If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:1–7 ESV
You know that love is important for any relationship, especially marriage. The apostle Paul wrote these words about love in the midst of a longer conversation about spiritual gifts. Paul was concerned that some folks in the Corinthian church were considered better than others simply because they were able to serve in certain ways. In that context, the Lord, through Paul, gave instruction not only to a church that existed 2,000 years ago, but also to us. Whenever we serve, we must do so from a heart of love. Any service without it is like a noisy gong; it is nothing, and has no eternal value. This concept is powerful not only in the church but in marriage, which God designed to reflect Christ’s relationship to his church.
First Corinthians 13 gives us a profound and practical picture of biblical love. The characteristics of love given there do not represent the sum total of biblical love, but this chapter is one of the most extended discussions of love found anywhere in the Bible.
Love Is Patient
All believers in Christ have been given a new identity when they put their faith in Jesus. God sees us through the finished work of Christ. We also saw that God promised us many blessings in Christ that impact our lives each day (“I need nothing, Jesus’s word is the one that matters, and I am secure”). However, I think we would all admit that we still sin and we are sinned against. When we sin, we are still tempted to minimize it or pretend that it does not exist. When we are sinned against, we are tempted to make a big deal about it. That is why marriages all across our world are in disarray. Each person minimizes his own sin and maximizes the sin of others.
Love that is motivated and empowered by Jesus responds differently. Biblical love responds with patience when it is tempted to be angry. Proverbs 19:11 captures this idea wonderfully: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” There have probably been times in your relationship already when you have been tempted to respond with sinful anger—and there will be many more times in your marriage. You will be tempted to justify your actions and carry them out quickly, convinced that you are right. Biblical love does not pursue such ends. It pursues patience even in the midst of difficulty or anger.
Even if one of you chooses to respond with anger, our identity in Christ still allows the other to respond with biblical love characterized by patience.
Love Is Kind
Patience is especially needed when one is hurt. It demonstrates a willingness to entrust the hurt to the Lord, to rely on his resources, and not lash out to protect itself. In that sense, its actions are passive in nature. Kindness, however, is an active idea. Oh, that marriage would be characterized by kindness! I know a man who told his wife on their honeymoon that he would be more attracted to her if she lost twenty pounds. Can you believe that? Can you imagine the hurt? No doubt she could forgive him, but that was a comment she will remember as long as the Lord gives her mental recall.
Biblical love is not characterized by a mere “I will do something nice for you if you do something nice for me.” Biblical love demonstrates kindness. It looks for ways to be encouraging, complimentary, and affectionate even if the kindness is not immediately reciprocated. Young couples often focus on the fun things they do together, but their marriages would be much stronger if they chose to be more kind to each other, not just in the normal, mundane parts of life, but in the face of pain or hurt. The good news is that we do not have to rely on our own resources to be kind or to respond in kindness when hurt. The grace of God can help us to be kind. The Lord told us to go confidently before the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). I think the Lord tells us to go confidently because he wants us to come, so that he can say “Yes.”
Love Is Not Jealous
A third characteristic of biblical love is particularly powerful in its Corinthian context. Rivalry, competition, and factions developed, with each group seeking to win additional followers. One cannot miss the Lord’s overwhelming condemnation of the church’s willingness to be so divisive. That is particularly powerful in light of this characteristic of love.
Love that is not jealous is love that does not require first place. It allows another to succeed without reprisal. A humorous example of this is found in the DreamWorks Animation movie Monsters vs. Aliens. The movie opens as Derek, a local TV weatherman, and Susan are about to be married. Just before the ceremony, Susan has the misfortune of being hit by a meteor (!). A powerful substance enters her body, making her grow in size and strength to astronomical proportions. The wedding is interrupted and Susan makes it her mission to reunite with Derek. In the process, however, she learns that Derek was only interested in her as long as he was the one in the spotlight.
As we move to real life, the sad reality is that Derek’s attitude is often not discovered until after the ceremony. One’s desire to be the center of attention has not fully come to light, but it is there. In our world the focus is on who makes more money, whose job is more prestigious, and who is more gifted. In these moments and circumstances, jealousy is kindled. One spouse decides that he is sick of being in the shadow, playing second fiddle. Soon he finds ways to compete against his spouse and demonstrates that his love is jealous.
Love that is not jealous will celebrate the successes of the other person. It will compliment and support the gifts, skills, and abilities of the other person. Love that is not jealous will find ways to encourage the development of the other.
Love Does Not Brag and Is Not Arrogant
Let’s take the same situation and add some names. Let’s say that Julie and Tom were recently married. Tom is bright, handsome, and a mover and shaker at work. Julie works and does a good job, but she is neither as bright nor as gregarious as her husband. Julie must guard against jealousy. She must turn her heart to the Lord so that she does not get angry every time another woman glances in Tom’s direction or every time he receives another commendation.
At the same time, Tom cannot be reminding Julie just how lucky she is to have him, since he had lots of other prospects. He cannot strive for the attention of other people, especially other women. He cannot compare his salary to hers and act like he is doing all the work. He cannot ask to be rewarded when he does something nice for Julie. He cannot explain to other couples that he is the prime example of love. This message was particularly powerful in a Corinthian church that was full of pride. The term “arrogant” was used five times to describe the Corinthian church itself. In a marriage, love does not go around explaining how wonderful it is.
Consider the example of Christ. He chose the path of humility before people who wrongly accused him. He chose the path of silence before the Roman governor. These responses seem impossible for us, and they are if we are only trusting in ourselves. Yet Ephesians 3:20–21 reminds us that Christ does far more than we can ever imagine through his great power that works in us. A person relying on Christ does not have to love with pride or arrogance.
Love Does Not Act Unbecomingly (Is Not Rude)
I wish I had a dollar for every time one of my counselees was rude to the other. I am convinced that I could work for the church for free. Sometimes it comes in words, when one spouse says something that is not very nice to the other. Other times it comes in actions, when one spouse creates work for the other spouse. One person is simply being rude. Biblical love has no place for that. Biblical love chooses to be kind even when rude is tempting.
The second part of this article is available here.
Excerpted adapted from Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong & Lasting Marriage © 2016 by Rob Green. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
TYING THE KNOT: A PREMARITAL GUIDE TO A STRONG AND LASTING MARRIAGE
Tying the Knot by Rob Green offers soon-to-be-married couples a practical vision of Christ-centered marriage that is realistic, hopeful, and actionable. This eight-session study guides couples through issues such as conflict, expectations, communication, finances, and intimacy, showing how each can be successfully resolved with Christ at the center of the marriage.