Without sincere, selfless love, a marriage cannot glorify God. A husband and wife are to love each other with a strong, fervent, and steadfast love and not with a love that waxes and wanes with the changing tides of beauty, dress, or riches or fluctuates with emotions and lusts. It must be a generous love that pours itself out between spouses in a variety of expressions, gestures, looks, and actions.
Marital love is so precious that we must set a hedge around it. We are to have eyes only for each other and no other. Our imaginations should meander only toward our precious one. If we feel ourselves tempted by thoughts of others, we should pray for strength to guard our hearts, and then redouble our efforts to pour love into our spouse.
Nowhere is the nature of such love more profoundly portrayed than in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Here the apostle instructs the Corinthian church to show love to one another in the exercise of spiritual gifts “unto edifying” (1 Cor. 14:26). If such love is to be shown to fellow believers in the church, how much more should it operate in our relationship with our spouse? Paul tells us, first, that love is long-suffering and not easily provoked. So when our spouse irritates or displeases us, true love will restrain our anger and resentment and express itself in enduring patience.
Second, Paul says, love is kind and selfless. It seeks the well-being of the spouse in all things. Self-sacrificial kindness is a critical part of marriage. We once read of a couple who had become bitter toward each other. The wife decided to divorce her husband. She hated him so much that she wanted to shock him with divorce papers. So she thought she would be unusually kind to him for a month so he would think things were improving. Then he would be truly hurt when served with divorce papers. Near the end of the month, however, the wife noticed a change. But it was in her—not in him! She had begun to like her husband more. In fact, she was falling in love with him all over again. Her kindness had brought out his kindness, and their relationship was restored. Such is the power of love and kindness.
Third, Paul says that such love is void of envy and conceit. It is not jealous of a spouse’s talent or success but joyfully shares in it. Fourth, true love thinks the best possible thoughts about one’s spouse while still being realistic. And fifth, love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. Such love endures difficult times in marriage while praying and hoping for healing and resolution. Happy is the marriage marked by such love!
As the foundation of marriage, love must undergird and drive all duties within marriage. Such love makes everything in marriage easy while its absence makes everything hard. When love is abundant in a marriage, each partner will strive to meet the other’s needs, and when it is lacking, all other duties become no more than cold, lifeless acts. When love fills your heart, your feet, hands, and lips move easily in the service of your beloved, but where love is lacking, duties are either neglected or performed in a hypocritical, slothful, and careless manner.
Marital love must be exclusive. It must be superlative love. You must love your spouse more than anyone else in this life. Other friends may hold a high place in our lives, but when it comes to heartfelt love, spiritual fellowship, and quality time spent together, blessed is that couple whose lives are so balanced that, under God, each holds the highest position in the other’s heart.
How Can We Build a Godly Marriage?
By Joel R. and Mary Beeke