Have you ever fallen in love? If you have, was it not the most thrilling experience you have ever had until then? Every word your lover speaks to you, every syllable and sigh e utters, every call you get from em, every text you receive from em, they all have your utmost attention and interest, above everything else that happens that day. More than every other desire of the day, you yearn to hear the voice of your lover and feel the passion of es love for you.
With a far greater intensity of desire and thrill of a man or a woman yearning for the sound of es lover’s voice, there is someone waiting to hear your voice and feel your passion first thing in the morning. Our Savior is – more than he is your Lord, more than he is your brother, more than he is your best friend – your yearning lover.
He fell in passionate love with you secretly long before you even knew such a lover existed. And then he began to reveal himself to you slowly, patiently, and you came to see his awesomeness, his power, his glory, his enrapturing beauty. But he was still only your Lord in your heart. Then, over a period of acquaintance, growing companionship, heightening intimacy of friendship, it began to dawn on you he is actually your personal lover, who has been loving you since long before you began to love him. So great is his love for you that he joyfully chose to give up his life to save you from the sentence of eternal death that was pending upon you from the moment of your conception, so that he can enjoy your love for him, your passion for him, and your beauty in his sight, forever and ever.
Look at you, my dearest darling, you are so lovely!
You are beauty itself to me. Song 1:15 TPT
The one thing I ask of the Lord – the thing I seek most – is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord, filled with awe, delighting in his glory and grace. Ps 27:4 NLT, NIV, TPT
The passionate love that a person had for their spouse when they married can wane within a few years, or after many years, to the point that it becomes an emotionless relationship – unless it is deliberately kept aflame continuously. This is a most vital truth that every person planning to marry, or already married, should keep foremost in their consciousness.
In the beginning months, and sometimes even a few years after the wedding, the husband or wife will go to great lengths to show love to es beloved. But there is an unfailing spiritual law in human relationships that affects every marriage. And this is the law: Showing love for your wife or husband can never be static or motionless. You can never maintain a status quo in your relationship with your beloved. Your love is either growing every day or your love is slackeningevery day. If it is growing, then there is no end to the growth of this love, and the words in 1 Corinthians 13:8 proves eternally true: ‘love never fails (or ‘ends’ in some other translations).
If your love is slackening, then there is a gradual, or a galloping, end to your relationship with your wife or husband. Love that is not daily growing will daily slow down to the point that it will become motionless with perpetual inertia. When that point is reached, either of two actions happens. Divorce, or a lifelong acceptance of going through the motions of living, devoid of any feelings. This can happen a few months after the wedding, or a few decades after the initial years of nuptial bliss. How many couples I know of personally who have permanently severed their hearts from each other after 25 or more years of cleaving together as one flesh!
What is the reason that love for a spouse wanes, though at one time that very love was so intense and true the person would be willing to give up es life for es beloved without a moment’s hesitation?
Why did Michal’s love for David wane to the point that she actually despised him in her heart, that is, in the deepest recesses of her consciousness? And why did David, a man after God’s own heart, end his love for his wife to the point he never again slept with her for the rest of his life? 2 Sam 6:16-23 Why is that loving couples, who have faithfully brought up fine kids, and have beautiful grandkids, decide to call it quits in their long relationship, and seek other life partners in their senior years?
The answer is that husbands and wives – but mostly husbands – confuse true love with feelings of affection.
Please keep this counsel deep in your heart, child of God, even if you are sure your relationship with your spouse has a very secure foundation. Unless you understand and apply the following basic truth in all your dealings with your life partner, the day will surely come – as surely as there exists a universal Destroyer of marriages – that you will find that the passionate true love you had for your wife or husband has greatly diminished in its feelings, and with that diminution come one by one all the deadly effects of a stagnant relationship. And this is the truth:
True love that never fails, that never ends, that always keeps growing forever and ever, is based not on your feelings for the one you love, but is based on your will apart from your feelings.
Now let me explain that plainly.
There are two kinds of initial love. One is instinctive love. That’s the love that a mother or a father has for es child. It is a causelesslove. The child did nothing to earn or win their parents’ love. Causeless love is also known as unconditional love. That’s the love our Father in heaven has for each of us. It is the love that made our Savior die for our sins even before we knew him. He loves us solely for the reason he created us in his image and likeness, just as we fall in love with our just-born baby solely because that baby came from our own body. Instinctive love is the second most powerful force in the universe. But it is not the love that never ends or fails. The most powerful instinctive love on earth today is mother’s love. But God says even that love has a limit, that awesome love can end if given the extreme circumstances.
‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget’ Is 49:15
The word ‘may’ is not in the original Hebrew. Young’s Literal Translation says ‘Yea, these forget’.
‘Surely’, given the circumstances, a mother will forget the child that came from her womb, if all she has is just instinctive love for him or her. And that is because even unconditional instinctive love is ultimately conditional on the responses of the one loved instinctively. Unconditional love becomes conditional after a certain point, and when the conditions for that love cease, unconditional love also ceases.
The other kind of initial love is the love that a man has for a woman he falls in love with, and vice versa. In this category of love also is the love of a close friend or of a brother or sister. This love can also be very deep initially, even to the extent the person will be ready to give up es life to save the one e loves – es wife or husband, or sibling, or friend. See Romans 5:7. But, as in the case of maternal love, all such initial true love ends when the factors for such love fail.
Now let’s take the relationship of a couple deeply in love. Over many years of living together, the husband or wife begins to see many negative qualities in the one e loves, which e did not see in the initial years of living together. Arguments, quarrels, misunderstandings, offenses, and perhaps ultimately even betrayal, ensue as the spouse displays more and more of es negative qualities. After a few years, or decades, one spouse has had enough, and quits struggling to live with the unbearable flaws of the other. There is no more feeling of love remaining for the one who has consistently shown only an increasing lack of lovable qualities. In modern times, the relationship formally ends with a divorce. In earlier ages, and even today in the more conservative cultures, the continuing rift of hearts between the couple does not often physically rift the couple apart; instead, they continue to stay under the same roof. But their natural conjugal feeling for each other is replaced with a resigned attitude of suppressed bitterness that simmers in their heart for the rest of their lives.
My family knew a man and his wife in our native community many years ago. The man and his wife were active members of their church and respected in society. But everyone knew that the man and his wife never spoke a single word to each other ever since something happened between them in their earlier years. They lived together under one roof, but never spoke a syllable to each other for several decades. They both lived to ripe old age and are now dead. How they managed to do that is still a mystery to me. I mean the technicalities of living together without one word of communication at any time. But what is not a mystery is how such extreme living became possible. It is simply another case of a relationship that was based on feelings, and when the feelings evaporated the relationship dried up.
When you put that ring on your beloved’s finger on the blissful day of your union, or, as in my country, tied the string around your bride’s slender neck, or had your glowing groom tie it around your quivering neck, that is a symbol of an unconditional fidelity to each other till death parts you. When a groom or bride answers ‘I do’ to the following question,
‘Do you take (name) for your lawful wife;husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?’
they absolutely mean it with all their heart. But years later, it slowly becomes evident that the ‘I do’ actually meant,
‘I do promise to take you as my lawful wife:husband, to have and hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part, as long as you don’t act and speak in a manner that will affect my feelings for you.’
So how can you ensure a drying up of your love will never occur in your relationship with your spouse? By ensuring that your love for your wife or husband is not based on feelings. Enjoy the feelings and rejoice over them as long as the feelings come naturally. When the feelings wane, as surely as they will when your spouse begins to reveal his or her hitherto suppressed flaws, replace the feelings with your will of commitment.
If you have been recently married, or married for many years, it is most vital for the lifelong safety of your marriage that you transform your attitude toward your spouse from this day on with the help of God. Renew your old conjugal vows in your mind, and add the following lifelong pledge to yourself and to God:
‘I will love my wife (husband) unconditionally from this day forth, and when I say unconditionally, I mean absolutely unconditionally. If a time ever comes that I cannot find any more happiness in my wife (husband), I will continue to love her (him) even in the absence of any feelings of happiness. Whether she (he) pleases me or not, I will care for her (him) and cherish her (him), just as I would care for and cherish a part of my own body that is giving me pain. When my feelings have gone for her (him), I will continue to love her (him) by a deliberate act of my will in opposition to my natural feelings. So, help me to do this, Lord!’
That’s a pledge that should be foremost in your mind constantly – even in the days of your great happiness with your spouse. It is the surest insurance for the safety of your marriage when the days of trouble come, when God may allow the devil to test you through severe trials in your marriage.
Now what’s the benefit of loving a spouse who is no longer giving you any happiness? Why take the great and constant pain of continuing to live with em when you could easily have less unhappiness living apart or find happiness again with a new spouse?
Because that’s the way our God loves you and me. Because his love never fails even when we stop loving him. And our God wants us to love our spouse just as he loves us.
To the unhappy husband he says:
‘For husbands, this means love your wives, JUST AS Christ loved the church…In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. As you love her, you ultimately are loving part of yourself (remember, you are one flesh). No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.’ Eph 5:25-29 NLT, VOICE. Emphasis mine
‘Husbands, love your wives [be affectionate and sympathetic with them] and do not be harsh or bitter or resentful toward them.’ Col 3:19 AMP
To the unhappy wife he says:
‘Wives, it should be no different with your husbands. Submit to them as you do to the Lord, for God has given husbands a sacred duty to lead as the Anointed leads the church and serves as the head. (The church is His body; He is her Savior.) So wives should submit to their husbands, respectfully, in all things, JUST AS the church yields to the Anointed One. Eph 5:22-24 VOICE
And to both the Lord urges:
‘However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly. Eph 5:33 AMP
And what is the final outcome of a husband loving his wife as his own body, of his not giving in to feelings of bitterness against her [in spite of her seemingly being an incorrigible nag], and of a wife submitting to her husband in everything just as she submits to Christ, of her esteeming him and admiring him exceedingly [in spite of his seemingly obnoxious qualities]?
When you continue to love with your will your wife or husband who continues to hurt you, God’s universal spiritual law guarantees an ultimate result. The hurting person will eventually stop hurting. And a transformation begins to happen in the loveless heart and mind of the spouse as she or he continues to receive your love. All the spots, wrinkles, and blemishes of your faulty spouse begin to clear away one by one. And as your spouse continues to blossom under your unceasing and unconditional love, she or he will begin to do things to you that you could have never imagined even in the wildest fantasy of your dreams on your wedding day or in the initial blissful days of your marriage. And soon you will have a shining spouse standing before you – clean, holy and without a single fault in any area of her or his life.
‘He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and WITHOUT FAULT. IN THE SAME WAY, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies.’ Eph 5:25-29 NLT. Emphasis mine
When you forsake your feelings for your wife or husband and continue to love em, the very same feelings you sacrificed are sooner or later going to come back to you in hundredfold measure, brimful and overflowing. This is an absolute promise from the Creator who brought man and woman together in marriage.
‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time’ Mark 10:29-30
‘Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full – pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.’ Luke 6:38 NLT
The more feelings you sacrifice so you can willfully continue to love your unlovable spouse, the more will be the love and the feelings of happiness you will eventually receive from your spouse. This is the greatest law of relationship.
Foolish, very foolish indeed is the man or woman, who after some years of enduring unhappiness with his wife or her husband gives up and goes their separate way to seek the happiness and love that eluded them in their first marriage. Whom would you personally choose to marry: A wonderful wife or husband who deserves a heavenly score of 10 points out of a maximum 100 in the measure of lifelong happiness she or he gives you, OR a wife or husband who, after some initial years of not deserving even one point in her or his qualities as a wife or husband, will give you happiness and love that both your heart and heaven will give an unbelievable score of 100 out of 100?
‘I tell you, her sins – and they are many – have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.’ Luke 7:47
‘She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.’ MSG
Before I conclude this message, I urge you to listen to this wonderful song on YouTube – the most influential I have heard in Christian music – by Don Francisco. As you listen, please ponder the words in the lyrics given below.
So you say you can’t take it, the price is too high
The feelings have gone it seems the river’s run dry
You could never imagine it could turn out so rough
You given, given, given, still it’s never enough
Your emotions have vanished that once held the thrill
You wonder if love could be alive in you still
But that ring on your finger, was put there to say
You’ll never forget the words you promised that day
Jesus didn’t die for you because it was fun
He hung there for love because it had to be done
And despite of the anguish, his word was fulfilled
Love is not a feeling it’s an act of your will
Love is not a feeling it’s an act of your will
Now I wouldn’t try to tell you that it’s easy to stand
When Satan’s throwing everything that’s at his command
But Jesus is faithful, his promise is true
And whatever he asks he gives the power to do
Jesus didn’t die for you because it was fun
He hung there for love because it had to be done
And despite of the anguish, his word was fulfilled
Love is not a feeling it’s an act of your will
Love is not a feeling it’s an act of your will
Probably no statistic is available on the real reasons why marriages break up. It is not possible to have one, because the reasons given by divorcees may only be the outward manifestations of the real cause of the breakup. Official reasons may range from infidelity to incompatibility.
Here is a top 10 list for the US, in ascending order: Difference in priorities and expectations; addiction; childrearing issues; religious and cultural strains; boredom in marriage; sexual incompatibility; marital financial issues; physical, psychological or emotional abuse; communication breakdown in relationships; and the top reason, infidelity. Source: Top10Stop.com
In the UK, ‘extramarital affairs are no longer the most common reason for married couples to divorce – growing apart or falling out of love is. Growing apart or falling out of love was the main reason for divorce (27%); an affair is now second (25%)’. (Source: 2011 Grant Thornton Matrimonial Survey of 101 UK Family Lawyers)
I don’t have the statistics for other countries. But we can presume that several of the reasons cited for divorce in these two countries may also be the ones cited in other countries, though the frequency of reasons may vary from country to country. In the Eastern culture, there is far lesser frequency of divorces caused by infidelity. For example, from the several personally known cases in my own country, none was caused by the husband or wife straying into other arms. There wife-bashing is a far commoner cause of split-ups.
Sometimes the reasons in my land could be truly freakish, such as the groom discovering on the wedding night that the bride is a hermaphrodite, or a wife not allowing her husband to sleep with her. I counseled one husband, in the latter case, and tried to encourage him to be more patient, but he soon divorced the frigid woman and remarried a fine, normal wife. These, of course, are the rare reasons, but the most frequent cause for divorces in India and China, and in US and UK, and everywhere else, is basically the same.
The real cause manifests ultimately as cheating, or boredom, or lack of communication, or incompatibility, or something else. But except in the freak cases, almost all divorces have their origin in one cause: dissatisfaction with the wife, which after a few years burgeons into resentment and finally bitterness toward her. Dissatisfaction with the wife, in turn, has basic causes that are never cited as the official reason for breakup.
Dissatisfaction, which festers into bitterness, almost always leads the husband to another woman, either before divorce or after divorce. Unfaithful husbands are so prevalent the reason marriages break up that the One who created the marriage institution declares he will not blame the wife for straying out of her legitimate relationship.
For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God…Therefore your daughters commit harlotry, and your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they commit harlotry, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go apart with harlots Hosea 4:12-14
In this message I will focus on the causes that turn a husband into a dissatisfied spouse, which eventually lead him to break up with his wife.
Unless a youth, like Joseph the son of Jacob, has been keeping his sexual life pure from fornication through the help of the Holy Spirit, he enters wedlock with a premarital sexual background. That is, he has already cheated on his future wife before marrying her – either in his imaginations or in actual act.
Many Christian men who are guilty of pre-marital infidelity, come to realize their sexual guilt and repent of them before they marry. But in many cases, a young man’s basic sexual attitudes remain the same even after he has taken a wife.
I will first take the case of those men who committed fornication and entered marriage with an unrepentant attitude. Then I will go to those who married as virgins or as reformed men.
The young men who had been indulging in sexual fantasies and fornications carry this sin into their marriage. Perhaps, after marriage, they might have intended never to cheat on their wives. But a spiritual principle begins to work in their minds soon after.
Within a few years (in UK, the average lifespan of marriages that break up is 11.4 years), the husband begins to find his wife not as sexually attractive anymore. He then fantasies extramarital relationships that rekindle his libido. Or he may get into pornography. This in turn causes a greater dissatisfaction in him whenever he has physical intimacy with his wife. The dissatisfaction is displayed, not by discussing the issue openly with his wife – how many dissatisfied husbands will tell their wives, ‘I don’t enjoy sex with you anymore’? – but in withdrawal, in sullenness, and in quarrels over petty issues.
Withdrawing from the wife causes resentment in the woman, and she shows her frustration and disappointment with sharp words at her husband, which in turn makes him more dissatisfied with her. The vicious circle has begun in earnest, and from then on only a miracle from God can save such a marriage.
In the case of men entering marriage as virgins or as men who have repented of their pre-marital affairs, the marriage is far more stable and safer than in the first case. But, even in such cases, if constant protection of the marriage is not sought by fervent prayers, it is a vulnerable field for the devil to sow his seeds of dissatisfaction.
Couples who are sexually faithful to each other may live together for several years without mishap. But if God is not constantly in the center of this relationship, the day will come sooner or later that the man will fall victim to the enemy’s suggestions.
It could start with some lewd pictures on his office computer. (Porn-watcher Sextracker has claimed 70 percent of pornography is downloaded in office hours.) If he continues to succumb to his base urges, he is soon transformed into a frequent, and soon, an addicted watcher. An addicted porn watcher cannot have a longlasting marriage. He becomes not only dissatisfied with his wife, but also becomes distrustful of her, as one study has shown.
Zillmann and Bryant (1989) conducted an experiment to test nonviolent pornography’s effect on traditional values about marriage and family. This and other similar studies have led them to conclude that ‘those massively exposed to pornography will become distrusting of their partners in extended relationships…Another likely consequence is a growing dissatisfaction with sexual reality (cited in McNair, 1996: p. 77)’.
Similarly, Linz and Malamuth (1993) comment that exposure to pornography ‘fosters a lack of respect for social institutions such as the family and traditional sex roles for women (p. 17)’. (Source: University of Pennsylvania. asc.upenn.edu)
The man who enters marriage without a pre-marital record of infidelity, but who succumbs to temptations that bombard him at the workplace and elsewhere, and continues unrepentant, is soon a man who finds no more pleasure in his wife. Even if he does not go to other women, his marriage is no more as rock solid as it might have been in the early years. The relationship may drag on, unhappy and unexciting, usually because the wife continues to cling to him. Unhappy marriages may continue for a lifetime, or it may continue for 20 or 30 years and then break up.
All men about to embrace matrimony, or who have been safely married to this day, should heed God’s Word to ensure that nothing will ever happen in their lives that can roll off a domino series of consequences, which will eventually lead to a breakup or an unhappy marriage.
“Extramarital affairs are no longer the most common reason for married couples to divorce – growing apart or falling out of love is.”
The number of years a man has been married to a woman is no criteria for how safe a marriage is. A couple may go on without serious trouble between them for three decades, and then something might happen that makes the man resentful at his wife. Once resentment sets in the man’s consciousness, and he doesn’t overcome it immediately with God’s help, then only a miracle from heaven can restore the husband’s earlier passion for his wife.
How can earnest men of God ensure that the enemy cannot infiltrate their marriage even in a remote way? By constantly ensuring that they have Christ as the only foundation and Savior of their marriage. It means, he has no confidence that his good character or the good qualities of his wife will keep their marriage safe. His only confidence is that he is constantly keeping the Creator and Lord of marriages at the center of his relationship with his wife.
In practical terms, this means that the husband should be constantly alert against every form of subtle and overt sexual influence. It means, he should not put himself in a situation where his chastity might stand the slightest risk of compromise. As an instance, if obscene images unexpectedly flash up on his computer, he should not linger over them for even a fraction of a second, but instantaneously click them away. He should eliminate every risk of an extramarital affair by putting on a constant moral shield against temptations from female colleagues or acquaintances. A truly alert husband should never allow himself to be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife or other immediate member of his family.
The man who wants his marriage to be absolutely safe from danger should, above all, practice mental morality. He should take the greatest care that a lewd image doesn’t find lodgment in his mind even for a fleeting moment. For this is the way the tempter entered the consciousness of many great men and eventually caused them to fall.
Their fall began with just one small thought rolled in the mind over and over, until it became an unstoppable avalanche that took the victim all the way into the immoral abyss. That’s how David, a man after God’s own heart, slid smoothly into the deadly pit of adultery. Instead of instantly turning his eyes away from a scene he knew his eyes are not meant to see, he lingered illegitimately for a few seconds over the stunningly beautiful wet body of another man’s wife taking a bath. The little lingering soon became an irresistible obsession…and you know the rest of the story.
It is not only lascivious thoughts that a husband should be constantly on the guard against – he should equally guard against holding any negative thoughts about his wife. Perhaps it could be something his wife had said or done to him. It is in the nature of all women…well, almost all women, to say now and then words that are more irritating to their husbands’ eardrums than a mosquito hovering around their ear lopes. The husband might have done something stupid, and the wife might have given him her frank opinion in raw uncensored version.
The wife’s greatest fault, according to the Bible, is her inability to respect her husband or submit to him always. She can, of course, respect him as long as he is always doing something honorable. I am yet to hear of the awesome discovery of such a man.
Wives, submit to your own husbands…let the wife see that she respects her husband. Eph 5:22,33
The man’s greatest fault, and danger, is that, he becomes bitter at his wife who refuses to submit meekly to his opinions, nitwitted though they may be. He knows his wife loves him as her own life, but her stinging words keep popping into his emotions ceaselessly. This is the danger start point. When a man gets emotionally dissatisfied with his wife, and he keeps his sullen feelings beyond sunset, they begin to fester resentment in his heart. And festering resentment soon causes the fatal marital male syndrome known as bitterness.
Husbands, love your wives [be affectionate and sympathetic with them] and do not be harsh or bitter or resentful toward them. Col 3:19 AMP
Husbands, be sure you give your wives much love and sympathy; don’t let bitterness or resentment spoil your marriage. Phillips
Never go to sleep with your hurt feelings pent up in you. It is deadly poison for your marriage. You may not be able to get over your hurt feelings by willing them away. Seek God’s intervention speedily, and he will put a calm over your thoughts and emotions, and softly bring a willingness in your heart to forgive your wife, and you can go to sleep in peace.
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. Eph 4:26-27 NLT
And if God doesn’t intervene immediately, keep asking for his power to forgive, and after a few days of such persevering prayer, you will begin to notice a change in your attitude toward your wife. Keep on praying until there is no trace of resentment in your heart toward your wife.
Never go to sleep with your hurt feelings pent up in you. It is deadly poison for your marriage.
So, the greatest danger a husband faces is his marriage is gradual falling out of love with his wife – because of his bitterness at her, which is because of his sexual or emotional dissatisfaction with her.
And if the husband does not forgive his wife, and lets his bitterness grow in him, and finally leads him to be unfaithful to her, God shuts out that man’s prayers to him. And without God’s help, he cannot continue happily in his marriage and so breaks up with the woman he once loved so passionately.
Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” Mal 2:13-16 NLT
For 25 years, until my children outgrew their father’s quality time around them, I assumed that paternal closeness was indeed the greatest gift I could bestow upon them, apart from unconditional love, which I am not discussing here at all, and which I do not deem as a gift to be discovered and given; it is obvious that we parents do not have to strive to have unconditional love for our offspring – it’s an instinctive thing. As for values and character development, these are naturally imbibed from the parents when the greatest gift is given to the children. What has to be learned by parents with growing children is a most precious understanding that has to be gifted to them by wizened and oftentimes remorseful older folks, for rarely can a young couple acquire such parenting perspective on their own until it is too late and the nest is already empty.
It is my hope that you as an earnest parent are privileged to still have your little kids whizzing past you, squeaking in delight on imaginary chases and causing the usual disquietude to your hour of relaxation after a hectic day’s work. Perhaps you are on a continual quest to find the elusive golden keys to bringing up your kids with a trifle less commotion, safely, wisely and above all, successfully – which is probably why you are reading this message. I have yet to see a 70-year-old father reading an article on parenting or a grandma earnestly referring Dr. Spock’s revered counsels.
The following illustrative story is about a father and a mother who gave the greatest gift to their children:
16-year-old Raju was one of the several undernourished children that the love union of his parents inadvertently brought forth into an impoverished community. Manual laborers by profession, Raju’s parents’ greatest goal on waking up each morning was to be able to feed their five children at least two meals that day. The struggle for daily sustenance was eased a bit when Raju was old enough to help his parents in their quarrying work.
Quarrying, as it’s done in underdeveloped lands, is more than just pickaxing away chunks off the solid rock face. It literally involves a dynamite of a risk. A hole about a foot deep is made on the rock face, raw gunpowder is packed into it, and one end of a gunpowder-laced cord inserted into the hole. The other end, a couple of meters away, is set sparkling with the glowing end of a beedi (the local cigarillo), upon which act the igniter shouts, ‘vediyehhhhhhh!’ (‘explosion coming!’), raising and extending his pitch on the final syllable. Anyone thereabouts then has around seven to ten seconds to duck for cover against the meteor of huge boulders descending on the rock face. Raju wasn’t nimble enough on one of those occasions.
As he lay in the government hospital, one arm almost severed and hanging on a tendon and his body a bloody mess of flesh, his father and mother rushed to his bedside. There wasn’t the usual laborers’ wail of distress from the parents on sighting their crumbled up child.
Instead, the father quietly took hold of his son’s hand of the remaining arm, while the mother seated herself at the foot of the bed, and began to gently stroke her son’s feet. This they continued to do until, after the usual long delay of public servants in such places, a surgeon was finally available to amputate the boy’s arm.
As he was trolleyed into the operation theater, the father kept holding his son’s hand, all the while showering him that reassuring look he had been silently effusing since he arrived at his son’s bedside. After the operation, and through the days of recuperation, the father’s and the mother’s mode of reaction to their son’s tragedy remained unchanged and unabated. The father held his son’s hand as often as he stood by his bedside, and the mother kept stroking her child’s feet as often as she sat on the edge of his bed, until the day they were able to limp him back home.
I have gone to some descriptive length in narrating this incident, but have done so with the intention of conveying an experience for which I still couldn’t figure a one-word expression. The Greek language, it seems, has a word that comes close to it. It’s usually spelled ‘agape’ (pronounced ‘ah-gah-pey’) in English. When translating ancient Greek manuscripts containing this word into the English language, the translators, for want of a better expression, settled for the incomplete sense in the word ‘love’, while acknowledging that it doesn’t convey the full intent of the Greek terminology. The closest I could manage in defining this gift is by the compounded term:
The greatest gift you can give your child is the abiding assurance deep within your child’s psyche of your undistractible attention and your unfailing presence in absolutely any situation in which your child might find himself.
Perhaps the shorter phrase ‘continuous lifelong bonding’ might suffice for the present purpose. It’s a bonding that never loses a shade of its warmth when a child is weaned off his mother’s breast milk. It’s a bonding that never loses its intimacy when a child grows too big to be kissed in front of his friends. And this bonding abides constant without a trace of diminution whether the child has done something terribly wrong or is suffering the deserved consequences of deliberate delinquency.
This was the gift that Raju could perceive his parents had been lavishing on him all along. Raju’s parents never had read a book on childrearing. Yet they were gifted with the most important truth in raising a child – something which eludes the expressive capability of many a PhD in child sychology. This is a gift all parents naturally have, but the tragedy is that their children don’t always discern it, because the parents do not realize they aren’t expressing it. On the contrary, many children feel a neglect of them by parents – a root cause for the growing number of runaway teenagers each year in the materially developed, but emotionally deprived, countries. It’s a basic cause for the growing number of children turning to drugs for a substitute assurance or for a temporary obliteration of the gnawing awareness within them of being deprived of their greatest emotional need – of knowing with absolute certainty that there are people who will love them and care for them no matter what.
As modern civilization keeps rushing forward to its ominous destination at a human-relations warping pace, and as men and women get caught in the vortex of career advancement or job survival, the biggest sacrifice that parents make on the altar of family sustenance is their continuous bonding with their children. And being subconsciously aware of something amiss in their relationship with their offspring, they come up with measured amounts of ‘quality time’ at predetermined hours of the day, or they seek to compensate for the shortage of this greatest of gifts with excessive material demonstrations of affection and profuse verbal assurances. But outward effusions of affection can never be a substitute for continuous internal bonding.
In my many years as a teacher, I observed children as young as three and a half years old being virtually abandoned by their parents to the care of strangers in boarding schools in their native country, while they returned to the Gulf or to the US so they could better lay up provisions for the future of these very children they left behind. Today, I see or hear of some of these same children, now grown up and parents themselves. The lack of bonding did cause severe sychological disorders in a very few of these former school boarders. But the vast majority did not turn out to be violence-prone adults or introverts or social misfits. On the contrary, they proved to be reliable, hardy and successful citizens.
But I discerned one vital ingredient that was missing in all of them: Their concept of parenting, their attitude towards their now old parents, their relationship with their spouses, and with people in general, were not as deep as those of the people that had a history of unbroken bonding with their parents. Their relationships initially tend to be shallow or problematic, and only their constant and earnest efforts in overcoming mentalities and attitudes formed in childhood could offset their defective bonding with their parents. Yet, I can’t remember any case where the negative effects of an improperly bonded relationship in childhood days were completely offset by personal efforts to correct a wounded subconscious. The effects, it seems, are lifetime, unless a great miracle occurs in the heart of the grownup child whose parents couldn’t give them the ‘agape’ kind of bonding. And miracles are rare phenomena in an increasingly Godless world, aren’t they?
I also found that the aged parents in the retirement homes who were the most lonely and the least visited by their children are those very parents who had deprived their children of the greatest gift in their tender years.
Bonding is impossible without the actual presence of the parents. But it is not the kind of presence so demanded by quality time advocates. A parent can spend all the quality time with their child and still find 10 or 15 years later that they have lost forever something of incalculable preciousness in the hearts of their offsprings. The ‘I-am-always-there-for-you-no-matter-what’ is a gift given through the spontaneous vibes of the heart more than through the deliberate verbal demonstrations of affection and calculated allocations of time.
This inviolable bonding between parents and children is the most precious legacy that one generation can pass on to the next. The inadequately bonded child, for all the verbal assurances and quality time given to him by his concerned parents, is not likely to bond adequately with his own offspring, and thus passes on a plague of shallow family relations.
The greatest of gifts that parents can give their child is also the greatest gift that a husband can render his wife…that which shoots a wave of thrill down the spine of a woman every time she unexpectedly sights her man. It is also the gift that binds two young children with a friendship that remains intact as ever even after a separation of several decades.
As I write this, I remember that I promised my boyhood chum I will be meeting him two days from now in his hometown about 100 kilometers from my place. It was only a few days ago that I heard his voice on the phone, after having lost track of him for 37 years. The last time I saw him was when we were both discovering, somewhat mischievously, the magic of the first year of our teen lives, and I just can’t wait to see how he looks now and to give him a bear hug…
If you are a parent, do you recall the time when your eyes first beheld your newborn child lying naked and helpless beside es mother? The child was your own, issued from your own body and that of your wife. Even if the child knew you not then, your love for him or her was beyond words. This little piece of living flesh had already received the full measure of your love even before e had grown up to know you and love you in return. If need be, you would have even given up your life without a second thought to save your just-arrived baby’s life.
This, beloved child of God, is how our Father in heaven felt toward us in the day that we were first born into the world. In fact, if God’s words are true, he says that his love for man far exceeds the natural and instinctive love of a mother toward her child. Is 49:15 I am speaking about our physical birth into this world, not our spiritual ‘born again’ experience.
We were born in the filthiness of our sins, inherited from our first parents when they sinned against God and inherited all the curses of life. We were lumps of filthy clay imbued with the life given directly from the person of God. This life is a very part of God himself, and God just cannot help but love you and me from the time of our conception. We could say it is an instinctive and unconditional love comparable and yet far exceeding the instinctive and unconditional love we have for our own children. This is how much God has loved every single child born into this world from the time of Adam and Eve. A beautiful analogy of this incredible love and compassion is given in the Bible:
On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in clothes. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Eze 16:4-5 NLT
Naturally. We were conceived in sin because of the original sin of our parents that was passed on in our human nature and genes from generation to generation. We were as good as dead – hastening to our grave from the second we were conceived – born into this world for a just a few years before we forever perish from all trace of existence. But the Creator looked on the absolutely helpless tiny life on the day of our birth and his heart overflowed with tender affection and excitement for this new creation of his.
Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. Eze 16:6-7 NLT
God wants everyone who was born to live forever – everyone born into this world of every race – Indian, Chinese, African, European, American, Arab, Aborigine, and every other race of mankind. He loves each one of them so much that long before the creation of earth he had already planned a way of redemption for mankind in case they fell into sin. The only way the Creator could redeem his children from eternal condemnation was to give up his own life as a penalty for man’s sin. His one life could redeem the total of humanity, because all humanity have their existence in his one life. And so God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came into this world to die for us and to save us.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jn 3:16
That’s how much our Father has always loved you and me from our birth, before we ever came to know anything about our Creator.
We who have been called to the body of Christ as firstfruits have been set aside from the rest of the world for an awesome purpose, so that through us Christ may bring his salvation to the rest of the world. And so we the spiritual Israelites grew up in the tender care of God while the rest of the world was allowed to continue in their wicked ways for the time being.
Each of us saved by God received the knowledge of our Savior in our own particular way. Perhaps because our parents were earnest Christians we grew up to be followers of Christ. Perhaps through the influence of a Christian friend. Whatever the manner of our coming to know God, we all came to accept Christ as our Savior and called ourselves by his name, ‘Christian’, which means ‘belonging to Christ’. But like unfaithful Israel and betrayous Judah, most who profess Christianity have forgotten their roots and have turned away to serve other gods. Am I being unfactual in using the phrase ‘most who profess Christianity’? Observe the lives of the ‘Christians’ – people who have been born into Christian families – in your neighborhood, in your workplace, how many of them do you know whose lives are centered around Christ, and who are willing to give up everything in life, even their lives, if necessary, to remain faithful to God?
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. Lk 14:26
Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.’ Lk 14:33
What does ‘hate his father and mother’ mean here? Mat 10:37 makes it obvious: ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me…’
This is the absolute condition for being a true Christian. This is the absolute condition for entering the Kingdom of God. This is the only criterion of true conversion. One iota less than this absolute condition will not do.
Do not let any preacher, any church teach you errantly that any condition less than this will enable you to be accepted by Christ as his follower. Just because you have been baptized, because you are an active member of your church, because you believe all the teachings of Christ, and even because you obey him and keep his commandments zealously, you don’t become a Christian. If in your heart and thoughts you are not fully convinced you are willing to give up even your father and mother and wife and children and your own life, if necessary to be faithful to God, you can never be looked upon by Christ as a Christian, as someone belonging to him. Either Jesus meant exactly what he stated, or he meant something else. Let your own understanding and sincerity determine that.
Does then giving up everything in life to follow Christ mean that like Buddha you leave your beloved family and your responsibilities in the family and go away to some remote corner of the earth and proclaim Christ? The Holy Spirit is our true teacher of the Word of God. Let him show us what Christ meant by this condition of discipleship.
Jesus meant that he is a most jealous God and Spouse.3 He will not in the least entertain a rival affection in your heart. His jealousy is like the jealousy of a righteous husband when his wife begins to shower more affection on other men than on him. It is a jealousy based on true unfailing love. A jealousy that is directed for the good of the one loved. God first loved us long before our parents and wife and children were even remotely in our thoughts. He gave us life and eternal hope. He gave himself for us before we even knew about him. And he wants us for himself and himself alone forever. Everything else he allows us to have in this life is like a fringe benefit, like the icing on a cake. Good to be enjoyed and appreciated for their limited value but could never begin to compare with the value of the real thing.
God wants us to make him our first love because he first loved us before everyone else and because he chose to love us unconditionally when we were without hope and squirming in our own filth waiting to perish eternally. If God loved us so much when we were still in our filthiness, how much more must he now love and rejoice over us who have begun to love him in return, though we be full of filthiness still!
O Christian, do you see how you should relate to such a God? This is how: We should probe our every thought and intent and see if indeed God is our only basic love and happiness. If he allows us to have a little bit of fringe happiness in the form of our marriage and family and other temporal blessings, let’s enjoy them as long as we are given them. But the basis, the foundation, of all our happiness is God himself. Unless we can say with absolute conviction that the basis of all our happiness is God himself, we haven’t reached there yet.
If today all our fringe benefits are taken away from us, and every security structure vanishes from under us and we are left with God and God alone, how will we respond? Is your Christianity steadfast as long as you have certain basic conditions met in your life? Or will you continue to be faithful to him in any and every circumstance that he allows in your life? This is what our Savior desires to know about you above everything else. And he will withhold every blessing, if need be, and allow you to go through every kind of suffering until he is convinced to his full satisfaction – and you too are in your conscience – that you are his alone.
Every trial, every affliction that comes to a child of God is for the sole purpose of drawing the person closer to God and of causing him to make God his first love and first joy. Remember, the Lord has promised that he will never leave you nor forsake you. He will never allow you to suffer beyond what you are able to endure.4 But that could sometimes mean that you might be left with nothing in this life except your joy in God and the basic material provisions for your survival. You could be left, as Baruch was, with just this one promise of God:
I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the land. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not. For I will bring disaster on all people, declared the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life. Jer 45: 4-5
When the Lord begins to overthrow and uproot every idol in your life that’s competing with your Savior for your affection, your love and your time, that’s when you begin to see if you really belong to him.
Are you perhaps serving the Lord like an earnest minister of Christ did for many years until the Lord wanted to really know if this minister loved him literally more than anything else in this life? Here, listen to this eye-opening true story of a servant of God, as narrated by a pastor who knew him:
When I was a young pastor, I went to visit a man who had been one of my “heroes” and a friend. He had been the pastor of large churches, an author of some note and a famous evangelical leader. I went to visit him because he had just been told that he was dying of cancer.
I was very young and had not, to that point, found out that God’s servants also have “feet of clay”. An older friend who had been to see him almost every day subsequent to the diagnosis of cancer tried to prepare me for my visit. He said, “Steve, have you ever had all your security structure taken away? Have you ever been without any hope? Have you ever had every dream shattered and every desire destroyed?”
I admitted that I had never experienced that kind of pain.
“Then,” he said, “be careful that you don’t judge too harshly when you see one of your heroes broken, bitter and without any hope”. Source: ‘When Cliches Don’t Work’ by Steve Brown – The Plain Truth Online, September-October 1998
Is your only security structure your Savior Jesus Christ? Is your only dream to live and die for Christ, who died for you? Is your only hope the eternal joy that awaits you when your Lord comes? If you cannot affirmatively answer from your heart any of these questions, you are at risk of being broken, bitter and without any hope sooner or later.
Beloved of God, are you willing to forsake everything, even your own life if need be, to follow Christ? Until you are absolutely sure of this, you can never be absolutely sure you are a true Christian in God’s sight. Before you decide to want to be a true Christian, you are told to sit down and count the cost.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?…In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Lk 14:28,33
But the most joyful news is, we have a Helper who can and will do for us exceedingly far more than all we ask or imagine. Eph 3:20 We need never fear we will fail to measure up to God’s expectations. We need never fear if we will be able to cope with all that God would demand of us to be his own. My life is a great testimony to the tenderness of God. The harshness of the Christian life is only the initial growth pains. And we ourselves are responsible for prolonging it, because we delay committing our lives wholly to him. When we have proved that God indeed is our first love and have demonstrated it by being willing to give up our happiness based on everything in this life, then we begin to receive our joy from the Lord himself, then we begin to receive from him a hundredfold and more of all that we had given up. Jn 15:11, Mt 19:29, Mk 10:29,30
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
We love him, because he first loved us. Rm 5:6-10, 1 Jn 3:1,16; 4:10,19
Let us therefore love him first, above everyone and everything else, above our family, above our own life, because he first loved us and gave up his life to save us from eternal death, and has given us eternal life in Christ.