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Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

Good Relationships Require Selflessness

  • Paul Dean

    Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.

  • 2006 Jan 09
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"For some newlyweds, every day brings a new understanding of their partners, a chance to learn and grow, nurture each other, pursue goals together. For others, it's World War III if the cap is left off the toothpaste. A new University of Rochester study hopes to explain why new marriage is so blissful for some and such a battle for others," reports Lauren Stanforth.

 

"Researchers want to survey 800 newlyweds from the United States and Canada for four years to try to learn what works for them and what doesn't -- especially since about 40 percent of all divorces occur in the first five years of marriage, said Ronald D. Rogge, an assistant professor of psychology who is conducting the study. Rogge said he already has a general idea of what he'll find because of a doctoral dissertation he did on the same topic."

 

"'It boils down to what you learned in kindergarten: You need to be nice to each other,' Rogge said. 'It turns out it's not as important what the topic of the problems are. What's more important is how you handle those problems. Do you negotiate those things with your partner, or do they turn into major battles?' Rogge said too many married people act like singles, thinking only about what they want and need instead of being considerate of their partners. America has been drifting toward a culture of entitlement, 'What can you give me? What can you do for me?' Rogge said. 'Good relationships, even the best relationships, take work, take selflessness.'"

 

Often times, the conclusions of psychologists are contrary to the Scriptures. However, in this case, Dr. Rogge is on to something. Regarding relationships, general principles are given to us in the Scriptures that those relationships might be fulfilling and at the same time that they might glorify God.

 

For example, Dr. Rogge says we need to be nice to each other. He is right on target. The bible says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:32)." Of course, from a biblical perspective, we may notice a big difference here between mere good advice and advice from the living God that has power. We are to be kind to one another and forgive one another, just as God in Christ forgave us. Our primary motivation is not so that we might have a wonderful marriage but that God has forgiven us and we are now to reflect His power in our lives by forgiving and being kind to others. A wonderful marriage is simply the byproduct (but what a great byproduct).

 

Couples who are proactively and typically kind to one another and who are quick to forgive one another will have a growing love for one another before the Lord. Kindness is a state of mind and action and comes easier with practice. Forgiveness is part of that dynamic.

 

Be mindful that biblical forgiveness involves at least four commitments. First, if you truly forgive someone, you will not allow the issue in question to come between you and your spouse. Second, you will not bring up the issue again, especially not during a future argument. Third, you will not gossip about the issue to others. Fourth, you will not dwell on the issue, but leave it at the cross.

 

Rogge says we must negotiate with one another rather than turn things into major battles. Of course John tells us that "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9)." This text not only refers to confessing our sins to God, but to those whom we sin against, including our spouses. Rather than battling, we are to confess and forgive. That's biblical negotiation in the purest sense.

 

And again, the power of the Spirit is operative in that when we confess our sins to one another, not only does God forgive us, but He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The word cleanse is the same word translated sanctify in other contexts. As we confess our sins to God and to those whom we sin against, God sanctifies us. That is, we are conformed a little more to the image of Christ when we confess our sins and we are less likely to commit those same sins again. This dynamic is wonderfully transforming to the marriage relationship.

 

The good doctor goes on to say that too many individuals have a sense of entitlement and think only of themselves. Most married persons act as if they are single and never consider their partners. And, the bible says that we are to "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-5)." There you have it. We are to consider our marriage partners as better than ourselves and we are to look out for their interests rather than our own. The power to live in such a way purely and consistently and in a way that pleases God comes by adopting the mind of Christ. Only believers can do such a thing by the Spirit of God in them.

 

"Rogge hopes the results will help therapists identify earlier which topics to tackle in counseling. He also wants to develop a list of the best questions for religious leaders to ask engaged couples, considering that 90 percent of couples exchange vows in some type of religious ceremony."

 

As noted, the doctor is on to something here. Without realizing it, Rogge has in essence become an advocate for biblical counseling. The problems we have do not lie in deep seated psychological neuroses that must be uncovered through specialized psychological analysis. In marriage, our problems have to do with whether we are going to be selfish or selfless. That reality underlies most of our problems.

 

We commend Rogge for speaking to us in plain and common sense terms. Of course, we must add, the only way for persons to truly be selfless is to know Christ. Because we are sinners by nature, we do not have the power to be what we should be, that is, what God wants us to be, apart from Him. Our Lord Jesus said, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing (Jn. 15:5)."

 

Can success be guaranteed in marriage? Absolutely! How can such be guaranteed? We have already highlighted five biblical practices that must be inculcated into every marriage. Those include being kind to one another, forgiving one another, confessing your sins to one another, considering your spouse better than yourself, and relying upon the power of Christ. It bears repeating that both partners must be born again.

 

Sixth, practically, couples then should communicate biblically. They should "Let no corrupt word proceed out of [their] mouth[s], but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to [one another]. [They should] not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom [they] were sealed for the day of redemption. [They are to] let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from [them], with all malice. (Eph. 4:29-31)." Make no mistake, we have seen it too many times, words will either build up or kill a marriage.

 

Seventh, "Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Cor. 7:3-5)."

 

Paul implies that married couples should "have" one another in order to avoid immorality. Paul does not give an excuse for immorality. The person who commits fornication or adultery is sinning and accountable for that sin. That person is responsible to avoid that sin regardless of the situation. What Paul is doing here is recognizing the reality of the way our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made by God combined with the temptations the world brings to us. God has made men and women to be attracted to one another. That dynamic is normal and wholesome in the proper context. The world has taken that wonderful dynamic out of its proper context and the flesh follows along because of our depravity. When the natural desire God gives us is combined with the flesh and temptation, we have a formula for disaster. Thus, Paul says in order to avoid temptation, let married couples have one another regularly. (More on this subject in a future article).

 

Eighth, Christian couples should allow the power of Christ to be on display in their marriages through adherence to the biblical dynamics of submission and love. Wives should submit to their husbands and husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church. In such a dynamic, the Spirit will be at work to constantly draw a couple closer to the Father and to one another. See my two Crosswalk.com articles in the archives dated June 21 and 22 entitled "The Power of Christ on Display in Marriage" for a fuller treatment of this subject.

 

These things are just a start. However, if only these things are worked into a marriage, that marriage will no doubt succeed wonderfully by the grace and power of God. May our wonderful Savior grant us such for our sakes and His glory.

 

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