John Fuller: Today on “Focus on the Family,” Dr. Tony Evans talks about the servant attitude that is necessary for a strong marriage.
Dr. Tony Evans: And here’s the key thing to do that we don’t want to do: how can I serve you today? That question, that question, even if there is nothing, the fact you thought enough to ask the question made you servant of all.
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John: Dr. Evans is in the studio with us again and he has more to say about humility and service and doing marriage God’s way. Our host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Dr. Tony Evans is the senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas. And he’s the host of “The Urban Alternative.” His books have been read by millions and Focus on the Family has partnered with him to publish a new title, Kingdom Marriage.
Jim Daly: Tony, it’s great to have you back at Focus on the Family.
Tony: It’s always a joy to be back with you and the Focus team.
Jim: Tony, last time we left off with a couple of things that were nagging at me. One is in marriage, in Christian marriage particularly, it’s that idea of selflessness, but it’s not what we think about. And we’re so saturated with me-ism. The whole culture is about me, me, me, me, me. And frankly, our kids are growing up even more saturated in that environment, and they’re feeling like the whole world revolves around me.
Then they get into marriage and find out, no, it doesn’t, (Chuckling) and it creates great conflict, and people, especially younger people, but those in their 50s and 60s, too, are divorcing because they are no longer getting their needs met. And I’m lookin’ at you with puppy-dog eyes, Tony, because it really is about me feeling better about my life, isn’t it? And we in the Christian community, man, we can talk ourselves into this. I’m not feeling joy. I’m feeling nothing but pressure. Why do I cook for that guy? Why do I work for that guy? Why do I work for that woman? I mean it’s all these things that the enemy feeds us, and we don’t just stop and say, “Lord, forgive me, ’cause I am not becoming more like you; I’m becoming more like the enemy.”
Tony: In the question is the answer, because the way you postured it was excellent. I am not becoming more like Him. The whole point of creating marriage was to take us out of ourselves. When Jesus was on Earth, He said, “I have come to do my Father’s will.” And then He translated that to His disciples when He took a basin and a towel and served them.
So to be so prideful that you lose a servant’s heart is to say you are better than Jesus. And most Christians wouldn’t want to say that, but we function that way. True humility is being small in your own eyes. It doesn’t mean that you are insignificant, but it does mean that I am not so self- absorbed that I am unwilling and unable to make the life of somebody else better.
You have many parents who are abusing their children because they don’t want that child interfering with their lives. And that abuse comes at different levels. Mates abuse one another because they don’t want that interference in their lives, which means, you have to understand, when you take that posture, you have repelled God from His involvement with you, because you are being so unlike what He is. “God so loved the world that He gave.” Didn’t have to; didn’t need to; but love prompted Him to. So the question is, do I want to be more like Him or do I want to be more like the devil, because that is the choice before you in lack of humility or a willingness to be a servant under God with your family.
Jim: Man, I mean that is such a path. What you’re talking about this time and last time, is such a pathway if we could actually get ahold of it and apply it in our lives, which, you know, again for me, I’m an ex-football player. One of the toughest things in my life is losing weight, but it’s that thing. My doctor said it real simply: hey, yougotta eat less calories and your weight will go down. It’s a statistical and scientific proof, you know. If you eat fewer calories, you lose weight. Why do we struggle not just with that, but in our marriages like this thatit isso self-evident what needs to be done, especially for those of us in the Christian faith. Yet, we still don’t do it. Why?
Tony: Because our ears are tuned into the world. And because the world has become so dominant with media, with social media, with the people we hang out with. If you hang out with selfishness, selfish is what you will become. You become like what you hang out with. So you’ve got to hang out with influences. That’s why God calls us to serve in ministry, to force us into benefitting others and not just seeking for others to benefit us. So we are called to do that with our families; we’re called to do that with fellow believers; we’re called to even do that out in the world.
So, we are listening to the wrong voices, and what we have to understand is when we adopt the worldly way of thinking and acting, the Bible says we lose the love of the Father in 1 John 2. So now we are asking God to serve us, because everybody wants to be blessed, everybody wants God to serve them, while we are rebellious with our servanthood attitude toward others and then wonder why we are not hearing from heaven. That’s why.
Jim: That is so straight and true; it’s amazing. Talk about the benefit of humility. You touched on it, but I want to expand on that a bit. What does it look like to be humble in marriage, because a lot of people—a lot of men; let’s speak from the man’s perspective—we see that as weak.
Tony: Sure, sure. Linemen are the biggest guys on the field, forever serving a smaller guy called the quarterback, okay?
John: Wait a minute. I was a quarterback. (Laughter)
Tony: Okay, they’re getting’ hit and beat and bumped. They are serving for three hours to protect this guy because of the bigger goal down the field. You would have to conclude, since Jesus was the servant of all, that He was the weakest of all. Or the Bible calls Him the greatest of all, to which every knee will bow. “Since the greatest of you,” Jesus said, “will be your servant,” the man is more manly and more mannish when he out-serves his wife. So, if you make a list with what she does for you on one side and what you do for her on the other side and your list is shorter than her list, she’s the greater in the family, even though you call yourself the king of the house–
Jim: Ouch, now you’re hurting me.
Tony: –because you are not the servant of all. The greatest of you shall be your servant.
Jim: Does that hurt a little, John?
John: Well, I was just making a mental list thinking–
Tony: Well, it hurts me to say it. (Jim laughs)
John: –yeah, all right, so what does the list look like for you and Lois?
Tony: Well, there are certain things that I know she wants me to do. She has a place where there are regular things like I’m the trash guy. I’m the guy who cleans out the [whatever], so there’s regular [duties].
But then there are things that come up that she makes this list and the list is put in a certain place every day and she wants me to fulfill that list. When I do that list, I have met her needs, because she needs me to do that.
Some of those things on the list I look at and say, “Now you could do that. You know, youcould get one of the kids,” when the kids were home, “Well, they could do that.” But she wants me to do it. Pride says, “I don’t have to do that. I got a national, international ministry. You shouldn’t be asking me to do that.
Jim: Come on. Now you’re speaking my language. (Laughter)
Tony: Yeah, no, no.
Jim: Now you’re hurting me.
Tony: Can’t you pay somebody to do that? So I can take that position, or I could say, “This ministers to you, so I will do that.” And here’s the key thing to do that we don’t want to do: how can I serve you today? That question, that question, even if there is nothing, the fact you thought enough to ask the question made you servant of all.
Jim: Yeah, boy, yeah, that’s so good and so important. From the wife’s perspective, I know Lois isn’t sitting here with us, but if she were–
Tony: Thank God for that. (Laughter)
Jim: — but if she were, what would she be saying that a wife’s responsibility is toward her husband?
Tony: She would say to please him so that he wants to be servant of all, to find out what matters to him, what encourages him, what strengthens him, to say to him, “What can I pray for you for today? As you go out and deal with your world, how can I pray for you? What can I do for you?”
It’s easier for her to do that when she’s being served, because women have been made to respond. Now they can respond in two directions, but they have been made to respond. And so, if she’s given something to respond to, it’s easier for her to ask that.
So when Lois is filled full with my love and attention and care and inspiration, then anything she can do, she will do. There becomes a resistance when the tank is on empty and you’re still demanding to drive somewhere.
Jim: Yeah, yeah.
Tony: That happens in the emotional relationships, the physical relationships in marriage; all of that has to do with where the tank is. You keep passing gas stations and start running on fumes, and then you wonder why people’s get up and go has got up and gone.
John: Boy, you’re describing so many marriages that I know of, and it seems that a lot of those situations don’t have fuel because of circumstances.
John: There’s a relative, a mom or a dad in a different state, and they are sick.
Jim: Troubled child.
John: Yeah, there are children who are really causing a problem. There are financial strains, or other medical issues in the home. What are some things that they can do to get back to serving each other when there’s just not a whole lot there?
Tony: There is a verse in the Bible that is probably, with regard to marriage, one of the most skipped verses when it comes to trouble in a marriage relationship, and that’s 1 Corinthians 7:5. It’s a call to sexual fasting. You hear about fasting, but you don’t hear about sexual fasting. He says, “I want the husband and wife to not be intimate, but to come together for prayer.” So they fast the physical—fasting is giving up the physical to gain the spiritual—and they give up the time they would have spent being intimate to go to God together about the issue, strain, pain, or problem they are facing.
When they come together, giving up the physical, the most intimate physical thing they can do for a greater intimate spiritual thing that they need, they get God’s undivided attention at another level to address the additional weight that is bearing down on them. Most couples don’t do that. Most couples don’t even know about it. Yet, it is placed there by Paul as a critical element of getting heaven to get involved with the pain, problems, and circumstances of history.
Jim: Hey Tony, you mentioned prayer a moment ago, and I want to talk about that, the importance of prayer together as a couple. What have you found?
Tony: This unity issue is critical. God only functions in unity, which is why it’s important for Satan to create disunity, because that keeps God at a distance. When Jesus gave His high priestly prayer in John 17, He says, “I pray that they might be one so that they might see your glory,” because God is comfortable in oneness.
First Peter 3:7 says that when a husband is disconnected from his wife, tell the husband not to pray; God is not listening because there is disunity in the home. So you have to look at your disunity not only as problems in the relationship, but to keep you from accessing heaven for your marriage or for the things that your marriage is facing.
So we are to come together in prayer, signifying unity, in order to get God’s undivided attention. Satan wants to keep us too busy, too distracted, too … in too much conflict, that we won’t pray, so that that unity won’t be manifested, so heaven has no obligation to intervene into our circumstance. So every couple should make a commitment to regularly—the goal is daily, but I will say regularly—go before God for the pain in your marriage. Don’t just generally, “Bless our day.”
Be specific about the problems you’re facing with that wandering child, with that pornography problem, with that whatever that thing is that is burdening you down. When you come together, God perks up, because you are being consistent with who He is, and you’re doing what Matthew 18 says. You are bringing Him in the midst of your gathering. And when you bring Him in the midst of your coming together, that’s bigger than singular prayer when that is possible.
Jim: And again, what you’re talking about there is that humility.
Jim: Set ourselves aside and do the right thing, and then the Lord honors that and He’s present in that and then clarity comes, typically.
Tony: That’s right. God brings thoughts, ideas, people, circumstances.
Jim: Fruit of the Spirit–
Jim: –love and joy and peace.
Tony: God is free to express Himself in the people and in the relationship.
Jim: Tony, people have heard us talk about this last time and this time, and they are saying, “Yeah, this sounds exactly like what we need in the marriage. What do I do? What’s the road map for me? What can I do today to get us moving in a better direction, whether you’re the husband or the wife? What can we do?
Tony: Well, my daughter, Priscilla Shirer, starred in a movie called War Room, and we saw where there was a breach in the marriage and she created this place to cry out to God for God to intervene. Ideally, if both of you could come together, that’s the ideal. But let’s say one is pursuing God; the other is not, which is often the case, and far too often it’s the woman who is pursuing God and not the man. Well, then you create that space with you and God, and you fast—give up some food or something, a meal a day or a week or whatever—you go with God and you cry out to Him. You may have other ladies in your circle, your small group, whatever. You cry out together for God to create something, to create a situation to wake up this mate.
Now let’s suppose the worst possible scenario: that mate continues to rebel, that mate continues. Then you precipitate a crisis. You bring somebody into his life—should be leadership from the church—to confront him if he’s rebelling. Now I know that that’s a risky business, but sometimes that is the way God wakes people up that’s often not used. You don’t have to suffer in silence or suffer in secret if there is rebellion taking place in your mate.
Jim: Let me ask you why that is the case. I mean we don’t administer church discipline, really, and we’re so quick to find fault with the world that doesn’t embrace what we believe. That may be, let me be bold enough to say it, the same-sex attracted community. We’re very quick to point out where they are scripturally wrong. But we’re not so quick to point out where a couple in the church may have divorced and they each remarried for unbiblical reasons, and the Bible says they’re living in adultery. Why the double standard—one for the world, which seems very harsh, and one for within the church that seems very easy?
Tony: Well, we’ve become a worldly church; that’s why. This is a leadership problem in the church. Every Wednesday night at our church, we hold court. We have a court. That court has a lawyer on it, it has an elder on it, and it has a couple of spiritual lay people on it, to determine whether a person has a legitimate grounds for divorce based on Scripture.
Jim: So they can come to this group, wow.
Tony: They can come. They come to this group, and this group meets with them. If a person has legitimate grounds and the mate is unwilling to come or to repent, we write a bill of divorcement, which gives them church permission to get a civil divorce.
Tony: But we tell them to come to the church first. First Corinthians 6 says you litigate matters in the church. You come to the church first. So churches aren’t set up to do that. They are afraid of losing members; they are afraid of how they’regonna be; but you do it in love, you do it with care, but you do it scripturally.
The failure of the church and its desire to be accepted by the world, has kept it from being the place where God renders judgment so that the church is pure for God’s purposes so He can work through it to save and deliver people in troubled marriages.
Jim: That’s amazing. I don’t know that I know another church that does that, which is actually sad. They should all be doing this.
Tony: Well, it is sad, I mean it’s not like [it’s] even said in just one place. The Bible over and over again, Matthew 18, tell it to the church. First Corinthians 6, the church deals with it. Judgment should start in the household of God, Peter says. So it’s over, it’s over and over again.
John: Tony, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable some of those conversations are.
Tony: Oh, they can be devastatingly uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary. It’s like a parent who tells a child, if you keep stealing and buyin’ drugs and stuff in our house, you can’t live here anymore. That’s an uncomfortable statement, but a very necessary one. So, you have to rise above this comfort and move to necessity when there’s unrepentance that is bringing devastation in a home.
Jim: You know in your book you provided an example there about Jesus turning the water into wine and how that applies in the marriage context. Describe that for us.
Tony: Well, in Jesus’ first public miracle, it was at a wedding, so we’re talking about marriage, and so it was at the wedding at Cana. And they ran out of wine, and wine was a big deal, as it is today in many places, but it was a big deal for weddings. And weddings would go an extended period of time in those days.
Jim: And the water wasn’t so good back then either.
Tony: Yeah, that’s right. The water wasn’t so good back then. So you would have wine. And so, they ran out of wine. Jesus’ mother tells her Son, “Why don’t you put on—find a telephone booth, take off Your Clark Kent uniform and become Super Savior and do Your thing by turning this—give them the wine they need?”
Jesus said, “Well, it’s not time for me to go public, but I’m gonna help them out.” He calls the servants and tells them to fill these jars, these containers with water. They go fill the containers with water and as they come back, the water is changed into wine. Here’s the lesson. At a wedding, Jesus performs a miracle, but the miracle was not performed until they gave Jesus something to work with. They gave Him water, because water is a part of the wine process. So they gave Jesus something consistent with what they were asking for.
When they gave Him something to work with, that’s when the miracle came. This is a principle all through Scripture. When God wanted to do something special, the people had to do something first. The priest had to put their foot in the Jordan River before He would block it up. Mary had to move the stone before Jesus did a resurrection [Lazarus], because that demonstrates faith, and faith is acting like God is telling the truth. It’s not just an emotion; it’s an action.
So when you demonstrate faith by doing something consistent with the need that you have, then you have now opened up the door, because God sees that faith and Hebrews 11:6 says He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him. He is now responding to the faith. So give God something to work with, and let Him perform a miracle at your wedding.
Jim: That’s so interesting the way you describe that. It’s like we’re taking the tools out of God’s hands—if I could say it that way, with respect—that we’re not doing those things in our marriages that allows God to work fully because we are running from ’em.
Tony: That’s right, and God says that, you know, a lot of times we say we are waiting on God, but a lot of time, God is waiting on us.
Jim: Yeah, patiently, patiently. Tony, let’s end here with this where you have that idea that my needs aren’t being met. It seems to be the common theme when we counsel a difficult marriage here at Focus on the Family. Something’s not going right. It usually centers on my needs are not being met. My husband is this, this, or this. My wife is this, that, or the other thing. What’s a practical way that we can get our line of sight off of ourselves and onto our mate and onto Scripture? What can we do?
Tony: When I meet with couples, I tell them four things. I say, “I want you to do four things, and these four things are designed to affect the atmosphere, because a lot of times the problems exist because of bad air. So even good becomes bad. You walk into a restaurant; it smells bad, it doesn’t matter how good the food is because the atmosphere is bad. So if we can change the atmosphere, it’s a lot easier to deal with the problem. So here are the four things. One, every day, say something or do something small that lets your mate know that you are on their mind.
Jim: Every day.
Tony: Every day. Now it won’t happen every day, but if you think every day, it will happen regularly. So every day. It’s an unexpected phone call. It’s a note. It’s a non-sexual hug. It’s something that says, “You are on my mind.” No. 2, I want you to begin praying with your mate every day. You take them by the hand. If you are a businessman out of town, you pick up the phone and you take the relationship before God every day, which means regularly.
Thirdly, once a week you allot one hour to listen to your mate share their needs. That makes you a listener. You cannot interrupt except for clarity. They have the freedom. They can’t go over an hour, but the more you do it regularly, the less hour will be needed. They can also tell you how successful you were or how unsuccessful you were in the week. But it can’t build up because you didn’t let it go more than a week before you had the conversation. So that way you don’t get nagged, because they know they’ve got a week; within a week they’re gonna get to talk about it. but she doesn’t let it or he doesn’t let it build up because it’s gonna be discussed in a week. So you have that weekly meeting to have a barometer on how this thing is going.
And then fourthly, you go back to dating. In the Bible you didn’t date to marry. In the Bible, you married to date. People got married in the Bible who hardly even knew the person they were married to.
Jim: It was arranged marriage.
Tony: It was arranged marriages. How can you do that? Because the relationship was to be built by the marriage. We do it just the opposite, and it still doesn’t work. So go back to having fun. You can discuss no problems on the date. All you can do is that which makes you happy.
Those four things when consistently done, I’ve seen change the atmosphere, which makes it a lot easier to deal with the problems.
Jim: Tony Evans, author of the book Kingdom Marriage. I think a good place to end, Tony, would be for you to pray for those marriages that are struggling and help them to see a better way.
Tony: Father, right now I pray for all the marriages that are hurting, all the husbands and wives who are on the edge, on the brink, who don’t know if it’s worth it or whether they can make it; for those who are contemplating separation or divorce or just settling to live unhappily. I pray that they will “kingdomize” their relationship, “kingdomize” their marriage, that they will make happiness the benefit and they will live for Your image under Your rule for the advancement of Your kingdom as the purpose, and that You will exponentially multiply their joy and that their joy might be full as they begin to apply the principles of being a kingdom couple investing in the kingdom marriage. And for Your involvement with them in answering that prayer as they pray to You personally, we give thanks in Jesus’ name, amen.
Jim: Amen. You want a better marriage? Get a copy of Kingdom Marriage. Tony, thanks for being with us.
Tony: God bless.
John: And you can request your copy of Kingdom Marriage, just released by Focus on the Family, to help you honor God in your marriage relationship and then get the CD or download of this two-day broadcast, all of it available at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
And just last week I read a comment from a listener to this radio program who said it’s been helpful for over 30 years in their marriage. They remembered back when they were newlyweds away from family and lonely and how much “Focus on the Family” radio programs helped. And we’re so grateful to God that He uses our conversations here to touch lives in meaningful ways. Now you might be one of those couples who can relate to that kind of comment. Maybe we’ve been there for you, too. If so, let me invite you to join our support team and make a donation to Focus on the Family so we can reach out and continue to help couples as we have today. When you make a generous financial gift of any amount, we’ll send Tony’s book to you, so please make that call or stop by the website today.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back on Monday as we once again, help you and your family thrive.