Love your wife … Love your husband!
CS Lewis was once asked: Which word expresses the uniqueness of the Christian faith, when Christianity is compared with other world religions? “That isn’t difficult. GRACE.”
Karl Barth was similarly asked to describe the Christian faith in its essence. His immediately answered: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Grace and Love are inseparable: “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love”
The major focus of this message is LOVE, but GRACE will never be missing or forgotten.
It is the most amazing and wonderful fact that at the very heart of our Christian faith is LOVE – not keeping laws, or building great centres and structures (cities and cathedrals), or searching after a spiritual secret that is only unlocked to the privileged few. And so we who have put our trust in Christ, God’s love incarnate, as we have opened our hearts to welcome this avalanche of divine love have been forever transformed right to the very core of our beings.
What then do we do with that love? Experiencing God’s love in truth compels us to love others, beginning with our marriage partners, our children, parents, siblings, and then reaching out to many others.
Today’s focus: Love in the marriage relationship – the central place, the most challenging, and the most rewarding.
- Eph.5:25-28: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
- Titus 2:4-5: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”
- Simple and necessary reminders from God’s Word – plus principles learned through the journey of life – to the present day
- Some truths may cause us a little pain – don’t run and hide – ask God’s Spirit to help you hear whatever the Lord may be saying to you on the heart level
- Let us now open our hearts up to God to minister to us just as He sees fit – pray for me that I will faithfully speak to you as God’s Gospel messenger
Question: What is love in practical terms, in God’s terms, not man’s?
Step One: Understand God’s love
Five adjectives that describe the nature of God’s love:
- Covenantal love – only experienced in a binding covenant relationship – initiated by God who bound Himself in love to His people – which means for us that through trusting in the work of Christ, we are welcomed into His “new covenant” family (Deut.7:6-8; Matt.26:28; 1 Cor.11:25)
- Faithful love – exclusive, no rivals, steadfast love and faithfulness (Lam.3:22-23)
- Sacrificial love – willing to lay down His love, to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the good (salvation) of His beloved ones (John 15:13 “Greater love….”; 1 John 3:16)
- Abounding love – whole-hearted, passionate love (Psalm 103:8;1 John 3:1)
- Enduring love – constant and in full measure, not determined by circumstances, unwavering, everlasting (1 Cor.13:8a “Love never ends”)
Jesus’ new commandment: Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another with the same divine love that He had shown to them – John 13:34-35; John 15:12 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” This is the core commandment which the apostle Paul then applies to the relationship of Christian husbands and wives.
Step Two: Understand our obligation to love our mates as God has loves us – cf. popular love:
- Covenantal love – cf. love based in a contract – “if you do your part, then I will do mine.” – offering oneself unconditionally – “no” to bargaining or manipulating in order to get my way
- Faithful love – cf. having a fling, a one night stand – an affair = no matter how “nice-sounding” the words used these days, it is just the same old sin of infidelity or unfaithfulness that God hates – not keeping your vow/promise – faithful in body but unfaithful in one’s mind/thought life, eg portrait of love (lust) in movies, TV programs etc.
- Sacrificial love – cf. sacrifice to satisfaction – driven by the pursuit “to get” love for one’s own benefits/gains – love that will benefit “number one”
- Abounding love – cf. half-hearted love (Rev.3:15-16 “lukewarm” – neither hot nor cold) – distracted, divided love (love of work competing with love for wife/husband; a little love for husband/wife, an abundance of love for children) – cf. Matt.24:12 “love of many will grow cold.”
- Enduring love – cf. love that blows hot and cold, or based on hidden thought: “I’ll see how our relationship works out” – how the chemistry comes together – unsure because you hold unrealistic or perfectionist expectations of the relationship rather than giving yourself wholeheartedly to it – a conditional commitment.
Thus far we have looked at love as we look at a beautiful view from a lookout or a airplane = panoramic view.
Now we must descend from the lookout to the coal face – to reflect on how these great truths on love work out in our marriage relationships in the everyday circumstances of our homes and lives = close-up view.
Scriptures: 1 Thess.3:12 “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” Heb.10: 24 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Two fundamental facts about the nurturing of love:
- Love requires daily nurturing. To obey God’s Word to love our spouse means that we will invest time and energy each day to “being” loving, “doing” loving deeds, and “speaking” loving words. Little investment, few returns; no investment, no returns!
- Love requires constant work. Love doesn’t grow without hard, disciplined, consistent work. And for a life-long relationship, this means understanding the nature of the commitment to keep on growing in love right through to the end. Example: Changing old habit patterns is never easy, i.e. habits that damage love between husband and wife. But God gives grace!
Three motivations that will help us work hard to build and strengthen love in marriage:
- To love and please our Lord Jesus – John 14:21 “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
- To enjoy the good and delicious fruit through obeying this command – the reward or fruit of working hard to grow in love – if we give love generously, we will receive back love in abundance – Eph.5:28b “He who loves his wife loves himself.”
- To train our children to love their future mate – we bless our children by living before them a loving, faithful marriage – “The greatest gift I can ever give my children is to love their mother passionately.”
“Love Builders” & “Love Busters” – 1 Cor.13:4-5; Col.3:12-14 – often read in weddings, but it’s after the wedding when we need to read these and other Scriptures – and also we need to keep on reading and working through these practical lessons – “a marriage love check-up” – personal testimony: When in my relationship with Frieda I’m feeling misunderstood, God keeps bringing me back to my primary responsibility (“Love your wife”) – “God’s bottom-line for husbands”.
- Put on patience and gentleness – notice this is the first thing Paul mentions, i.e. at the top of Paul’s priority list of loving qualities – hard work involved as most of us are naturally impatient – a command: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Col.3:12) – don’t accept impatience as being just the way things go in all relationships – rather think Christianly and biblically – put on patience as you put on your clothes each morning – set your mind to speak patiently, to respond patiently to annoyances, to act patiently when things work out differently to what you had expected (i.e. when you experience the imperfect instead of the perfect!)
- Put on kindness and compassion – do kind acts, speak kindly – think: how can I be kind to my beloved mate in this situation? Examples:
- Husband: leave what you are doing in order to help your wife cope in trying circumstances, eg when she’s feeling stressed out with the children
- Wife: don’t say “no” to your husband’s love advances just because you are feeling tired
- Husband: speak kind and tender words to your wife, eg “you are precious to me – I am so thankful to God for our relationship.”
- Wife: speak kind and affirming words to your husband, eg “your hard work to support your family means very much to me.”
- Throw off envy.
- Knock down walls of envy and jealousy in our hearts in their place, build into our marriages integrity and trustworthiness – throw away hidden thoughts of envy and plant in your mind and heart good and true thoughts towards your mate – Phil.4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
- Throw off boasting.
- Boast not in your greatness and achievements, but rather boast in what your mate has achieved and can do – before him/her and to others – look for opportunities to affirm and encourage your mate for things that he/she has done well. Be daily thankful.
- Put off pride. Hate pride with a vengeance for it is a certain destroyer of relationships.
- Instead put on a humble spirit, eg stop your much talking and for once listen humbly and compassionately to what your mate is trying to say to you.
- Don’t be rude, i.e. speaking and acting rudely, crudely or offensively, eg taking liberties in your marriage relationship that creates distance and negative reactions.
- Instead put on respect for your mate – also speaking and acting in ways that build respect into the heart of your mate.
- Don’t be self-seeking – thinking: “I need to look after number one” – “what can he/she make me more happy?” – “I’m not experiencing love as I had hoped; I believe it’s my right to find someone who will truly love me (as I want/expect)” – by entertaining such thoughts, we expose ourselves to the destructive lies of the evil one.
- Instead clothe yourselves with humility (Col.3:12) – put on the self-sacrificing servant heart of our Lord Jesus – Ephesians 5:1-2 “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
- Husbands, note Paul’s counsel in Eph.5: 25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ….” – revolutionary thinking in Paul’s day, also in our day – be revolutionaries – don’t take our cues from the world and its values and ways.
- Don’t become easily angered (fly off the handle) – justifying your action, eg “That’s the way I am; I got it from my father; it’s too ingrained in me to change now”
- Instead clothe yourselves with the spirit of our Lord Jesus – “slow to anger” – God love can also be a love with anger – the Bible doesn’t say “no” to anger but be “slow to anger” – Robin Norwood’s book, Women Who Love Too Much(When You Keep Wishing and Hoping He’ll Change) – sometimes anger is the fruit of true love – just to be sweet or silent when one’s mate is living in sin is most unloving – “love” and “hate” go side by side in God – “Love must be sincere; hate what is evil, cling to what is good” (Rom.12:9) – true love in marriage demands that we learn to “hate” whatever has the potential to bring grave spiritual harm upon the one we love, eg pornography.
- Stop keeping a record of wrongs, i.e. harbouring unforgiveness and resentment by continually stirring up some issue from the pot of past hurts.
- Instead put on forbearance and forgiveness – Col.3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Of course, there are numerous other practical ways for us to obey God’s command to love our mate. But if we just concentrate on what writes to the early believers in his letters, we’ve got more than enough to work on for the rest of our lives!
One fundamental bottom-line in love in marriage is that we must acknowledge the reality that we enter into marriage as imperfect, failing, fallen sinners, and the one we marry is also an imperfect, failing, fallen sinner.
We cannot love perfectly, nor will our mate be able to love us perfectly, in the way that we might have dreamed of being loved. Only Christ and His love can provide that ultimate satisfaction that our souls crave.
Consequently, the issue of restoring love is an absolute essential ingredient in our obeying God’s command to love our mate. We will hurt and disappoint our mates, and we will also be hurt and disappointed by our mates. Sometimes we will behave in very hurtful ways, and act very immaturely. It is also possible that we will discover things about that handsome man who walked down the aisle with us or that gorgeous bride who looked so stunning on her wedding day, that leave us wondering: “Who did I really marry?”
This same scene is recounted again and again throughout Scripture, in God’s relationship with His chosen and beloved people. The nation of Israel fell so often ever so effortlessly away from the path of faithfulness. Yet because of His “chesed” love, God did not quickly send them away and let them suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness. Rather He called to them: “Return to Me!” (Hosea 14) He sought to restore His unfaithful bride to the place of blessing by His side.
For followers of Jesus, we must align our thoughts with the thoughts of our Father, God, not with the thoughts of the world – including in the way we love our spouses. Let’s freely admit how easily we Christian husbands and wives can fall prey to the thoughts of the world when we are reeling from some deep hurt or disappointment in our marriage relationship – and at times like that, we may open our minds up to the advice of some professional counsellor who counsels us to think first of “number one” – to believe that your love has “died” (there’s no resurrection apart from Christ!) – “you owe it to yourself to get a divorce if you are going to reach your full potential!”
We live because of the Gospel of grace – and we are also to live the Gospel of grace in our marriage relationships.
And what is grace all about? God reaching down to lost, helpful, wayward humanity, in love, seeking to restore them to Himself – and so much more that follows. Grace is all about “restoring love” – and that’s the measure of love that we as God’s people are to demonstrate in our marriages. See Luke 15:20 – the father, seeing his son coming in the distance, was “filled with love and compassion” – not with rejection or condemnation.
Love can run aground for painful and complex reasons. It is unhelpful to give simplistic answers to such complex issues. However, there are clear, biblical answers for what some may deem a complex question.
- Can God mend/restore a serious rift in a marital relationship? Yes, but only if both parties are willing to cooperate and work with him. Not by human will-power. God is the true Restorer and Healer of broken marriage relationships – Gavin & Julie.
- Can betrayed love become restored love? Yes, but for love betrayed to become love restored, sin will need to be faced and dealt with, repented of, and confessed with brokenness, for the trust to be restored and for true healing to take place in the relationship.
- Can almost non-existent romance and physical intimacy be restored to your marriage? Yes, by choosing to help one another, and working together. Love is a choice from start to finish. How our spouse thinks and responds is his/her responsibility. Our response of tenderness, of affectionate touch and intimacy is very powerful.
In working through all such issues and questions, we must keep in mind that we cannot force another person to love us – true love even allows love advances to be rejected – “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” (Mark 10:21a)
This is certainly a painful reality to accept, but godly love goes hand in hand with freedom – whereas to force or manipulate someone to love is to afflict ourselves with the pains of worldly love.
God calls us to entrust all our wounds from damaged love relationships to Him, to pray and trust in Him to do His gracious and powerful work on the deepest level – firstly in our minds and hearts, and also in the mind and heart of our mate – in His time, and in His way – though His answer to our prayers may not be what we had personally hoped for.
We have tasted the grace and love of our Lord Jesus – how great is His love for us, how amazing His grace! If you haven’t, then today is the day to receive God’s amazing grace and abounding love.
Summarising God’s message to us today: “My beloved ones, love one another as I have loved you. Begin obeying My command to love right in the home – in your most intimate relationship, marriage. Understand My plan to show the wonder of My Good News through your marriages. Work together with Me to show My love through the love you show to one another as husbands and wives.”
Whatever God / Jesus commands us to do, He has already equipped us to do by pouring out His Holy Spirit upon us (Rom.5:5) – daily ask for the help and empowering of God’s Spirit to love your mate with godly love (Luke 11:13).
Above all, understand God’s higher plan – to unfold to us through our experiences of married love a foretaste and glimpse of the greatest Marriage of all that we will enjoy when our holy Bridegroom returns.
Therefore, our love for our mates must never take first place, or become an idol in our hearts, but rather this human love is God’s wonderful gift to stir up within us a hunger and longing after our Bridegroom and His love.
Pastor Graham Roberts
Tregear Presbyterian Church, Tregear, NSW