The music swells. They gaze into one another’s eyes. The clouds burst and a rainstorm begins, and they don’t care that their white shirts are getting all wet and see-through because they are sharing a passionate kiss.
Somehow you know that kiss will last forever . . . because they have fallen in love.
This is how Hollywood imagines love. How do you define it? Your answer will have a powerful impact on your marriage.
There’s a reason most Hollywood love stories end with declarations and kisses and don’t often show the happily-ever-after that supposedly comes after couples walk down the aisle. Happily-ever-after is a myth. Hollywood love doesn’t hold up in real life.
We need a better definition of love. Fortunately, God has given us one. The best-known Bible passage about love is 1 Corinthians 13:4–7:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
These verses show us three important truths about love.
Love Is an Action
This passage doesn’t say anything about how love feels. It’s about how love looks and behaves. Hollywood’s version of love feels great. And when we operate on the assumption that love is a great feeling, we set ourselves up to bail out. Once people who fell in love lose that great feeling, they diagnose themselves as having fallen out of love.
God’s version of love is completely different. Sometimes it feels great; sometimes it feels terrible. Sometimes it doesn’t feel anything at all. Those feelings are irrelevant to the question of whether we love. Love is something we do regardless of how we feel.
When people stand at the altar and say they’ll love one another for better or worse, they aren’t promising to feel happy even when life is at its worst. This isn’t an agreement to stick together as long as they both feel happy. These vows are supposed to mean that they’ll love one another at their worst, regardless of how they feel.
Of course I want my husband to feel great about me and around me, but I also want him to behave lovingly toward me when I don’t deserve to be loved or when I feel unlovable. That’s what we all want. That’s what love looks like.
The ultimate example of this kind of love is Jesus. Talk about people who don’t deserve to be loved! None of us deserve God’s love, but we have it anyway. Romans 5:8 tells us, “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
God didn’t wait for us to deserve his love before he gave it to us. He didn’t wait until we made him happy. He sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sin, and he let us hand out the punishment ourselves.
Jesus didn’t stay in heaven and yell down to us that he loved us. He loved us through his actions. Jesus didn’t have to show his love this way. He chose to do so. And so can we.
Love Is a Choice
We tend to talk about love as if it were some kind of disease. We catch it accidentally, then after a while we just might get over it.
My first crush felt like love, but it wasn’t. And it certainly didn’t fit the standard of 1 Corinthians 13. It was not patient, kind, protective, or unselfish. It certainly did not endure; I think it may have lasted two weeks. That was more like the disease kind of love—something we catch unwittingly, live with for a while, then get over.
Real love is completely different. It’s no accident. It might begin as a surprise, but true love requires a choice. In fact, to love someone for a lifetime requires many choices, sometimes daily choices, and sometimes minute-by-minute choices to behave in loving ways even when we don’t feel like it.
Again, Jesus is our example. Philippians 2:5—8 tells us, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had,” then goes on to point out how he stepped away from his privileges as God and became a completely humble human out of love for us.
Jesus didn’t swoon or get carried away on an emotional high, unable to stop himself from falling for the people walking around on this earth. He didn’t see humanity across a crowded room and get swept up in emotional fervor against his better judgment. He willingly chose to give up the privileges of being God and made himself a servant to humanity, sacrificing himself in the worst kind of death so we could know God’s love.
Love Comes from God
When you read 1 Corinthians 13, I hope you feel inadequate. I know I do. I hope you’re aware that you can’t live up to the standard outlined in that passage. None of us can pull it off. Try as we might, we just don’t have it in us. By nature, we are not easily patient. We are not always kind. We are not perfectly humble, unselfish, forgiving. We do tend to keep a record of wrongs.
Does this mean our marriages are doomed to fail? Absolutely not! Every marriage has hope of success when we live in God’s grace, power, and love. The Bible’s description of love is the way God himself loves. God sets the standard for us. And for those who live in relationship with Jesus, God begins a process of changing us and making us more like him. He gives us the power to love as he does.
First John 4:7—10 tells us the source of true love: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. . . . This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”
Our power to truly love comes from being loved by God. And loving this way is the most convincing proof that we belong to God. What better way to start than by letting God’s love for us change us, fill us, and overflow into our relationship with our spouses?
God’s Holy Spirit gives us the ability to love our spouses as we should. Without this power, we aren’t capable of meeting God’s standard. And even with the Holy Spirit in us, we often choose not to love God’s way. We choose our own way, and the results are never truly good. That’s where God’s forgiveness comes in—and the forgiveness of our spouses. That’s where God’s grace and ongoing transformational work in us come in.
When we’re loved, we know how to love. When we’re truly loved at our worst, or when we have nothing to offer in return, we trust that love enough that we feel we can offer it to others. This is a simple picture of what it means to be loved by God. When we accept his love for us, we receive so much love from God that we have plenty to give away. We need to keep accepting this love, choosing to believe God when he tells us he loves us more than we can imagine.
Do you want a more loving marriage? Be a more loved person. Bask in God’s love for you. Live in gratitude for his grace and offer your life to him. The more we choose God’s love and love God in return, the more we have what we need so we can love our spouses. And when we love our spouses through our actions, we increase the chances that they will love us too.
Amy Simpson is an inner strength coach, a popular speaker, and the award-winning author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @aresimpson.