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15. Do I Love You?

The 15 principles that will make your love last a lifetime.

It had been a long time coming--nearly fifteen years. But finally the Lord had gotten through to both of us and convinced us that we each needed to grow. He wanted us to enjoy a warm and intimate relationship that would display His love. But learning to love each other with God's kind of love would be a life-long project.

There was nothing wrong with the way we were originally attracted to each other. I saw in Mary a fascinating, fun-loving, outgoing, physically attractive person whom I enjoyed being with. Mary saw in me a steady, stable, disciplined person whom she could trust to provide her with companionship and security. But as with most young couples, neither of us understood the meaning of God's love. There was no better place to learn it than from the Scriptures.

The thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is the most complete description of love found anywhere in the Bible, so we spent some time poring over it. It was not written primarily to teach husbands and wives how to love each other, but to help members of the local church get along better with each other in view of their differences of opinion over spiritual gifts. But wherever God's love is expressed, it should look like the model Paul presented in this chapter. That meant we would have to digest its principles thoroughly and apply them to our own lives scrupulously if we were to grow in our love for one another as we had pledged.

We still have a long way to grow, but here are some of the things that are evident in our relationship when we are expressing God's love to one another. We try to measure the quality of our love by this standard periodically. You may want to do the same.

1. Love suffers long

People who truly love are tolerant toward and accepting of one another even when they displease each other. Let's face it, none of us is perfect, and Mary and I still do stupid, careless and inconsiderate things that provoke, embarrass, inconvenience, slight or hurt each other.

When she does things like that to me, I may still withdraw and withhold my affection. Her reaction is still to strike back with angry words, and that too is probably an effort to hurt.

But when we are allowing the Lord to express His love through us, we each admit our hurts and our fears, and we share our needs and desires, but we do it graciously and kindly, all the while reaching out to one another to keep our relationship growing.

2. Love is kind

People who truly love are sensitive to each other's needs, and endeavor to meet them even when they do not feel like doing it. God's love is giving-and-serving love. It makes us look for ways to help, to do whatever needs to be done for one another's good . . . not always what we think needs to be done, but what the other person thinks should be done.

For example, most women like flowers and accept them from their husbands as expressions of love. But Mary couldn't care less about flowers because they die. Bringing her flowers doesn't necessarily say "I love you" to her. But encouraging her to share her feelings, listening to her intently, showing an interest in what she is doing, offering to help her, being willing to work on a project together with her (like this book)--those things say "I love you." When I am willing to use the language of love that she understands, I am being kind. And God's love is kind.

3. Love is not jealous

People who truly love give their mates "space" to develop their potential and find their fulfillment in life. We have observed couples in conflict because the wives decided they wanted to go back to school and get a degree. The husbands were upset because they were threatened by the potential of their wives making more money than they made, or by the new friendships they might develop and the acclaim they might receive.

We have likewise seen wives who were jealous over the time their husbands spent with friends, in recreational activities, or in church work (assuming it was not an inordinate amount of time that robbed their families of their presence). They were jealous because their husbands got to be with adults, a world infinitely more exciting to them than spending all their time with little children. But love is not possessively jealous. It gives space.

4. Love does not brag

People who truly love refrain from rehearsing their good traits, particularly when their mates are critical of them. Bragging in a marriage often assumes the guise of defensiveness. And as you already know, this is one of my major weaknesses.

When Mary accuses me of something, I want to prove to her how wrong she is, so I may list all the instances I can think of that counterbalance her charges. That is boasting. When our children were little, Mary said to me one day, "You never take me out anymore." So I named every place I had taken her during the past month.

I totally demolished her attack and won the argument, but I widened the gulf between us. She was feeling neglected, and had I been demonstrating God's kind of love I would have explored her feelings and then done something to relieve them, rather than defend myself against the accusations by boasting of the good things I had done. Love does not brag.

5. Love is not arrogant

People who truly love do not stubbornly insist that their way is best and demand that their mates give in to them. Arrogance, like boasting, can come in different sizes and shapes, but in a marriage it often erupts in the "I know best--we'll do it my way" stance. And as you already know, Mary admits that this is one of her major weaknesses.

"There are times," she says, "when I think Richard says something stupid, because it is not the way I would have said it. And I let him know in no uncertain terms, like 'Why did you ever say a dumb thing like that?' I realize now that I am putting him down in an arrogant fashion when I speak to him like that. If I were demonstrating God's kind of love, I would acknowledge the value of his point of view and admit that maybe I could be wrong."

6. Love does not act unbecomingly

People who truly love are considerate of their mates' feelings and courteous in their actions toward one another. Sarcasm is a way of life for some couples. They ridicule each other, belittle each other and trade jibes with a fury, whether they are alone or with friends. They may say it is all in fun, but it leaves wounds that will someday become festering sores.

Mary and I used to play games with a couple who would snip at each other throughout the evening. "That was a stupid move. Why did you do that?" the husband would ask. "I learned it from you. Where else?" the wife would retort. The snide remarks would fly back and forth throughout the evening. It was one symptom of their lack of genuine love for one another, and today they are no longer married to each other.

7. Love does not seek its own

People who truly love look out for their mates' best interests as much as their own. This is the essence of divine love--total unselfishness. The apostle Paul put it in words none of us can misunderstand: "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).

I can see us both growing in this regard, and it is rewarding. For example, there was a time when, on those rare occasions when we had the opportunity to go out for the evening, we would argue over where to have dinner. I like Mexican or Italian; Mary likes Chinese. If I felt like I had to give in to her, it was reluctantly at best, and it usually spoiled the good feelings between us for the rest of the evening. Now if we cannot make up our minds, it is usually because we're both trying to please the other. I'm saying, "Are you sure Mexican is all right with you tonight?" And she's saying, "Are you sure you wouldn't want something besides Chinese?" We are learning to love.

8. Love is not provoked

People who truly love control their anger when their mate displeases them. We are all human, and all humans feel anger periodically. But we only express our anger in destructive ways when we are looking to someone else to meet our needs rather than to the Lord.

Mary admits to struggling with anger: "When Richard did not meet my expectations I could pop off with angry, hostile words which I usually did not really mean, words like, 'I hate you!' It amazed me to think that he actually believed what I said. I had no idea how deeply my anger was hurting him. As I have learned to trust God to meet my needs in His own way, I have been able to express my anger more constructively, like 'Honey, I feel angry when you don't listen to me. It would help me so much if you would look at me and show an interest when I talk to you.' It amazes me how positively he reacts to that kind of approach."

9. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered

People who truly love forgive the wrongs their mates commit against them. They do not keep score, or store up memories of past wrongs, then drag them out to win a point at some future time. They put those wrongs away for good.

I have had a problem with this one. Unfortunately, my memory of wrongs suffered is longer than Mary's. One night Mary made some statement to me that brought back many of the hurts from past years, and I found myself rehashing them with her. "You'll never change," I charged. We realized as we talked it out that there were resentments inside of me that I had never resolved through forgiveness. When I realized how much I had been forgiven by God, I had no alternative but to forgive Mary for the things she had done, and then refuse to bring them up again. True love cannot be expressed otherwise.

10. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth

The word unrighteousness may refer simply to misfortune. People who truly love do not take pleasure in their mates' disappointments or failures. That is where some husbands and wives get themselves into trouble. Like Sally, who resented her husband playing ball so much, and gloated when he sprained his ankle and had to quit the team. Or Jim, who resented the amount of time his wife spent with a special friend, and crowed about it when that friend and her husband had to move to another city. When we are expressing true love, we hurt when our mates hurt and rejoice when they rejoice.

A better translation might be, "Love covers all things." People who truly love do not broadcast their mates' faults in order to put them in a poor light. That doesn't mean we will lie to keep the ones we love out of trouble, but it does mean we know when to keep our mouths shut.

A loving wife won't run home to mama and whine, "Do you know what he did to me today?" That was never a problem with us because we always lived thousands of miles from our parents and we never had the money to go that far, but many women face that temptation. A loving husband won't run to his best friend and tell him all the which things his wife does. That was not much of a temptation to us either. We were both too proud to tell anyone how many problems we were having. We may have been following this principle, but it was more out of selfishness than obedience. Now we try to live it because we are growing in our love for one another.

12. Love believes all things

People who truly love treat their mates with absolute trust. Some husbands and wives torment themselves with groundless suspicions. When Stan's wife goes out of the house, for example, he conjures up mental images of her being unfaithful. When she comes home he wants to know where she has been, how long she has stayed, to whom she has talked, and what she said. He even has a problem when she goes to see the doctor because he's sure the doctor is trying to come on to her. But love thinks the best; it gives the benefit of the doubt; it trusts. And treating our mates with trust will help them become more trustworthy.

13. Love hopes all things

People who truly love look forward to their relationship growing more meaningful and precious. They have hope. Hope is an attitude that happily anticipates the good. It isn't a blind optimism that denies the problems, but it does look beyond the problems to a sovereign Lord who can accomplish spectacular things.

When we are expressing Christ-like love we may pray something like, "Lord, I haven't seen as much growth in my mate as I would like to see and I am tempted to get discouraged. But I know You can work in his/her life in ways beyond my comprehension and I am going to trust You to do that. Meanwhile, I am going to keep working on the things in my own life that need to be changed and trust You to use my growth to encourage my mate to change." When love is functioning properly in our lives it dispels discouragement, despondency and despair. It begets hope.

14. Love endures all things

People who truly love do not allow their problems to rob them of their joy nor of their will to go on. While Mary and I have let our joy slip away at times because we got our eyes off the Lord and on each other's faults, our determination to go on has never wavered. We have said basically, "Problems may assault our marriage--money problems, sex problems, health problems, in-law problems, children problems, neighbor problems, or any other kind of problems. But we are not going to quit. We are going to continue growing into the people God wants US to be, and keep on keeping on." We would not be married today if it were not for that degree of determination. It was the one thing that kept us going through the difficult times.

15. Love never fails

People who truly love are unconditionally committed to their mates until one of them is placed in the Savior's arms. True love never fades, never withers, never dies, never runs out. We used to joke that we could never get a divorce since neither one of us would take the kids. That wasn't entirely true, of course, but it does reflect our firm decision that divorce would never be an option for us. We have been and continue to be committed to each other--unalterably and permanently committed--come what may. And that is one of the major factors that has brought us through the troubled times. If you have never made that unchangeable decision to stick with your marriage no matter what, we urge you to do it now.

We have tried to share honestly with you how we measure our love. Maybe you would like to measure yours. For our speaking engagements on this subject, Mary and I have developed a "Love Test" to help couples relate these fifteen principles to their marriages. May we suggest that you and your spouse each take the test that follows, then compare your answers. It should open the door to some honest communication, and expose the spots where your love for each other needs to be fine-tuned.

The Love Test
(Based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Rate yourself from 1 to 10 on each of the following elements of love (1 being weak and 10 being strong).

QUESTION

RATING

(1) I am tolerant toward and accepting of my mate even when he/she displeases me (patient, vs 4).

 

(2) I am sensitive to my mate's needs and endeavor to meet them even when I do not feel like doing it (kind, vs 4).

 

(3) I give my mate "space" to develop his/her own potential and find his/her own fulfillment (is not jealous, vs 4).

 

(4) I refrain from rehearsing my good points when my mate is critical of me (does not brag, vs 4).

 

(5) I do not stubbornly insist that my way is best and demand that my mate give in to me (is not arrogant, vs 4).

 

(6) I am considerate of my mate's feelings and courteous in my actions toward him/her (does not act unbecomingly, vs 5).

 

(7) I endeavor to look out for my mate's best interests as much as my own (does not seek its own, vs 5).

 

(8) I control my anger when my mate displeases me (is not provoked, vs 5).

 

(9) I forgive and forget the wrongs my mate commits against me (does not take into account a wrong suffered, vs 5).

 

(10) I do not take pleasure in my mate's disappointments or failures (does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, vs 6).

 

(11) I do not broadcast my mate's faults in order to put him/her in a poor light (bears all things, vs 7).

 

(12) I endeavor to treat my mate with absolute trust (believes all things, vs 7).

 

(13) I look forward to our relationship growing more meaningful and precious (hopes all things, vs 7).

 

(14) I do not allow our problems to rob me of my joy nor of my will to go on (endures all things, vs 7).

 

(15) I am totally and unconditionally committed to my mate until one of us is placed in the Savior’s arms (love never fails, vs 8).

 

TOTAL SCORE

 

0 - 50

Improvement urgent

51 -100

Improvement desirable

101- 150

Learning and growing; keep it up!

Walking Together

Take the Love Test. Determine in your heart to love the way Christ wants you to love and will help you to love.

Now make a copy of the test and place it in some conspicuous place where you will be reminded daily of the Christ-like love. Make daily choices to be obedient in this area, depending on the Lord to give you the power to do it.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Love