The word-association test cannot be applied to define “love” marriage due to its rapidly changing meanings. During my teenage years it was about romanticism and we talked about “falling in love”. Then sensuality took over and the phrase “making love” was in vogue. Today, the ‘sexy’ image sells and have you noticed how eroticism rules most marketing strategies! Less wonder vows today are only till debt or till divorce instead of until death us do part!
The Arrangement of ‘Love’ in Marriage
John, in his letter to the early Church, talked about love, an Anglicization of the Greek word agape. This word he chose from at least four words available and he uses it over fifty times as a verb or a noun. Yet, he is not imprecise nor is the essential nature of Christian love open to misunderstandings. The model is clear: “This is how we know what love is… Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1Jn 3:16). This as basis, believers in their relationships can “know and rely on the love God has for them” (1Jn 4:16).
Love, in the context of marriage, is more than getting up each morning with a smile, planning romantic weekends or fulfilling intimacy. By definition it means solidarity with your spouse; sharing in their life experiences and importantly sacrificing to meet their needs. If ‘Jesus on the cross’ depicts love, then Christian couples can draw inspiration and find impetus to love, be loved and live out our marriage vows. Maintaining a loving relationship in marriage is a great witness in itself. Love, which is at the heart of the gospel, is precisely the way we live out the good news. It reveals that Jesus’ very own Spirit lives in us. Self-assertion is impossible when a person is Spirit-filled (try it!). The Spirit of Christ is always the spirit of submission and in a democracy of two you cannot have a majority! In this age of individual rights, I find it increasingly difficult to speak about submission to authority and self-sacrifice.
Paul writing to believers at Ephesus presents Jesus as the heavenly Bridegroom who woos for himself a bride – the Church, gives his life for her and longs for her love in return (5:21-33). To this sublime truth he combines practical instructions. Marriages may be made in heaven but they need to be workout here on earth. God desires that in our marriages we foster a sensible love to meet each other’s physical needs (v. 28). Further, that we nurture a sensitive love to meet each other’s emotional needs (v.29). Moreover these are only possible when by God’s grace we develop a sacrificial love to meet each other’s spiritual needs (v.32). Now, that’s love that will beget love!
I must admit there is a mystery in love; not some vague Gnostic mysticism, magic, nor a wild emotionalism, but a quiet assurance. After years together, Dorothy and I realise through experiential, practical knowledge that our marriage ought to reflect something of the profound mystery of Christ’s love for his Church (Eph 5:31-32). We love because first of all we have been loved. Of course there are tensions in this laboratory of love and attacks by the world, flesh and the devil. Dare I say our own hearts question and at times condemn us. But we remember that God is greater than our hearts (1Jn 3:20).
One more thing, I am discovering that this business of love and marriage is a gift and divine-human paradox. When we live in dependent love… God lives in us (1Jn 4:16). We are learning to place our weaknesses and trust in Christ and are finding his strength as our stay and sufficiency in our marriage.