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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Love Languages and the Bible

I mentioned in the message Sunday that Paul’s exhortation in Eph 5:25 to the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church is not an exhortation to love his wife the way that she wants to be loved. It occurred to me as I prepared that message last week that the idea of loving someone the way that he or she wants to be loved is precisely what the Love Languages encourage us to do.

What are Love Languages? The concept comes from a book written by Dr. Gary Chapman entitled The Five Languages. Here is the publisher’s description of the book:
Are you and your spouse speaking the same language? While love is a many splendored thing, it is sometimes a very confusing thing, too. And as people come in all varieties, shapes, and sizes, so do their choices of personal expressions of love. But more often than not, the giver and the receiver express love in two different ways. This can lead to misunderstanding, quarrels, and even divorce. Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Dr. Gary Chapman identifies five basic languages of love and then guides couples towards a better understanding of their unique languages of love. Learn to speak and understand your mate's love language, and in no time you will be able to effectively love and truly feel loved in return. Skillful communication is within your grasp!

There is one sentence (at least) in the above paragraph that raises a red flag for me. This can lead to misunderstanding, quarrels, and even divorce. What can lead to misunderstandings, quarrels, and even divorce? Spouses not speaking each other’s love language – in other words, spouses not loving each other the way they want to be loved.

What does God’s Word have to say? Do misunderstandings, quarrels, and divorce come from a failure to speak the right love language? James 4:1-3 addresses the question:
1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

What causes strife? Not getting what you want (v1). What is the result of not getting what you want? Sin (v2). Why do you not get what you want? Two reasons: 1) you do not ask, or 2) you ask selfishly.

Strife in marriage is not a result of an ignorance of love languages. Strife in marriage is a result of the sinful response to not getting what you want. Your passions are at war within you.

So shouldn’t we just give our spouses’ what they want? Wouldn’t that fix the problem? That is the solution proposed by the Five Love Languages, but not James 4. If we take a look at the next few verses, the whole point of the passage becomes clear:

4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

What is the real issue? Is it that other humans are not meeting our needs, whether that be a spouse, a friend, or a pastor? No. The real problem lies in seeking our fulfillment in the world rather than in God (v4). God jealously desires our worship (v5). But when we seek fulfillment in our spouses and sin because they do not give us what we want, it becomes clear that we are not worshiping God, but the things of this world. All sin is an offense against God, therefore when we sin because we do not get worldly fulfillment, we have placed worldly things above God in our hearts. Essentially, we choose the devil over God.

What is the solution? Submit to God, and resist the devil (v7). Draw near to God, cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, mourn over your selfishness, and humble yourself before the Lord. In other words, desire God above all things, not the self-centered worship of what your spouse (or anyone else) can do for you.

It all comes down to your definition of love. The worldly definition is “give them what ever they want.” The biblical definition is to desire the person’s highest good. And as I mentioned last Sunday, sometimes desiring your spouse’s highest good will require doing exactly what they don’t want you to do.

Let me say clearly that I do think it is a good thing to give preference to your spouse. Romans 12:10 tells us to “give preference to one another in honor.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to please your spouse or show your affection in a tangible way that they prefer. However, this should not be seen as the key to marital bliss, especially if in the end the motive for serving your spouse is self-centered.

The problem with some of these books is the implicit “give-in-order-to-get” mentality that they produce. It accommodates the reduction of your spouse to nothing more than a vending machine – give them what they want and they’ll dispense what you want. Biblical love is so much higher and more selfless than this.

God’s Word is sufficient. In Christ, as revealed in Scripture, we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4). And yet, new books are being touted all the time as the best thing that ever happened to marriage. Do we really need these things? 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what love is. And in v5 it says that love does not insist on its own way.

I would submit that if a marriage is suffering from misunderstanding, quarrels, and even impending divorce, it is not a result of an ignorance of the love languages. It is a result of a man and woman refusing to obey God’s revealed will. Follow God’s Word and you’ll never need another marriage book again.


Joy said...

While I absolutely agree that a spouse's response to the way they are treated is crucial to the health of their relationship and the height to which they honor God, is it not also true that understanding one another is a crucial part of "living with one another in an understanding way?" If the husband shows love by buying a vacuum cleaner for his wife (because her old one is broken), she should learn enough about him to understand that this "unromantic" gift is his way of saying "I love you so much I want you to have things that work." Even when she would prefer impractical but beautiful flowers that die in a few days. And he needs to learn that she would prefer flowers and love her enough to show her love that way. It's part of good communication skills. It seems to me that the problems occur when our spouse fails to communicate in our "special" way or fails to understand our own method of communication... then what do we do?

Greg Birdwell said...

Joy thanks for your comment. I see your point. I do believe that we should show preference for one another and live with one another in an understanding way. And I certainly don't think it is wrong to express love for one's spouse in the way that is most special to them. But if the goal is marital harmony, I think that Scripture is sufficient to get us there. Two people pursuing Christ is a far better recipe for marital bliss than learning an arbitrary love language. A man who is loving His wife as Scripture demands is going to listen to her and know her better than anyone else possibly could. His expressions of love can then be appropriate for her. But I'm not aware of anything in the Bible that would even imply the existence of special love languages. For that reason, I don't think its appropriate to hang our hats on them the way so many have. I'm leery of any system of marital improvement or counseling that is not based on Scripture. If we want to know what love is, we can find a fool-proof guide in God's Word. The Love Languages book contends that an ignorance of these languages is the cause of problems in marriages. I would contend that sin is. That being said, I'm not willing to part ways with people who disagree with me on this, as I assume that a majority will think I'm being too uptight. :)