July 20, 2017

A Higher Kind of Love

Gary Thomas — 


About five centuries ago, Copernicus changed the way we think about our universe when he postulated what we all now know to be true: the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our universe. Archimedes, Plato, Socrates, Augustine, and Aquinas all lived without understanding a basic truth that any educated person today takes for granted.

One hundred years later, just four centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton discovered what we call gravity, something that even a contemporary fifth grader could describe.

The relative youth of basic knowledge is rather stunning. For all his wisdom and brilliant insight, Aristotle knew less of hard science—astronomy, anatomy, and even physics—than the vast majority of advanced placement high school students do today. It’s remarkable to consider relatively recent advancements in intelligence and understanding.

Regardless of one’s view of evolution, early humans (whatever date you would assign to them) would seem like brutes to us today. In fact, a TV series like Mad Men, initially set just fifty or sixty years ago, seems like a ridiculous relic of an atrocious past—men treated women like that? People were that insensitive to race issues?

Just as intellect and social understanding has grown, so our love should grow, as well as our view of what marriage can and should be. What was accepted as the highest and truest love in the ancient world of Paris and Helen of Troy, or the medieval world of Shakespeare, or the romantic era of Jane Austen, might perhaps look rudimentary to spiritually perceptive persons today, if we were to apply the same scientific methods to love and marriage as we do to science. Yes, of course, Jesus defined the very highest love for us about two thousand years ago, but how this love applies to the way a man loves his wife and the practical way a wife loves her husband can still evolve, as so much of other human understanding has.

Why shouldn’t the love of a husband and wife of a Christian couple in 2017 look vastly different than the love of a husband and wife in 1617 or 1817? Why, indeed, should we glamorize marriage from the 1950s instead of asking even more of marriage today? Why would we let marital love lag behind physical or social science? And shouldn’t Christians lead the call for the spiritual evolution of marriage?

A New Model of Marriage

There’s a key to “marital evolution” in the vows most of us uttered to “to love and to cherish until death do us part.”

Cherish is an attempt to define that higher love between a man and a woman. Just as we have sought to better understand the intricacies of the human brain, the vagaries of our climate, the shamefulness of racial prejudice, so we should seek to understand true honor, selflessness, service, kindness and even happiness as it relates to marriage. We’ve killed forests’ worth of trees writing books about “love.” Perhaps it’s time we pay attention to “cherish,” a higher kind of love. We should expect more of Christian husbands and wives, just as we expect more of today’s screenwriters, academics, and social commentary. People said things thirty years ago they would never say today—or pay a heavy price if they did. There will always be those who “lag behind,” who fail to keep up with the advancement of society, but we don’t want to be among them. Not because we are proud, but because we want to breathe the purer air of a higher, more refined existence.

The interplay of love and cherish is best demonstrated by ballet. Ballet requires enormous strength, significant endurance, balance, and athleticism—the same things required of an NFL wide receiver or even linebacker. What makes the dancer different is that she also has grace, fluidity, beauty, poetry in motion. Love—sacrifice, service, commitment—is and always will be the backbone, the strength, and the muscle of marriage. Cherish brings the beauty and poetry—it’s supported by love, but it complements love, showcases love, and delights in love. It’s not just about sticking it out together; it’s about turning marriage into a beautiful dance.

As love is known by First Corinthians 13, so cherish is captured in the Song of Songs.

Love is about being gracious and altruistic. “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor. 13:4)

Cherish is about being enthusiastic and enthralled. “How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice.” (Song of Songs 4:10)

Love tends to be quiet and understated. “[Love] does not envy, it does not boast.” (1 Cor. 13:4)

Cherish boasts boldly and loudly: “My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.” (Song of Songs 5:10)

Love thinks about others with selflessness. “Love is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.” (1 Cor. 13:4-5)

Cherish thinks about its beloved with praise. “Your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” (Song of Songs 2:14)

Love doesn’t want the worst for someone: “Love does not delight in evil.” (1 Cor. 13:6)

Cherish celebrates the best in someone: “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!” (Song of Songs 1:15)

Love puts up with a lot: “[Love] always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7)

Cherish enjoys a lot. “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.” (Song of Songs 5:16)

Love is about commitment. “Love endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:7-8; ESV)

Cherish is about delight and passion. “Your name is like perfume poured out.” (Song of Songs 1:3)

Love and cherish never compete—they complement each other and even complete each other. At times, they certainly overlap. By pursuing “cherish” we’ll become better lovers as well.

Men, your wives don’t want you to just “love” them in the sense of being committed to them. They want you to cherish them. They don’t want us to stop at, “I will be committed to you and never leave you.” They want to hear:

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride, you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (4:9)

And women, you’ll discover that a cherished husband is the happiest of husbands. A friend of mine asked seven male friends, “Do your wives love you?” and every one of them answered “yes.” He then asked, “Do your wives like you?” and every one answered “No.”

All seven husbands feel loved, but none feel cherished.

Husbands want to hear their wives say, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, is my beloved among the young men.” (2:3)

Cherishing your husband will motivate you to pursue him, and thus raise the temperature of your marriage: “I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:2)

Choosing to Cherish

The good news is that cherishing your spouse is something you can learn to do. People talk about “falling in love” (which is a misunderstanding of biblical love), but cherish is clearly a choice. It’s not just a feeling that comes and goes; there are spiritual and relational practices that generate feelings of cherishing your spouse as you act on them so that you do hold your spouse dear in your heart. Learning to cherish actually creates joy, fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction. It’s one of those spiritual realities that may not make logical sense, but when you take it by faith and put it in practice, it works.

It just does.

Learning to take our marriage from polite co-existing or even just basic friendship to the much higher spiritual call of learning to truly cherish each other is a spiritual journey before it’s a marital journey. God’s word will instruct us; we’ll need his Spirit to empower us and his truth to enlighten us to shape our hearts in such a way that we are able to cherish someone who “stumbles in many ways” (James 3:2), even as God cherishes us as we stumble in many ways. If you believe your marriage has all but died or even just gotten a little stale, the hope behind learning to cherish each other in marriage is found in this: God is more than capable of teaching us and empowering us to treat and cherish our spouses the way he treats and cherishes us.

Envy, Not Pity

May God raise up in this new era a renewed church that demonstrates a different kind of marriage. Not just a marriage that sticks it out—people have been doing that for millennia. But marriages that grow in grace, sweetness, kindness, service, joy, and understanding; where we even value cherishing each other more than we value being infatuated with each other.

Isn’t it a little pathetic that two young infatuated people think they have something deeper, richer, and more profound than what most married couples share after twenty or thirty years of life together? Yet hasn’t that been the popular, almost unquestioned cultural message for the past three or four generations? By pursuing cherish instead of just love, we can build the kind of marriages that inspire younger couples rather than make them feel pity for us. A thoughtful, cherishing marriage can make infatuation look like a Neanderthal kind of love.

If God has been gracious enough to allow us to grow in our understanding of the physical world; if God has allowed us to advance from the abacus to the slide rule to the calculator to the computer, why would He not allow His church to move marital love from mere commitment to active cherishing?

It’s not that cherish is opposed to love or in competition with love, but rather a higher, deeper understanding of love applied.  Jesus taught us that others should know we are his by our love. Our marriages should be factories of such a love. Cherishing marriages can be evangelistic as others will ask, how can a husband and wife cherish each other like that after thirty years of marriage?

The battle against redefining marriage is significant and necessary, but like in World War II, we have to fight on multiple fronts. We can’t let the battle over the definition of marriage lead us to ignore the battle over personally experiencing and demonstrating a higher, purer love, a marriage in which two people truly cherish each other, in our own families.

The analogy I make in Cherish is that just as God the Father cherished Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16), and just as Jesus cherishes the church, so we are to cherish each other in marriage. God laid the cornerstone of a cherishing marriage when he first began his relationship with Jerusalem roughly five thousand years ago. An ignored city has risen to become one of the most, if not the most famous city in the history of the world, because God chose to cherish her. His act of cherishing lifted Jerusalem to a new place of being.

A cherishing marriage can produce the same kind of people and point us to a higher kind of love.

A New Day

A young couple I’m preparing for marriage recently asked me an honest question: “Gary, we’ve had so many older couples tell us that there’s one and only one secret to a happy marriage, and that’s for the husband to learn two words: ‘Yes, dear.’ Is that true?”

Though this is an old, bad joke, it was refreshing to see a young couple be all but mystified by it. The subtext of their question was sincere astonishment: “People used to look at and define marriage like that? Do we have to do that?”

No, they don’t.

People my age (I’m 55) have to understand that the way our children relate to each other in terms of gender roles is very different from what we grew up with. This shift is going to have a huge impact on the quality and nature of marriage. There will be some new challenges—as there is much to appreciate about old truths—but also potentially many key gains.

I’m not talking about the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Thoughtful complementarians take pains to distinguish what they believe from 1960s’ chauvinism. Yet young people in their twenties can’t even imagine women being “kept” or condescended to; they are valued, listened to, considered as true partners, with equal intelligence and worth. How can this evolving understanding fail to positively impact the depth of intimacy a couple might have in marriage, if, that is, we are willing to expand our view of marriage from merely loving each other to cherishing each other?

I think it’s rather promising. Old jokes and old prejudice must die, or preachers will start sounding like ad executives from Mad Men when we talk about marriage.

It’s all in the Bible. We just have to move past thinking of the Song of Songs as something that exclusively discusses what’s happening between the sheets and expand it to also include what’s happening within our hearts and minds.

I’ve been infatuated, and I’ve been in a cherishing marriage.

Cherish is better.

Perhaps it’s time to spread the good news that the world is setting its sights much too low when it comes to the standards of true, intimate marriage. We’ve spent so much time talking about love. Let’s raise the bar and start talking about cherish.

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.


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14 responses to A Higher Kind of Love

  1. Excellent truths, Gary! Not feeling loved or cherished in my marriage, I recently asked my husband how could I know he loved me? His answer was, “Well, I’m still here.” While that was not the answer I was hoping to hear, it was an authentic answer. It shed light on the true state of our marriage: “We are not happy, but we know we have no Biblical grounds for divorce, therefore we’ll just slug it out best we can.” Sadly, this example of marriage is not giving my teenage children an ideal to strive for or envy.

    Thank you for raising the bar on marriage. We are to love AND cherish.

  2. C n B Cherished July 22, 2017 at 7:54 am

    We can’t give what we don’t have. Feeling cherished by God and cherishing God is the foundation of this overflow into our marriages and life (children, etc.). Cherishing is the fruit not the root. My prayer for my marriage, our family, for all is a personal/ daily relationship with Jesus that restores our wounded hearts and by the power of the Holy Spirit fills us with His ability to love and cherish, reflecting the heart of The Lord. Thankful to Gary, as God has used him to help me see Jesus clearer and see how marriage is a tool to help us grow in The Lord. A marriage that reflects the heart of God is the greatest gift I can give our children and it’s worth suffering and fighting for.. Standing on the promises of God, that we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (27 hard yrs..) I would Cherish your prayers and will commit to pray for the heart of marriage for such a time as this, and praising The Lord that nothing is too hard for Him!!

  3. You hit “The Nail on the Head” Gary! I for one have been so incorrectly trying to find ways of keeping my marriage ‘together’ instead of building my marriage up through cherishing. Too often in this world we are told about the multiple ways to show love to our spouses, but never about cherishing them. Love may be the building blocks for a marriage, but cherishing is the mortar that binds and builds a solid relationship and marriage. I get so frustrated about the false realities of ‘Reality Shows’ and their take on love in a relationship, to the point of demeaning love at times, but the society we live in buys into this drama and misconception.
    Thank you for your books and Sermons @ Second Baptist which always hit the heart of what really matters, God’s Design of Marriage and Love!

    • Thanks, Kevin. This whole focus on cherishing has made such a difference in my own marriage. I’m grateful to God that it seems to be resonating with others as well.

  4. How do you reconcile Jesus’s words that we must “hate our wife” (Luke 14:26) with your idea we must cherish our spouse?

    • “Hate” as it is translated is an ANE euphemism that is used in the sense of “in comparison to.” I’m called to cherish God’s daughter, but the best way to cherish his daughter is to maintain the highest loyalty to him first.

      By the way, the same passage calls us to “hate” ourselves in comparison, so unless we think we can ignore ourselves, we can’t think that it’s okay to ignore our spouses.

  5. Hi Gary,
    I really enjoy reading your blog posts and books. I am inspired by your passion and zeal for this issue and I learn so much from your writings.
    I have a question that is irrelevant to this topic but it has come up several times within the past month in some of my science classes and I would like to get a christian perspective on it because I’m often unsure of how to respond. Concerning, end of life and euthanasia, what does the bible say about such practices? Or what should our stance be as Christians on such an issue? I believe that only God should have the authority to take away a life and that we should leave that decision to him without interfering with his plan, but what if a person is in unbearable pain and wants to end their life? Any insight on this would help. Thank you for your time

    • Ana,

      That’s beyond what I can answer in a blog post. Books have been written on the topic. I don’t believe we should end our own lives, but the tricky question arises about lives that are artificially maintained due to heroic medical measures. It’s possible to keep a “body” going but is the person still fully alive? As far as pain, I’ve been told by medical professionals that modern medicine can usually ameliorate pain as it’s appropriate, with one doctor telling me, “No one today needs to die in terrible pain.” But I have no medical background and can only report what more learned people have to say.

  6. Gary, this is spot-on! Thank you for stating this powerful truth in such a clear way. My husband and I are celebrating 21 years of marriage today. We have been through many tough times but our marriage and our love is stronger now because we are learning to cherish one another. Please keep emphasizing this very important aspect of marriage as we continue to learn how to apply it each day.
    We praise the LORD for allowing you to be the messenger of His perfect Word. Blessings to you and Lisa!

  7. Cherish is better. And more durable:)

  8. LaShunda Claiborn July 20, 2017 at 11:28 am

    I have this book and I can attest that my views about marriage are being transformed. I’ve been married for 12 years and more than half of those years I’ve been in a position of fighting in prayer to keep my marriage alive. I have biblical backings to walk away from my marriage, but Jesus is enough for me to believe that if I keep praying and learn to cherish the outcome will be: what the devil meant for evil God turned it for Good! So my perspective on learning to cherish my husband comes in the midst of fighting for my marriage. At the right time this book is blessing me.

  9. Praise the Lord! Powerful thanks for sharing.

  10. Teresa Murphy Wheeler July 20, 2017 at 8:57 am

    This is beautiful! Gary you are a gifted communicator of God’s word and heart. Thank you for using your gift to bring God glory. I was one who “stuck it out” till death did we part. We did attend a Sacred Marriage retreat and the paraphrase…we all stumble in many ways…helped us move forward with more grace forgiveness and understanding towards each other. If I am so blessed to find this kind of love and be in a marriage again where I can cherish and be cherished, I could only give God glory. Next week I turn 65 but feel more loved an integrated than I ever did during my 32 years of marriage. My heart is full of thanks and praise for the One who knows my name and loves me best. Thank you Gary and may God continue to bless you and your family.