What causes you to love your spouse?
Is it her grace?
That she’s such a good mom?
That he’s an unusually involved father?
All of these are inferior reasons and inferior loves. If you love your spouse because she is kind, you love kindness, not your spouse. If you love your spouse because he is thoughtful, you love thoughtfulness, not your spouse.
True (biblical) love is found in “absolute benevolence,” which is a state of the heart that is bent toward loving someone’s highest good, regardless of their actions or character. It is a disposition to do what is best for the other person, out of the inner compulsion from the Holy Spirit, to serve this person’s best interests.
You’ll remember that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). He didn’t love us because we were obedient, kind, or thoughtful; He loved us with an absolute benevolence that will sound like a tautology: He loved us because He loves us.
That’s where we should aim to arrive at in our marriages. It’s healthy and good and noble to affirm excellent qualities in a spouse, but when we love our spouse because of those things we swallow this relational poison: If I love my spouse because she’s healthy or young or beautiful or wealthy or godly or because she has given me a family, then I will be tempted to stop loving her if she grows sick or old or becomes disfigured or gets in debt or rebels against God or our family grows up and moves away.
Marriage calls us to absolute benevolence. It calls us to unconditional commitment. It requires nothing less than the presence of God, the only true source of such absolute benevolence.
Who, on their own, prays for those who are crucifying them?
Who dies for someone who has rebelled against them?
We have to get to the place where we open our hearts to God’s love that we love (please forgive the awkward phrasing) absolutely benevolently.
We won’t get there by “trying harder,” but rather by going to God, receiving His love and passing it on letting Him transform us so that we love first and foremost because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). As 1 John 4:19 makes clear, I have to be loved this way before I can learn to love this way.
In marriage, if I must separate from my spouse, I will do it only because it must be best for her. This is true even in the case of, say, abuse. Wives, it’s best for your husbands not to hit you so if the only way you can stop them from doing that is to remove yourselves from their presence, that’s what you do, but even that act from that disposition is absolute benevolence (though a selfish man will accuse you otherwise).
This means that to find the right way to act, I look to the heart. Why am I doing what I am doing? What is truly best for my spouse? That tells me what I must do.
How many divorces would be stopped if we loved with absolute benevolence? How many fights would sound ridiculous to resolve in the face of absolute benevolence? How many decisions would be made much clearer if we were driven by absolute benevolence? How much would every marriage change if we pursued absolute benevolence over our own comfort, happiness, and self- interest? How many of us, I wonder, will pursue this kind of love, this kind of marriage?
If you enjoyed this post, it’s adapted from my book A Lifelong Love: How to Have Lasting Intimacy, Friendship, and Purpose in Your Marriage. This blog is basically underwritten via book sales (notice we don’t accept donations), so if you haven’t purchased a copy yet, please consider doing so. Various options can be found here: http://www.garythomas.com/books/lifelong-love/