Love in Marriage
Stephen Baker, Manchester
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, love or marriage? The first question is not the subject of this article but the book of Genesis tells us that God made every animal so the chicken must have come first. Genesis chapter 2 also teaches us that God made man and then He made him an ‘help meet for him’; and so Eve arrived on the scene. She was everything Adam could have wished for. It was a ‘marriage made in heaven’ and love blossomed and grew as the man and his wife got to know each other. Marriage came first with Adam and Eve.
What about today? In Western culture we tend to look at relationships as if marriage is the goal of love but as far as we can see from the scriptures love is seen to take on a deeper sense in marriage. In this article we will look at three aspects of love in marriage: honourable love, active love and physical love.
A basic expression of friendship is respect. You could call this honouring someone, giving them the respect that they are due. You cannot truly love someone if you do not respect him or her. Respect is taking account of their feelings, preferences, and weaknesses. When a couple gets married they start a new life. There are things about their new life that will be different from the way it was before. They both have left home. In Deuteronomy chapter 24 verse 5 the newly-married man was prohibited from taking on national and public duties for the first year of marriage. This was not just a formality but it was to give the couple time to adjust to married life. The man is told that he should be ‘free at home’ for one year. The reason for this is that he was expected to ‘cheer up his wife’. It would be sensible to assume that this was not on account of her being depressed having married him, but that she needed his love, affection, care, respect and time to help her adjust to her new circumstances. Marriages have stronger foundations when the men take time to understand and spend time with their wives.
The wise man in Proverbs notes that a ‘virtuous woman’ makes for a happy husband. He can safely leave many important matters in the hands of his wife because she is trustworthy, Prov. 31. 11. In fact, in that happy family the children rise up and call their mother blessed and the husband praises his wife. The foundation for respect has been established by the beliefs and behaviour of both the husband and the wife.
We learn from 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 7 that a husband should spend time getting to know his wife. We often joke that men will never get to the bottom of how women think but the scripture requires that within a marriage the husband is expected to take into account what he has learned about his wife. Peter says, ‘dwell with them according to knowledge’. In other words, in the day to day activities in the home the wife’s feelings are not to be ignored, neither is she to be antagonized or forced to accept her husband’s view in a situation. Show respect, that is give honour, and ensure that you take into consideration the fact that your wife will be physically weaker. A verse like this needs to be read in its context and the earlier verses address the attitude of a wife to her husband, to her wardrobe and to her God. Godly lives, in which both partners have healthy relationships with God, will produce a harmonious marriage resulting in the couple sharing in the ‘grace of life’.
Most of us learned early in our Christian lives that the love of God is unconditional. It is not a response to ‘the way we are’. He does not love us because of our attractiveness. God chose to love us and in grace He reached out and blessed us with salvation. When God speaks to us about marriage He expects exactly the same kind of love within marriage. It should be an active love that does not depend on response from the other party but sees and works towards their good whatever the case. These truths are taught generally in 1 Corinthians chapter 13 and specifically in Ephesians chapter 5.
In case you are thinking that this is a very tough proposition, which it can be, remember that if the husband and wife both act in the way that the scripture teaches, their marriage relationship will be a fulfilling and happy one. I am not teaching that you will never have tough times but that you will be equipped, by your mutual love and respect for each other, to work through those tough times together.
Ephesians chapter 5 speaks very clearly to both husbands and wives about the quality of love in the marriage relationship. The Lord Jesus is given as our example in relation to what He is to the church. He is the Head, v. 23; the Saviour, (i.e., Preserver and Protector); v. 23; He is the Lover, v. 25; the Sacrifice, v. 25; and the Proud Husband, v. 2, 28. 8. He is also the Provider, v. 29, and the emotionally supportive Husband to the church, v. 29. Those of us that are husbands have to act in the same way to our wives. We cannot hope to consistently behave in this way apart from the help of God.
Follow the divine blueprint. The wife submits herself to her husband and the husband loves his wife in the same way that the Lord Jesus loved the church. ROTHERHAM in his translation says, ‘be loving’ – it involves actions, not just words. In 1 Peter chapter 3 the husband lives in light of what he knows about his wife. Similarly, a wife should respond to her husband taking into account the fact that God has made him responsible for her and the family. This is not a relationship where the power lies with the husband to ensure that everything suits him but where responsibility is placed on the husband to ensure that he treats his wife the way he would treat himself, Eph. 5. 28, 29. The husband seeks to meet his wife’s physical and emotional needs just as the Lord does for the church.
Normally in a marriage there will be the enjoyment of physical intimacy between the couple. Sadly, for some this may be impossible due to physical disability. We should note that their marriage is no less a marriage because of that. Malachi teaches us that marriage is based on a covenant; a marriage is a contract and establishes a unity that God creates, Mal. 2. 14, 15. This unity is then seen and typified in the physical union of the man and his wife. It is of course the norm within a marriage for the relationship to be consummated physically.
Our need for physical love is strong. We must be clear that there is nothing wrong or sinful with this when it is enjoyed within marriage. The writer of the Hebrews states that ‘the bed’, that is the marriage bed, is undefiled within marriage. This is a polite allusion to the sexual intimacies of marriage. Marriage in Genesis is explained as the act of a man leaving his parental home, then cleaving, emotionally and physically, to his wife and the couple becoming ‘one flesh’, that is they are united in every way, including physically.
It is absolutely essential that all married couples develop warm and close physical relationships. Proverbs chapter 5 verses 15 to 21 were written by Solomon to warn against married men seeking sexual fulfilment outside of marriage. In the same passage he encourages his son to fully enjoy the beauty of his own wife and argues that when so satisfied and fulfilled there will be no reason to seek such satisfaction elsewhere. Paul makes a similar appeal in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 when he advises that couples have a duty to satisfy each other physically, v. 3, and that in a sense each partner owns the other’s body, v. 4. He also warns that abstaining from sexual relations should only ever be by mutual agreement and for only a limited and agreed period and then to enable you to be involved in some special spiritual activity. Prayer is the example that is given. This warning regarding denial of intimacy is given because the Spirit of God recognizes our need for the physical side of marriage and that without it we could end up sinning. In summary, physical love within marriage is God-given, we were designed to enjoy it but its power is such that we need to be very careful to use it only as God has given us.
This article is written to pinpoint the need for scriptural love to be practised in marriage and as such it does not address the issues of a call to singleness or how we should all take care to give the Lord the first place in our lives. May the Lord help those of us that are married and those who are moving in that direction, to seek to live for God and act out the principles that He has clearly laid out for us in His word. It is the best we can ever have.