A Christ-Centered Marriage
About the Guest
Pastor Rob Green, author of the book, "Tying the Knot," talks about the goal of premarital counseling: to help engaged couples see what marriage looks like when Jesus is at the center. When counseling, Green talks about red flags, like being spiritually mismatched, pornography, and relational baggage (like past abuse or a child from a previous relationship). A man or woman has to ask themselves whether or not they will extend grace to their intended and bear their burden. Green also talks about the green lights: a firm faith and dependence on Christ, a willingness to continually learn about one another, and involvement in a local church.
Rob GreenRob Green has been the pastor of counseling and seminary ministries at Faith Church in Lafayette, Ind., since 2005. His responsibilities there include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at the Faith Bible Seminary. Green wasn’t always a pastor; he has a B.S. in engineering physics from Ohio State University and after college wrote computer programs to process credit cards. After feeling a call to the ministry he entered seminary, eventually earning a...more
Rob Green talks about the goal of premarital counseling. He talks about red-flag, and green-light issues to help couples decide whether or not to get married.
A Christ-Centered Marriage
Bob: What should you do if your adult son or daughter has fallen in love with, and wants to marry someone, about whom you have concerns? Here’s Pastor Rob Green.
Rob: I think, as a parent, what you communicate to your adult child is: “We love you, and we would seek to love whoever you decide to marry—we’re committed to that. But we also want you to know that we’re concerned about a few things, and we’ve seen this…We don’t want to pretend like they don’t matter. We think you are putting yourself at risk if you continue moving in this relationship without change.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 3rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Watching the choices that our children make as they grow into adulthood, especially around marriage—that can be challenging for parents. How do we handle it? We’ll talk about that and more today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I know one of the things you guys did—for premarital before you got married—you came to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, which, by the way—when we started those—the only people who were coming were engaged couples. It began as premarital preparation, and then the thing that happened was—the couples who came for their premarital came to us a year later and said: “Can we come back? We think we might listen better this time. We now understand the issues of marriage in a whole new way.” All of a sudden, it became a marriage conference instead of a pre-marriage conference.
In addition to the Weekend to Remember, did you have three, four, five sessions with a pastor or with somebody? Did you have any of that happen?
Dave: It’s been so long, Bob.
Bob: —that you don’t remember?
Dave: I had to look over at Ann and say, “Did we?”
Ann: We did. When we came on staff, we met with someone.
Bob: —staff with Campus Crusade for Christ®; yes.
Dave: —with Cru®; yes.
Dave: But no—we did the Weekend to Remember.
Bob: That was it?
Dave: I have to be honest—we wouldn’t have gone to that if we weren’t told to.
Dave: We just thought: “We love Jesus. We love each other. We’re getting married. How hard can it be?” This is a guy who came from a divorced family. I should’ve known, “It’s going to be really difficult”; but just thought, “If you add Jesus to the equation, it makes it work.” We didn’t know it’s—it does make it work, but it’s still difficult.
Ann: Jesus likes to bring out the baggage that we’ve been carrying for years [Laughter] and heal us. He uses marriage as a way to do that.
Bob: I think it was our friend, Bill Howard, and his wife Terri—I think Bill told me that their premarital was on the day of the wedding. They met with the pastor about an hour before the wedding. He said, “Do you have any questions?” It was about 15 minutes long, and that was their premarital preparation.
If that’s all you’re getting, going in, you’re going to find yourself—a day, or a week, or a few weeks into marriage—where something’s going to come up and you’re going to go, “Nobody ever told me this is how marriage is going to be.”
Dave: It’s so critical; it’s so important to do. Think about it—you can’t get a driver’s license without going through driver’s training; yet, you can get married with nothing—no wonder couples struggle.
Bob: Rob Green is joining us this week. He is a pastor and an author. He’s written a guidebook called Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong and Lasting Marriage. Pastors are using this; laymen and women; counselors are using this. Honestly, anybody, who would sit down with a couple—a married couple going through this with a pre-married couple—there’d be some great conversations.
Rob, welcome back to FamilyLife Today. Good to have you here.
Rob: It’s a joy to be here.
Bob: The whole goal in this premarital guide is to help couples see what marriage, with Jesus at the center of it, looks like—and how that’s different from a marriage, with Jesus as a tool in your utility belt that you pull out if you have a problem; right?
Rob: Absolutely; or even that Jesus is just one compartment of my life—separated from my work, separated from my home, separated from everything else.
Bob: I think, when we got married, we probably had a compartmentalized Jesus view of things as opposed to a Jesus-centric view. Do you think that’s the case with most younger couples getting married?
Rob: I think, those who haven’t heard of that idea before—then it is.
Bob: Yes; so, if a couple’s entering into marriage, and it’s the Jesus-is-in-my-utility-belt approach, how does that differ from a couple, who comes in, understanding, “No; Jesus needs to be central to everything we’re doing”?
Rob: The first thing, I think, is the person talks about Christ. They talk about Christ in their normal conversation. When I’m speaking to those I’m counseling, I’ll use the phrase, “God talk,”—“Is there any God talk in your home?” If the answer to that is “No,” that tells me something about the place of Christ, as the center of their life—which He’s not.
Ann: Dave and I talk a lot of times in conferences about red flags in premarital counseling. What are the red flags for couples, that you think, “Hmm; this is really a dangerous thing.”
Rob: The first one, I think, is one is a believer and the other not. Sometimes, we have individuals, who are seeking to marry a person who is not a Christian—they do not have that same commitment. We need to encourage them and call them out on that.
Rob: I think another red flag—and this is probably more from a counseling perspective, not a premarital counseling perspective, a counseling one—is the significance of: “Is there victory in the area of sexual sin?” There’s—so often, this person—let’s say it’s the guy—he’s been in pornography since he’s in junior high; then he meets this girl. She doesn’t like that, of course, so he gives it up. But he’s really only giving it up over a couple of months, and he’s only giving it up because she’s not happy about it. She has said, “Look, if you do this, I am not going to marry you.”
What I’m looking for is a track record of victory. I’m looking for a track record of intensity, regarding the hatred of that sin. If we’re told in Romans 6 that we are dead to sin and alive to God, then are we really going to present our bodies as instruments of righteousness?—or are we going to present our bodies as instruments of sin?—which one is it going to be?
One of the red flags for me is a history of sexual sin that is not finding itself in victory. You may ask, “You bring that up in counseling?” You better believe I do; because if I don’t, here’s what happens. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been called by a young couple—and it’s usually the woman, who sends me a note or picks up the phone and calls me—and says, “I just discovered that my husband is in pornography.” She’s devastated.
The reality is—he was never changed from that. She believed that she would conquer it because she was a real person; when in reality, fantasy always trumps real.
Bob: So, can a young woman know whether the guy she’s dating, who says: “Yes; I love you,” and “I want to give this up,” and “I can do it,”—maybe there’s been three months of he hasn’t looked at anything. She’s going: “Is this victory?—or is this just behavior modification until we get married?” How can she diagnose that?
Rob: Yes; that’s a great question. I think there’s a couple of things that she’s going to have to believe:
Number one—she’s going to have to see: “Does he have a track record of telling the truth?—or telling her what she wants to hear?”
Two—does she see a brokenness associated with his sin that would be consistent with what you would find in 2 Corinthians 7? Is she seeing signs that he’s taking real and meaningful action to give this up and to prevent it in the future?
One of the things I’m also looking for is: “Are you ready to take on whatever baggage and responsibility that that other person is bringing with them?”
Ann: That’s good.
Bob: I know, when we talk to couples at the Weekend to Remember, and the issue of pornography comes up, I will sometimes say to wives: “It may be, after this weekend, your husband may come to you and say, ‘I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.’” I said: “When you hear that, you will have this instant reaction of betrayal. You’ve been violated. There’ll be anger; there’ll be hurt. That’s going to be normal for you.
“But the question is not, ‘Did he hurt you?’; the question is, ‘Are you going to be his ally to help him in this process, or are you going to be his opposition and make it harder for him?’ I know that I’m asking something that’s hard, and you can’t do this in your human strength; but this is how we have to approach the issues that come up in marriage: ‘How can we be allies for each other and help both of us get past sinful patterns and habits we deal with?’”
Rob: It’s not just sin, though; it can also be suffering. One of my friends—he was a student of our seminary—I was his Greek and New Testament instructor. He married a girl right after seminary. Shortly after their marriage, she had her very first flare up of a disease called MS. She didn’t know she had it, but it was so significant that she was unable to care for herself for a period of time while that flare up was happening.
Here’s a man, who doesn’t realize that his, now, wife—soon-to-be-wife when they were engaged—is actually carrying a very significant disease that has implications for a lot of things in life. And yet, what is he going to do, now that he learned, six weeks after they get married? Is he going to be angry? Is he going to say that God gave him a raw deal because the woman that he’s married to is different than the woman he dated? Or is he going to say, “The Lord knew all this was going to happen, and the Lord provides all the grace and strength that I need for that.” It’s not just sin issues; it’s, also, hardship and suffering, too.
Bob: It’s back to: “Commitment and self-sacrifice is the core foundation of love.” When you say, “I love you,” you’re not saying, “I love what you do for me.” You’re saying: “I’m committed to you. I’ll lay down my life for you. In those moments of suffering, or when we’re confronted by sins, I’m committed to you. I’ll sacrifice to help us be the couple God wants us to be.”
Dave: Here’s a question for you since you deal with premarital so often: “What do you do with a couple that comes in for counseling that let’s say, both of them are not believers, and they’re living together?” I’m sure you’ve seen that many times because marriage ministry is a great open door for people to walk into your church. How do you deal with that?
Rob: Hopefully, the first introduction to that couple is not that moment.
Rob: Hopefully, you’ve had an opportunity to develop a relationship with them. We had a couple, a few years ago, who was attending our church. I knew they were living together; we just sought to minister to them first.
Then, as we saw the relationship continue to develop, we said, “You know, we probably need to have a conversation about this.” I asked them to lunch; we had a conversation about the church: “How’s your relationship with Christ?” I said, “There’s something I really want to talk to you about, because I see the direction that you’re heading.” That was a great conversation. We actually helped him move out; another family in our church provided a place for him to stay. They had a period of time where they were separated. Then, after a few months of premarital counseling, we actually married them. They’re still married today.
It’s much more difficult when the first conversation is: “We’re getting married in eight weeks. We’re living together. Are you okay with that?” In those situations, as hard as it may be, we’re going to try to serve them; but we’re going to also expect that they want to do things God’s way, or they need to just go to the Justice of the Peace and have it done. If they want the church; if they want the blessing of the local body; if they want pastoral involvement—they want to use the facilities—then we have to have a sense of which: “Christ is really important here.”
Bob: When you think about sitting down with a couple, and you want to make sure, at the end of the time you’ve been with them—you want to make sure, “I think this couple is headed in the right direction; the trajectory is right.” Ann asked about the red flags; I’m asking about the green lights—the things you look at and go: “Okay; yes, they’re young. They’ve got a lot to learn, but here are the green lights. Here are the things that give me a confidence this couple’s going to do well.” What are those things you’re looking for?
Rob: The first thing I’m looking for is a serious relationship with Christ. A second thing I’m looking for is an attitude of dependence: “Do they really believe they have all this figured out, or do they believe they have a lot to learn and that they need God’s grace every step of the way?”
Bob: That’s a humility that you’re looking for there; right?
Rob: It is; it’s humility with dependence. Third, I’m looking for willingness to be a continual learner of one another—like: “We don’t have to have everything figured out on day one.”
Maybe fourth is: “Are they going to be connected to their local body?” One of the things that I was concerned about/have been concerned about, with young couples, is they often have the attitude of: “Well, we just have to spend all of our spare time together, and we’ll neglect the church for that/we’ll neglect the body for that. We’ll neglect our friends for that.” In reality, that puts them in a very dangerous position, where they’re isolated. I think Hebrews 10 reminds us of the importance of stimulating one another to love and good deeds. It may be that those couples are going to need somebody, not only care for, but also to receive care from.
Bob: That leads me to the question of how important is post-marital engagement with couples? We talk about premarital. Do you have mentor couples who stay with couples during their first year or two of marriage to help them out?
Rob: I think that’s probably a bit long for what we have done, although it’s not a bad idea.
Bob: Nothing wrong with it.
Rob: Nothing wrong with it. It’s just—we don’t structure it to that degree. What we are looking for them to do is get into what we call the “discipleship river” at our church. It’s where you’re growing and maturing through the normal discipleship ministries of the body.
Ann: Rob, we have three sons who are married. With each of those wives that our sons married, we love them. There were green lights all along the way; we were excited about it. But I’ve talked to so many parents who see all these red flags as their kids are going into these marriages.
Any words of advice for us, as parents, when we see our son or daughter marrying somebody that we think: “Oh, boy. There could be a lot of trouble ahead for them”?
Rob: The first piece of advice is—before they’re/you’re in that position—to be continuing to develop a relationship with your children so that you have an adult-to-adult relationship: that you can speak to one another and openly communicate.
Then I think, as a parent, what you communicate to your adult child is: “We love you, and we would seek to love whoever you decide to marry—we’re committed to that. But we also want you to know that we’re concerned about a few things, and we’ve seen this…We don’t want to pretend like they don’t matter. We think you are putting yourself at risk if you continue moving in this relationship without change. If you don’t see change, we’re concerned.”
One is just developing the relationship with your adult children before you get in that spot. Secondly, to emphasize that: I’m going to communicate clearly, and lovingly, and caringly for you.”
Bob: If you’re sitting down with an engaged couple, and one of the questions you ask is, “Are your parents on board with this marriage?” and they say, “No, my mom and dad have said, ‘If you marry him, you’re out of the will,’” or whatever else. What’s your counsel at that point?
Rob: It depends on the reason. Of course, we’re concerned any time a person would say that.
Our ministry is located near Purdue University. We have international students at Purdue, some of whom have parents who aren’t believers. The person comes to Christ, and their parents are very upset about their child accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior. In that case, we wouldn’t use parental authority to say that that person can’t be married.
On the other hand, sometimes, a person has very godly parents and very loving and caring parents. Those parents are telling us, as pastors, through tears, that they’re concerned about their child. In cases like that, we’re going to be much more serious with the young person and say: “Are you sure? This is a very serious issue that your parents are struggling with.” And again, in extreme cases, we might even say that we’re not going to choose to move forward with marrying them.
Bob: I had a couple come up to me at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway during our premarital session—we do a session with engaged couples. They came up afterwards and said, “My mom and dad"—this is the bride-to-be—she said, “My mom and dad have said, if we get married, it’s over. Communication shuts down. They’re so opposed to him that I’m out of the family at that point.” She explained that her parents were not believers.
I asked, “What’s the source of their discontent?” She said: “I can’t figure it out. I don’t know.” I said: I always encourage people: Even listen to your unbelieving parents; because they may have insight, just through common grace, that you need to hear.”
But here’s what you need to calculate in all of this. You need to calculate—it’s five years from now—and you’re having your first child, and your parents don’t know. If you call and say, “You’re grandparents,” they hang up on you—you need to calculate that your kids might not know their grandparents.
You need to ask the question, “Am I ready?” Jesus said, “If you follow Me, you’re leaving father and mother.” This may be one of those situations, where you’d say, “God’s leading me in this direction, and it’s clear.” But you also need to listen very carefully to what, even, your unbelieving parents would say they’re concerned about in this relationship; because they may, through common grace, see things that even you don’t see.
Dave: I remember—when I was in college, I dated a girl from my junior year in high school to my junior year in college, so a little over four years. Toward the end of that relationship, I’d become a Christian in year four; she doesn’t. I keep trying to lead her to the Lord; because, if we’re going to get married in 18 months, it’s sort of time to start talking about that: “I’ll graduate next year; you’ll graduate. Let’s get married.”
I remember my mom coming to me, saying, “She’s not the one.” I’m like: “Mom! You’ve loved her for the last four years!” “Yes, the whole time I’ve kept my tongue; but I’m telling you.” I go to a New Year’s Eve party—this is crazy—by myself; she’s at another college. A guy walks up to me I’ve never met in this frat house. He looks at me and he goes: “Hey, dude. Just need to tell you something.” I don’t even know this guy!—“Yes?—what’s that?” “She’s not the one for you.” “Who’s not the one for me?” “The girl you’ve been dating for four years,”—I won’t even say her name—“she’s not the one for you. I’m just telling you—you don’t know who she is.”
There was this wisdom being given to me—one by a total stranger, which I now look back and say, “God was trying to tell me”; and sure enough—
Ann: Yes, He was. [Laughter]
Dave: —the woman I was supposed to marry is sitting right there.
As I continued my walk with Christ, I started to feel that tension. I’m going a totally different place, and she’s [girlfriend of four years] not coming along, even though I’m trying to drag her—I really am. I walked in one day and caught her with another guy, and that was the day I had my own eyes opened to what everybody else had seen.
I was just thinking, “What you do, in this ministry of premarital counseling, is so critical.” I literally just looked on the internet to find out the statistics, right now, of the cost of a wedding. Do you know what it is?! I just looked at it—according to Bride’s 2018 American wedding study: in 2017, it was around $27,000; in the last year, the average is $44,000 is spent on a wedding.
Bob: Oh, my word.
Dave: I thought, just what you said earlier, Rob, “We spend all this time and energy for one day/for a of couple hours, and virtually no time and energy for a lifetime together.” You’re in that role to say, “No, this is more important than that day.”
Think of this—as I sit here, if I hadn’t listened to my mom or a total stranger, I can virtually guarantee you, I am a divorced man with a broken legacy, just like my dad. I’m sitting here with the most incredible woman I could ever imagine, that God brought to me partly because, at some point, I said the right—“I needed to listen to this wisdom,”—which is exactly what you’re trying to do with couples. You’re trying to give them wisdom, and if they listen, it will change their entire legacy.
Bob: Well, and not just with what you’re doing in premarital—but what you’ve done in this book, Tying the Knot—you’ve now given us a tool/all of us a tool, so that we can have these conversations: we can know how to direct and shape couples. This is a gift to churches and to people who care about couples, coming up.
Thank you for the book, and thanks for the time here.
Rob: Thanks for having me.
Bob: Rob’s book, Tying the Knot, is available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLIfeToday.com to order a copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Tomorrow, we want to talk about the why behind the what of parenting. Shelly Wildman is going to join us to say that, before we put a game plan together for parenting, we need to know what the goal is. We’ll talk about that goal with her tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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