You need more love in your marriage!
Perhaps all married people, when we were single, hoped and even prayed for just the right mate. Most of us anticipated how much we would enjoy being together with our future spouse—working, playing and laughing together—sharing tender, intimate moments—raising a family as a team—supporting each other through whatever blessings and trials life had to offer. We may have thought about growing old together, and even, perhaps, having the opportunity to continue working together for eternity as spirit beings.
Naturally the reality of married life differs from adolescent fantasy. But it is still worth asking: How favorably does your marriage measure up against the ideals you once held? Have you forgotten, and perhaps permitted yourself to settle for a marriage far less than what you had hoped for?
Here is the truth: God wants your marriage to be great! He created this magnificent, God-plane relationship—and He wants it to be a rich, joy-filled, deeply satisfying, intimate and altogether loving experience for everyone who enters into it! Do you believe that?
However lofty your expectations of marriage were when you were single, God’s expectations are higher. Right now, the living Jesus Christ is eagerly anticipating the moment when He will join in holy matrimony with His precious, beloved, righteous and exquisite Bride in a union that will stand forever and always! That moment has already been prophesied—it is described in detail in Revelation 19.
God is inviting a select group of people today to become that royal Bride. If you are receiving that invitation, your marriage today is the primary tool in your life God can use to get you ready for that future! That is why it is so important that we not settle for mediocre. God wants us to confront the problems, work through the difficulties, and conquer the obstacles that stand in our way; He wants to help us develop the teamwork, cultivate the intimacy, and build the trust that will make our marriages really begin to exhibit the qualities that the marriage of the Lamb will have.
And what is the most important ingredient that elevates a marriage to the supreme state God desires for us to enjoy? Above all, it is love.
What Do You Mean … Love?
Love is at the heart of what makes a marriage great.
Not the sensual love as expressed in sex—though that is an important ingredient in marriage. Not even the love of friendship and warm companionship that is also foundational to marital interaction. These are rather superficial compared to the love that binds the God Family together. Romans 5:5 and Galatians 5:22 tell us that this kind of love comes from the Holy Spirit—from God Himself living within us. It is a purely giving, outflowing, thoughtful, selfless, self-sacrificing, committed love. It is the love that brings true peace, joy and happiness. It is the complete absence of everything that causes sorrow and suffering, hurt and remorse.
None of us expresses this love perfectly or consistently. And none of us has enough of it.
Every hint of friction in your marriage, every particle of discouragement or frustration, every speck of sadness or pain in that relationship, is caused by a lack of this kind of love.
Scripture tells us that God IS love! And as extraordinary as that truth is, this is even more extraordinary: Scripture also tells us that God wants us to become just like Him (Matthew 5:48). Our destiny is to become love. Perfect, God-level love!
Now, just examine yourself for a moment, and you quickly realize: God has a big job on His hands. We are all susceptible to, if not filled with,self-love, pride and vanity—the diametric opposite of godly love. The gulf between God’s perfect selflessness and our utter selfishness is embarrassingly vast.
God knows that converting our hearts to mirror His own is a big job. It is the most monumental task we could ever face. In fact, it is impossible—and yet God commands it. Which means He must also provide the means to make it possible (Matthew 19:26; Philippians 4:13).
This is a major reason why God gives us marriage and family: to provide a day-to-day training ground for growing in His love.
Think about that. Don’t ever take your routine interactions with your spouse for granted. They simply could not be more crucial. More than anyone else in your life, this is the person God has given you to learn HOW TO LOVE. It is through your interactions with this individual that you have the best opportunity to learn and practice HOW TO BE GOD!
Our marriages will be great to the degree that we pursue this goal. They will be harmonious and happy, rewarding and rich, to the extent that we drive out our self-love and replace it with the love of God. They will prepare us for marriage to Christ in direct measure to how much we allow God to live in us and to love our spouse through us.
This isn’t simply a matter of building a happier marriage. It could mean the difference between whether or not God allows you to be part of that eternal marriage to Christ!
You and your spouse have committed to each other for as long as you both shall live. That is a limited amount of time; why not make the very most of it? Use it to truly show God that you love marriage—and that you want to be married forever!
A Simple—and Difficult—Command
One of the first biblical commands regarding marriage is found in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” What does God mean when He commands a husband and wife to cleave to one another? The Hebrew word is dabaq, which means to cling or adhere, or to catch by pursuit. Elsewhere in the Bible, this word is translated abide fast, follow close, be joined, pursue hard and stick.
What practical instruction on how to love! In the midst of life’s hubbub, actively cleaving to your spouse in love doesn’t happen accidentally. God, children, work, Church, friends, chores, errands, bills, diversions—so many concerns compete for your attention. The command to cleave requires that you structure your priorities so as to regularly, actively pursue one another!
God commands that you become ”one flesh“—not just sexually, but in every way. He insists that you build oneness by sharing your thoughts, attitudes, emotions, bodies and the physical things in life. Why? Because that is a terrific way to practice and grow in true godly love.
The command to cleave is simple enough—but it takes real effort to obey in spirit. You must spend real time at it. Share your life! Study the Bible together, read together, listen to music together, take walks together, talk together, do things together. Rekindle the flames of romance that drew you together. Court each other! Get a babysitter for your children and go out for a date, and not too infrequently. An old Tomorrow’s World article even recommended taking short trips alone—two to three days long, two to three times a year.
How is your communication? You should have more to talk about together the longer your marriage lasts. If you are making a vigorous effort to love and to cleave, then your common interests and your ability to relate will grow with time. You will feel close emotionally, and your shared understanding and affection will make your marriage a joy.
For some marriages in the Church, a mountain of mutual effort is required to restore the relationship to where it should be. If the idea of loving each other in this way seems overwhelming, that is a good indication you and your mate would benefit from counseling with a minister.
What Love Looks Like
Take some time to study the checklist in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This tells us what God’s love looks like in action. We can evaluate our marriage against it, measuring where we can grow in practicing that God-level love with the person closest to us.
Let’s look at a few specifics. “Love is patient and kind …” (verse 4; Revised Standard Version). That means being patient with each other’s faults and weaknesses, which we tend to be more aware of in our spouse than in anyone else. Imagine if God were only as patient with your weaknesses as you are with your mate’s. “Kind” means performing kind acts—acting on your love, even in little ways.
The phrase “Doth not behave itself unseemly” in verse 5 is translated “is never rude” by Moffatt. This is talking about our manners, our etiquette, our standard of conduct—how we present ourselves around others. Often we are far better at extending those courtesies to strangers or acquaintances than to our own family members. But God’s love is never rude.
Step back and analyze the way you talk to your mate. Are your interactions laced with negativity, sarcasm, criticism, nettles, guilt trips and mean-spirited humor? Or are they positive and respectful, demonstrating an outgoing concern?
In The Missing Dimension in Sex, Herbert W. Armstrong elaborated on this point. “During the dating and romance stage, both groom and bride-to-be put a ‘best foot forward’ They are careful about manners, grooming, the courtesies. Then after marriage comes the ‘let down.’
“If you want a happy marriage, be far more particular about all such things after marriage than before. Be careful about your sleeping garments—be sure they are neat, clean, attractive to the other. Be careful about your hair—especially on rising in the morning. The very first thing I try to do on rising is to get a comb and brush, before my wife sees tousled and messed-up hair! …
“Ever notice how people answer the telephone? A wife calls her husband at his place of business or work. He answers: ‘Oh, it’s you. Well, I wish you wouldn’t bother me now. I’m busy.’ But if some other woman might call on a matter of business, his voice is cheerful, courteous, warm and friendly. And of course it’s the same when hubby calls the wife during the day. She’s warmly cheerful and polite to all but him. She feels, ‘Oh, he’s only my husband.’ …
“If you must be cross, discourteous, or appear tired before someone, let it be anyone else—but never your husband or your wife! Don’t ever utter the alibi, ‘Oh, but we’re married, now.’ Be lovers, as long as you live!”
How Much Do You Love Yourself?
Moffatt translates the phrase “seeketh not her own” in 1 Corinthians 13:5 as “never selfish.” The Revised Standard Version says, “Love does not insist on its own way.” How well do we measure up here? This world needs more of this kind of love: a love that is never selfish, not even around your mate.
This is a crucial point that distinguishes true godly love from love that is fundamentally selfish. Do you withhold love when you feel your spouse doesn’t deserve it? Are you unwilling to overcome irritating habits that you know bother your mate, but that you just don’t feel like changing? Do you allow petty personal interests to consume your time that your spouse would be thrilled to see you devote to the family? There are perhaps hundreds of little and big ways that our self-love can manifest itself in our marriage.
What we need to realize is that self-love is sin! This world exalts it like a virtue. Satan tries to convince you it is your natural-born right! But it is contrary to the love of God. Though we probably don’t want to admit it, self-love does not make us happy—it actually creates friction, offense, hurt and grief within our marriage and within ourselves.
God’s love is always, always outflowing. It does not wait for the other guy to begin acting unselfishly before reciprocating with unselfishness. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Your mate is a sinner—and God still commands that you strive always to put his or her needs above your own.
This is fundamental to making a marriage great. If each of you is looking out for the otherover and above yourself, then there is plenty of overlap to ensure the needs of you both are amply met. That is God’s love! It’s not, “I’ll give you this if you give me that.” It is never selfish. It is unconditional.
“[I]s not easily provoked” reads “never irritated” in the Moffatt, and “not irritable” in the Revised Standard. How often do we violate this principle? We’re tired, stressed—something hits us in just the wrong way at just the wrong time—and BAM! we take it out on our mate. That is usually the person who sees us in our most trying moments. But God’s love is never irritated. It finds a way to control itself even under difficulty. God’s love is not easily provoked—it is not too touchy or sensitive. Love covers a multitude of sins; it glides right by the minor irritations of daily living. Even if someone does wrong us in some way, God’s love will let it go.
Love is “always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient” (verse 7, Moffatt). We live in a negative world. But if we are thinking like God, we will have a positive, hopeful outlook. A husband who loves his wife never lets petty flaws overwhelm his underlying glow for her and his appreciation for the value and richness she adds to his life. A wife who loves her husband will focus on his strengths and concentrate on what she admires in him. Each spouse will recognize the other’s growth, personal victories and achievements.
These verses are extremely helpful for their practicality. Again, this love must come from God. But these specific qualities help us know what it should look like—and He will supply it in greater measure as we strive to demonstrate these qualities each day. Our effort will accelerate our miraculous growth in spiritual love.
Guess Who Generally Needs More Work at This?
Both husband and wife need to love. But guess what? God puts particular emphasis on the husband’s responsibility to love his wife (e.g. Ephesians 5:25-33). Because of his emotional makeup, and his tendency to work and seek to achieve outside the home—not to mention his duty to lead his wife in righteousness by example—a man especially must ensure he devotes his attention to fulfilling God’s command to love.
Does your wife truly feel loved? She does only if you’re expressing love—both in words and deeds. Taking her for granted makes her feel starved of love. Be sure to communicate the appreciation you have for her. Give her a gift. Call her while you’re on a trip. She wants to know you’re okay—she wants to know you’re safe—she wants to feel secure. Notice when she’s especially tired and offer to help out; take her out so she doesn’t have to make dinner. When she’s sick, lighten her load. Such gestures are pure gold not only because they give her a needed break, but because they demonstrate that you love her—you care about how she is doing—you appreciate all her labors—you want to nurture her happiness.
How good are you at seeing things from her perspective? God tells the husband to dwell with his wife ”according to knowledge” (1 Peter 3:7). Notice: This verse implies a link between that “knowledge” and his “giving honour” to her.
How much knowledge do you have about what your wife’s life is really like? About what it is like, for example, being around the children, alone, for hours on end? What it’s like to see every mess as yet another job to do? How well do you understand what it would truly be like to have to be subject to you in everything, as unto Christ? (Ephesians 5:24). Do you make it easy and pleasant and gratifying for her to fulfill that commandment?
How well do you really listen to what she is saying? Dwelling “according to knowledge” means carefully considering her advice and counsel so major decisions in particular reflect the combined wisdom of your union. If you are shopping for a car, for example, the criteria you look for will be different from those she wants. Sometimes you must be big enough to see that she knows something you don’t. “According to knowledge” means encouraging her to share her view, then listening, coming to know her needs and wants so you can factor them in and then selflessly do what is best for the whole family.
God tells the husband to be “swift to hear” his wife, “slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). It can take genuine effort to truly understand her point of view! Men and women express themselves differently. Sometimes you must consciously prevent her emotions from clogging your ears, and concentrate deeply—even prayerfully—on what is behind the words she is using. If you allow yourself to feel judged or indignant, or you’re planning your speech while she is talking, you simply won’t hear what she is trying to communicate.
How hard have you worked to dwell “according to knowledge” regarding your wife’s feelings and emotions? It is easy for a man to dismiss a woman’s emotions as being silly or unfounded. Some of them are—but here’s the problem: From our perspective, “That’s just silly—you shouldn’t think that!” may seem like profound wisdom. To her, it sounds like you’re rejecting her. Never in history has that “profound wisdom” had its intended effect on a woman. It’s simply not dwelling “according to knowledge.” Learn to provide a willing ear without passing judgment.
“How often do you husbands see your wife down and depressed, and you know she needs your encouragement?” Gerald Flurry wrote in The Last Hour. “A righteous husband will be there for his wife.” Consider: When you are discouraged, how does Jesus Christ treat you? Do you feel judged and condemned? The reality is that Christ is doubling His efforts to encourage you and set you back on your feet! When we sin, our Husband becomes our Advocate (1 John 2:1). That word also means Encourager.
“Christ doesn’t ask us to do things in our marriage that He will not do in His marriage to the Church. We have the supreme Husband of all husbands!” Mr. Flurry wrote. “Christ gives us every opportunity because so much is at stake. How we are loved!” (ibid).
The love Christ has for us is the very same love He wants us to develop in our marriages. Our wives should know without a doubt how truly loved they are. Dwelling “according to knowledge” means happily embracing and readily fulfilling her deep-seated, God-given need for your love.
“Our physical marriages are a type of our marriage to Christ,” Mr. Flurry wrote. Contemplate these profound words. ”We must strive to pattern our physical marriages after Christ’s marriage to the Church. ONLY THEN are we fulfilling the God-ordained purpose of marriage!”
Only then. Only as we husbands consider His example as a Husband and really endeavor to emulate it.
The End of the Matter
Peter calls a husband and wife “heirs together of the grace of life”—equal partners in receiving God’s blessings, both now and eternally (1 Peter 3:7). You have been assigned different, complementary and equally important roles during this physical life, but you both aim for eternal life. When you are both God, of course, sex differences will be gone (Luke 20:34-36).
A husband and wife, in carrying out their respective duties, are both striving to build God’s perfect character, to trust God, to walk by faith. Both are learning to submit to and exercise authority within the bounds of God’s government. Both enjoy the same promises of forgiveness, redemption and salvation. Differences in function between a husband and a wife aren’t of human design. They are ordained by God. Each mate needs to understand, honor and respect the other’s role, and to help the other flourish spiritually within it.
Ponder this passage from the Worldwide Church of God’s old Ten Commandments booklet: “The lessons of character learned in the home—patience, understanding, kindness—all of these are qualities that God wants in man for all eternity, and the family relationship is one of the best places in which they can be learned! Better than any other place, the lessons of decency, loyalty and a sense of responsibility are learned in a happy and well-balanced home. [A] great purpose in sex and marriage is the building of character in the home and family relationship. The Kingdom and law of God is based on love.”
What a profound truth. The way that you conduct your married life will make all the difference in how prepared you are to step into that eternal marriage and family relationship. A husband and wife who submit to God’s authority, embrace His design within marriage, and really strive together to truly build the love of God in their relationship will open the windows of heaven and experience showers of blessings! Irritations will begin to disappear. Festering wounds will heal and fade. Pain will turn to peace. The curative sunshine of joy will fill the home. And those washed-out memories of ideals cherished as a youth—hopes of just how wonderful marriage could be—will spring back to life and bloom in vibrant color.
God will not settle for mediocre in your marriage. He truly does want you to experience great—and then even greater and still greater! That is because HE IS LOVE, and that is, very simply, what love desires for everyone. On top of that, it is because God the Father is looking to provide His Son with the most precious, beloved, righteous and exquisite Bride He possibly can. She will be a noble spiritual helpmeet made up of Spirit-begotten individuals who have proven, during their short physical lives, their abiding commitment to and deep love for the magnificent, God-plane institution that is marriage.
If we really take advantage of our physical marriages today as our training ground for growing in godly love, then we will enjoy that greatest of all blessings for eternity: a rich, joy-filled, deeply satisfying, intimate and altogether loving marriage to Jesus Christ!