate display of love. It happens, also, to be exactly the same love he commands us to give to our wives.
No more is possible; no less is permissible.
How, therefore, can we surpass it for God? The fact it, It matters not what we are loving. We simply have no more capacity than God.
In truth, we are not capable of loving anything, be it God or the man on the moon, any more than Christ loved us. Clearly, then, it’s hyperbole to say we must love Him “far beyond” our love for our wives. And such hyperbole sets us up to fail miserably. It causes those deeply committed to loving God to question their devotion when it doesn’t seem to measure up to “far beyond.”
Joseph Girzone speaks of this type of problem when he says of committed believers:
They search their lives and their hearts and delve deep into their consciousness so as to better identify hidden breaches of law, all the while becoming ever more introspective and attentive to every thought and action, becoming, in the process, progressively more centered on self. In the end they find themselves fighting a thousand battles on a thousand different fronts, and realize that it’s impossible to live that way. At that point many give up, some have breakdowns. Many marriages are destroyed because of that fanatical demanding that everything be done perfectly. Joseph F. Gizrone, “A Portrait of Jesus,” Page 88.
So, how about we lessen the pressure? Can we simply say that a husband is to love and cherish his wife as hard as Christ loved us, and he is to love God with his whole heart and soul? I think that’s pressure enough. Don’t you?
Please, Mr. and Mrs. Chan, let’s not make excited and scripturally unsound exhortations. It serves on one, and least of all God.
All this to come to today’s topic. It’s related to this whole discussion of love.
I want to say, first, however, that overall I think this book is a true Godsend. It outlines a path to heal and strengthen marriages and really all human relationships which I want to follow with all my heart.
Yet, I have another quibble that serves as a good point of study. This has to do with telling us, on one hand, to love our wives so extravagantly that people will be shocked, and then, on the other, telling us to not love so much that we seem to be seeking to please each other more than we please God.
Advice like that needs some explanation and unfortunately none is given.
To start, the authors quote at length 1 Corinthians 7:29-35 (page 115):
From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none… I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord… But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried … woman is anxious about the things of the Lord… But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this … to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (Emphasis mine).
The authors then go on to say:
That last verse is the key to the passage. It is the key to life. All of us are to pursue “undivided devotion to the Lord.” We cannot allow marriage to distract us from the higher calling. … [Paul] he makes it clear that marriage can turn our eyes away from Jesus and toward each other in an unhealthy way. We end up seeking to please each other rather than pleasing Him. Marriage can bring us to a point where our “interests are divided” (v. 34), when our goal is actually an “undivided devotion to the Lord” (v. 35). (Emphasis mine).
Like the admonitions to pluck our our eyes, we should not read this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians literally. Clearly we are not to suddenly pretend that we are not married (live as though we have none)—when we have been elsewhere commanded by God to love our wives as Christ loved the Church… Certainly, God does not contradict himself, so something else must be going on.
First let’s examine the context.
Verse 26, not quoted by the Chans, would appear to indicate that Paul is referring to a present crisis existing with Christians at that specific time in history:
Because of the present crisis, I think that is is good for you to remain as you are.
Given the crisis, Paul is saying it might be best to put off all concerns (remain as you are… if you are married, do not seek a divorce, if you are unmarried, do not seek a wife…
Then we come to the first verse quoted by the Chans:
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none…
That sound a little different now that it’s in context?
In comments, the NIV states: “Paul’s recommendation here does not apply to all times and in all situations” and probably refers to then current difficulties of living in a city rife with moral problems and hostility toward Christians. Accordingly, during this time, it’s best to be free from household concerns.
Regrettably, however, the Chans also chose a translation that uses the word “anxiety” or a form of it instead of the better NIV translation of “concerns.” Anxiety certainly fits their bias. But, it seems, Paul is not discussing any abnormal or “unhealthy” state of affairs between husbands and wives. He is merely noting that spouses do indeed think about worldly issues (they are concerned with—not “anxious” about) as they go about caring for and loving each other. Today, that would mean taking out the garbage, picking up a gallon of milk, bringing home flowers, performing a loving massage, giving a tender kiss… These are “worldly” things and darn good things thank you very much…
Then, on top of making it look like Paul really wants married people to avoid “unhealthy” acts of love and care, the Chans warn that: “… we must be wary of enjoying marriage too much.” They follow that admonish with an ominous reference (Romans 1:25) to worshiping idols (page 116).
This is simply too much back and forth. I feel like a ping pong ball. Love you wife. Hate you wife. Love her as Christ loved the Church, but somehow miraculously love God even more (far beyond!). Oh, and then don’t love her at all (pretend she is not even your wife!) as that will constitute a divided devotion to God. And don’t love her too much or she becomes an idol…
As Charlie Brown often said, good grief!
I get that an unGodly marriage will not be focused on God. I get that even a marriage where the couple has tried to put God first may get out of whack. But, didn’t Francis and Lisa earlier tell us to demonstrate such extravagant love toward our wives that people will be shocked?
Indeed, they say at page 36, “The way we love our spouses should make the love of Christ believable and true.” Given that, I’d like to know exactly how demonstrating love can turn our eyes from Jesus and toward each other in an unhealthy way…
Demonstrating love is God’s command. God doesn’t command us to do unhealthy things. Does anyone think we can do too much of what God commands?
Sure, it’s vital that we stay in the fight for Christ. Our actions cannot be selfish (because then it’s not love). Our actions cannot be self-seeking (because that is not love). We must love each other in humility and without pridefulness (because that is not love).
Maybe that’s all they are trying to say…
But, it’s terribly unfair to exhort us to love each other so extravagantly that others are shocked and then, based on a highly-questionable reading of the Word, bludgeon us with the notion that our love can somehow be unGodly. Not at least without some specific examples… of which there are none.
This is the stuff that confuses people and, frankly, turns them away from otherwise wonderful messages. As Father Joseph F. Girzone says, this type of talk risks losing credibility with intelligent people.
Amen to that.