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Five Love Languages (FLL) is a book by Gary Chapman that identifies five critical areas in which to demonstrate love practically to another person. On the surface, it’s a great idea because none of us can say we’ve mastered the skill of loving others well.
Chapman is championing a solution to this universal problem by writing a book. Christians have benefited the most from his book, though he could just as easily market it to the secular world because it is not overtly Christian. The primary reason it resonates with believers is that they, generally, are more interested in other-centered relationships.
You could poll any congregation, and there will be several folks who will tell you that they have benefited from Chapman’s work, as it gave them ideas and categories to love a person according to their uniqueness.
If you’re not familiar with his book, the five love languages are receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. The most obvious question is whether these things are wrong to do, and the most obvious answer is that they are not.
There is no way any reasonable person would dismiss these things. You will find all of them implied in Scripture and there is nothing in the Bible that would forbid them. Jesus did all of them to His friends. So, what is the problem?
Do you remember that group I mentioned in the introduction–the biblicists, integrations, secularist, confused, and adamant? Some of them do not know how to talk well to each other. Let me speak with broad brushes, and if the descriptor does not fit you, move on and praise God that you’re not like them. (Wink)
The biblicists tend to dislike everything that is not black or white. Meaning, if it is not theologically precise, according to their understanding, they disdain it and warn everyone else of the heresy. Let me narrow the “biblicist’s field” to my family; I’m talking about biblical counselors (BC).
BC can get so caught up in their rightness that they can hurt people, albeit unwittingly or ignorantly. I first saw this during one of my breaks between classes during my MABC program. The teacher was lecturing us on why James Dobson was an integrationist and why we should not read any of his books.
During our break, the more naive among us said, “I think I need to go home and get rid of all my Dobson books. I did not realize he was such an awful teacher and was doing harm to the church. I need to warn others.” I did not say what I was thinking, but I will now.
My aunt lived with a serial adulterer for nearly two decades. She would call me in tears, asking what to do. I was a new Christian, so I had little clue about what she should do. She would tell me how she had been reading books from James Dobson, and how they were helping her.
Should I go back, like my MABC friends, and tell her that James Dobson is an awful person and was doing harm to the church? No, it would be unwise, immature, careless, harsh, and damaging.
Sadly, where a lot of these discussions take place is on message boards or social media platforms, which turn into debates and “point-counterpoint” arguments, which is why I do not engage anyone with such discussions on those platforms.
May we have more discernment with how we engage people to deflate their arguments while making a case for our ideas? How you steward your knowledge is a sober responsibility.
The primary problem with denunciating an idea is that you may condemn the person in the process, which will leave them confused, bewildered, and hopeless. It’s like a biblicist condemning the gay person for his sin rather than coming alongside him to build a relationship, hoping to lead him to a better place.
When you tell someone how wrong they are about something that is important to them, you may hurt them, not help them. There are scores of testimonies from people who have benefited from Chapman’s books. As you are debunking, be sure to offer hope that builds them up.
Are there any flaws with FLL? Are there any flaws with my work? The answer to both questions is an absolute yes, which is why it’s imperative that I enter into this section with the log in my eye.
It’s also how you want to enter into a conversation with a gay person or any other individual who needs your wisdom and care. His sin and yours put Christ on the cross, and the nails in Jesus’ hands were not bigger because his sin was worse than yours.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” – Luke 18:11
Whenever you codify something, that thing you codified can become “the way,” which will eliminate Spirit-led illumination, interaction, and relationship with God. The Lord wants us to live a pneumatic life, not a legalistic one.
I’m not saying that an FLL advocate is a legalist, but the temptation is real because we do like our rules, lists, and structure. We want to paint by numbers and can become eerily uncomfortable when the path before us is not made plain.
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9
Our faith must be in God, not in the known outcome, which has all the right answers can tempt us into thinking we know the outcome. It’s vital that we guard against predetermining our paths because the Lord can do more abundantly than any of us can think.
You don’t want to shrink your life down to five possibilities, but you want to ask God to give you an abundance of light with many ways to demonstrate your love to others while giving you the insight to do it in such a way that resonates with them.
FLL is like a “starter set,” but it would be wise to chuck it after a while if you ever use it at all. I have never recommended it to anyone. My goal with folks who need to learn how to love others well is not give them FLL to use as a crutch but to teach them how to discern the Spirit as it relates to the person they want to serve.
This worldview is also how I teach our students. I don’t want them ever to learn a script and map it over a counselee. I want them to learn how to relate to God on behalf of that person and then care for them in a way that is Spirit-led, God-centered, and theologically-precise.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17:9
The most significant problem of all with any potentially good template that we want to use is our deceptive hearts. And the number one negative feedback that I have seen with FLL is how it fosters and irritates conditional relationships.
This issue is legitimate, and in nearly every case, which has been numerous, the husband and wife bicker over such things as, “He does not love me the way I want him to love me.”
This problem is enormous, and it needs lots of theological clarification and humble interaction. I have written extensively on this problem of our “desires morphing into needs,” and how our needs set us up as adversaries in our relationships.
If you want to do a deeper study, then I commend these articles to you.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).