A while ago I wrote the following notes in my journal. I am compelled to share it with you in hopes that it will encourage you as it does me. Marriage is hard work and we desperately need the Lord’s help to love well.
Thank you for loving me with an everlasting love. Thank you for displaying that love to me long before I did anything in response to it. Teach me to love like this. Teach me to love like Jesus. My wife is a gift from you and I will love her as the best gift I have ever received. Give me creativity in the ways I can pursue her romantically. Give me strength to hold her up when she is tired. Give me eyes to see when she needs my attention. Give me ears to hear her heart. Give me the words to speak life into her. Help me to choose love even when things get hard. In Jesus name Amen.
What follows is my personal, raw commentary on the work of loving like Jesus in marriage. Where I use Angie in the text, please insert your spouse’s name and see if it makes the notes more personal to you.
Loving Angie will at times be inconvenient to my flesh. Love her anyways. Loving Angie will at times not make sense because she hurt me. Love her anyways. Loving Angie will at times be a challenge because she does not respond to it the way I expect. Love her anyways. When my marriage feels broken, love her anyways.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. – Ephesians 5:25-33
Only God can give me the strength to love Angie unconditionally. My motivation to love must come from an intimate relationship with God. My love for Angie is motivated by His love for me.
When I find myself struggling to love and care for Angie, it should raise a red flag in my mind to take a sober self-assessment. I bet that my struggle is more about me than her. I have taken my eye off Jesus and his incredible love for me. Jesus’s kind of love has given me literally everything while still being a wretched sinner in desperate need of a savior.
When I put into perspective how Jesus loves me, how he willingly sacrificed himself by violent death on a Roman cross while I literally spit in his face with my selfishness, pride, and sinful rebellion, and how he continues to bless me though I can do nothing to deserve his favor, I find that when I actually receive that love from Jesus I am compelled to love in return. Not because I feel duty or obligation, but because my soul is filled to overflowing. Out of the abundance of love I have received I give to others. I can patiently and graciously endure rejection, stubbornness, harsh words, etc. and truly give without expecting anything in return. All that to say, and I don’t mean to simplify the key to loving relationship, but the truth is that when we can see Jesus, ourselves, and our life circumstances like this, we can love others well.
The bottom line is that when I’m not feeling like loving well, or I feel like I’m not being loved by others so I can’t love in return, I really need to take a breath, search my heart, and refocus from me to Jesus. Simple, but really hard sometimes. This is a mental and spiritual exercise that is strengthened with practice and perfected only after death. We are all a work in progress, but if we can wrap our minds around these ideas, we will gain traction in our relationships.
Another way to say it is that when I think another is unlovable because of their behavior, I should be very careful that I’m not judging them more harshly than I want God to judge me. In comparison to God’s holy perfection, I am a terrible wretch. If I do not see myself this way, I am deceived and my self-righteousness is sin proving my need for a savior. Jesus is our example we are called to follow. He loves despite my fears, faults, and failures, so I can do the same for others.
Not seeing the enormous gap between my depravity and God’s holiness is making God too small. Yet despite this gap, Jesus bridges it with his own sacrifice for our sake. He makes us saints before the almighty, holy God of the universe. That’s pretty cool. This is why we should preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. It keeps the focus on Jesus and not ourselves, enabling us to love others well. So there you have it, the solution to loving relationships is to simply preach the gospel to yourself.