One hundred and eighty degrees is how hot I like my chai tea lattes, and it’s also the difference between what I initially thought my greatest need in life is compared to what God thinks it is.
Most of us, I believe, are eager to get married because we think our greatest need is to be loved. We want to find someone who will always have our backs, who will be 100% faithful, who will be there whenever we need them to be, who will never falter in their love, who will forgive us when we falter in ours’, and who will stay with us until the very end.
Pause just for a minute.
Who does that sound like, really?
Is it possible for a human to do that?
But that’s what we want, isn’t it? Infatuation can make us feel like we might even have found it. We think we will be happiest when we find another person who will love us just like that.
From God’s perspective our greatest need isn’t to be loved not because we don’t need to be loved, but in the same way that a person who has just feasted at Thanksgiving doesn’t need to eat. God has loved, is loving, and will love us like we can never be loved by anyone else. We may not experience that love in a personal way if we are not making our relationship with God a priority, but it is there for the taking. God isn’t hiding from us.
Which means my greatest need and your greatest need, isn’t to be loved (because that need has already been met). Our greatest need is to learn how to love.
That’s the key behind Ephesians 5:1. Paul writes to us as “dearly loved children,” confirming that our need to be loved has been met, and now we are to imitate God by “living a life of love” (what a tremendous phrase) just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. God has done (and is doing) His part—He has loved us and keeps loving us. And, as dearly loved children, we can now focus on the all-important task of “living a life of love.”
In Colossians 3:14, Paul writes, “Above all clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul couldn’t be more emphatic: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (vv. 2-3)
That’s what we need.
That’s where God wants us to grow.
Few things will be as revolutionary in your marriage as this, accepting that your greatest need isn’t to be loved, it’s to learn how to love—not love Hollywood style, but love the way Jesus loved, the way the apostle Paul defines and exalts love. No one who has studied the biblical exaltation of love, the sacrificial definition of love, and the imperative to keep loving can cavalierly say, “I’ve got love down pat. I’m ready for the next lesson.”
When you think your greatest need is to be loved but you’re not being loved by your spouse like you think you should be you will become bitter, resentful, and discontent. Pause for just a second here. Does this describe your attitude in marriage: bitterness, resentment, and discontentment? If so, in all likelihood you think your greatest need is to be loved by your spouse.
You can keep depending on a spouse who isn’t capable of loving you like you want to be loved, or turn your focus to a God who has already loved you, continues to love you, and will always love you as you want to be loved.
When you honestly believe that your greatest need is thus to learn how to love, when you aspire to live a life of love above all else every day of marriage provides ample opportunities for you to grow in that need, which means you will appreciate your marriage more and more. How much you accept this—your greatest need—will determine in large part your overall satisfaction in marriage. Show me a person who thinks their greatest need is to be loved, and I’ll show you a person who often wonders if they married the wrong person. Show me a person who truly aspires to live a life of love, and I guarantee they are more contented in their marriage than the average spouse.
The Bible calls us to love extravagantly, enthusiastically, and generously in literally dozens of passages. Does “living a life of love” define you? If not, being married to a sinner is a good place to be. Trying to raise sinful kids and working around sinful people is your spiritual gymnasium. Love isn’t learned by watching movies or reading novels; it’s learned by sweating out the principles of 1 Corinthians 13, just when they hurt the most.
I don’t love well. Few of us do. It’s not natural to us. It’s a fruit of the Spirit, and it takes time to yield to the Spirit and to die to our narcissism and selfishness. But marriage can help us get there, provided we look at our marriages as schools of love, and provided we value the opportunity to grow in love. We won’t value the opportunity if we don’t see it as a need.
How is your marriage teaching you to live a life of love?