We cannot know the role of love in marriage if we do not know what love is. Thankfully, as with every aspect of life, the Bible has the answer. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 in the New American Standard translation:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Look at that last sentence: love never what? Love never fails, and never means never. I know what some of you are thinking: “Well, that may be true most of the time, but not in my case”; or “That doesn’t apply to me because my spouse is not a believer.” But never indeed means never, and there are no exceptions. Love done God’s way never fails. That is its first and primary attribute.
Look again at the passage above. You’ll find no promise of goose bumps, pounding hearts, and frenzied emotions whipped to a state of ecstasy. The common descriptions of love that abound in our society are never mentioned. As the old DC Talk song reminds us, “love is a verb,” and Paul, here in 1 Corinthians, uses a string of fifteen Greek verbs to define love’s attributes, including what love does and does not do: “. . . does not brag . . . does not act unbecomingly . . . bears all things . . . hopes all things . . .” According to Scripture, these are the attributes of true love.
The attributes of love so clearly defined in 1 Corinthians 13 are summed up in Philippians 2:3: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (NKJV). The word “esteem” is the Greek word hegeomai, which means “to command with official authority.” This command of God, I believe, is how we can have a love in our marriage that will never fail. It is why Ephesians can command husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church. Since love is a verb, it can be expressed at all times by the fruit of the spirit of self-control.
Love’s attributes are what love does no matter how love feels. When we esteem our mate more highly than we esteem ourselves, we are making an “official” choice to love, commanding ourselves with the full authority of God to look to our mate’s interests above our own. Sadly, many marriages today end or struggle because husband and wife don’t understand this aspect of sacrificial love, a proactive, consistent, satisfying love that puts the needs of others first.
We live in a very me-centered society, and this is one of the greatest enemies of marriage today. Too many people are responsive rather than responsible in loving their mates. What I mean by that is love is too often performance based: “I’ll love you the way you want me to, but you have to earn or deserve it first.” This is not how God has defined love. “We love Him because He first loved us” (NKJV) is how 1 John 4:19 puts it. God defines love, not as feelings oriented or performance dictated, but as something extended first that the same might be received in return. Far too often in our day, however, when the intensity of emotion wanes or the routine of everyday life quenches the passion of love’s fire, couples declare they are not in love anymore and look for a way out.
Listen, those of you who are married, dating, or looking for that special someone. Take note of what I’m about to say, and hide it in your heart for those moments when you question the direction or sustainability of your marriage:
Love cannot be fallen out of—only forsaken.
Excerpt from “Happily… Even After” now available on Amazon.