“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.” Song of Songs 8:6,7a
How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach when feeling out of sight,
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely as men strive for right.
I love thee purely as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seem to lose
With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears of all my life! – and if God choose
I shall but love thee better after death. 1
Love, it is a word that is used quite recklessly in our society. It is defined by what we can give and receive, the words that we speak, the actions we perform and many other conditional, ever-changing ideas. This is not the love of which I want to speak. I never want to define the love I have for my husband according to the world’s standards, but rather by the absolutes of the Word of God.
I love my husband, Lee. There are days I merely want to be close to him. I still get “that feeling” when he walks into a room. I cannot wait to see him at the end of the day. I want to be “in love” with Lee till death do us part. That love changes and matures with the passing of time, but the foundation of our love is always the same: the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to love the Lord Jesus always first and foremost, but we are to love our husbands second. Lee and I committed this to each other in our wedding vows.
There are times that my feelings of love are more intense than others. However, there are also days that my love for Lee is a choice. Just as a commitment cannot be based on feelings alone, neither can my love. Love is a verb, and verbs require action. Actions require choices to be carried out. Therefore, ultimately loving my husband is a choice, and there will be days that my feelings line up with my choice and there will be days that they do not. Some days we feel like running that mile in the morning, and other days we are tired. Yet, we have made a commitment to personal health and so we run even when we do not feel like it.
The Word of God provides us with a clear outline of what the verb love looks like in action. The Bible does not describe the inward feelings attributed to the word love, but instead the outward manifestations of the choice to love. Let’s take a good look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 so that we may recognize the traits that accompany the love of our Lord.
Love is patient… Patient is defined as, “enduring pain, trouble, etc. without complaining – calmly tolerating delay, confusion, etc. – diligent, persevering”. Our words of love and adoration are empty if they are infused with whines and complaints throughout the day. Love is patient when your husband forgets to take out the garbage or when he comes home with another speeding ticket. Someone very wise once said to never pray for patience because then the Lord will place you into situations where patience must be demonstrated. Patience cannot be given, it must be learned. Living with another human being day in and day out will certainly try our patience at times, but if the love we have for our husbands is built on the rock of Jesus, then we will learn to react in patience.
…love is kind. To be kind means to be, “sympathetic, gentle, or benevolent”. Jesus, himself, modeled perfection in kindness. Read through the Gospels and watch the Lord sympathize with those who are hurting, alone and afraid. Observe the gentleness with which He restores and guides the lost sheep and sinners. Benevolence was demonstrated daily in His ministry as He fed the hungry and healed the sick. Our love towards our husbands should mirror the kindness of the Lord. Kindness understands when our husbands have to work late. Kindness serves soup when our husbands are sick. Kindness guards our mouths when our hearts are frustrated and weary. Kindness is an attitude of life not merely a random act of kindness performed.
It does not envy… To envy is to “feel discontent and ill will over another’s advantages, possessions, etc.” In the place of envy, love displays joy over another’s advantages. This one was difficult for me in the beginning of our marriage when I was struggling with Lee’s getting to participate in the “ministry” work while I was tackling administrative jobs. However, I had to learn that love does not envy. I could not be jealous of the ministry, but rather partake in the ministry by joining with my husband and contributing to his life.
…it does not boast, it is not proud. A boast is described as a, “talk, especially about oneself, with too much pride”. The words of Paul in Romans 12 stump our attempts at boasting. “For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourselves with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Romans 12:3 He goes on to talk of how each of us is a part of the body of Christ. We each have a vital function in the Kingdom of God; consequently, there is no place for bragging with excessive pride. This does not mean that we cannot be excited about an accomplishment. Boasting goes beyond the limits of excitement and into the realm of egotism. The literal translation of “it is not proud” reads, “is not puffed up”. Do you spend more time thinking, talking and worrying about yourself than you do you husband?
It is not rude... The literal translation of the beginning of verse five reads, “it does not behave indecently.” Indecent means improper or unseemly. Rude is certainly one aspect of behaving unseemly, yet there are many other things that one can do to be indecent. Not being submissive, acting in an embarrassing manner, and behaving selfishly are all ways that we can behave in an improper manner as wives. True love is never rude and watches carefully the manner in which it walks and talks. I hear wives respond to their husbands’ requests with the rolling of eyes or outright arguments. I have witnessed a wife consistently telling her husband to shut up or that he is stupid. This not only undermines the God-given authority of a husband, but it is also derogatory to him as a fellow human being. The law of kindness would eliminate most unseemly behavior.
…it is not self-seeking… Philippians 2:3,4 reminds us of the nature of Christ, which we are called to emulate. It reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Love seeks opportunities to place other people’s desires, wishes and feelings above its own. Is your husband’s legitimate need for sexual gratification placed above your emotional needs? Do you iron your husband’s clothes even if he forgot to take out the garbage three days in a row? Is your obedience as a wife conditional, based on how well your husband meets your requirements? True love is not selfish. Instead, the love of our Lord places the emphasis on the other person.
…it is not easily angered… The King James Version uses the word provoked in place of the word angered. Provoke is defined as “exasperate”. When love is patient and not self-seeking then naturally love is not easily exasperated. Are you beginning to see the pattern? Each of these characteristics link into and are dependent upon the others. Many times, women are angered over the silliest and most trivial of things. A couple of weeks ago, Lee was spending the evening working on our car. He told me initially that it should not take that long. Well, three hours later I was getting ready for bed. I huffed out to the car, made some sarcastic comment, and returned home. He came in utterly confused as to what he had done wrong. He was simply trying to get the car fixed. I, however, gave him the cold shoulder because he had failed to come in and let me know that he was going to be out all night. I completely over-reacted and allowed myself to become easily angered. Pick your battles wisely and do not be a wife whose husband must walk on eggshells in order to keep you happy.
…it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not hold on to past offenses for future ammunition in a battle. God chooses to remember our sins no more, and it is upon His love that we are building our own foundation. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:34 Women are especially good at remembering a laundry list of offenses. Many times an argument turns ugly due to the wife dredging up the last ten instances of the same offense occurring. Usually the husband felt that forgiveness was granted and restoration occurred until it was thrown back into his face. This causes most of our husbands to shy away from apologizing and opening up. Learn to let things go. Life is too short to keep a record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. Love does not cover up sin, deny a true problem or rejoice in suffering. Love does not enjoy deeds done in darkness or associate with willful rebels. “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 Love does not deny when your husband is living in willful sin. Love does not partake in the season of pleasure that those sins may offer. Love acknowledges the truth and seeks healing.
It always protects… Remember those wedding vows? To protect means “to shield from injury or danger; to defend”. Do you protect or defend your husband’s name when someone is speaking unkindly of him? Are you faithful to stand by the decisions and standards that your husband has made for your home even to the point of defending those decisions to others? How about your parents, do you allow them to speak negatively of your spouse? Do you protect your husband’s reputation by the life you live and the way you raise your children? I vowed to always protect Lee, loving him in a concrete way.
…always trusts… Jealousy and suspicion run rampant in a society that has no value for commitment. Nevertheless, love that exists in a marriage founded on the rock of Jesus Christ is secure and stable enough to trust. When Lee goes out of town, I do not have to worry about his associates or activities because I know that I can trust in the commitment he has made to me and to the Lord. I trust that he will always honor our marriage vows. Jealousy and suspicion lead to obscene mistrust, which will destroy any relationship quickly.
…always hopes… Never stop hoping for the best in your life with your husband. Never stop dreaming the unimaginable. Hope is the substance of our faith, and the source from which our joy springs. When our hopes and our dreams die, then so do we.
…always perseveres. The literal translation uses the phrase endures all things. To persevere means to “continue a course of action, etc. in spite of difficulty, opposition, etc.” My eighth grade Algebra 1 teacher, Mrs. Corbett, ingrained the word perseverance into the very fiber of our beings. No matter how challenging the material, no matter how daunting the task, and no matter how monumental the previous failure was we were never allowed to give up. Anytime we were tempted to throw in the towel and use the word “can’t” she would counter with the word perseverance. It is a lesson that each of us will never forget. Mrs. Corbett’s name is synonymous with her lessons of perseverance that she encouraged us to use not only in Algebra, but also in life. Love doesn’t ever throw in the towel. Divorce is not an option, because love always seeks to endure.
Love never fails…The love of Christ never fails us. It will never fall short of meeting our needs. Christ will never make a mistake or forsake us. His perfect love will never fail. We, however, are human. There will most likely be days that we do fall short, but if we have all of these other characteristics of love sown into our lives then we will always persevere and get back up. We will get up with humility and grace and continue to love. Failure does not mean that we do not stumble. Failure means we refuse to get back up.
This is a passage of Scripture that is quoted often. It contains many simple phrases that are easy to recite and pass over quickly. I wanted to take a little bit of time to really study each of the features of the love of our Lord. I want to know what these traits look like in my everyday life. I want to love Lee with a love that is built on something that will never change and will always hold true: the Word of our Living God!
The Real World…
I know that such a list of expectations can be daunting to say the least. We are human. The Lord desires that we aspire to holiness, and He equips us to accomplish all things through His might, however, there will most likely be moments when our flesh is victorious over our spirit. We do not, though, lower the standard because we feel that it is unattainable. We make a decision to run the race, and realize that we will never make it on our own. We look to the Lord for direction and strength and then we press forward to attain the prize. If we are faithful to sow these character traits into our hearts, minds and spirits then we will reap the fruit of love. “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7b, 8 We have looked closely at the description of genuine love in 1 Corinthians, but now let us look at a few things that we can do day in and day out to put these statements into practice.
Memorize 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. I can never stress enough the importance of hiding the Word of God in our hearts. We must first know Scripture in order for the Holy Spirit to bring it to mind when appropriate. Jesus, himself, used the Word of God to battle the enemy in Matthew 4. Find a plaque or picture with these verses on it and hang it in a prominent place in your home. This will not only be a reminder to you, but it will also be a declaration to all who enter your home that your marriage is built upon the absolutes of a Holy God. Quote this passage to yourself throughout the day. When you find yourself getting angry or frustrated or upset, rely on the power of the love of Christ that you have sown into your Spirit and allow the fruit of love to be seen in your words and reactions. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34,35
Be IN LOVE with your husband. Do not merely love your husband, but be in love with him. Fall more in love with your spouse with each passing day. Do not allow the passing of time and the birth of children to rob you of the simple joy of being in love with your mate. Make a conscious effort to keep romance a part of your life. Buy a book of poetry and share love lines with your husband. Be creative! Love is proven by our actions, but that does not have to void the feelings and romance that can accompany love. Being more in love with your husband every day will inspire you to walk out the 1 Corinthians 13 love that we have discussed!
Marriages cannot be built upon the shifting sands of our emotions. They must be built upon the solid rock of commitment and held by the binding love of our Lord. We must remember that love, as described in 1 Corinthians, is actions not feelings. Never once in this paramount passage on love does Paul mention our hearts or our emotions. He knew and wanted us to understand that love, much like faith, is meaningless if it consists only of empty words. Love and faith must gain their sincerity and substance through actions. “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:18