English service - February 20, 2022
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Learning a New Language of Love
Hello again, everyone who is here to receive the word of God, whether in person or online. I’m glad to be with you in worship. For today’s message, I am going to rely heavily on a Baptist minister, marriage counselor, and author named Gary Chapman. About 30 years ago, he wrote a book called The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. It has now sold over 11,000,000 copies just in English and been translated into 49 languages. It has helped many people, especially in marriages, but also single and married people in other family relationships, friendships, and so on.
I think it gives us a good window into God’s word in the Bible, so I want to present some of its main ideas to you today. I always feel I need to be careful in talking with you about something that comes from another culture, such as this book originally written in English by an American. But I believe the teachings in it are basic ones that cross the culture gap pretty well. Still, you please adapt to them to the Japanese or another cultural context as you feel it necessary.
For a long-term, healthy marriage, both partners need to feel loved. A marriage can be long-term but not healthy. Chieko and I reached our 30th anniversary last year, but that is no guarantee that our marriage is a strong one. For that, we both have to keep working at it. If we don’t, we won’t fully become “one” as Jesus describes a married couple to be Mark 10:8 (“one flesh” in some translations), living in a relationship of deep intimacy. In an important sense, becoming “one” does not mean giving up your own identity and losing yourself. You have to have a self before you can willingly give it to your partner. And this giving is a process that you have to choose to continue day to day to day if you want to have a truly healthy marriage relationship. You could be married 30, 40, or more years but be more like roommates than people in a true marriage. In a case like that, the talk between couples can be just about logistics, what they have to talk about to go from day to day, nothing that shows a deep bond of love that a healthy marriage so badly needs.
The basic problem that Dr. Chapman describes is this: “What makes one person feel loved does not make another person feel loved” (see p. 14). For example, a couple comes for counseling in the pastor’s office. She says, “We don’t have any trouble with money or in-laws or alcohol or any of the things I read that lead to the end of so many marriages. But then she begins crying and says, “I don’t feel loved by him. We live in the same house, but I feel like there’s no love there! And I can’t stand it anymore!”
The pastor looks at him, and he says, “I can’t understand her at all. She says I don’t love her, but I do things to show her I love her all the time.”
The pastor says, “Like what?”
He says, “Well, I get home from work earlier than she does, so I usually start cooking dinner. Then after we’ve eaten, I wash the dishes. On Thursday nights, I vacuum the floor. On Saturdays I cut the grass, rake the leaves, and take the dog for a walk.”
They look at her, and she says, “He’s right. He’s a hard-working man. But we never talk! We’ve been married for 30 years, and we never just sit down and tell each other what is on our minds.”
The pastor asks, “Why do you think that is?”
She replies, “Because he’s always out cutting the grass or raking the leaves or something!”
Can you see what is happening? This man loves his wife, and he is trying to show it in the best way he knows how. But she’s not getting the love he’s trying to give. And it’s making real trouble for their marriage. Dr. Chapman listened to a conversation like this one day in a counseling session, and then he started reviewing his notes of sessions with many other couples. Part of his academic training was in anthropology, and it seemed to him that the communication troubles these husbands and wives were having were like those of people who don’t speak the same language. So he looked at the ways people try to show love, and he called them the five love languages. The main idea that he came away with was this: if you want your partner to feel the love you are trying to communicate, you have to learn to express it in that person’s love language.
One reason we are here at Open Door is to help build and support strong families. But it’s not easy, is it. We may be making great effort to have good marriage, but feel like our partner is speaking a foreign language, and we just don’t get it.
I remember in my first year in Japan, when I was 20 years old and just beginning to learn Japanese. After class, I went to a café near campus for lunch. It was crowded, and I had only a short time before my next class. When it began to look like I might not have enough time to eat, I decided to ask the waitress to hurry. I said something like, “Okuremasu kamo shirenai. Isoide moraemasuka.” Pretty soon, she brought me a cigarette. It was clear I needed to keep learning Japanese. I think I was late for class. When we try to communicate well with the people in our lives but it’s just not happening, it can be frustrating, can’t it. But many of us at this church deal every day with the language gaps that are part of life when people don’t speak the same first language. Those experiences can be good teachers for us.
For us to build and keep strong relationships, such as marriages, we have to deal with the fundamental truth that people speak different love languages. Most people have one primary language, one way that feels natural for us to communicate love. We also normally have a secondary love language, and the others are more difficult for us to use. It’s possible to be exactly as strong in one way of communicating as another, but it’s pretty rare. Far more often, we have one major language, one minor one, and that’s pretty much it. Receiving love in an unfamiliar love
language can be a lot easier than giving it in that language. Yet if you want to have a healthy marriage, you have to find out what your partner’s main language is and learn to speak it. You may not master it, but you can learn to use it. You also need to help your partner understand what your primary love language is and help him or her learn to speak it.
It’s not common for both partners to speak the same “first language.” Much more often, we communicate differently. And we tend to try to give love the same way we are used to receiving it—in our own first language. But when that is not the way our partner is most ready to receive it, communication can break down, and frustration can build up. Real understanding and both giving and receiving love well take hard work if they are going to happen.
In recent times in Japan and many cultures, many people get married after falling in love and choosing each other as partners. Being in love generally lasts about two years, according to a study in the U.S. (Chapman, p. 30). (I would like to know how long they last in Japan. Please tell me if you know.) When it ends, if you are married, you may tend to think that you have to either (a) live the rest of your married life in misery or (b) give up on this relationship and try again. In modern Japanese, Western, and some other cultures, many people are choosing to give up and divorce. In the past and today, too, in many cultures, the choice has been to stay married, even if the marriage isn’t working well. We may think our cultures have made a better choice, but the data (again, a study in the U.S., Chapman, p. 33) show that divorce rates for second marriages are worse than for first, and divorce rates for third marriages are even worse than for second.
So what are we to think if we get married and notice we’re not feeling the love that we were before? We may think it must mean we weren’t really in love after all, or something happened to kill the love, and it’s gone. But the truth is that the “in love” feeling is not all there is to love. It was great while it lasted, but it was never going to last that long. And when it is finished, that is when the couple has a chance to learn to live in a “real” love that goes far beyond the initial romantic feelings.
Falling in love seems to just happen. But if we want love to last, we have to choose it. Love is a choice far more than it is a feeling or idea or anything else. Learning to communicate love is a key part of the choice to live in the love which God gives His people. Real love is not something you do for yourself but for another person. So just doing what you feel like doing to make yourself happy will not lead you to real love. To live in love, you have to make the choice of doing things that may not feel comfortable or natural to you. Learning to use your partner’s love language will take you out of your comfort zone in many cases. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning for a lot of us. It doesn’t happen easily or smoothly. But if you use your will and pull yourself onto your feet, before too long you will realize that it was worth it to go through the struggle of getting up. Putting your actions ahead of your emotions is often necessary if you are going to love your partner.
Let’s quickly go through the five “love languages.”
The first is words of affirmation. I Corinthians 8:1 says, “Love builds . . . people . . . up.” One main way it does this is through words of affirmation. “Wow! You look beautiful tonight!” “You look cool in that suit!” For some people, words like those will strengthen a bond of love. Besides words of praise, when we give control over our choice of words to the Lord, we will find Him teaching us to use encouraging words, kind words, humble words, and forgiving words.
Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “Your tongue has the power of life and death.” You can give life to your partner or you can kill him or her by the way you talk. When you praise your partner, it often happens that he or she will want to become more and more the kind of person you are saying he or she is. When you criticize your partner, it often happens that you build a wall between yourself and that person, and a healthy relationship becomes more difficult. Proverbs 15:1 puts it this way: “A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger.”
The second language is quality time. In Mark 3:14 (New International Version) we read about Jesus, “He appointed twelve that they might be with him. . . .”
Watching a program or whatever on a TV or computer screen together is not quality time. When you spend quality time together, you give your partner your complete, undivided attention. When you spend quality time with someone, you are focused on listening usually, not on speaking as when you use words of affirmation. Often your partner does not need advice or information, even if it is good advice or ideas. What he/she needs is to know that you care, understand, are doing your best to give support.
Besides giving focused attention, to use the language of quality time, we need to learn to interact in real, meaningful conversations. Depending on your culture, family background, and personality, forming the habits of open, active communication through dialogue can be a new thing for many marriage partners. It may take more effort and practice for some than others. But without it, the kind of marriage relationship you want and need is often simply too difficult to achieve.
Dr. Chapman gives these specific points of advice: (a) maintain eye contact, (b) listen for feelings, (c) look for body language, and (d) avoid interrupting.
The third love language is gifts. Ephesians 5:25 tells us, “Husbands, love your wives. Love them just as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her.” In this case, Christ Himself is the gift. In James 1:17a we learn, “Every good and perfect gift is from God.” So giving is not just some technique we can use to produce a result we want. Far beyond that, there is something spiritual and godly happening when we give from a heart filled by God with His love.
We do this in part out of a desire to obey our Lord’s teachings. “Give, and it will be given to you. A good amount will be poured into your lap. It will be pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The same amount you give will be measured out to you” (Luke 6:32). Giving is a natural part of following Christ in faith.
You may have heard the saying, “It’s the thought that counts.” That’s true. It’s not just how expensive the gift is that makes the difference to the receiver most often. More, it’s what is in the heart and mind of the person who wants to give the gift. But, don’t forget, it’s not the thought left in your head uncommunicated that counts. The visible expression of love to a person whose love language is gifts will make a huge difference, often for many years. Gifts are a clear way to show that you value the relationship with the person receiving your gift.
The fourth language is acts of service. God tells us in I John 3:18, “Dear children, don't just talk about love. Put your love into action. Then it will truly be love.” That’s the importance of acts of love, but Jesus also tells us what kind of actions to choose. “Do to others as you want them to do to you” (Luke 6:31).
And, again, we need to learn not only to speak our partner’s language but to teach him or her to understand ours, as well. In this way we can obey God’s teaching in Hebrews 10:24--“Let us consider how we can stir up one another to love. Let us help one another to do good works.”
Especially people whose love language is words of affirmation may tend to say things like, “I love you” and “You are wonderful” often. But if their partner’s language is acts of service, it’s very possible for her or him to answer, “Well, if you love me so much, why don’t you get up from there and help me wash these dishes!?”
Also, it’s not always clear what acts of service will help your partner feel loved. Even if both partners have the same primary love language of acts of service, they may discover they are speaking different dialects. Chapman says (pp. 99-100):
It’s easy to work at the wrong things. A husband could spend an entire long weekend doing chores—raking leaves preparing the lawn for winter, . . . winterizing the cars, pulling holiday decorations out of the attic, . . .—and not add a drop to his wife’s love tank. On the other hand, that same husband could bring home Chinese takeout, clean the kitchen afterward, and then put the kids to bed on his own while his wife was wiped out after a long day—and fill her tank to overflowing.
Another challenge in finding the right acts of service is the following (p. 100).
. . . What we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. Before marriage, we are carried along by the force of the in-love obsession. After marriage, we revert to being the people we were before we “fell in love.”
So continuing in thought, prayer, and communication are just going to be necessary in order to learn this language well. Failures along the way are to be expected, and both the giver and receiver of love in this language will have to have some patience.
There’s one more thing about this language that needs our attention. Serving your partner does not mean allowing yourself to be used or abused (becoming a “doormat”). That in fact betrays the relationship and helps kill it. Have you ever heard someone use words like this (p. 101)?
I have served him for 20 years. I have waited on him hand and foot. I have been his doormat while he ignored me, mistreated me, and humiliated me in front of my friends and family. I don’t hate him. I wish him no ill, but I resent him, and I no longer wish to live with him.
Dr. Chapman comments, “That wife has performed acts of service for 20 years, but they have not been expressions of love. They were done out of fear, guilt, and resentment.” People who truly love take the attitude, “I love you too much to let you treat me this way. It is not good for you or me” (p. 102).
The fifth and final love language is physical touch. When God created us as humans, He gave us bodies, and they are for touching. Physical contact is a very powerful form of communication and one of the key ways God gives us for giving and receiving love. Christ blesses children in the Bible by putting His hands on them. Physical contact gives a clear sense of togetherness that no spoken or written words can. The simple act of touching, when it is done in ways that are appropriate inside specific cultures and relationships, can build and strengthen relationships in deep love.
It can have especially great meaning in times of crisis or suffering. Often when people are going through the pain of losing a loved one who has died, for example, they will not remember the words of comfort people give. But they will never forget the hug or arm around the shoulder that communicated love to them—or that lack of it when they really needed it.
So there are the five languages. If you are interested, you can keep learning, for example about discovering your primary love language. You can buy this book of course or borrow a copy from me. If you do, you can answer a list of questions designed to show which language is your primary one. That all may be helpful in your personal relationships with people and the Lord, if you approach them in prayer and careful thought, with faith.
But whether or not you use this book to continue learning, let’s all remember the call of God which we have each received to live in His love, with it as our highest value and the goal toward which we strive day by day. Let’s pray.
God of love, you have commanded us clearly, “Follow the way of love. . .” (I Corinthians 14:1a). Through seeing our own failures and sin, we know how truly difficult this actually is. But we are praying to the God for whom all things are possible. Teach us to build and treasure and protect the relationships of love that you so deeply want for us to have in our lives with marriage partners, family, many others, and most of all with you. In Christ’s name we ask it. Amen.
Chapman, G. (2013, November 13). Essentials of a Healthy Marriage. Calvary Baptist Church. Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Wheaton College. (2015, April 25). Retrieved February 10, 2022 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v M1LzhHQcf0&t=1834s
Chapman, G. (2015). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
Chapman, G. (2007). 愛を伝える5つの方法 (The 5 love languages: How to express heartfelt commitment to your mate). Tokyo: Inochinokotobasha.
1 Jesus left that place and went into the area of Judea and across the Jordan River. Again crowds of people came to him. As usual, he taught them.
2 Some Pharisees came to put him to the test. They asked, "Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?"
3 "What did Moses command you?" he replied.
4 They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a letter of divorce and send her away."
5 "You were stubborn. That's why Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied.
6 "But at the beginning of creation, God 'made them male and female.'(Genesis 1:27)
7 'That's why a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.
8 The two of them will become one.'(Genesis 2:24) They are no longer two, but one.
9 So a man must not separate what God has joined together."