Love Will Not Sustain Your Marriage

Asking a man and woman to live together—to use the same bathroom, sleep in the same bed, share the same checking account—is a request fraught with risk. What if his bathroom habits look and smell like they were learned at the frat house? What if he breaks his back every week only to discover she spent half the money he earned on shoes?

But go beyond that. What if a man and woman are asked to have sex with each other, and only each other, and never anyone else, till their dying day? What happens when she opts for sleeping over sex, and his twenty-something, flirtatious secretary keeps dropping suggestive hints about an after-hours tryst? What happens when she can’t remember the last time he got her flowers or kissed her like he meant it, but this guy at the gym showers her with compliments every day?

But there’s still more. What if a man and woman are gifted with children, but as those children grow, so grows the chasm between the two parents? She drives them to school, shivers during their soccer games, claps after their school play, gets them to piano and football practice on time. And he’s busy climbing the corporate ladder, or bouncing from one job to another, making an appearance occasionally at a child’s sporting event, all the while with his phone glued to his ear talking business. And the kids finally leave home, and home is left vacant, except for two roommates who no longer seem to have anything in common.

Marriage is asking a lot from two people. Living together for life. Sexual fidelity for life. Parenting for life. On their wedding day, they may be on top of the world, their bodies alive with an emotional high. But that high can last only so long. Emotions wax and wane with the tides of life. The love they feel for each other, no matter how strong, will be taxed to the extreme in circumstances they never could have foreseen on the day they said, “I do.” Sooner or later, they will come to realize that love, by itself, is not enough, never enough, to keep a marriage alive.  It will not be love that sustains their marriage; it will be marriage that sustains their love (D. Bonhoeffer).

It is the God-ordained union of man and woman, into a complete and lifelong unity of one flesh, that fosters love. This is no until-someone-better-comes-along mutual cohabitation. This is not an until-we-have-problems sexual partnership.  It is not living together but life together—a life begun and sustained by the God who creates it.  Marriage is an objective, created reality into which the Lord places a man and woman, not a contractual agreement or emotional bond.  It is a gift from heaven, and it is that gift that creates an environment in which love and sharing and life can be enjoyed on earth.

If I merely live with a lover, and tire of her, or she tires of me, we pack our things and go our separate ways.  The supposed “love” we shared was dependent upon two weak, selfish people, who all too easily throw in the towel. If I marry the woman I love, I step into something outside myself. I step into marriage. I become a part of something external to myself, created by God, and (when justice and common sense prevail) strongly defended by human laws.

Within marriage, I am free to love. I am free to give myself wholly and exclusively to my wife, and she to me, and we to our children. The love we share will make our marriage not a burden but a delight. And, when hard times come—and they will, they always do—it will be marriage that protects us from ourselves. Marriage will be our strength when we ourselves grow weak. For marriage is God’s doing, not our doing. It is his love, which created marriage to begin with, that makes our love possible.

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What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!

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15 thoughts on “Love Will Not Sustain Your Marriage

  1. By far my favorite of your writings Chad! I had to really learn how to live for my wife and kids over living for myself. And the rewards are tremendous! I thank God for the gift of love!

  2. Still learning how “to give myself wholly”.. but after nearly 30 years of marriage, all I can say is, “Amen!”

  3. I’ll state at the front end of this that my husband and I have been married for less than two years, and God has not yet blessed us with children, but here are my thoughts: I DO believe that love is a big part of what keeps a couple together. What I mean by love here, though, is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. I mean love showing itself in action–and not just the romantic stuff, such as buying flowers, giving each other massages, or even sex, but the more practical stuff, like sometimes doing the other spouse’s chores, or cutting each other’s hair to save money, or other things like that. And beyond just the practical, there is the sacrificial–caring for each other in sickness, not buying a new vehicle so the other person can go back to school, etc. I think there is biblical precedent for this view about love sustaining marriage. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” and Ephesians 5:25 calls husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Likewise, the Church, the bride of Christ, is called to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), and I think that, within the context of marriage, this is what is referred to in types and shadows in I Corinthians 7:3-4. Ultimately, though, the love that sustains marriage is the divine love of God–indeed, Love Himself, the Divine. Our sacrifices are imperfect, but Christ’s sacrifice is perfect. The Holy Spirit gives us faith to cling to that sacrifice alone, and by God’s grace, to be forgiven when we sin against our spouse and to walk (and sometimes stumble or crawl) in newness of life.

    • Katrina on said:

      Katy, I think you’re on the right track with your definition of how love in marriage should look. It would be nice if we had variations on the word “love” in English like they do in Greek. That way we wouldn’t have this confusion on what sort of love we are supposed to strive for in marriage.

  4. ginny schober on said:

    while I agree whole heartly what you have written it also makes me feel very sad and mourn the marriage that I have lost

    • Ginny, I am sorry to hear about your loss. I wish I had eloquent words of comfort or just the right Scripture to ease your pain, but I don’t. Not yet. Seven years ago, my wife made the decision to end our 33 year marriage. She chose a path of hurt and demoralization through legal means. I have no answers; I don’t understand her motives. Our grown kids and I were unaware of her deep feelings. That said, I spent many years trying to sort it out. The sadness I felt then was for me. Gradually, the grief I was feeling has slowly turned itself into prayers for her. I have begun to grow again. The echoes of hate still abound but I have regained strength enough to stand up against those words. I placed my trust in God and He has graciously answered with a patient, wise and understanding woman who has felt pain like mine. While I still find myself longing for what was, I know it cannot be. Where I was constantly reliving the past, I am beginning to look to the future. Where there was hurt, more comes hope. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. There. Neither eloquent nor Scriptural but I think there is a truth in it. Walk with God. Find a way to forgive the hate. Ask God for forgiveness and strength. Ask God to forgive him. Hold on to the pieces of your life together that were good. Exercise. Stay busy. Grow. Go with God.

  5. An excellent message on our Lord’s gift of marriage.

  6. Mike on said:

    I have developed an apprehension about the concept of falling in love. While I know what people mean when they claim it as a mantra, it really falls short of the Biblical model. If love is a fruit of the Spirit, then why don’t we fall into kindness or fall into faithfulness? Love is an action and requires a lifetime of our effort to lay down our selfish interest for that of another. As Galations implies, those fruits are not possible without a Spirit led life so a truly Biblical marriage cannot exist apart from a man and woman being surrendered to Him through salvation.

  7. sometimes i wonder if true love ever exist.

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  9. Caleb on said:

    I find this article to be utterly untrue. My wife and I are happily married atheists. Our unconditional love for each other is what keeps us that way.

    • Caleb, I can see why you’d disagree, from a non-Christian perspective. I don’t think he’s saying it’s not possible for atheists to have unconditional love for each other.

      But I think you agree with this article more than you think. One of the main ideas from this article (which is what you agreed with) is that love runs deeper than feelings and emotions. Even though they certainly do play an important role, true love can’t be primarily hinged on them, because they can change any time; yet “true love” or “real love” usually implies lasting, unchanging love. Therefore, it’s not primarily an act of the emotions, but an act of the will, and choosing to continue loving someone when at times we may not feel like it. Christian or non-Christian, perhaps you agree. But, of course, he is writing from the Christian perspective, which is where you disagree, but it hinges on this unconditional view of love that God shows, commands, and teaches how marriage works; as opposed to how modern society is more and more viewing “love” as something more shallow, primarily depending on how we “feel”.

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