See him there, wings like an eagle, hovering high above, pulling back his bow, aiming, then letting his arrow fly. It strikes the heart of a poor loveless soul, and having found its mark, the victim is instantly “in love.” In Greek mythology, he is called Eros; the Romans called him Cupid. Through the centuries Cupid has been portrayed as a capricious and moody meddler in the relationships of humans, often shooting people with his love inducing arrows so that they fall in love with someone they normally would not prefer. His arrows produce “instant love,” the kind of love often portrayed in television shows, movies, and books. Some describe it as “love at first sight.” Others describe it as being “love struck”—as with an arrow from Cupid’s bow. Still others describe it as “falling in love,” like when you accidentally trip and fall on your face. There is that sudden, but a pleasurable impact. Love is often portrayed as dropping out of heaven upon a person like lightening from a clear blue sky when they come into sight of Mister or Miss right.
We all know from experience that at times we find ourselves instantly attracted to certain people. We may even have romantic thoughts about them. The Bible has a word for this—lust. Lust is a strong urge or desire to have something. It is the prevailing sin in an immoral culture. In fact, it is so pervasive in our world that we often mistake it for something good. We can even encourage it in our children or friends. They need to “like someone,” which too often means “have lustful desires for them.” You see it constantly in the media and advertising agencies capitalizing on it continuously. Lust is one of Satan’s sinful substitutes for love. If we don’t see lust for what it really is it can really mess up our life or the hope of having a great marriage.
Consider the average young church going couple. Let’s say they both grew up in “Christian” homes. They have heard many sermons and Bible studies about biblical love. However, they have also watched thousands of hours of television, movies, and read books that portray “cupid” type love, which is really selfish lust given another name. Though they may have a biblical definition of love in their heads, the media is the prevailing information source in their lives. It buries what the Bible says under a thousand lies, smothering the voice of truth into a distant echo. Having watched many “romantic” relationships portrayed on TV where lust is the driving force, the lust = love model is imprinted on their minds. Being young, they don’t know much about relationships. The default pattern is what they have seen in the media over and over again. Yes, they have biblical definitions of love in their head, but they have seen far more lust based relationships from the world. These worldly relationships become the North Star and compass for how they expect their relationships will be.
The fact is few today have ever observed a God honoring marriage relationship. Those who glorify God in their relationships don’t have film crews following them around, taking pictures, and making television shows or movies about their desire to give God glory in their marriage. If God honoring relationships does sneak past the liberal media grid, like the BBC version of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, it is allowed because it is a novelty, a bygone relic of the Victorian age, a “fantasy fiction” to be entertained by, but not to be lived out in one’s life. After all, in the BBC Pride and Prejudice when the two main characters finally got engaged, they didn’t even touch! They don’t even kiss until after they are married! It is actually shocking to a liberal, immoral society. It is so different and distinct from what they know it fascinates and entertains them. Yet sexual purity is not seen as an example to follow!
God glorifying relationships may be mocked to scorn by the world, but it is what God prescribes in His Word, what gives God glory, and what brings people the most blessing. For Christians, God glorifying relationships are not an option. Paul exhorts Timothy and all men to treat women “as sisters, in all purity” (I Tim. 5:2). In other words, a man should treat a woman he is not married to, but interested in, as he would his own sister! He must also treat her with “all purity,” not just some purity. Paul speaking to Timothy, a young man, said in I Tim. 4:12, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.” Notice the word purity shows up again, a word that means to be sinless, modest, chaste, and free from sexual immorality.
God’s standard is so different from what we see modeled in the world that the world is offended by it. It ridicules purity as “evil” and claims Satan’s immorality as the new “good.” I have seen it many times in the church as well. Youth pastors teach their youth about biblical morality and amazingly, when the parents hear about it, they scoff! They tell their children “that what they have been taught is legalism.” In many cases the parents themselves did not maintain purity and never see it modeled in the world. Thus what their young people bring home from church often seems “extreme” and “legalistic.” But obeying God and the clear commands of Scriptures is not legalism. We must look to the Word of God, not the world, as our guide. We need to step back, look at the Scriptures, and seek to undo the brainwashing we are receiving from the world.
If someone buys into the world’s false standard of “love” which is really “lust,” and they get married hoping to maintain their lust, they will soon be disappointed. When their lustful passions subside, they think their “love” has grown cold. Sadly, many in the church have followed the world’s lies about having a “romantic” relationship, which means a lust driven relationship. They often enter into marriage ill equipped to have a truly God blessed marriage for the foundation of their marriage is a feeling, rather than facts and emotions, rather than actions. Their primary reason for loving isn’t derived from a desire to give God glorify in everything. With their lips they may profess to want to honor God, but in their practice they often deny Him. The lies of the world have bound them hand and foot and if those lies are not exposed and exchanged for the truth, they will end up having miserable, self-centered marriages that usually end in divorce.
If you want to have a God glorifying marriage that brings you great happiness and joy, you have to reprogram your mind with God’s standards and quit taking relationship lessons from the world. Remember, Satan is the god of this world. His single desire is to make you miserable, not happy. He presents the bait of lustful pleasure, but within he conceals the hook of pain and misery.
Let me help you “reprogram your mind” by contrasting what the world says about love with what God says about love. Keep in mind that while the world and the Bible both use the word “love” they mean to completely different things. The world says (WS), “I love those who love me.” God says (GS), “I am to love everyone, even the unlovable.” The WS, “Love is conditional upon the other person’s performance.” GS, “Love is unconditional.” The WS, “Love is an emotion.” GS, “Love is an action.” The WS, “Love is given to satisfy self.” GS, “Love is given to satisfy God.” The WS, “Giving love is a subjective option.” GS, “Giving love is an objective command.” The WS, “Love is given so love can be received.” GS, “Love is given to obey God and give Him glory.” The WS, “Love is always fun and easy.” GS, “Love is often hard and difficult.” The WS, “Love does what pleases others.” GS, “Love does what is best for others according to God’s Word.” The WS, “Love tolerates and accepts wrong.” GS, “Love only rejoices in truth, not in unrighteousness.” The WS, “Love never risks offending others.” GS, “Love seeks to not offend God.” The WS, “Love is a feeling.” GS “Love is a sacrifice.”
It is obvious that if a person let the world define love for them they wouldn’t have a clue about what it means to love someone biblically. Yet this is what we are seeing in the world today, even in many so called “Christian” relationships. Once you adopt the wrong view of love, you will not be able to have a God blessed marriage for you won’t be truly loving your spouse as God prescribes. For the world, when lust is running high and “romance” is at its peak, a couple may feel close because they are getting what they want. However, after a time, they will find themselves drifting apart because lusts cannot hold a marriage together for the long run.
In I Corinthians chapter 13 Paul is discussing the need to exercise the spiritual gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit in love. He then gives a definition of love that is helpful to consider. As you read it, look to see if there are any emotions or feelings that describe or define biblical love. Paul says:
“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails . . . (1 Co 13:4–8).”
It is important to notice that no emotions, feelings, or desires define biblical love. This does not mean that those who love biblically must be emotionless, unfeeling, passionless androids. No, we are emotional creatures with feelings and desires. Our emotions and feelings exist in the midst of love. However, we must not confuse our emotions, feelings, and desires with love. If you look at the Apostle Paul’s definition of love above you will notice that biblical love is defined by what it does, by its actions in relation to others.
Consider the implications of seeking to do what is best for others as defined by a biblical definition of love. Often you hear people who are getting a divorce say, “I just don’t love him/her any more.” If you have a biblical definition of love, what would that mean? It would mean, “I am choosing not to act in a loving way towards my spouse anymore.” Do you see the difference? Biblical love is an action, a commitment of the will to act in certain ways towards others. It isn’t a feeling, emotion, or desire that comes and goes. Lust does come and go and those who “just don’t love someone any more” are really saying, “I don’t feel lustful thoughts towards them any more.” Biblically, you either commit to love or you don’t commit to love, it is that simple. Love is a choice and because it is a choice you can’t, biblically speaking, “fall out of biblical love.” You can only choose to stop loving—which is a sin.
So what does it take to truly love someone biblically as God requires? This may surprise or even shock you for it is not something you will ever hear from the world. The key to loving someone biblically in the context of marriage requires dying to self. Probably didn’t see that one coming did you? Imagine walking into a large bookstore. There to greet you in the center of the store, in a brightly colored display, is a huge pile of books. On the front cover of each one of those books in big bold print is the title, “HAVE A GREAT MARRIAGE–DIE TO YOURSELF!” Not something the world would want to print. However, death to self is the key to having a great marriage. Since biblical love is a choice to do what is best for others according to what the Bible says, then it means you must choose to love sacrificially. Sacrifice requires saying no to what you want and yes to what God wants. This is why you must die to your selfish, lustful desires.
Jesus, speaking about the cost of discipleship, said in Lk. 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Later in Lk. 14:27 Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” At that time the cross was a scary word for the cross was an instrument of slow painful execution. Everyone feared the cross because it meant dying. This is why Jesus uses the cross as a figure of speech. Jesus is not talking about literally dying on a cross because He says you have to do it “daily.” To take up your cross daily is to be willing to die to your selfish desires daily. We naturally like things our own way. Our sin nature makes us crave pleasing ourselves. This is why dying to our self, our wants, our needs, and our way can be painful, especially when we do it on a daily basis in the context of marriage.
In marriage, when you are “dying to yourself” and seeking to love your spouse biblically you are striving to do what is best for them according to the Bible. When dying to self you are other-centered not self-centered. The primary motive of a Christian dying to self in order to love, serve, and be a blessing to their spouse is another foreign concept to the world. Biblical love is to be given to others because we love God and desire to give Him glory. God is the one who invented marriage. God is the one who tells us how to get the most out of marriage. God is the one who created us to give Him glory in all we think, say, and do (I Cor. 10:31). Therefore, the key to having a great marriage is to die to yourself daily in order to love your spouse for the glory of God.
Before giving the expanded edition of the Law to Israel, in the first four chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives a summary of Israel’s history and God’s faithfulness to bring Israel out of Egypt. In Deuteronomy 5 Moses restates the Ten Commandments. Then in Chapter 6 Moses begins the chapter with what is referred to as “The Great Shema,” shema being the Hebrew word for hear or listen so as to obey. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Israel is called upon to hear, listen, and obey the call to have the Lord God be their only God. This was to make them unique, holy, and set apart from the rest of the nations who worshiped many false gods. The first thing mentioned in Deut. 6:5 is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Israel was to have only one God, the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, the One who delivered them from Egypt and sustained them as a nation in the wilderness for forty years. The one true Lord God was about to give them the land promised to Abraham many years before. They were to have a loving relationship with the Lord God alone, as the first four of the Ten Commandments made clear.
A critical lesson is taught here that the Jews ultimately failed to understand. You believe in God, have a loving relationship with God, then obey God’s Word to show love to God. First comes the relationship, then the expression of love within that relationship as defined by the Word of God. Before the expanded portion of the Law of Moses is given, Moses describes what the Lord God did for His people, reminds them of the Ten Commandments, and their need to commit themselves to love the Lord God alone. But how do you show love to God? By keeping His commandments. And the rest of the book of Deuteronomy lists in great detail many laws and regulations to help them show their love to God. In fact, obeying God’s Word is the only way we can show love to God. There is no other way.
We see the same thing in the New Testament, don’t we? Jesus in the upper room says in Jn. 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me,” and in vs. 23 He says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.” The Apostle John also wrote in I Jn. 5:3, “This is the love of God that we keep His commandments.” Notice, just as in the Old Testament, the New Testament stresses the same truth; we show love to God by obeying His Word. First we place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we seek to show our love to Him by obeying His commandments. But what has this to do with marriage you might be wondering? Everything!
Who tells husbands how to love their wives and tells wives how to love their husbands? God. Who are we to seek to glorify in everything we do? God. How do we show love to God? By obeying His commandments. So when God tells us how to love our spouse and we love them that way out of a desire to give Him glory, what are we doing? We are loving the Lord. When God’s glory becomes the driving motivation of our entire life—all we do is for His glory, including how we love our spouse. Granted, there will be other motives, good and bad, mixed into our imperfect attempts to live for God’s glory. However, the primary motive must be a desire to glorify God. Consider the implications of loving your spouse for the glory of God.
When we love our spouse, desiring to glorify and love the Lord, it removes all conditional kinds of love. We don’t love our spouse because of what they do, say, or how they look. Our love isn’t performance based like the love of the world. God is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. There will never be a time when God isn’t worthy of all glory, honor, and praise. This is why there will never be a time when we have a reason to stop loving our spouse. And not being selfish requires dying to self.
Paul described dying to self in several ways. Sometimes he described it as “being crucified with Christ” or “crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires” (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; 5:25; 6:14). In Col. 3:5 he described it as “considering yourself dead to sin.” Peter describes it as “dying to sin” (I Pet. 2:24). James describes it in Jam. 4:7 as “submitting to God.” In every case it speaks of relinquishing your will to God’s will. It means letting Jesus be Lord of your life! You trust that Jesus knows more about marriage than you do, submit to His Word, and do what He says for His glory.
As you grow in the Lord you learn to die to self more and more. It is then that marriage gets really good! The husband and wife, desiring to please God, first look to the Scriptures to find out what God wants in their marriage relationship. They pray, asking God for help and strive to glorify and love to the Lord, by obeying His commands in the context of marriage. They begin to see that if they love God they will at the same time be showing selfless love to one another. Jesus said in Jn. 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Many other texts in the New Testament echo this “new commandment.” Loving our spouse from a desire to love God and give Him glory is the key to a great marriage.
There is a critical requirement, however, if we are going to give God glory in our marriage. That first requirement is we must be born again. You must be transformed by God’s saving grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the virgin-born Son of God who died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day to show He conquered sin and death. If you are not born again, you are still dead in your trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-9). You are still at enmity or war against God and it is impossible for you to please God (Rom. 8:5-8). No one can live for the glory of God unless they are first reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the first necessary step in learning to have a God blessed marriage. However, if you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you have been transformed into a new creature in Christ by believing in Jesus, then you have the spiritual resources you need to live for the glory of God in your marriage.
Ideally, both husband and wife will die to self, and out of a desire to glorify God and show love to God, will strive to obey God’s Word in relation to marriage. The Bible will be their guidebook and God’s glory their ultimate motivation. Yes, they will have feelings, emotions, and desires in their marriage, but the glory of God will be their ultimate desire and goal. Yes, they will sin against each other on a regular basis. Yes they will often have selfish reasons for acting in the right way towards their spouse. But still God’s glory will be their ultimate goal and purpose. Selfishness is unnecessary as the wife will labor to meet the needs of her husband and the husband will labor to meet the needs of his wife, as the Word of God instructs. Instead of each seeking to get what they can out of their spouse, they will seek to give what they can to their spouse. As couples learn to die to self and serve each other for the glory of God, marriage based on a biblical definition of love becomes increasingly amazing!