Have you ever thought about what it means to truly love your spouse? In counseling, people regularly declare their love for their mate. However, if the person making this profession of love is struggling in their marriage I usually ask them to define the word love for me. I ask for this definition because I have found that many couples struggle with loving each other in two ways.
The first is that they usually don’t understand the practical actions that are involved in loving another. The second problem is much worse. Once a person knows how to love their mate, they simply choose not to act on this knowledge. This failure to walk in love is the most common cause of problems in a marriage. Therefore, test your knowledge of what it means to love and determine if you are behaving in a manner that is helping or hindering your relationship.
Why is this examination of your behavior so important? It’s very simple. The way in which you love your mate will directly affect the way he or she will love you. Jesus said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them” (Matt. 7:12). Therefore, if you want your spouse to sincerely love you, you first must be actively loving your mate. You may already be thinking, But he or she is not loving me. That may be true, but your only responsibility before God is to deal with your own behavior. You can’t change your spouse, but you can influence them by how you behave. Ask yourself if you love in this manner.
The attributes of love:
1. Giving Love. One of the most important characteristics of true love is that it gives. Jesus explained to Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God loved us so much that He gave us His most precious gift, His Son. God continues to love us by pouring His blessings upon us day after day. Giving is the foundation of true love. Consider, are you the giver in your relationship or are you the one expecting to receive?
One of the greatest complaints that I hear in marriage counseling is one partner telling me that he or she is doing the majority of the giving and their mate is simply sitting back and enjoying all the benefits. If this is the case in your marriage, do you realize that you are draining the life and love right out of your relationship? When a spouse declares, “I feel drained and empty. I don’t have any more to give,” then I know that there is not an equality of giving love within that marriage.
One person is doing the majority of the giving and the other is just taking. One-sided giving cannot continue indefinitely! Why? Because one day the spouse doing most of the giving will realize that giving is a two way street and he or she doesn’t see a lot of traffic coming the other way. Resentment begins to build and the giving spouse stops putting out. At this point, the relationship begins to deteriorate.
If you are the taker in your marriage, you’ve got to make a major turn around in your behavior. If you truly love your mate you’ll remember what Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Only by learning to give will you experience the blessedness Jesus described in this passage.
2. Sacrificial love. Love by definition must be sacrificial to be true love. In the Old Testament when God asked for an unblemished animal to be offered to Him on the altar, it was to be the best sheep or goat (Num. 18:29-30). The people were not allowed to give an animal that was sick or diseased (Lev. 22:20-24; Mal. 1:8). To give their best animal would have been a true financial sacrifice for them.
This is exactly how God gave His love to you. Do you realize that you were redeemed by the unblemished and holy Son of God? Peter declared, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). If God sacrificially gave His best because He loved you, how can you give back to Him anything less? How can you love others with anything less than with this kind of sacrificial love (1 John 3:16)?
But, what hinders sacrificial love in a relationship? It’s selfishness. Living selfishly will always motivate a person to withhold love and seek his or her own benefit and ease. As you seek your own interests first it will inevitably lead to strife in your relationship (James 3:16).
In addition, living selfishly will bar you from ever knowing the joy of sacrificial love. Remember, the Scripture declared of Christ’s sacrifice, “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2). Have you ever experienced the joy and satisfaction of sacrificial giving
3. Serving love. True sacrificial giving will also inspire loving service to your spouse. Paul encouraged all believers that we should by “love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Therefore, if you love your spouse, how are you serving him or her in practical ways?
All service begins with putting another first, which is the definition of a servant (Luke 17:7-8). If both husband and wife are seeking to serve the other, there will be no room for the “me first” attitude that develops in so many marriages. Jesus pointed out to His own disciples that they could never effectively serve Him if they considered their own needs first (Luke 9:59; 61). Therefore, who has the first position in your marriage, you or your mate?
Putting your mate first is what Paul meant when he said, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10). The word preference means to take the lead in loving others. In other words, you should take the first step to love and serve. Is this your daily behavior?
In addition, serving must always be very practical. John declared that we should not “love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Therefore, how are you serving your spouse in deed and truth? Do you help when your service is required in the yard or around the house? Are you willing to help with the laundry or the children’s baths? If asked will you do an errand for your mate just for the sake of love? If not, your profession of love is very shallow. Don’t be lazy and think that service is for everyone else but you.
If you would like more information on the marriage ministry of Pastor Steve Carr or his book Married and How To Stay That Way, please visit Covenant Keepers.