The Enemy of Marriage
About the Guest
Does your spouse think you're selfish? Best-selling author Dr. Larry Crabb focuses on the number #1 enemy of marriage - selfishness. Crabb explains that in order to love our spouse well, we must die to ourselves and our own needs and wants, and focus on the needs of our spouse.
Larry CrabbDr. Larry Crabb is a well-known psychologist, conference and seminar speaker, Bible teacher, popular author, and founder/director of NewWay Ministries. In addition to various other speaking and teaching opportunities, Dr. Crabb offers a weekend conference throughout the country entitled Life on the Narrow Road and a week-long School of Spiritual Direction held in Colorado Springs, CO. He currently is Scholar in Residence at Colorado Christian University in Colorado and serves as Spiritual Direct...more
Does your spouse think you’re selfish?
The Enemy of Marriage
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, February 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There are significant differences between men and women; but when it comes to being self-centered, we’re all in the same boat. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, it was—I guess, almost two decades ago, now—you wrote a book. It was a book called One Home at a Time.
Dennis: I’m glad you could remember it. [Laughter]
Bob: I was having a hard time there for a minute—One Home at a Time. You talked about four core messages that you felt like needed to be resolved for homes and families to be pointed in the right direction.
Bob: I remember what they were. You talked about the need for personal repentance and purity.
Bob: People need to be right with God.
Bob: You talked about the need for an understanding of the marriage covenant.
Dennis: Covenant-keeping love.
Bob: You talked about the need for husbands and wives to understand their unique assignment—their unique responsibilities in marriage.
Bob: And you talked about the need to pass along a legacy of spiritual vitality to the next generation. As I was thinking about those four core messages—
and thinking about the guest we’re going to talk to today, I thought, “He’s pretty in sync with all four of those.”
Dennis: He has demonstrated those as a part of his life, his teaching, speaking, and writing. It’s good to have Dr. Larry Crabb with us on FamilyLife Today. Larry—welcome back to the broadcast.
Larry: It’s great to be with you guys.
Dennis: I say welcome back. How many years ago was it, Bob?
Bob: It’s been 15/16/17 years ago.
Dennis: He was so good we had him back on right away; didn’t we? [Laughter]
Larry: I feel so affirmed.
Dennis: Well, Larry and his wife, Rachel, live on the front range of Colorado. They have two adult sons who are married—five grandchildren. He is a psychologist, a conference speaker, Bible teacher. A lot of people have been to the well and have drunk deeply out of your writings. We’re grateful that you joined us, here on the broadcast.
Bob: Well, and I found this interesting because—23 books that you’ve written—you wrote one back in 1991. Just recently, that book has been republished.
Why this book—from 20-plus years ago—that all of a sudden is resurfacing in this era?
Larry: Well, when the publisher said, “We’re thinking of republishing a book you wrote in ’91,” I said, “Well, let me read it again and see if I still like it.”
Bob: Yes, right.
Larry: I read it; and I thought: “You know, I don’t think I’d change anything. I might add a few thoughts here and there. I, hopefully, have grown a little bit over the years.” But when I read the book, I thought, “This is a message that I need to hear again;”—
Larry: —“and maybe, the church and the culture could use a little bit of it.”
Bob: I think the culture could stand to dig into this; don’t you?
Dennis: Well, the title of the book is Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference; and there is a difference. Some folks may differ with us on that; but by the time we are done, I think they are going to hear a good, thorough biblical case for how those differences are to complete each other and how we’re to relate to one another.
I’m going to do something with you, Larry—that I typically don’t do. I’m actually going to give you fair warning to answer a question—
later on, in the broadcast. I like to ask a question, occasionally—not every time—of our guests—that’s one of my favorite questions to ask. It’s this: “Out of everything you’ve done in all your life, what is the most courageous thing you have ever done?”
Bob: So, while we’re talking, you can be meditating on that thought. [Laughter]
Dennis: You can sort through all of your heroism over the years. [Laughter]
Larry: The limited array—I’ll look at.
Dennis: Let’s start with what your book talks about. You begin the first half of the book talking about public enemy number one in marriage—that’s our selfishness.
Larry: That’s the problem. After doing a lot of marriage counseling, over a lot of years, all of my techniques proved relatively useless. All of my training, to some degree, didn’t hit the nail on the head; you know?
Larry: It just became clear to me that there’s a battle going on in every human being between their flesh and their spirit—to put it in biblical terms—between my self-centeredness and my desire to love the Lord.
That’s still going on. I’ve been married for 47 years; but I think I’m more aware of the battle today between my own self-centeredness—that’s still within me—
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Larry: —and my desire to love my wife like Christ loved the church. I’ve got an illustration. It wasn’t about two months ago when my wife and I’d both had long days. We’re both tired. We get home. I plop into my chair in front of the television. She plops into her chair, and we’re both exhausted. What Rachel didn’t know was that I was more tired than she was. She should have been sensitive to that, and she simply wasn’t. [Laughter]
I put on the television. I wanted just to veg-out. I didn’t want to think. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to communicate. I just wanted to veg. Rachel sat down with her computer and was going to clean up some emails. When she sat down to get on her computer, I was watching a favorite television show—whatever it was. Rachel said—to nobody in particular—she said, “Oh, I left my iced tea in the kitchen.”
Dennis: Oh, I’ve heard these comments before!
Larry: And I’m a trained psychologist.
So, I could pick up what she was intending there. I think she was actually saying, “That, maybe, it wouldn’t it be nice if I were to get out of the chair and get her iced tea?” [Laughter]
This will sound like a silly, trivial story; but it really illustrates the point of the book because something happened in me that I could determine—I could discern within me—what was happening. My reflexive thought was: “Well, you forgot it. You ought to go get it. As your husband, I’m going to hold you accountable for your well-being, as a Christian man.” I was thinking like that. Then, I realized, “Oh, Larry, you don’t believe any of that nonsense.” Then, I thought, you know, “What would it mean to love her as Christ loved the church?”
This tiny, little moment—
Larry: —it’s a little trivial thing. Here, the Lord comes to earth and dies for me; and I’m not going to get up and get iced tea for my wife. I just found this battle going on. I want to tell you: “I won the battle.” I stood up, without grudging—I went in, got the iced tea, brought it back, and said, “Honey, here’s your iced tea.” And I said it cheerfully. She said, “Thanks.” I sat down; and I said, “That’s all I get?” [Laughter]
I mean—what I’m telling you is—this self-centeredness thing shows up in the most trivial, ugly ways that we don’t even discern—sometimes, in big, obvious ways—which is terrible. But I think self-centeredness is the real problem—
Larry: —that only the cross of Christ deals with.
Larry: You can’t find any solution to self-centeredness apart from the gospel, apart from the power of the Spirit, apart from the new heart that God gives us—all that has got to be crucial.
Bob: For years—when I’ve had people, who have asked me if I would autograph the book I wrote, called The Christian Husband—when I’ve signed the autograph, I always—after I sign my name, I write Philippians 2:3, which says, “Do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit, with humility regard one another as more important than yourself.” I’ve told people, “If you’ll apply this one verse from Scripture in your marriage, it will cure 95 percent of the marriage issues.”
Bob: Then, it goes on to say, “Don’t merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.” I saw that theme over and over again in the opening chapters of your book.
Bob: If we can just figure out how to die to self and how to love somebody else, marriage can be glorious.
Larry: And one of the great problems in seeing that is we get off on the wrong foot without knowing it. Rachel and I met when we were ten years old. We couldn’t start dating then; she was going steady with Carl. [Laughter] But when she was able to discern, at age 12, that Carl wasn’t God’s choice for her, we—
Dennis: Did you take him out or what did you do? [Laughter]
Larry: I prayed him out! But we actually did have our “first date” when we were twelve years old. I, over the next teenage years—I fell in love with her and wanted to marry her; and she wanted to marry me. We stood before the preacher—I can recall—I said all the right words: “I’ll love, honor, and cherish until one of us dies.” But what I was saying, without even realizing it—Proverbs says that the purposes of a man’s heart are like deep waters.
Dennis: Oh, yes.
Larry: You really don’t know what your real intentions—what your motivations are. It’s the Spirit of God, through the Word of God, that reveals our hearts and our deceitful ways of thinking. I believe what I was saying, as a 21-year-old kid,—
in marrying Rachel—and she was 21, as well—I think what I was saying was:“You really make me feel good about who I am. Keep it up.” I think that was my commitment to her, without even noticing it. I had a problem with stuttering, as a kid. I was laughed at for being a stutterer. Rachel never laughed at me. She didn’t wear down my self-esteem. She built it up, and I felt encouraged by her. I thought, “Marriage to her could be a really good deal for me.”
Larry: And I think I didn’t see that, at the time. It’s taken 47 years to get clearer and clearer that that energy is still within me, and only the gospel has the power to release me to love her in a way that I really want to.
Dennis: We begin our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways with a message called “Why Marriages Fail”. It has five reasons why marriages fail today. The fifth reason—we kind of save it for the giant exclamation point—is this point: “Selfishness”—
Dennis: —“of our own hearts.”
Bob: You know, we have got one group of people listening to this conversation who are thinking:—
“Okay, yes, I get it. I’m selfish. Yes. So—next—what do you want to talk about next?” Then, there is another group, who are going, “I don’t think I’m as bad as you think I am,”—some people who minimize the reality of their selfishness and some people who kind of rush past it.
One of the things you do in your book is—you won’t let us rush past it. You kind of take us deeper into the experience of the reality of our selfishness to make us confront stuff that we try to scoot past too quickly.
Larry: The beginning of the gospel is bad news: “We’re in trouble.” The center of gospel is incredibly good news. Until we hear the bad news, we don’t appreciate—we can’t sing Amazing Grace with any kind of meaning.
Larry: I did have one person—when they first read the book—they said, “Larry, the first half of the book you’re convincing me I’m self-centered. I got the point in the first chapter. Couldn’t you get to the good stuff?” My response is: “I don’t think that you get to the good stuff until you really embrace the bad stuff.” Look at the Bible—66 love letters.
The first 39 are saying—what? “You’re in trouble.” Then, the next one starts in Matthew; but the hero has come. Once you know what your trouble is, you’re going to be so grateful for the Messiah.
Dennis: You alluded to this earlier. Forty-seven years into your marriage, you are more convinced than ever of your self-centeredness.
Dennis: You didn’t start out that way.
Dennis: It is interesting how we, as human beings, have to go through life to really understand how marriage and children were given to us, by God, to redeem us from ourselves—to teach us the bad news that we really are selfish. We want to have it our way and how we want to do it. That’s not always going to happen in a marriage or in raising children.
Larry: You know, I think the things that I’ve seen as being a psychologist—that’s kind of a negative part of being a psychologist—we excuse a lot of selfishness on the basis of the wounds that we’ve suffered. One of the points I make in the book—and I make it, I think, rather strongly—at least, I intended to—
is our problem really isn’t self-centeredness—it’s justified self-centeredness. We really assume that, when we’re looking out for ourselves, that—given how badly we feel / what a rotten day we’ve had—whatever it might be—that, somehow, it’s warranted that I require you to come through for me in particular ways. There is no such thing as justified self-centeredness.
Dennis: You’ve counseled—how many people?—several thousands, undoubtedly.
Larry: A bunch.
Dennis: Yes, you had a guy who justified an affair over something his wife had done or hadn’t done in this case.
Larry: That happens a lot. I mean, you’re talking about—his name is Legion. There are so many people that have—when they’ve done something really wrong, like have an affair, which is obviously inexcusable—but when you talk to the guy that’s had the affair, what—and there are several people I can think of when I’m thinking of this—that the response is: “You know, I know I shouldn’t have done it, but….” Then, what follows the “but” is the excuse. It’s the justification. It’s the warrant. It really comes down to: “I’m hurting so badly.
“The only way that I can find relief from the pain that I have is—not to love my wife because she doesn’t respond well—but have a girlfriend that will respond very well to me. That’s where I feel better.”
There’s a very interesting passage in Hosea 7—I think it is—where God says, “That the problem with you—I want to redeem you. I long to redeem you;” God says, “but you are getting in the way because you’re wailing on your bed. You’re not crying from your heart.” You look at that passage there. What it says in Hosea 7:13-14—and what I believe God is saying through Hosea is: “Wailing on your bed is complaining / grumbling about how bad life has made you feel—whether it’s your spouse, or your kids, or your job, or whoever it might be—but somehow, ‘I’m hurting badly. So, the central priority of the universe is for me not to hurt badly right now. I’m going to find some way to change it.’”
Bob: Yes. Here is how you said it in the book. You said: “We are wounded, and we are self-centered. The issue we have to get to is which one of those is the biggest problem.”
Larry: Yes; yes.
Bob: And I read that; and I thought,—
“That’s exactly right,” because when we think our woundedness is the biggest problem, we can’t get the gospel help we need; can we?
Larry: That’s exactly right. Then, Jesus doesn’t become our Savior—He becomes our therapist, who helps us feel better about ourselves. It is almost like you go to the doctor—and the doctor says, “You have cancer, but why don’t you go play golf?” That’s a bad solution to having—I’ve had cancer twice. My doctor did not say, “Go play golf.” He said, “You need to lie down and have some surgery here.”
The gospel says: “I’ve already had the surgery for you. I paid the price. You’re forgiven; but now, we have some more surgery to get the self-centeredness to lessen as the ruling passion within your soul as you relate to your spouse or whoever else.”
Dennis: What you are really talking about, Larry, is you’re calling men and women to, first, surrender to the One who defeated death on your behalf, Jesus Christ.
Bob: Well, before you do that, though, you’ve got to acknowledge the reality—the deep reality of just how selfish you are; right?
Larry: Absolutely. It was Augustine who—the old theologian, from centuries ago—
who defined sin so simply and profoundly when he said, “Sin is the condition of being curved in on yourself.” What a simple definition, but what a profound definition. So, in the middle of a conversation about iced tea or in the middle of some big, horrendous thing—whether it is trivial or monumental—“Am I really curved in on myself? Am I really looking out for me and expecting you to take care of me?” Until that’s understood, then, Jesus has not been seen for who He is.
Dennis: And Jesus calls us to die to self.
Larry: And you quoted a verse earlier, in Philippians 2, where it says, “Look not only to your own interests….” One Greek scholar that I’m familiar with, R.T. Kendall, used to be a pastor over in England. He said that he did some careful research with top-level scholars. The word, “only”, is not in the original because the way you normally read it is “Don’t look out only for your own interests.” In other words, “Some of that’s fine,”—
Larry: —but also, “When you have an opportunity, go look after somebody else.” Kendall said: “No, no; no. Don’t look out for your own self-interests,”—and I think the reason why is because Jesus already did!
And now, that you are taken care of, you’re free to move toward somebody else without ultimate concern for yourself. Of course, you still want something for yourself; but you’re not demanding it anymore. You’re not requiring it. Your life doesn’t depend on it.
Bob: Well, I’m curious because some people I’ve heard will look at Jesus—giving the Great Commandment—and He says, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself.” They will say, “See there, the Bible teaches you—you are to love yourself.” That’s not what that verse is teaching; is it?
Larry: That’s one of the greatest misunderstandings in all the texts: “I can’t love you until I love myself. So, let me go for ten years of therapy. Then, when I get myself built up in my self-esteem, then, I’ll give you a chance to be loved, as well.” That’s just not what He’s teaching.
He’s teaching: “You’re already committed to yourself. Rather than honoring that commitment to yourself—because you don’t need to anymore because God has already committed to you. He’s taking care of your worst problem. You have all the resources you need, right now—whether you have a good self-esteem or not—you have all the resources you need to move toward somebody else.”
Here is the key to the whole thing: “That’s where joy comes from.”
He’s saying: “I understand what the word, ‘joy’, is. I’ve been a member of the Trinity for some time. We get along really well because we’re radically other-centered. I want you to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.” What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean, primarily, social justice issues—although, I’m all for social justice and that sort of thing—but that isn’t the point. The point is: “Bring God’s Trinitarian kingdom to earth by being radically others-centered.”
Bob: So, if somebody sees, in themselves today, the reality of their self-centeredness and they start to see: “That’s not a good thing. That really is an abomination. It’s an offense before a Holy God,”—
Bob: —“and I need to deal with that,” Christ has dealt with that. How do they appropriate what Christ has done for them?
Larry: You know, the word, “brokenness”, is so misunderstood in our culture. Brokenness, for most people, means “I’m hurting badly.” But if I’m willing to say that I am at the point where there is no hope for me—apart from help from outside—there’s just no possibility:
“I am broken. I am ruined. I’m hopeless. I’m helpless.” That sounds like terrible news. It is until you go to the next step. Basically, the response is: “Lord, is it possible that, exactly as I am right now, You actually love me? You’re for me? You want me to live a good life? You want—You have given me a new way to live?” If I start, actually, believing that, by faith, then, maybe some good things can happen.
Dennis: And so, how does that person surrender to Christ and receive that gift of forgiveness that he needs or she needs?
Larry: Well, that person has to turn to Jesus—as the condition they are aware of that they are now in—as very self-centered and very big trouble—and realize that: “As long as I continue to live in my self-centeredness, ‘the way might seem right, but the end there of”—to quote a verse—“are the ways of death.’ I’m heading toward absolute misery forever, and that’s not what I want.” A gift is available to me.
It’s simple as, by faith, saying: “I receive the gift. You’ve forgiven me. And more than forgiven me—now, that I’m Your child—You’ve given me”—
—and this is crucial—“You’ve given me a new heart.” Ezekiel 36 talks about a new heart. He says that, in this new heart, “You’re going to be moved to keep My decree.” What I think that means is—you’re going to discover, not the obligation to be others-centered—although it is an obligation—you’re going to discover the desire to be others-centered. You’re not just—just being obedient as a grudging sort of a thing—but it’s what you want to do with your life.
Dennis: It’s not a matter of cleaning up your act first before you come to Christ. It’s a matter of coming as you are. Then, let Him begin to clean up your act in you.
Larry: You don’t take the bath before you come to Jesus because you can’t find the water to clean yourself with.
Dennis: Well, here’s my challenge to the listener who isn’t sure he or she is a true follower—a believer in Jesus Christ. I don’t know what you are doing or where you are, but don’t let the sun go down today until you’ve settled the issue with the Lord God Almighty. We’re talking—we’re talking about something that’s really serious. If you didn’t hear what Larry said, he said—
“Misery that lasts for eternity.”
Dennis: It’s not just misery for a lifetime of being selfish. It’s that you’re making a determinative choice on your eternal destination. That’s why Christ went to the cross—is to redeem us from the punishment and judgment of sin, and to give us a name, a family, and a home in heaven with Him some day.
Larry: Everything our soul was designed to enjoy is available in Jesus.
Bob: And I would think, if a listener is not fully persuaded of the reality of his or her own selfishness, they ought to get a copy of Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. Just read the first 118 pages because Larry—of course, now, who is going to want to buy this book now; right? One hundred eighteen pages on how selfish I am—who wants to read that?
Dennis: That would be good for them; and it would be good for their spouse, too. And I want to say, “I did not get back to the question that I asked at the beginning of the broadcast”—
Bob: Well, we’ll still have time this week for—
Dennis: And we’ll do it. We’ll do that this week.
Bob: Alright, so, in the meantime, if folks want to dig deeper on this subject of gender—
get a copy of Larry Crabb’s book, Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference. And a second book that you’ve written on the same subject called Fully Alive:
Bob: —A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. We’ve got both of these books in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I think our listeners will benefit from hearing what Larry adds to this conversation about gender and sexuality.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to get a copy of either or both of Larry Crabb’s books, Men and Women: Enjoying the Difference and Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY to ask about how to get a copy of either of these books.
Let me also mention—if in listening to today’s program, you thought to yourself, “I’m not sure that I really understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus,”—
or maybe, it occurred to you, for the first time, that this is something that you want to pursue—on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, we have a link that says, “TWO WAYS TO LIVE.” I want to encourage you to click on that link and get more information about what it means to have a relationship with God by trusting in His Son, Jesus. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link that you see there for “TWO WAYS TO LIVE”. Then, jot us a note. Let us know how God has used today’s program in your life. We’d love to hear from you.
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And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. Larry Crabb is going to be back. We’re going to continue to talk about men, and women, and God—and differences, and marriage, and how all of that fits together. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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