The Enemy of Your Marriage
About the Guest
Tim Muehlhoff, author of "Defending Your Marriage," exposes the real enemy of your marriage--Satan. Muehlhoff reminds couples that their marriage is taking place on a spiritual battlefield, and evil forces have husbands and wives in their crosshairs. Couples need to put on the armor of God and pray for protection for their marriages.
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 Muehlhoff exposes the real enemy of your marriage–Satan. Muehlhoff reminds couples that their marriage is taking place on a spiritual battlefield, and evil forces have husbands and wives in their crosshairs.
The Enemy of Your Marriage
Bob: Without really realizing it, there are ways you and your spouse are likely giving the enemy, Satan, access to your marriage. Have you thought about that? Here’s author and speaker Tim Muehlhoff.
Tim: If you’re a Christian couple and you just feel like, “We’re in a funk. We’re stuck. I’m angry. I can’t let go of this.” What would the apostle Paul say? If you’re not dealing with your anger before the sun goes down, you’ve just created a foothold. And foothold can be translated in the Greek: opportunity.
So what happens is: if we let this bitterness go / these arguments go, then eventually we’re giving Satan footholds.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 17th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We don’t want to be doing anything as couples to give the enemy access to our marriage, do we? Let’s talk about how we can keep that from happening. Our guest today is Tim Muehlhoff. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: We have a doctor with us today.
Bob: I know.
Dennis: He wants our listeners to know he’s a doctor. [Laughter] Not a physician but he has a doctorate.
Tim: Not a physician.
Bob: I knew when I came in here this was going to be a dangerous place to go today. [Laughter]
Dennis: Tim Muehlhoff joins us.
Bob: Doctor Tim Muehlhoff.
Dennis: No, it’s Timmy. We’re going to call him “Timmy” through the entire broadcast. [Laughter]
Bob: Doctor Timmy!
Dennis: He is a professor of communication at Biola University where my grandson, my oldest grandson—
Bob: --is matriculating. Is that right?
Dennis: He is going to go to school.
Bob: Well, use that big word. Call it matriculating.
Dennis: He’s going to go to college at Biola. You know what? It’s going to be interesting for Samuel--
Dennis: --because Russellville, Arkansas is a long way from La Mirada, California.
Tim: It is.
Dennis: No doubt about it. Tim and his wife Noreen have been married since 1990, which Tim didn’t know until a few minutes ago when Tim researched it. They have three children and they speak at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways and have done so for 22 years.
Tim: We used to.
Dennis: That’s correct. You’ve just been terminated.
Tim: Once this gets out.
Dennis: Just been terminated.
Bob: So people who sign up for the special offer that’s going on this week—the save 50 percent off the Weekend to Remember getaway, you may or may not see Tim and his wife, Noreen, at one of our getaways. We’re going to be in almost 60 cities this spring. This week or next week if folks sigh up for a getaway, they can save 50 percent off the regular registration fee.
I just want to get that in here so that listeners know. You can find out more about the getaway—where it’s going to be happening in a city near where you live at and register online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-Today to register. Again, do it this week or next week so you can save 50 percent off the regular registration fees.
Sorry for interrupting. Please continue with your introduction of our guest today, Doctor Muehlhoff.
Dennis: He has written a book called Defending Your Marriage.
Bob: I knew when I came in—I knew what verse in the Bible that your Bible was going to be open to as we sat down to talk about this.
Dennis: Well, it’s one of the things we talk about at the Weekend to Remember. It’s what people take away and it’s a statement, “My mate is not my enemy.”
Dennis: There is an enemy of your marriage and you’re not married to her.
Bob: You had a fresh awareness of this when you and Noreen were leaving to speak at a Weekend to Remember, and it was all crumbling around you at the time, right.
Tim: Well, we used to joke about it. Kids would always get sick. Something would break in the house last minute. We can’t fix it, so what are we going to do? We’re just going to have to just tape this thing and hope that it lasts all weekend. Noreen and I would start to not feel well physically and we’d have this argument. Like out of nowhere we’d
disagree with each other about something petty or something from the past, and we’re like, “Holy cow! What’s going on?”
But to be honest, I’ve been a Christian since age thirteen. I never connected the dots until I got to a FamilyLife Marriage Conference and Noreen and I are sitting there for the speaker meeting. It’s the one with the planner and doing the tech run through. We watch people stop at every empty seat and I asked the planner. I said, “Hey, what are they doing?” He said, “Oh, we’re praying for the people that will be in those seats against spiritual forces.
I almost laughed. I said, “Really!” He goes, “Yes, we take this very seriously. We think Satan is opposed to couples learning about God / about God’s plan for marriage.”
As we’re walking back to our hotel room after the meeting, I said to Noreen, “Well, if Satan is opposed to people attending the conference, do you think he is opposed to people speaking at the conference?” That was one of those aha moments, but we didn’t do much with it after that.
So we lived with this inconsistency that, “Of course I believe the Bible.” Twenty-five percent of everything Jesus said had to do with spiritual battle / spiritual opposition. Every New Testament writer mentions spiritual battle. If you were to ask us, “Tim, do you believe that’s true?” I’d say, “Oh, absolutely, I believe that’s true.”
But it did not change our lives or marriage at all until I read a book by a theologian about spiritual battle and had a very interesting experience we can talk about that I finally said, “I need to get Biblical.” Not read more into the Bible than what’s there, but at least acknowledge what’s in the Bible. It’s shocking how much is in the Bible about spiritual battle.
Dennis: In fact, the Bible begins with God creating male and female and then He has a little story about how the first institution He created was attacked by the devil of hell.
Tim: Yes, exactly! Already we hit our first roadblock.This is where I think couples just
shake their heads and say, “I just don’t have the mental band width to go into this. Because here you have paradise. Adam and Eve and suddenly you have a serpent representing Satan. Already your kids ask really hard questions and you think, “I don’t get this. Why in the world: one-would God create Satan and, two-why would He allow him access to Adam and Eve? This makes no sense what so ever.
There aren’t easy answers to that question, so I think couples just say, “I don’t even want to think about this so we’re just going to move on to other parts of our marriage because I don’t have quick answers to that.”
Part of the book, honestly, was just a little bit of a tutorial on, “Who is Satan, where did he come from, why would God allow it, and not even just allow it, but why would He create Satan?”
Throughout the book, Defending Your Marriage, I have this homage to a man named Peter Craft who is a great Christian apologist who often has a reader interrupt him in the
book and ask questions. So throughout the book I asked every question that I had using this reader to do it.
One of the first questions the reader has is, “Okay, just stop right there. Why would God create Satan? And if there was a rebellion in heaven, why would He kick Satan out of heaven and send him to planet earth where Adam and Eve were caught off guard by this serpent? That just doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t make sense, so let’s move on to something else.”
Bob: And do you have an answer for those questions in the book?
Tim: No, but yes. If you go to Ezekiel--if you go to Isaiah, they give you the background of Satan. Satan wasn’t created Satan. He was created as “the bright, morning star” is how Isaiah describes him.
Dennis: An angel called Lucifer, right?
Tim: Yes, but he was positive. He was a cherubim.
Tim: So he worked with God. That was part of his responsibility. But he had free will.
God wasn’t going to make angels follow Him. He wasn’t going to make even the Bright and Morning Star follow Him, so He gave Satan free will. When the Bright Morning Star rebels, he leads a rebellion against God. Of course, he fails. He’s now banished and he becomes Satan. Satan means adversary.
When he gets to planet earth, God does allow him access to Adam and Eve, because He wants Adam and Eve to have the freedom to follow Him or not follow Him. But if God is the only voice for Adam and Eve and there’s no alternative, it would be like you being in my classroom at Biola and I say to you, “You can leave anytime you want to, but every door and window is locked.” You’d be like, “Thank you for giving me the choice. I can’t exercise it.”
For Adam and Eve, they’re given the choice whether to listen to God’s voice or to the serpent’s voice; but understand the serpent, it says in Genesis, was crafty. In Hebrew, crafty means subtle.
It’s not that Satan, the serpent, walks right up to Adam and Eve and says, “Hey, rebel against God. God’s lying to you.” It just wouldn’t have worked, right? A frontal attack can easily be repelled. I almost have my black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu. We know that a straight attack on a person just isn’t going to work. You’re going to see it a mile away.
Satan very craftily tempts these two people. Eventually Adam and Eve—what’s interesting about the text, it’s very clear that Adam was with Eve. Many theologians believe they were there, but Satan was able to psychologically distance the two from each other—not physically, but psychologically.
Satan is allowed to wreak havoc on Adam and Eve. They make a free choice to sin. Now our marriages are grafted into this context because planet earth, as the Bible says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
I’ve heard you say this, Dennis, before that, “Our marriages exist, not on a romantic balcony but on a battlefield.” I think for a lot of couples, they need to hear that.
Dennis: I think they do. In fact, I was just getting ready to say that sentence, but I’m glad you did, because couples that are listening to us right now, “Your marriage is taking place on a spiritual battlefield.”
A lot of couples are in a foxhole and they’re standing up duking it out with each other, verbally, emotionally, maybe even some physically, when they need to realize they have a common enemy and it’s not the person who is in that foxhole. It is the devil. He is an adversary. He is a liar, and he will whisper in your ear, “Your spouse is your enemy. You’re married to your enemy.”
In fact, MS Magazine a number of years ago had an article where Gloria Steinem said, “Marriage is the only war where you sleep with the enemy.” The reality is marriage as God designed it intended two people to turn away from the deceiver and turn toward
God and not listen to the lies--that he is so cunning, as you said, so powerful that we can be deceived and we can turn on our spouse.
I think a lot of people going to our Weekend to Remember, Bob, they walk into that conference thinking it’s going to be this sweet, hand-holding, romantic weekend, and it is. It does have all of that, but it’s an eye-opening experience to say, “Hey, you’re in the crosshairs of someone who wants to destroy your marriage, your children and your children’s children and your legacy for generations to come.”
Tim: Here’s the problem, Dennis, is it’s not obvious. It’s not obvious you’re in the crosshairs. Go back to Genesis, “The serpent was more crafty, subtle than any of the other beasts of the field.”
When I did this book, Defending Your Marriage, I did surveys with people. I said, “Are you a Christian couple?” They said, “Yes.” I said, “Have you ever experienced spiritual battle?” The overwhelming response was, “No.” Then I asked them, “Well, would you
describe spiritual battle? What do you think it looks like?” This is where the power of Hollywood really does come in. People were thinking of dramatic things.
Bob: They were thinking of The Exorcist.
Tim: Oh, absolutely, or “I see dead people,” right? “The air gets cold and you can see you breath.” That is one of Satan’s greatest disguises is he operates behind the scenes. Remember the book, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu,—
Tim: --a great military strategist? He said, “The number one thing to do to win a battle is control the terrain.” If you get the high ground you’re obviously better. If you have to dam up a river, dam up a river. You can cut down trees. You control the terrain. You force the other army to fight on your terrain. That’s what I think Satan has been very subtly doing in our world, is controlling the terrain that your marriage exists in.
The fact that we’re incredibly busy people. We’re so busy that we don’t have time for our marriages. The fact that we’re having family affairs. For the best of reasons, the kids
are the number one priority.
Once you say to a couple, “That’s what I mean by a spiritual battle.” Then they go, “Oh, well, yes, I just never attributed it to Satan.” And I think Satan’s going, “Awesome!”
Dennis: And the terrain that he goes after is that of the heart. It’s why Jesus, when asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?,” He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” The reality is if the enemy can get some of that terrain by lying to you, get you distracted, get you believing what he’s saying—in fact the Bible begins in Genesis with the enemy saying, “Has God said?”
Dennis: That’s a big issue today. Everybody’s questioning this book the Bible, the best-selling book in history. “Has God said? Did He really say that?” The reality is God has spoken. That means this book is absolutely essential if couples are not only going to stay married, but experience God’s best in marriage.
Tim: But in that forty-year history of the Gallop Poll, we’ve reached a new low in the United States. Only 24 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is God’s literal word. The rest of American’s tend to believe it’s a bunch of fables / stories / moral tales written by men. It’s really not God’s voice.
Satan has gradually been able to get people to think, “That Bible, that just isn’t God speaking--those are just stories.” By the way, GQ Magazine just came out about a half a year ago and said that of the 21 classics that you just don’t need to read anymore because their just wildly overrated, the Bible is number 12. You just don’t need to read it. It’s sexist. It’s outdated. It’s crazy.
Again, Satan, if he directly attacks the Bible or directly attacks the church, our defenses go up immediately. If I’m sparring with another person in my Kung Fu school, and he goes, “Guess what, I’m going to hit you with a right hook.” I’m going to be like, “Okay, great, I’m going to defend that.” We have this whole saying in Kung Fu, “I’m going to do
three fakes and then I’m going to hit you with what I really want to hit you with.” Because the higher the belt, you just can’t get through their defenses.
I think Satan is looking at us saying, “If I attack you head on, it’s going to push up your defenses, so I need to come around the side.” We know that from military historians that the only time you do a frontal charge is when you have overwhelming force. Almost everybody tries to flank.
As couples, we need to sit down and say, “How is Satan setting us up for the big fall? What minor victories is he winning that’s going to set us up for this big fall?”
A key part of the book eventually is, “We’re going to have to ask the question, ‘Alright, is this just a normal argument?’” Did a pipe just happen to burst as Noreen and I literally were leaving for a FamilyLIfe Marriage Conference? I mean seriously, Noreen’s going to put away one thing. She opens up the bottom and water’s just coming out from beneath our sink, and we’ve got to leave to get to LAX. One of the kids has a fever and you’re like,
“This is unbelievable!” Or an argument happens.
We need to step back and say, “Now is this Satan or is this just that pipes burst, kids do get sick all the time, and couples have arguments?”
Bob: Is it coincidental with this?
Tim: Is it coincidental. Right.
Tim: Here’s what I think the problem is Bob. I think the American church, we automatically lead with. “I think this is coincidence. I do not want to over read into this, Satan attacking my pipes. I mean, come on. Satan’s got to have better things to do than go after my pipes.” That is not shared by the universal church. If you go to other parts of the world, they lead with the spiritual.
With Cru, I went on a relief project in Kenya. We were showing The Jesus Film and doing relief work. Every single time we left our camp, Simon Zeramakenga grabbed us and said, “I need to pray against spiritual forces, because you’re doing God’s work.” He
led with, “You’re going to encounter spiritual forces.” The American church says, “You know. I just find this really hard to believe that Satan’s going after the Muehlhoff family. That just seems crazy.
Bob: Which is exactly what a crafty, subtle demon would want you to do, right?
Tim: Exactly! We need to be Biblical. Again, I don’t want to over react. Of course I quote C.S. Lewis. Probably one of Lewis’s famous quotes is that, “You can either attribute everything to Satan or nothing to Satan.” I think the American church today, we’re in great danger of not attributing anything to Satan.
I was telling people the new book I’m working on spiritual battle. They were like, “Okay, Tim, don’t come on. Let’s not get crazy about this. Don’t go off the deep end.” I think we’re a mile away from the deep end as the American church.
Dennis: I think you’re right. As you were talking, I was thinking about a classic argument Barbara and I had right before the microphones went on at the Weekend to
Remember standing in front of 1,300 people in Atlanta two years ago. I mean we were having an argument, and it was just like, “Can you believe this?”
Bob: In the ballroom?
Dennis: I was standing. The microphones are not on.
Bob: You were on the platform? [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, people, if they would have looked at us, they would have seen us smiling. That was all a fake job, because we’re having an argument or disagreement. I don’t remember what about.
Dennis: Maybe it’s about something I wanted Barbara to say as we introduced the message. Guess what the message was on--
Tim: [Laughter] What?
Dennis: --conflict. [Laughter] I think those things are a reality. Let’s take a step back and make this applicable for a couple who are listening to us today. Where should they start? Should they do an inventory of where they continue to be mugged as a couple and have their worst arguments? I think so.
Tim: I think so.
Dennis: Step back and look. Where’s it happening, what are the circumstances, and what led up to it?
Tim: One I think is a philosophical stepping back. Then is a very practical stepping back. We need to have some kind of criteria of what generally Satan has used over the centuries to get at people. But here’s the philosophical step back, “Is it more dangerous to underestimate or overestimate an enemy?” I would say to American Christian couples, “When in doubt, assume it’s spiritual battle. When in doubt assume that spiritual battle is at play rather than assuming, ‘Oh, come on, this pipe can’t be a form of spiritual battle.’”
Again, this is our propensity as Americans to be embarrassed by spiritual battle and the idea of Satan. I want to say to couples listening, “If you’re a Christian couple and you just feel like, ‘We’re in a funk. We’re stuck. I’m angry. I can’t let go of this.’ What would the apostle Paul say? If you’re not dealing with your anger before the sun goes down,
you’ve just created a foothold, and foothold can be translated in the Greek: opportunity.”
What happens is we let this bitterness go / these arguments go and eventually we’re giving Satan footholds. I want to go against some of my friends who say, “I just don’t want to over react to this spiritual battle thing.” I’m saying, “Where are you getting that from—Hollywood or from the church?” Because the church—this was at the forefront of how they reacted.”
Bob: You’ve seen churches where there’s a devil in every post nasal drip--
Bob: --and whatever you’ve got going on.
Bob: We do understand there’s kind of this, “We don’t want to become these people who are assigning everything to demonic forces and denying human responsibility—
Bob: --in the process. I thnk that’s the overcompensation. But to your point which I think is spot on, in those times when Mary Ann and I have been in conflict, and all of a sudden it dawns on me, “Oh, wait, I know who wants us to be in conflict.” It’s almost like a switch gets flipped and I go from being angry with her, to going, “I know who the real
enemy is here.” If we can be allied against that we can win this easily.
Dennis: I would encourage every couple listening to us to pull out their Bible, turn to Ephesians chapter six beginning in verse 10, all the way through verse 20, and just read that as a couple and say, “Okay, so our struggle is not against flesh and blood. It is against spiritual forces of darkness. How do we do battle?
This passage of scripture, Ephesians 6:10-20, will talk about putting on armor. One of the most powerful points of, I think, preparing for spiritual battle is prayer--praying together as a couple. I would encourage it.
The word Gefallen in is praise, isgiving thanks to God, going to Him as a couple even in the midst of the conflict and saying, “God, thank you for this challenge we’re
facing with this child / this differing opinion that we have as a couple. We praise you for that. Come in our midst and create peace and allow me to love my wife”--and if you’re a wife and you’re praying, “allow me to love my husband.” At that point, those words will fell the prince of darkness.
Bob: To get some right thinking / to recalibrate how you think about your marriage, we’d encourage you to spend a weekend with us this spring at one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. Just take two and a half days to get off the highway and to focus together on each other and on you marriage and how it can be all that God intends for it to be.
We’re going to be hosting about 60 of these events in cities all across the country this spring. You can find out where a getaway is going to be happening in a city near where
you live when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call if you have any questions, 1-800-FL-Today. If you register for the getaway this week or next week, you can save 50 percent off the regular registration fee. That way you can save some money on your time together as a couple.
Again, find out more and register online at FamilyLifeToday.com or register by phone and we’ll answer any questions that you have. Call 1-800-FL-Today, and plan to join us this spring at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
And if you’d like a copy of Tim Muehlhoff’s book, Defending Your Marriage: the Reality of Spiritual Battle, we’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today resource center. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-Today to order. Again, the book is called Defending Your Marriage. This would be a great book, by the way, for couples to go through with other couples. Do this in a small group setting and talk about ways in which our marriages are under attack these days.
Order the book, Defending Our Marriage, online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, ‘TODAY.”
Tomorrow we want to talk about the subtlety with which the enemy influences our marriage relationships. Our guest, Tim Muehlhoff, will continue with us tomorrow. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our 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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