See the webinar How to Have a Successful Relationship.
In my initial webinar, I outlined the differences between Door Number One and Door Number Two. To summarize, Door Number One is characterized by the emotional reaction experienced when you’re told “No.” It is the tendency to believe you are wanted and loved only when your partner meets your every want and need.
Door Number Two is characterized by accepting “No” as an answer and maturing and persevering through difficulty and adversity. This perseverance builds character, which provides a foundation for further growth and maturity. Door Number Two thinking allows you and your partner the space and opportunity to be yourselves while being connected in a relationship. Door Number Two thinking requires a significant measure of humility.
John Piper, a renowned pastor and author asks the question: Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or do you feel more loved by God when he frees you and enables you, at great cost of his Son’s life, to enjoy making much of Him forever?
My purpose in this article is to associate John Piper’s question with Door Number One and Door Number Two.
Door Number One
Do you feel more loved by your partner when your partner: focuses on you, accommodates you, recognizes you, understands you, initiates toward you, listens to you, serves you, and makes you the focus of his or her attention? Or, do you feel more love when, at great sacrifice of your time, effort, and energy, you free your partner to experience the love of God through you and to be uniquely who God has created him or her to be?
Clearly, nothing is wrong with feeling loved when your husband or wife expresses how much he or she loves you. But is that all there is? Do you love your partner for what he or she can do for you? Do you love your partner because he or she meets your every want and need? This kind of love is consistent with Door Number One thinking.
With this thinking, your love for your partner comes from what your partner does for you, and you suspect that your partner’s love for you comes from what you do for your partner. This performance-based relationship is exhausting, as both people rely on acts of service to hold the relationship together. This way of interacting is self-serving, and while efforts to meet the other person’s wants and needs appear to be for him or her, they actually serve as leverage to stake a claim against the other person if he or she doesn’t reciprocate.
Under this framework, you and your partner love what you get from one another at least as much as you love one another. In essence, you place your wants and needs in your partner’s hands and take these on for your partner. You might even think is how to have a relationship. It’s not surprising that your partner feels taken advantage of or slighted the first time you don’t meet his or her wants or needs, especially when your partner has worked so hard to meet yours. The relationship is dominated by the fear that you won’t measure up or be good enough. This fear formats the relationship.
This is John Piper’s point in asking the first part of his question, “Do you feel more love for God when he makes much of you?” Loving God for what He can do for you is idolatry. From this self-referential position, you believe God serves you to help you get a job, get that promotion, get married, have children, buy that house, etc. Everything is about YOU.
Under this framework, all you do “for” God may be to balance the preverbal ledger for all that God has done for you. Rather than loving God for God, you love God for what He does for you. But this is not a relationship with God, nor is it a life lived according to Christian faith. This is using God to get what you want, when you want it. When God doesn’t give you what you want, you get disappointed with God and give up on the relationship.
This pattern of frustration with God also occurs in relationships with others. As you look at all you’ve done for your partner and how little your partner has done for you, you can claim you’ve been cheated, taken advantage of, or that your partner isn’t keeping up his or her end of the relationship. You measure the strength of your relationship by all you’ve done for him or her, rather than valuing and appreciating your partner for who he or she is as a person. So, the relationship is formatted by the fear that if you don’t constantly do enough for your partner, your partner won’t stay in the relationship. This is not a relationship of love, but of performance and shame driven by fear. This way of interacting with another person doesn’t recognize the value or character of that person.
Door Number Two
This brings us to the second portion of John Piper’s question. “Do you feel more loved by God when he frees you and enables you, at great cost of his Son’s life, to enjoy making much of him forever?” More specifically, do you feel more love for your partner because he or she, at great cost to him or herself, frees you of your pride, misconceptions, and arrogance so that you might enjoy making much of your partner? That’s a mind-bending question!
Door Number Two poses the same question in a different way: Is it possible to accept and embrace “No” as an answer when it is said because your partner loves you? Believing this “No” is in your best interest and receiving it freely open the door for receiving grace as you surrender your will to parents, partner and God’s will for you.
Let’s break down the second half of Piper’s question to better understand how it is different from the first.
First, Do you feel more loved by God when He frees you? What does God free you of? God frees you of the bondage of obligation, resentment, entitlement and emptiness. God frees you from relying on fairness to keep your relationships together. Is life fair? Obviously not. But how often do you think, “That’s not fair.” God frees us from the self-deception inherent when we admit that life is not fair, but constantly work to fashion relationships into what we think is fair.
Second, Do you feel more loved by God when He enables you? How does God enable you? God enables you to enjoy the freedom He gives through His Spirit. You can abandon the exhausting performance-based mentality in Door Number One when you realize that your hope is not in your ability, but in your availability to God doing His work in you and through you. Empowered by His Spirit, you can rest in His sufficiency and depend on Him for your strength to love others.
This enabling power of God is best characterized in the story of Passover. Moses directed the Hebrews to put the blood of a lamb on the doorpost of their homes to protect their first born from dying from the final plague God used to free His people from Egypt. Equally important, the Hebrews were directed to roast and eat the lamb so they would have the strength to leave Egypt the next morning. The blood and body of the lamb empowered the Hebrews to leave Egypt. Similarly, the blood and body of Jesus empowers believers to live a life freed from the bondage and slavery of fairness’s obligation, resentment, entitlement and emptiness.
Third, we must consider the great cost of His Son’s life. What is this great cost, and why was it necessary? Here, John Piper is referring to Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection broke the power of the grave and set mankind free from approaching relationships from mindsets of performance and fairness.
Understanding the significance of Jesus’ death is important for knowing how to have successful relationships. Many well-intentioned believers contend that Jesus’ motivation for dying on the cross was to redeem mankind from sin. This is not true! His motivation was to obey His Father. In the garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Father not my will but your will be done.” The redemption of mankind from sin was a result of Jesus’ death, but not the motivation.
Jesus did not die “for” you so you are obligated to live “for” him. This quid pro quo is the bondage He died to set you free from. Yet too often this distortion of the “good news” is erroneously touted as the gospel.
Jesus’ death and resurrection breaks the bondage of the quid pro quo and allows us to give freely. It sets husbands free to love wives as Christ loved the church, and provides wives the freedom to respect their husbands. The abundance of the Christian life is found in giving one’s life away to another in order to see the Father continually bring resurrection out of death. As husbands and wives increasingly give more of themselves in surrender to the Father, they are empowered to submit more of themselves to each other. Submission to each other without first surrendering to the Father results in resentment, score keeping and, eventually, emptiness.
Finally, we consider the joy found in making much of Him. To enjoy making much of Him, you must find pleasure and abundance in loving God for God’s sake rather than loving God for what He can do for you. Making much of God requires eyes to see and ears to hear the work of God in your life. The abundance of the Christian life manifests as enjoyment in celebrating who God is, even when your wants and needs go unmet. It allows you to experience the fullness of living obediently to the Father, receiving freely and trusting Him to sustain you when your wants and needs are not met by your partner.
Piper’s question exposes the difference between fear and love. Divorce is a relatively easy alternative to loving your partner as you would if you trusted God to sustain you when your partner does not meet your wants and needs. Divorce is a declaration that resurrection is impossible. But for Christ followers, resurrection is not only possible; it is the foundation upon which all of Christian faith rests.
So how do you walk through Door Number Two and love your partner at great expense to yourself? How do you do this without enabling him or her to take advantage you? What is the difference between giving yourself to provide grace to your partner and enabling an abuser’s intimidation or bullying?
Grace is doing for another what he or she is unable to do for himself or herself. Enabling is doing for another what he or she is able to do for himself or herself. This distinction is critical for determining whether you are extending grace to your partner or enabling a partner’s unrepentant predisposition.
Your motivation is one of the most important factors for distinguishing between a relationship built on grace and one built on enabling. When motivated by the desire to obey your Heavenly Father, you can die on the cross of your anxiety in anticipation of the resurrection that will follow. The Holy Spirit enables this process, and thus, though painful, it is not a burden, nor is it heavy or hard. Matthew 16:25 tells us, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” By extending grace in giving your life to your partner, you experience abundance of the Christian life.