Love and Marriage

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

intimate-alliesSince today is Valentine’s Day and many people are talking about love, I want to share some of what Dan Allender and Tremper Longman wrote about love and marriage in Intimate Allies: Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage and Becoming Soulmates for Life.

Love is patient and kind. Patience is perhaps the most difficult of all. It calls us to move toward our spouse by not moving at all. It insists that we wait on our spouse.

Our natural tendency is to jump in with both feet. We want a problem corrected immediately. We want to remove annoyance in a second. Patience is a gift that says: “I will trust that God is up to something; I will not insist, demand, or expedite change. I will wait.”

If patience is trust in God’s good plan, then kindness is a taste of that plan, then kindness is a taste of that plan, which can be seen in the Cross. Kindness is the gift of mercy. It seeks to transform our spouses by offering them what is undeserved and unexpected. A kindness can be as simple as a massage at the end of a hard day or a smile. Kindness shows understanding.

But kindness may ask for even bigger sacrifices. A husband who works obsessively to make ends meet may need to take two weeks off to vacation with his wife, while his wife may need to understand that his work is not purely selfish but indeed necessary for the good of the family or community.

Patience and kindness work hand in hand to produce deep and abiding marital love. They allow the relationship to show what it means to trust God (patience) and what it means to know God is good (kindness).

By highlighting the traits of patience and kindness, Paul signals the key to intimate love: it cares more about the other than it does for the self. This rings true as Paul continues his commentary by telling us what love is not.

First, intimate love is not boastful. A boast is a claim to preeminence. Love does not magnify the self or belittle the other. Love lifts up the other person first.

Closely connected to boasting is pride. Pride is at the root of boasting. We demonstrate pride when we think that we are better than anyone else. Pride will kill a marriage. The assumption that my time, my pressures, my pain are more important than my spouse’s needs will put our marriage in a stranglehold that will choke love.

The third trait that marks love is rudeness… Taking each other for granted is a major trap in marriage. To be rude is to demand with an implied or indirect threat that the relationship will be tarnished if certain things are not done as we desire. We face the daily temptation to come to each other at the end of a day and plop into a char, pick up the paper, and tune out. Rudeness is dishonoring; love cherishes the honor to enhance, not intimidate or punish.

Love also is not self-seeking. As Paul says elsewhere, “Consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Self-seeking attitudes often appear in our sexual relationship to our spouses. Many people, particularly men, enter into marriage thinking that they have come to the end of their sexual frustrations. They think, “Finally, I can have sex legally and morally anytime I want it!” Such an attitude is (and should be) quickly disappointed.

People rarely sustain the same level of sexual desire as their spouses. This imbalance can lead to considerable friction in a marriage.

Various factors can enter here. A husband may not want to satisfy his wife sexually because he is annoyed that she challenged one of his ideas at dinner. A wife may have no interest in playing around in bed; she prefers to sleep after dealing with a hectic day of appointments.

Paul suggests that love will lead us to care more about our spouses’ needs than about our own needs. Insisting on sex in spite of the exhaustion of your wife rarely leads to satisfaction. On the other side, a rejected husband may make it difficult for his wife to sleep! Seeking the other’s good may not result in immediate rest and great sex, but as both husband and wife seek the good of the other, they will find that their hearts are knit together in need of Christ and in appreciation of one another.

The final trait that will prevent husbands and wives from weaving is anger. Two people who desire to be intimate must not be easily angered. Paul urges us to be tolerant toward one another. The two who are joined into one still retain their individual idiosyncrasies. We all know the stereotypical annoyances: cap off the toothpaste tube, toilet seats left up, socks on the floor. We think these are humorous – until we are married and the wife sits on the toilet in the dark for the first time.

Once again Paul concretizes the principle that we are to seek the good of the other, not ourselves. Why do people get angry? People get angry when they feel that their rights, their needs are not met. Anger is not always wrong, but a truly intimate married love should not be characterized by anger.

Many spouses think that they are not angry people. They can take irritation after irritation with civility. But inside they seethe. Mentally they tabulate everything their spouse has done to wrong them. “She interrupted me three weeks ago while I was speaking.” “He ignored me when I needed to talk to him.”

We think we are not easily angered, but when that final or major breach in relationship comes, then the dam bursts, and a torrent of offenses flow in accusation. A manageable disagreement becomes a major blowup that takes hours or weeks to unravel and resolve.

However, love keeps no record of wrongs. They are brought to the surface, dealt with, and then canceled. To do otherwise is to deny the gospel, court relational disaster, and break the bonds of intimacy that lead to sensual delight.

Paul is not yet finished with his wise description of love. He continues with the observation that love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Why would we rejoice in the evil of our spouses? In our warped thinking we sometimes believe that our spouses’ sin justifies our failures toward them. And once we are off the hook, then it is up to our spouses to change.

Love always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres. Paul concludes his rich and profound description of love with four final verbs, the first and last of which urge us to constructive action, while the middle two urge a positive state of mind.

Love protects from harm. This protection on occasion may take the form of jealousy, but at core it is a willingness to bear pain on behalf of the other, to stand in the breach, knowing wounds will come.

Love perseveres. Not far into marriage most couples realize that the world is not easy, and their marriage is made up of two sinners. Married love needs to be a bold love right from the beginning.

As a result, love both trusts and hopes. To trust and to hope is not to be naïve. It is to believe that even in deceit and betrayal, God’s Spirit is at work, convicting and conforming both spouses to a maturity that cannot be achieved without suffering and brokenness.

In the words of Gordon Fee, these four verbs teach us that “love has a tenacity in the present, buoyed by its absolute confidence in the future, that enables it to live in every kind of circumstance and continually to pour itself out in behalf of others.”

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