Perhaps all married people, when we were single, hoped and even prayed for just the right mate. We 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, even 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 to the ideals you once held? Have you forgotten and allowed 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.
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. If you have been invited as part of this Bride, your marriage today is the primary part of your life that God is using to prepare you for that future.
This spiritual reality is the main reason why you should not settle for a mediocre marriage. Confront your problems, work through your difficulties, conquer the obstacles that stand in your way. Develop the teamwork, cultivate the intimacy, and build the trust that will make your marriage begin to mirror Christ’s marriage!
Who has the biggest say in whether you settle or whether you deepen your love with your wife? You do.
And what is the most important ingredient that elevates a marriage to the supreme state God wants us to enjoy? Above all, it is love.
What Do You Mean … Love?
In the Bible, the word love can mean the love of friendship—the warm companionship that should pervade your relationship with your wife. It can also mean the sensual love expressed through sex. This is an important part of marriage. But love can also mean the love of God, and this is by far the most important and crucial type of love in your marriage. This is where you take your marriage from good to awe-inspiring.
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, is caused by a lack of this kind of love.
The love of God binds the God Family together. It comes from the Holy Spirit enabling Jesus Christ to live within us (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22). It is a purely giving, outflowing, thoughtful, selfless, self-sacrificing, committed love. It is the love that brings true peace, joy and happiness.
God is this love (1 John 4:8, 16). And He wants us to become just like Him—to become love! (Matthew 5:48). To help you grow in this selfless, perfect, God-level love, God gave you marriage.
Never take your routine interactions with your wife for granted. These day-to-day hellos and goodbyes, questions and answers, thoughts and actions are crucial. These are interactions with the person God has given you to learn how to love!
Your marriage will be great to the degree that you pursue this goal. It will be harmonious and happy, rewarding and rich, to the extent that you drive out your self-love and replace it with the love of God. It will prepare you for marriage to Christ exactly as much as you let God live in you and love your spouse through you.
You and your wife have committed to each other for as long as you both shall live. That is a limited amount of time. Make the most of it!
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.
“Love is patient and kind …” (verse 4; rsv). This 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.
“Doth not behave itself unseemly” in verse 5 is translated “never rude” by James 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 these courtesies to strangers or acquaintances than to our own family members. But God’s love is never rude.
Step back and think about 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 outgoing concern?
“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 ‘letdown,’” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote in The Missing Dimension in Sex. “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 “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.” 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 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.
Realize 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 God’s love. 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.
There is a difference between a man insisting on certain things from a leadership standpoint, for his family’s benefit, and insisting on his own way selfishly. Don’t confuse the two.
God’s love is always,always outflowing. It does not wait for the other person to begin acting unselfishly before reciprocating with unselfishness. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Your wife is a sinner—and God still commands that you strive always to put her needs above your own desires.
This is fundamental to making a marriage great. If each of you is looking out for the other over and above yourself, then there is plenty of overlap to ensure that the needs of both of you are amply met. This 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 rsv. How often do we violate this principle? We’re tired, stressed—something hits us in the wrong way at the wrong time—and BAM! we take it out on our mate. She 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 overly sensitive or touchy. Love covers a multitude of sins; it glides right by the minor irritations of daily life. Even if someone wrongs 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. He also recognizes her 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 love 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.
God Commands: Husbands—Love!
Both husband and wife need to love. But God puts particular emphasis on the husband’s responsibility to love his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33). Because of our emotional makeup, and our tendency to work and seek to achieve outside the home—not to mention our duty to lead our wives in righteousness by example—we men especially must ensure we devote attention to fulfilling God’s command to love.
Be the initiator. Don’t wait to receive love before you give it. Let love flow into your marriage through you. Follow God’s example, who loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Remember, God commands you to cleave to your wife in love. This requires that you structure your priorities to regularly, actively pursue your wife. Put forth real effort and spend real time on cleaving to her. Make a vigorous effort to love and to cleave; your common interests and your ability to relate to her will grow with time and bring you closer emotionally and spiritually.
“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!” Gerald Flurry writes. “How we are loved!” (The Last Hour).
The love Christ has for us is the same love He wants us to develop in our marriages. Your wife should know without a doubt how truly loved she is. Happily embrace and readily fulfill her deep-seated, God-given need for yourlove.
“Our physical marriages are a type of our marriage to Christ,” Mr. Flurry writes. Contemplate these profound words: “We must strive to pattern our physical marriages after Christ’s marriage to the Church.Only thenare 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
A husband and wife are “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, at which point, 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 to 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 are ordained by God; each mate should seek to understand, honor and respect the other’s role, and to help the other flourish spiritually within it.
The lessons of character we learn within our marriages—patience, understanding, kindness—are qualities God wants in us for all eternity. Lessons in decency, loyalty, responsibility and so many other virtues are learned within marriage and family as nowhere else. Family is perhaps the greatest character-building institution on Earth! And at the center of it—just like at the center of God and His Family—is love.
What a profound truth. The way 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 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 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 proved, during their short physical lives, their abiding commitment to and deep love for the magnificent, God-plane institution that is marriage.
Take advantage of your physical marriage today as your training ground for growing in godly love, and you will then be able to enjoy that greatest of all blessings for eternity: a rich, joy-filled, deeply satisfying, intimate and altogether loving marriage to Jesus Christ.