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There are a few verses in the Bible that both Christians and non-Christians lean on when conversation takes a turn for the religious. “Do not judge” and “love your neighbor” are two of the most popular, but right up near the top is 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”
The notion that “God is love” is confusing, however, in a culture where “love” can apply to anything from Jesus’ death on the cross, to sex, to deep-dish pizza.
If God is love, what kind of love are we talking about?
It is common to hear married people speak of “falling out of love” with their spouses, and “falling in love” with someone else in adultery. In using the language of “falling,” they are cleverly avoiding any responsibility, as if they were simply required to follow their hearts.
But the Bible tells us not to follow our hearts, but rather “guard” them because they are prone to selfishness and sin (Prov. 4:23; Jer. 17:9).
Because “God is love,” that means love does not come from our hearts, but rather through our hearts. In relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we receive God’s love to share with others (1 John 4:7–21). Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love . . .” And Romans 5:5 says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are able to continue loving others—including our spouse. Even when we don’t feel “in love” with our spouse, we can give love to them and receive love from them if we live Spirit-filled lives.
The Bible does describe love as a feeling. But rather than beginning as a feeling that inspires an action, love is often first an action based on obedience to God that results in a feeling. This explains why the Bible commands husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:25) and wives to love their husbands (Titus 2:4) rather than commanding them to feel loving. This further explains why the Bible even commands us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43–47).
Additionally, the Bible describes love as a verb—it is what we do. Like Jesus’ love, it is a covenant commitment that compels us to act for the good of the one we love. The most popular wedding Scripture of all time depicts love as active: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7).
Christian marriage is reciprocal acts of covenant love. That may sound like a heady theological concept, but it includes the little things. Here are a few practical examples that I collected from some married couples to illustrate:
•“He lovingly makes me coffee every single morning, and it means a lot to me!”
•“He runs me a hot bubble bath when he knows I’ve had a tough day caring for our three daughters (all under five)!”
• “He calls home at lunchtime no matter what . . . just to reconnect and see if we are all doing OK at home.”
•“When my gas tank is low, he drives to the gas station and fills it. My husband has pumped my gas for almost 20 years. I appreciate that he notices and takes care of it for me!”
•“She leaves encouraging notes with my keys or on my car steering wheel in the mornings.”
•“We walk to the library hand in hand, choose books, read them, and then swap. Later that week, over wine on the porch, we discuss those books. My favorite thing ever.”
•“He opens the car door. I never had that before, and it means a lot to me.”
•“She’s excited to see me every time I come home.”
•“My husband will not leave the house without kissing me goodbye.”
•“I love it when she goes with me to a sports bar to watch a game even though she’s not that into it, just because she knows I love it, and I love it when she’s there.”
•“We both take turns writing in a journal that we started when we were married in 2001.”
“God is love” does not mean that “love is God.” This liberating truth allows us to worship God by serving each other, rather than worshiping love and demanding it from each other. When both spouses each make a deep, heartfelt covenant with God to continually seek to become a better friend, increasing love and laughter mark the marriage.
Pastor Mark Driscoll is the founder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and the author of numerous books, including the New York Times best-seller, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. His latest title is “Who Do You Think You Are?: Finding Your True Identity in Christ.”
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