Americans may not agree on a lot of things, but apparently the connection between love and marriage is one of them. According to a Pew Research study, 93% of married Americans believe ‘love’ is a very important reason to get married.
And, as we saw in my last post, it’s also the key to a healthy marriage that lasts.
But saying that ‘love’ is critical to marriage isn’t saying a whole lot.
Love Needs Some Definition
There’s lots of talk about ‘love’. On bumper stickers, in talk shows, in songs. But it tends to be a pretty ethereal, multiple choice, gooey kind of love.
In a Time Magazine article called ‘We Are Defining Love The Wrong Way’, Rabbi David Wolpe argues that our culture today sees ‘love’ mainly as an emotion, something you feel.
But he says that’s really just a half-truth. What happens when you don’t feel warmly toward the other person anymore? Or, they’re not doing what you want them to do? Wolpe goes on to say that love ‘is a feeling that expresses itself in action. What we really feel is reflected in what we do.’
The Apostle John would agree. He doesn’t give us an exhaustive definition of love, but gives us one clue based on God’s example of love toward us.
To continue unpacking 1 John 4 from last time, we read this in verse 10: ‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us…’
John makes a point of saying we did not love God. That’s not how our relationship with him started. Instead, ‘he loved us’. He went first.
When we fall in love with someone, it’s usually reciprocal. We typically feel like we’re both getting a good deal.
But God did not get ‘a good deal’ when he chose us. He loved us, and his love – at least at first – was unreciprocated. The unthinkable parallel would be choosing to marry someone who hated you. And yet, that’s what God did: ‘not that we loved God but that he loved us…’ (See also Romans 3:9-18.)
So biblical love isn’t just a feeling. Instead, it takes the initiative and moves toward someone else, even when that love is undeserved or unreciprocated.
The Proof Is In The Pudding
If only we didn’t have to actually do this in real life.
When we’re angry. When we’re tired. When we’ve been wronged. When our spouse has screwed up – again.
Of course, marriage presents us with plenty of opportunities to love – and be loved – in all of the above.
Our ministry to healthcare students and professionals takes me all over the city of Philadelphia. Which gives me lots of opportunities for parking tickets and other moving violations that are (something like) 3,000 times the amount of comparable violations in the surrounding suburbs. But I digress…
One time, when I (accidentally) parked in a handicapped spot, I got a $300 ticket. Sure, the sign wasn’t great and the parking authority guy probably jumped out from behind a bush with a maniacal laugh as soon as I walked away. But still, I wasn’t being careful, and my growing tally of fines could have supported a missionary for a year.
Needless to say, my wife wasn’t thrilled and she could have let me have it. But after letting me know I needed to pay more attention, she was gracious and let it go. Her understanding of Jesus’s grace in her life led her to extend that grace to me.
It was a relatively small thing, but it meant a lot to me when I had messed up in a pretty big way. That’s 1 John 4 kind of love.
The Bottom Line (So Far)
So here’s where we’ve come so far. Great marriages are built on love, but, love isn’t just a feeling. It’s primarily an action, based on God’s own love that shows grace to the undeserving.
- Where do you need to extend 1 John 4 love to your spouse or significant other? (If you’re not in a relationship, think about others you’re close to.)
- Where would you like your spouse to show this kind of love to you? Be specific.
Next time: We’ll conclude this mini-series on love in marriage with a look at its foundation, and, a million-dollar word.