The most famous Scripture passage associated with marriage is 1 Corinthians 13, because it’s the passage that the vast majority of married folks had read at their weddings.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
It’s a beautiful description, isn’t it? This is how love should always be described: patient, kind, trusting, hopeful. But for most of us, that’s where it stops: it’s a beautiful description of what a marriage should look like, and hopefully it is. But sooner or later, the honeymoon ends. Then you’re chasing careers, having kids, paying bills, fixing toilets, just doing life, and it’s amazing just how quickly this feeling of love that we see here in 1 Corinthians 13 gets lost in the chaos of life.
That’s why so often married couples look at each other after several years and say, “I just don’t love you anymore. Whatever feeling that was there is gone.” It doesn’t help when we get a constant picture from society telling us exactly what love should look like and what should feel like. Culture would tell us that love looks like a romantic getaway, but doesn’t mention the debt that comes from trying to maintain a lifestyle you can’t afford. Culture tells us that love is like The Bachelor, with exotic locations, background music, script writers and seven takes to get your lines right.
But that’s not what marriages look like. Marriages look like conflicting work schedules, folding laundry at 10 pm, biblical marriage looks like monogamy, one man, one woman, together forever. From a sexual standpoint, when’s the last time tv and movies celebrated monogamy in marriage? It just doesn’t happen.
So, on the one hand, we’ve got this beautiful picture of love in 1 Corinthians 13 that is read once at our weddings and then promptly forgotten about, and after that we’ve got a constant bombardment from culture of a false narrative of what love is supposed to look like.
From culture’s standpoint, love is a feeling. Here’s the argument I want to make: I don’t think culture’s definition of love and marriage is working, because I think culture’s definition of love is flawed. That’s why so many marriages, even good Christian marriages, are struggling. So, what I want to humbly suggest is that we go back to 1 Corinthians 13 and see what we’ve missed. If the Bible is true, if it’s authoritative, if it’s inspired by God, and I believe it is, then the 1 Corinthians 13 definition of love should have practical application and should improve our marriages even today.
So, let’s look back at this passage again, and I’m going to simply pull out one small but absolutely marriage-changing truth from 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4
Right here, we see it five times. This one statement flies in the face of how culture defines love. You’ll see it in the words that are italicized: patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. What’s significant about these words? They are all verbs. They are all actions. None of them are feelings. And that’s the whole ballgame right there.
Culture would have you believe that love is primarily a feeling. The Apostle Paul taught that love is a verb, love is an action. Love is a choice.
How would this change marriages? Well, think about what typically happens a marriage breaks down. At some point, the husband and wife look at each other and say, “I’m sorry, I just don’t love you anymore.” And if love is a feeling, well then, you can’t control your feelings, can you? It’s just one of those things. You can’t be held accountable for how you feel, can you? If love is a feeling then you’re off the hook.
But if love is a choice, well then, that changes things. When you look at your spouse and say, “I don’t love you anymore,” in reality what you’re saying is “I’m choosing not to love you anymore. I’m making a choice, and I’m choosing to stop showing you love.” Wow, that’s a bit more harsh, isn’t it? Now, here’s the pushback to all of that: are you saying that marriage is supposed to be an emotionless void of feeling where we just stay married out of obligation even if the feeling we associate with love is long gone? No, God created feelings, God created emotions, and He wants and designed marriage to be filled with romance, feelings of elation, contentment, laughter, ecstasy. But that’s the byproduct. Let me put it another way, because this is a deep concept and if we can understand it we can fundamentally improve all of our marriages.
Let’s say you want to be happy. Let’s say that your goal is to be happy in life. It’s a very common goal and it’s not necessarily a bad goal. Who doesn’t want to be happy, right? Well, there are different ways you can be happy. You can go for immediate happiness. What does that look like? Well, it’s more enjoyable in the short run to take a vacation and skip work rather than have to earn a paycheck, so you could say that skipping work and dropping out of school will lead to happiness. And in a very short-sighted way, it will. You could also make the argument that drugs lead to happiness, at least in the short-term. That’s why people take drugs, to try and find happiness.
So what’s the problem with quitting your job and taking drugs if you want to be happy? Well, that momentary happiness will quickly give way to a longer term unhappiness as now you have no job, no money, and a drug addiction.
But, that is one way to be happy, at least in the short-term. What’s another way to be happy? Go to school and get a good degree, which doesn’t sound like fun in the short-term but leads to a higher income and a higher quality of life, which results in happiness. Find a job that where you can make a difference, and alongside the paycheck, you’ll discover that when you’re living your purpose you’re a happier person. Even when you become a giving person, when you give back towards others, it actually makes you a happier person.
So, there is a much better way to seek happiness in life, even if it means a bit of hard work. Let’s carry this concept back into marriage. Everyone wants to be happy in marriage. We want a marriage filled with love and laughter. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the world’s definition of love, that love is an elusive feeling, that will lead to only short-term happiness. And then when the honeymoon is over and the feeling is gone, you’ll break things off and search for the feeling somewhere else, never mind the relational scars that will remain in you and kids in your ever elusive quest for happiness. What Paul presents is a different way, the harder way, the staying in school and working hard in your career way to achieve a deeper, longer lasting form of love and happiness in a marriage.