This post is a continuation of an excerpt from Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong & Lasting Marriage by Rob Green, examining biblical love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. To read part one, please click here.
Love Does Not Seek Its Own
While many people marry because the other person helps them love themselves better than anyone else, biblical love is interested in giving instead of taking, and serving instead of being served. When people arrive home from work, they often feel tired and run down. They are ready for a relaxing, problem-free evening. But when they are met at the door by a needy spouse (one who wants to have adult conversation for the next two hours, one who wants to share her feelings and emotions, one who is crying after a horrible day), there is a tendency to get frustrated. Biblical love does not demand from the other person, but willingly gives. Biblical love seeks the good of the other.
You might ask, “How does this happen?” Most of us, myself included, have a drive from our work to our home. A wise man uses this drive time to pray and confess something like this: “Lord, you know I am tired. What I want most is to go home and discover that the homework is done, a wonderful dinner is ready, and a relaxing evening of playing outside in the beautiful weather is ahead. But I know that your will might be something different today. Help me to remember that I don’t need anything because you have given me everything I have to have. If I get home and chaos exists, help me to gently, kindly, patiently love each member of my family. Help me remember that my wife has probably had a hard day too and you may be calling me to serve her tonight. Please help me to use this opportunity to display the reality that Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and present ministry are meaningful in my life.”
Love Is Not Easily Provoked
Have you ever met someone who is “touchy”? I don’t mean a person who likes to be physically connected. I am talking about a person who overreacts, so that you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around him. In our ministry we see couples like this regularly. They see the other person through lenses that filter out anything of value, leaving only those things that are harmful or annoying. They see the other person as the reason for their misery. This leads to provocation over the smallest matters. Biblical love matures far beyond such measures. To say that love is not easily provoked means that a person is willing to give grace even when tempted to respond with venom. It means that a person is willing to look at his or her spouse with lenses that see the good. For example, one married couple sought counseling over an argument. It turned out that the wife had wrongly prejudged her husband’s motives and began attacking him. Once attacked, he became angry in return. Both were so used to seeing the wrong in the other person, they failed to consider the possibility that their assumptions were incorrect. Biblical love chooses patience over provocation.
Love Does Not Keep a Record of Wrongs
My former pastor recounted a story where a couple, married about ten years, requested counseling. Jim and Karen, as we will call them, sat down at the first meeting and Karen presented a notebook outlining the ways Jim had failed, frustrated, irritated, or sinned against her during their marriage. There were pages upon pages. My pastor did not know their whole story, but in five minutes realized that Karen, at least, was a master record-keeper for failure (Jim’s, anyway) and a pathetic historian of the positive elements. Jim and Karen were married, but they did not share biblical love, because biblical love does not keep records of wrongs. Karen kept an actual notebook where the wrongs were recorded, but many other couples use their minds instead. They don’t write everything down, but they work to remember the wrongs that frustrate them and justify their own unloving responses.
Psalm 103:12 says of the Lord, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” I am so thankful for that truth! It tells me that God wipes the slate clean and he keeps it clean. If the Lord kept track of my wrongs, it would fill more than a notebook and it would be hard to imagine how I could have a meaningful relationship with him. Just as the Lord keeps the slate clean, so can he help you do the same.
Love Does Not Rejoice in Unrighteousness but Rejoices in the Truth
Virtually all human relationships have elements that are positive and elements that are negative. People tend to focus on one or the other. The quality of the relationship is often determined by this outlook. For example, my wife may say that our marriage is perfect, but she is responding with biblical love and only focusing on the things that are right and consistent with biblical truth. It would not be true to say that everything about our relationship or my treatment of her is consistent with biblical truth, but her gracious evaluation excludes those elements. To use an analogy from education, my lowest scores are dropped and forgotten.
Love does not seek to discuss all the things that are wrong, but focuses on the things that are right. When God sees us through the righteousness of Christ, that is exactly what he does as well. He chooses to see what is good.
These characteristics of love are then summarized into four more general comments.
Love Bears All Things
God is saying that there is nothing love cannot handle. I wish more newlywed couples would refer to home as the location of their spouse rather than the location of their house. Biblical love can endure whatever God may allow into our lives. It can even make a relationship stronger in the midst of trouble. An engaged man in our church believed that his fiancé loved him. She proved it when she learned that his grandmother had been murdered. In that situation, she did not focus on her desires and wants. Instead, she simply chose to love her fiancé. She understood that his mind would be on his mom, his grandfather, his aunts and uncles, so she did not fight for attention. Instead, she chose to love him by encouraging him, being with him, and visiting with family members she had never met. She understood that she needed to comfort her fiancé. Her willingness to bear all things confirmed to him that his choice to marry her was a good one.
Love Believes All Things
Our ministry often cares for people who don’t like being married anymore. One thing they find hard to do is to believe the best of their spouse. Biblical love is open and accepting. This does not mean that love is gullible or foolishly blind. However, spouses exercising biblical love are willing to risk being hurt again because of the love they have received from Christ. I often hear about the protective walls that people erect against the hurts that other people can cause. Inevitably these personal fortresses do not work and the relationship is all the worse for them. It is true that when there is a lot of hurt and pain in a relationship, it takes time for trust to be rebuilt. But one of the first steps on the pathway to trust is choosing to exhibit the quality of believing the best. Jesus is our rock and our fortress; that enables us to believe the best, even when we are tempted to think the worst.
Love Hopes All Things
At this stage of your relationship, you are likely filled with excitement about the present and the future. Your relationship is filled with hope. Fantastic! Your upcoming marriage should be filled with hope. However, most marriages experience some difficult times too. Sometimes sin is discovered in a person’s life. In these cases, hope is crucial. To say that biblical love hopes all things implies that you will be willing to give your spouse another chance. That is exactly what God has done with us. Even the prophet Jonah was given multiple chances. This is made easier when you remember that you are a sinner as well, and when you believe in the power of God to change each of you. Thus, hope believes that all things, by the grace of God, are really possible in the relationship.
Love Endures All Things
It is possible, maybe even probable, that at some point during your married life you will struggle with hope. It may not be due to sin in the marriage; it may be due to an irreversible illness or a financial disaster. The previous point about love hoping all things will not be easy. In those moments, this last characteristic of love becomes so important. Love endures. You are able to love through it all. One of my mentors is Dr. Bob Smith. He helped to begin the counseling ministry at Faith in 1977. He served actively until 2012 when his wife’s health required a change in priorities. They have been through many blessings and challenges in their sixty years of marriage. Some of those days were very hard, yet what we see is a testimony of joyful endurance.
The list in 1 Corinthians 13 seems overwhelming. Admittedly, it is a challenging list for anyone to do. However, while 1 Corinthians 13 says a lot about love, the Bible includes several other important additions. These additions, like the characteristics of 1 Corinthians 13, show how the Lord Jesus chose to love us. And as we rely on him, he can give us what we need to follow his example.
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.