Spiritual Warfare and Your Marriage
About the Guest
Tim Muehlhoff, a professor of communication at Biola, talks about the reality of spiritual warfare in marriage. Muehlhoff reminds believers that the enemy of our souls is still alive and well and would love to see your marriage fail. He explains where a couple might see evil's influence and how a couple can fight back with faith.
Tim MuehlhoffTim Muehlhoff (PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, California, where he teaches classes in family communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion, and gender. He is the author of I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting, and the coauthor of The God Conversation, Authentic Communication, and Winsome Persuasion, which received a 2018 Christianity Today...more
Tim Muehlhof talks about the reality of spiritual warfare in marriage. Muehlhoff reminds believers that the enemy of our souls is still alive and well and would love to see your marriage fail.
Spiritual Warfare and Your Marriage
Bob: One of the things that the Bible tells us really matters to God is how we relate to others / that we love our neighbor as ourselves. So it stands to reason that that’s an area that God’s enemy, Satan, would have under attack. Tim Muehlhoff says the patterns we develop for our relationships outside of marriage will eventually impact the way we relate to one another inside the marriage relationship. Here’s Tim.
Tim: There’s that person I have an attitude against. I don’t think pleasant thoughts towards them and I harbor it. Now in order to harbor it, I’ve got to say no to the Holy Spirit; or learn to turn off the Holy Spirit. So Satan is like “Oh, I love that habit. I’m going to keep that habit. It has nothing to do with this marriage yet. But he’s getting really good at ignoring the prompting of the Holy Spirit in that area. Now, when it happens with his wife, Noreen, I’m going to borrow that bad habit and kick it over to the marriage.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 18th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Are there ways that Satan has begun to get a foothold in your marriage relationship? —relational habits that are helping him separate the two of you / isolate the two of you? We’re going to talk more about that today with our guest, Tim Muehlhoff. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to talk about issues in marriage that couples rarely see. They see the manifestation of the issue, but they rarely see the issue itself.
Dennis: I think you’re right Bob. I have to tell you when I got a copy of Dr. Tim Muehlhoff’s book,
I thought “Now isn’t that interesting, of all the people that I would expect to write this book”—I’m sorry, Tim, you would not be in the first 100, [Laughter] as I thought about this, because Tim is really one of the finest communicators we have on our Weekend to Remember® marriage conference speaker team. He’s always so mindful of audience and audience response. But he’s written a book about the devil and how the devil destroys marriages. You know what, he’s right because he gets his source material from the book, the Bible, and the book begins with marriage and family starting on a spiritual battlefield.
Bob: Well, and you mentioned the Weekend to Remember. This is a good place for us to remind our listeners that this week and next week if you sign up for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, you and your spouse can attend for 50 percent off the regular registration fee.
So we’re making this special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners. It’s good this week and next week. If you want to find out when a getaway is happening in a city near where you live, go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com and the information is available there. Or call us if you have any questions about the getaway. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY. This is a great two-and-a-half-day island for couples where you can just focus on one another and learn more about God’s design for marriage.
Again, sign up and save 50% off the regular registration fee this week or next week when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You may see our guest today, Tim Muehlhoff, and his wife, Noreen, at one of these getaways because as you said they’re a part of the speaker team for the getaway.
Dennis: Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communications at Biola University. He is the Director of Resources for Biola’s Center for Marriage and Family Relationships.
For the past 22 years, he has spoken at the Weekend to Remember. He was fired yesterday. [Laughter] So that’s been terminated, but it was a good run.
Tim: It was a good run. [Laughter]
Dennis: It was a good run. You’ve written this book though. You wrote it. Now I mean that Tim. I was surprised you wrote this book but very heartened because you took on the subject with a very no-nonsense approach to say “Hey you know what folks? If Jesus talked about a personal devil who is at work to deceive / to lie to us / who is our adversary, we ought to be talking about him just a little bit and helping folks know how to deal with his ploys.”
Bob: Were you surprised you wrote this book?
Tim: I was surprised I wrote the book and surprised by the reaction of some friends. I had some friends tell me “This is not going to be good for your career. You don’t want to write a book on the devil. It’s going to call into question your credibility in other areas.”
Tim: I had some friends say “I thought our goal was to get people to marriage conferences. This is going to scare them away.” That bothered me. So a friend of mine, Clint Arnold, who is one of the top scholars in the United States on the book of Ephesians—He teaches at Biola University—He said this to me “Go ahead and read the New Testament and then come back to me. Read the New Testament and where on the list of priorities is spiritual battle and then let’s talk.”
You read the New Testament; it’s everywhere. Every single New Testament writer talks about it. Paul is very concerned about it. He tells the church at Corinth “I want you to understand the schemes of the devil.” John makes a startling statement. He says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” So as the American church, we’re just skittish when it comes to this.
When I was doing interviews for the book, I would say to a couple—kind of setting them up—I’d say, “Of all the sermons you’ve heard on spiritual battle this year, what was your favorite?” [Laughter] They’d say, “We didn’t hear any.” Any—think about that, none!
And these are great churches that these individuals go to. What is the reason for that? So I try to explore that in the book. Why we’re embarrassed by the topic of Satan. Why we’re embarrassed by the topic of spiritual battle. But that’s only the American church. The other churches—lightyears ahead of us in recognizing the power of spiritual forces. Again, not getting carried away with it but understanding that this is part of the marital struggle are these spiritual forces.
Bob: Tim, the issues that I think we deal with every day that are working against us are not only the works of the devil, but we live in a culture that is under that influence. That works against us and then our own flesh.
Bob: The world, the flesh, and the devil.
Bob: So I think as we look at our lives and say “Okay, what’s our biggest enemy?” We would probably say “Well, the flesh is maybe my biggest enemy. That’s the thing I’m battling every day. Then the culture is number two on that list. And then Satan, if he shows up occasionally, I do battle with that.”
But really, behind the battle with the culture and behind the battle with the flesh, there’s an enemy that is energizing both of those things.
Tim: Oh, absolutely. We live in a—and we say this at the Weekend to Remember conference all the time: that there’s threats against our marriages. We take an evening and talk about things that are working against us.
Now to stop and say “Okay, is every one of that started by Satan?” Well, I think he’s in the background, Bob, like you’re saying. He didn’t create hurry sickness/hurriedness. He didn’t create technology, but he sure does like to use it to drive us apart from each other.
Bob: One of the reasons he stays in the background on these things is because the closer he gets to the surface, the more aware of him we become, and then we pay attention. If he can just stay behind the scenes and pull the strings on all of this stuff, that works beautifully for him, right?
Tim: Yes, and actually something happened to me that backfired on Satan. So I was asked to be the interim teaching pastor at a church in California. They were looking for a new senior pastor.
They asked me to do this and I started having violent dreams. I mean the worst dreams I’ve ever had in my life. I literally would get up out of bed, stand in front of the door knowing that somebody’s coming up the stairs to kill me and Noreen. Not to rob us but to kill us. I literally was up, my heart racing, in a fighting position.
Then I’d start to think to myself “Well, wait a minute. How come the alarm didn’t go off? The dog didn’t bark.” I’d crack the door. I was absolutely alone. Nobody is out there. That happened three nights in a row.
The elders called me, and they said “Hey, how are things going? Any prayer requests?” I said to them “Listen, I am having some violent dreams.” I almost didn’t mention it to them. I was embarrassed by it. The phone call was almost over, and I was not mentioning these violent dreams. They called the elders together immediately and prayed for me.
A huge part of the book is “Okay, how do we diagnose the demonic? What are telltale signs?” So, I read dozens of books about spiritual battle. I looked for ‘What did every author mention?
What are the top five that made everybody’s list?” And in fact, there were. So the top five were things like inappropriate anger. All of us get angry at our spouses, but this is anger that I can’t let go of. We’ve all been there, right? You go to bed at night, you’re angry. You wake up in the morning, you’re angry. You’re in the shower, you’re just angry. You think about this person and anger will not let go. Everybody mentioned that that was one.
Second was violent dreams. Now, I have a colleague of mine who teaches classes on spiritual battle and he says regularly “Half my class mentions these violent dreams that tend to happen.”
Third on the list was the sense of impending doom. I mean it’s one thing to have financial concerns; that’s very normal for a couple. But this impending sense of doom was like “We are going to be financially ruined by this decision. The kids are going to hate us if we discipline them, and we’ll lose our relationship with our kids.” So it’s that sense of impending doom.
Then there was this “I no longer believe the best about God. There was a time I believed that God was in my corner. There was a time that I believed that God listened to our prayers, that God was there for us as Paul says in Romans chapter eight. But now I don’t know if God’s for me. I think He’s not for me.”
And then the last one was “I no longer have positive thoughts about myself. I’m actually embarrassed by my actions. I feel shame.” Again, there is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt might be that the Holy Spirit is nudging you to be a better husband or wife. Shame is “I’m a horrible person.”
So, when I read all these different books those were the top five that everybody mentioned. So if those are the things that listeners are working through the list saying “Ooh, I can think of that and this.” That might be a good indicator that something is happening.
Dennis: I want to read what Peter said in his first epistle. He said “Be sober-minded; be watchful.
Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Now listen to how he advises us to act. “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Faith is ultimately what the devil wants to destroy. It’s the opposite of pride because pride says, “I can do it.” Humility says, “No, God can do it. I want to lean into him.” The way we respond when we run into spiritual battle with the devil, we must lean toward God being our refuge.
Dennis: He needs to be the source of our faith. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Psalms in the last six months, and over and over in the Psalms, David and other writers of that book
cry out to God to be the refuge / to protect them from people who would do them harm. I think it’s our relationship with Christ that is infused with scripture. We have to be in this book. If you don’t, you’re not going to do a good job spotting—
Tim: That’s right.
Dennis: —the devil attacking you if you haven’t gotten into the book and asked God for wisdom and discernment and understanding of how he attacks us.
Tim: But here’s how Satan will use that—his strategy to undermine us. So let’s say we say as a couple “God is our refuge. We’re going to trust in Him. We’re going to lean into Him,” right?
Then our finances start to get really tight, one of our kids starts to stray from the faith, one of us starts to have this unexpected physical ailment. Now all of that might not be Satan induced, right? I mean things like that just happen. Our kids are freewill beings who can choose to follow family values or not.
But here’s Satan in the background saying “Okay, what kind of a refuge is God?”—right? “I would assume if God loved you the way you say he does, that He’s your heavenly Father, that he listens to every one of your prayers, well, certainly, He can take care of your finances. Certainly, He can keep one of your kids going to church. Certainly, He can protect you healthwise. But isn’t it curious that He didn’t? So is He your refuge?”
Now, at that point, Dennis, we have a decision to make, right? Paul would say “Take these thoughts captive.”
Tim: But if we start to dwell on them, Satan gets an opening, and he’s like “Okay, awesome. Maybe God isn’t quite all that.”
Bob: So, you talk in the book about a couple who—they were getting on each other’s nerves and kind of normal marital squabbling going on, and they had to do some diagnosis. Tell about them, can you?
Tim: Yes, so Ken and Maria—again, we obviously give fictional names anytime we mention a real couple—so they were opposites, right?
Well, now they get married, and now that often happens in marriage, these very strengths kind of bug me now that I’m living with you 24/7, right? Okay, that’s normal. At that point, I would say to any married couple “Guess what, welcome to life.”
Tim: That transition is difficult.
Bob: What you used to look at and go “I kind of admire that about him,” now it gets on my nerves because it’s there every day, right?
Tim: Yes. Now, here’s where the apostle Paul would step in. He would say “Okay, I get how those differences would even make you angry.” Okay, so now, you’re kind of going to bed a little bit angry at each other. Paul would say “I want you to deal with that anger before the sun goes down. Don’t let it take root,” why? This is where Paul would surprise the American church “Don’t let it take root as not to give the devil a foothold.”
Paul spiritualizes it in a heartbeat. So here is what I would say to Ken and Maria, “How are you doing dealing with these disappointments, or anger, or the fact that you’re kind of irked with each other?” “Well, I don’t know. We don’t really do good at talking about differences.
I don’t know. We don’t want to make a big deal out of it.” Okay, be careful because this seems footholdish to me. The longer you let this go, the more momentum it’s going to gain, and Satan is going to want to get that momentum going in the wrong direction. Now, at that point, I’m not going to say to them “By the way, say three spiritual warfare prayers and you’re good to go.”
Tim: I would say spiritual warfare prayers but also apply some good conflict resolution techniques that we share at the conference. So it’s going to always be this mixture of the spiritual with everything we know about conflict resolution that we’ve studied over hundreds of years. So it’s never going to be just a purely spiritual.
“Alright, Ken and Maria, you just pray every single night that Satan be cast out and you’re going to be fine.” No, you’re addressing the source but now you’ve got to deal with the particulars, and that is good listening skills, finding common ground, putting her needs above your needs, and things like that. So it’s always going to be a mixture of the two.
But Dennis, going back to what you said, we need to get dressed in the armor of God.
It is no coincidence that one of the most beautiful passages on marriage, Ephesians 5, is followed immediately by Ephesians 6, and in the original letter, there’s no chapter breaks. So for Paul that is one continuous thought.
Dennis: Let me just read what you’re talking about—just a little bit from Ephesians 6 verse 10—Paul says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
And it says, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day.”
Now, what’s the good news and the bad news about the armor?
Tim: I’ve already mentioned to listeners that I’m one belt away from a blackbelt in Shaolin Kung Fu. Now when we spar, I literally have a bag with me. What do I do? I take out a chest protector and I put it around. I wear a helmet. There’re things that actually cover my feet. There’re pads because we break fingers and toes all the time when sparring.
Now, if only the armor of God were like that, right? So when I feel spiritual attack is on its way, I open up my spiritual bag I literally take out a chest protector, put it on. Put on a helmet. Put on something to protect my hands and my feet. Paul is not talking about something literal like that.
Now he’s using most likely a Roman soldier as his model, but he says “Listen, this is a way of life.” So I’m sorry for some of you, it’s not a quick fix. So when he says the breastplate of righteousness, of course, he’s talking about the doctrine of justification that your sins have been forgiven.
But many commentators believe when he talks about the breastplate of righteousness it is right living. When he talks about the belt of truth, he’s not just talking about biblical truth. Many believe that he’s actually talking about truth telling.
In today’s society, we play loose with the truth. Last year, the Oxford dictionary picked the word post-truth as their word of the year. So as Christians we get caught up with telling half truths to our spouse, right? We spend the truth.
So Paul is saying when you put that belt on, how much do you actually tell the truth to your spouse? Now if your spinning it with your spouse, guess what? The armor isn’t working like it should be. Then he gets to the helmet of salvation where again your relationship with God is secure. Nothing’s going to happen that’s going to cause God to love you less than what He does right now. Your feet being shod with the gospel means that you are secure in Jesus’ love for you.
But this is all lifestyle type things. I think for some of us, we’d love it if there was an actual armor that we could put on in the moment we need it and then forget about it. Paul says “No, it doesn’t quite work that way. You have to live out your Christian faith and if you don’t, it’s going to make you susceptible. But the good news is if you’re living out practically the Christian faith, then it’s actually going to provide you protection in your relationship and in spiritual battle.
Bob: And think about how you just described this spiritual armor. If somebody is secure in their relationship with Jesus and their salvation / if they are practicing right living / if they are committed to speaking the truth in love in one another, then you are able to withstand, in that kind of position, what the devil is throwing at you because you’ve got spiritual protection around your life.
Tim, how has writing this book and thinking about this subject changed your relationship with Noreen?
Tim: Boy, short accounts. I’m haunted when Paul says, “I want you to deal with anger because don’t give the devil a foothold.” And one guy, Dr. Chris Grace, a psychologist, says “I’ll tell you what, you start to harbor things—not just against your spouse but harbor things against other people—Satan loves that because it’s created a foothold. So the Holy Spirit convicts me that I’m to go to that person and resolve the issue with that person.
Remember Jesus says heading into the synagogue, you see a brother or a sister—man don’t go into the synagogue, deal with it right now. But there’s that person I have an attitude against. I don’t think pleasant thoughts towards them and I harbor it. Now in order to harbor it, I’ve got to say no to the Holy Spirit; or learn to turn off the Holy Spirit.
So Satan is like “Oh, I love that habit. I’m going to keep that habit. It has nothing to do with this marriage yet. But he’s getting really good at ignoring the prompting of the Holy Spirit in that area.
Now, when it happens with his wife Noreen, I’m going to borrow that bad habit and kick it over to the marriage.”
That’s why Satan is more like a spiritual ninja than he is a full Samurai warrior. He’s always in the background saying “Oh, that’s a wonderful little bad habit!” “Oh, that’s a little delightful tendency.”
The last chapter in the book is my absolute favorite. You know C.S. Lewis—the book that haunted him the most was The Screwtape Letters and it’s a creative inside perspective of how demons encourage each other and train each other and if readers haven’t read it, oh, they just have to.
Dennis: Well, the book that Tim has written is Defending your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle. I just have to look at one last exhortation in Ephesians 6 it says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
God wants you to get in this book, the Bible, and He wants to stir you to faith. Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please him.” I think what Tim is going to do in his book is call you to a greater faith / a deeper faith / a walk of faith and that’s how your marriage and your family are going to grow and produce fruit exponentially.
Tim, I want to say thanks for writing this book and I pray that you get over your point of bitterness for Duke. [Laughter] I think it’s a foothold.
Bob: We had to go there, didn’t we?
Tim: Get behind me, blue devil. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve got information available about the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaway where Dr. Muehlhoff and his wife, Noreen, regularly speak.
We’ve got about—almost 60 of these events happening this spring in cities all across the country, and if you register this week or next week, you save 50% off the regular registration fee. We’ve had a lot of listeners call in already to get signed up for an upcoming getaway. If you want to find out when a getaway is coming to a city near where you live this spring, or maybe there’s a city you’d like to travel to, to experience a getaway, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can register online and save 50% off the regular registration fee. Or call if you have any questions—1-800-FL-TODAY and we can get you registered over the phone as well and have you take advantage of the savings.
Again, the website FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Tim’s book, Defending Your Marriage: The Reality of Spiritual Battle, we’ve got that available in our FamilyLife Today resource center as well. You can order that book from us online, or call if you have any questions, or if you’d like to order by phone—1-800-FL-TODAY.
Again, the book is called Defending Your Marriage by Tim Muehlhoff, The Reality of Spiritual Battle.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for today. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday as we’re going to spend some time reflecting on the life and legacy on Dr. Martin Luther King in honor of his birthday. Monday, of course, is the Dr. King holiday so I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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