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  Building Marital Intimacy through Spiritual Growth

1 John 4:9-17; 1 Peter 3:1-4

Jim Davis

Bob Moeller writes: "I never met my grandmother. She died on the dusty lonely plains when my father was 17 years old. Yet my father credits her with pointing him toward God.

"A few summers ago, when I attended a large family reunion, I heard some unknown history about my grandmother, now gone for over 50 years. She had been a mail-order bride. My grandfather was homesteading on the prairie where there were very few women. She had answered an advertisement he had placed in the paper.

"My sisters filled in the last part of the story. As my grandfather was dying, he asked everyone to leave the room except my two oldest sisters. He was then 89, a widower for nearly 30 years. `Do you know why I never remarried?' he asked in a raspy voice. The two young girls shook their heads no.

"`Because when your grandmother died, I realized I could never love another woman as much as I loved her.'

"If my grandfather and grandmother began their marriage through a mail-order arrangement and yet learned to love each other that deeply, who's to say that God can't do something just as extraordinary in your marriage? If, like Jacob and Leah, you started out all wrong, who's to say God can't use your relationship to bless not only your lives but future generations as well?" (Christian Reader, Sep/Oct 1994. Page 74.)

God said, "It is not good that man is alone." This statement speaks to the need of our intimate companionship with a mate. Although Adam had a perfect, intimate relationship with the Father, that relationship alone could not fulfill his deepest needs. There are needs in our lives that only God can meet, but there are other needs that God alone cannot meet. That was what God saw when He looked at Adam, and said "it’s not good." Our intimate relationship with God is designed to be shared with others . . . especially our mates.

We all have the same physical, emotional and spiritual needs as Adam. We are born into this world needing attention, affection, approval, and comfort. And these needs don’t go away with age or maturity. Marriage was created by God to fill these needs at the deepest level through intimate relationships with our mates.

When we speak of intimacy in marriage, we may think only of the physical relationship in marriage. True intimacy in marriage begins with our spiritual relationships rather than the physical. Today many are failing to discover true physical intimacy because it is being sought solely as a fleshly experience.

Spiritual intimacy is realized as we share our thoughts and delight in knowing how each other feels about what is going on in our lives as we seek to relate our lives to God.

Maintaining romantic intimacy in marriage is a challenge for most married couples. Yet, it is something that we must work toward if we are to have a happy marriage. However, true intimacy in marriage reaches beyond romance into the very heart of God.

Where was Adam when Eve Sinned?

Adam’s and Eve’s failure in Eden is proof that true intimacy in marriage begins with a healthy spiritual relationship with God. The first couple failed because they failed to seek a relationship with God as a couple bound together as one flesh. When they lost sight of God they lost sight of each other . . . their intimacy was destroyed . . . they were both naked and ashamed. When their intimate relationship with God was severed, so was their intimate relationship with each other.

Have you ever wondered where Adam was when Eve ate the forbidden fruit? Why didn’t Eve consult Adam about eating the fruit? How much different would life be if they had discussed together what Eve was thinking about doing? If Adam was standing beside her why didn’t he speak up before it was too late? Why didn’t he warn Eve of Satan’s deception? Was he so busy tilling the garden of paradise that he lost sight of what was truly important?

Eve’s failure to consult Adam was a spiritual problem. Was Eve afraid that Adam wouldn’t see things the way she did? Was she afraid of his convictions? Did her pride blind her to her need to talk the problem over with her husband? Maybe she was uncomfortable discussing her feeling with her husband? Did she feel that all of her needs weren’t being met?

Marital intimacy fails when the man or woman becomes more interested in self than God. Our self-discovery and self-fulfillment lifestyles have led us to abandon God. Intimacy can begin to be restored when we become more concerned with knowing Christ than with finding ourselves.

Many never discover intimacy in marriage because they are afraid that they will lose their personal identity.

Intimacy in marriage begins with a spiritual relationship with God. John writes, "Dear friends, since God so love us, we also ought to love one another. If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." (1 John 4:11, 12)

When couples discover God’s supernatural love in Christ for one another they will begin to experience the oneness that God planned for marriage, emotional intimacy is essential.

Even our relationship with the physical is hindered if we fail to have an intimate relationship with God.

1 John 2:15-17
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. NIV

Do you know the one thing that can make the gospel of God’s grace attractive to a lost world today? Men and women committed to God’s grace in such a way that it permeates every area of their relationship with one another, and with the world, to such an extent that it reveals the very image of God that God seeks to recreate within each of us.

Somehow Christianity in our modern age has lost the excitement and drama of revealing the unseen God by the way we behave toward each other. We bear the image of God. As image bearers we are called upon to relate to each other in a godly way.

We will never fulfill our responsibilities to each other with strong spiritual motivation, until we first honor our call to bear God’s image and know him well.

Ephesians 6:1-11
6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother"-which is the first commandment with a promise- 3 "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. NIV

These verses have to do with building strong relationships in every area of our lives through the power of God. Paul says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power." Paul is urging us to be strong in our personal relationships. Strong intimate relationships begin as we depend upon God’s mighty power to direct our lives through the message of the gospel.

I would also like to say that real intimacy can begin in relationships that are less than ideal circumstances. If Paul could direct this instruction to masters and slaves, then what does this say to married couples struggling to be compatible?

Almost every nonphysical problem in marriage is rooted in what is lacking in our spiritual lives. They have to do with what is missing in our relationship with God. The only way that we can really find solutions to our relational problems is by losing ourselves in Christ.

Hindrances to Spiritual Intimacy

Self-centeredness is a great hindrance to spiritual intimacy. Self-centeredness can be seen in the person who is feeling "needy" and begins using every method at their disposal to have their needs met. They may use manipulation, demands, threats, and even conditional love. The tragedy is that "taking" will never bring the satisfaction we crave. Here’s a "reflection of life" scenario that illustrates the futility of "taking" to have your needs met.

Wife: "You never spend time with me; you’re always doing your own thing. This Friday night, could we go out for a date – just the two of us, without the kids?

Husband: "You know I’m busier now than I’ve ever been."

Wife: "What about this Friday?"

Husband: "I have an appointment."

Wife: "I knew it!"

Husband: Alright…I’ll rearrange it!"

Wife: "Oh, don’t bother."

Husband: "No, you and me, Friday night, time alone."

Chances are they’ll go out together, but the wife’s need for attention won’t be met because she had to demand that it be met. The husband wasn’t giving out of a loving, caring heart; he merely acquiesced to the pressure he felt from his wife.

We must remember that Satan is hard at work seeking to prevent fulfillment of our deepest need for intimacy. He seeks to clothe us with the superficial as he instills the fear of being transparent. In doing so he deceives us into hiding our deepest needs from those we love the most. He is against us living transparent lives as married couples.

I worked with a man many years ago. He related to me that he had never seen his wife without her make-up, or without her hair combed. He had never seen his wife in a housecoat. He indicated that his wife always got up long before he did to fix her hair, put on her make-up and dress. He talked with distain about women who wouldn’t do that for their husbands. I have always wondered about that man and his wife. Do you think he had an intimate relationship with his wife, or was he too interested in the superficial?

1 Peter 3:1-4
3:1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. NIV

Peter says, "Wives, in the same way" . . . do you know what Peter is referring to when he says "in the same way?" To grasp the full force of Peter's statement in chapter three you have to look back at chapter two:

1 Peter 2:20-25
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 "He committed no sin,

and no deceit was found in his mouth."

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. NIV

Peter is teaching wives to be as submissive to their husbands as Christ was to their salvation needs. Christ is our example for submission. How submissive was Christ? Peter writes, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." Peter says, "in the same way" wives are to be submissive to their husbands. However submissiveness for husband and wife is to be mutual. In Ephesians 5:25 Paul teaches the husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. Therefore what Peter says applies to both husbands and wives.

Nina was really discouraged. When she first married Jeff, she had been so young, so eager to please him. That was nine years ago. Now, two children later, she felt she couldn't bear any longer his perfectionism, his insults, his defensiveness, his tendency to blame her for everything that went wrong. She had run out of hope.

She had tried to tell him about her feelings, but he refused to listen. No matter what she did to try to please him, his cutting remarks and shaming accusations continued. She felt in spite of her prayers God had forgotten her. She was convinced that He was never going to change Jeff, and that she might as well give up.

One night, crying out in agony and pain to God, she gave it all to Him. She told Him she was going to stop trying to change Jeff. She just simply turned everything over to God and told Him she would trust and obey Him in everything. And out of His great mercy and rich bounty, He gave her to grace she needed.

Jeff did change--but not until long after Nina did.

Our gnawing fears concerning intimacy are motivated by agonizing questions such as: Can we be helped? Can we change? Is there a solution to our problems? We must realize what is blocking emotions and feelings that need to be expressed before spiritual intimacy can be restored.

One may desire a deep spiritual relationship in marriage so bad that the other feels pressured and retreats because of undue pressure.

Many times the spiritual aspect of our lives never enters into conversation because we are afraid that we will be rejected. In such cases our pride covers our fear of inadequacy.

Ask the Lord to help you love your spouse in a way that demonstrates the complete love of Christ in you. To develop this supernatural love for one another we must depend upon God’s Spirit to give us strength in our inner being to become reborn. When you are baptized into Christ you must accept God power to grow spiritually. God’s power in your life for change is as real as the resurrection power of Christ. We diminish this power as we lose sight of what God has done in Christ through self-centeredness.

God can help us when we decide to communicate openly and honestly. We must seek God’s help as we seek to communicate honestly emotionally, mentally and spiritually. God wants us to discuss our needs and desires so that we can understand one another better. It is sad that couples live together for a life time, yet fail to discuss or understand each others deepest feelings, needs and desires. Paul wrote, "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ." (Eph. 4:15) Ask the Lord to help you communicate truth in love at all times to your spouse for your mutual growth in Christ.

Spiritual and emotional intimacy increases when we are able to adjust our expectations toward one another. We must understand that husbands and wives are often at different intellectual and maturity levels. This may cause one to feel inferior, or the other to feel superior. It may be difficult to find areas of common interest. In such cases intimacy can only be had when we adjust our expectations accordingly.

We all need to learn how to be more adaptable, flexible, and able to adjust our expectations when situations change. If you want a relationship with most anyone, you must adjust your thinking to meet them where they are. If we are condescending, we will never have a relationship. Ask the Lord for the grace to learn how to adjust your expectations toward your spouse in a way that exhibits the Spirit’s gracious enabling power.

Successful marriages are not held together solely by the iron of commitment. They get their strength from the alloy of commitment plus caring.

Author Lewis Smedes, in his book Commitment and Caring, describes a couple about as opposite as two people can be: "He is spiritual; she is earthly. He is detached; she loves to be intimate with people. He is dependent; she could manage almost anything by herself. He is always careful; she likes to take risks. He hates conflict; she dares take on any."

This husband and wife, however, have developed a deep and satisfying relationship because they have given each other permission to be themselves. Smedes sums it up, "These two people have turned commitment into joy, mostly because they have gradually learned how to set each other free."

I don’t think that anything deepens intimacy more than forgiveness. An attitude of forgiveness is the only thing that will help resolve past conflicts. We took vows to honor and cherish one another, and resolving past conflicts is a very real part of the vows we took. We must ask God to give us the spiritual strength to resolve the painful experiences of our past. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord as they sought godly relationships with each other.

Many are locked up emotionally into their own little world. They have been hurt by someone’s rejection, anger or abuse. They lock themselves up emotionally refusing to allow anyone to enter this part of their world because they are afraid of more abuse.

Only the Spirit of God can help us break down these walls of defenses as we feel the security of God’s everlasting love. Paul wrote, "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7) Trust the Lord to help you remove your masks of cultural conditioning, traditions, power, pride, position, education, selfishness, fear, insecurity, children, activities, relatives, education, etc. Ask the Lord to help you unlock your emotions knowing you are secure in God’s love, protection and all sufficient grace.

Louis Evans made an amazing statement. He said that he never knew a couple who went ahead with a divorce after first praying together, on their knees, every day, for a week.

Praying together is both a solvent and a glue. It dissolves resentments and bitterness, and binds hearts in new and joyous harmony. Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Paul Tournier writes, "It is only when a husband and wife pray together before God that they find the secret of true harmony: that the difference in their temperaments, their ideas, and their tastes enriches their home instead of endangering it...

"When each of the marriage partners seeks quietly before God to see his own faults, recognizes his sin, and asks the forgiveness of the other, marital problems are no more . . . They learn to become absolutely honest with each other . . . This is the price to be paid if partners very different from each other are to combine their gifts instead of setting them against each other."

Conclusion:

Developing solid relationship on earth begins with a desire to develop a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

God’s love enables spouses to develop emotional intimacy when they are engaged in fulfilling Christ’s goals. Jesus said, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you." (Matt. 6:33) Ask the Lord to help you mutually work together to help fulfill all of Christ’s goals allowing the Spirit to draw you together in the process.

A relationship with God is possible for all (John 3:16). God has manifested his desire to have an intimate relationship with each of us. It is through this relationship with God that makes it possible to overcome whatever debilitating relationship we may find ourselves in.

You can learn of God’s love by taking up your cross and following Christ.

 

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