A typical manifestation, in healthy marriages, is a pair of mutual statements of “love” for one another. One spouse will say, “I love you.” The usual response is, “I love you, too.” Couples often develop their own special formulations and patterns of these, but the phenomenon is typical. While the sincerity of the response is questionable, it is still treasured. In fact, the underlying cause of the exchange is often the desire for the response. While not all marriages are characterized by this kind of exchange, it is still common. The questionable nature of the response is that a stimulus was required before it was made. The implications of these things are best not considered, so we accept a fairly superficial exchange as being valuable in maintaining the marriage. Let me be clear, these are very useful and supportive phenomena and should not be abandoned. In fact, husbands in particular should be very careful to see to their maintenance because of their impact on the internal well-being of their wives. They exist for routine, reciprocal reassurance.
It’s interesting to note that the Bible has little to say concerning these protestations. They are not totally absent though. In fact, much of the poetry in the Song of Songs consists of statements of love – as much in third person as in second person, by the way. Then, of course, many think of 1 Corinthians 13 as though the chapter were about marital love. It really isn’t. That passage speaks of love in a very different context. Its purpose is not marital, even though marriage lessons can be learned from it, and I am not suggesting it be neglected in marriage. Still, though, scripture does not focus on these exchanges of endearment.
We should not deny the strong, complex affections that accompany healthy marriages. Those strong affections provide much of the durability of marriage attachment in day-to-day life. They enable us to endure the stresses that come against the constancy of our marriages. Are those affections to be called “love?” Are those affections all there is to love in a marriage? These are difficult questions. Generally, people do seem to equate the strong affections with love, but is not love (maybe) more than the sum of those affections? Sorting this out can be quite valuable to us in our considerations of what love actually is and what marriage is.
In scripture, wives are not commanded to love their husbands. Husbands are commanded to love their wives (Ephesians 5:25-27, NIV), but exact reciprocation is not required there. So, let’s get this straight. Husbands are supposed to love their wives, but wives are not required to love their husbands? That seems a bit unfair on the face of it, especially considering the plain meaning of 1 Corinthians 13. The husband has to do all of that for the wife, but she is not commanded to reciprocate in kind, or so it seems.
But wait a minute. Are not the protestations of love actually supposed to come from affections? Shouldn’t they be the “overflow” of that which is the perceived equation of love and affections? Actually, how can such an equation even exist? A reasonable examination of “the love chapter” just won’t reveal much about affections. How is it that anyone could actually equate the two? But we so often do.
So, we speak of marital love in terms of an overflow of affections with little consideration of the actual characteristics of love. In fact, we may make professions of love more because it is expected than because of an actual overflow of affection.
But we did say (Colossians 3:19, NIV) that the husband should “love” his wife. If 1 Corinthians 13 is what love is about, where is the “gooshy” stuff? Hang on guys, the “gooshy” stuff is good for your wife along with the love itself. The “gooshy” is a kind of overflow that is attached to the emotions that become attached to living out the love. Love isn’t an emotion, but it yields very positive emotions. So the “gooshy” is just fine – as an adjunct to actual love. The love needs to be there or the “gooshy” is just “gooshy,” and it will be transient – it just won’t last.
The actual reciprocation in scripture is that the wife should respect her husband. Can you just hear it? In a very quiet or intimate moment, the husband speaks to his wife to say, “I really love you.” She, in the same mood and with all sincerity responds with, “I really respect you.” Of course, we know that the typical exchange uses the word “love” and not “respect.” So what is going on? Why the command to the husband to love his wife? And why would she be told to respect her husband? Let’s save the implications of respect for another time.
So, “love your wife.” What can that mean? It appears it has not too much to do with the “gooshy” stuff even though that is an important interface in a marriage. It seems it has to do with the husband laying down his life for the sake of his wife. It looks like she gets first billing in the marriage in a sense. That’s really all right. Imagine, knowing yourself, if the Bride of Christ had to love the Lamb in such a way that eternal things would be shaped by that love. Okay, guys, there it is. As Christ loves His Bride, the Church.
So, love may not precede the marriage, but once married the husband has an eternal obligation to love his wife as Christ loves His Bride.
Now, ladies, don’t get too excited about this. Remember that respect is the proper reciprocation. Again, that matter is for another blog.
Marriage: Finding God’s Design is now out in print-on-demand and kindle formats. Go to ravensfood.com to see about acquiring a copy.