There’s something almost magical about a wedding—even the smallest ones. Two people pledge to become one, exchanging vows to love each other in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse. The flaws of the person standing in front of them are overshadowed in the brilliance of romantic ceremony.
Thousands of dollars are poured into the ideal venue, the best dress, and the freshest flowers. But when the fairy tale ends and the gritty reality begins, disillusioned couples may end up hating the very person they once loved most.
I’ve listened to people talk about their ex-husband or ex-wife like they would talk about a politician. I’ve heard wives belittling their husbands. I’ve seen husbands treat their wives worse than slaves. Instead of observing what it means to really love, it’s more like watching two circling snakes intent on killing each other.
It’s no wonder the Gen-Xers, the Xennials, and the Millennials are abandoning traditional marriage in favor of other arrangements. Marriage, as an institution, looks like a failure. Insanity, it is said, is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Ergo, marriage must be a form of insanity, right?
It’s not the system that’s messed up.
The problem is not with what God established; the problem is with us.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
~ 1 John 4:20, ESV, emphasis mine
This is one of those forehead-slapping scriptures. The truth is so painfully obvious, you wonder how you could have missed it before: We cannot say we love God while we hate our spouse.
“But wait,” you say, “I don’t hate my spouse!”
You know that mental dossier you keep on your spouse’s mistakes? It is a form of hatred, for love keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13.5)
Remember that time you made your husband sleep on the couch because he forgot your birthday? That was selfish anger, not patient love.
Of all the alliances we form on this earth, marriage is the one relationship that affords us the opportunity to see someone as they truly are. Our spouse sees in us (and we in them) both the hidden gems of our heart, as well as our ugliest blemishes. Our vulnerability makes even the most benign betrayal an act of war.
If we cannot love our spouse, how can we claim to love God?
First, ask yourself: is the problem with my spouse or with me? There are likely issues on both sides of the chasm. As a child of God, we should always begin by looking within.
As a child of God, we should always begin by looking within.
Consider the following questions in light of 1 Corinthians’ description of love in chapter 13:
Am I patient with my spouse?
Do I insist on my own way?
Am I irritable towards my spouse? Resentful?
Do I take pleasure in their failings?
Do I lend my approval to their wrongdoing?
Do I bear all things? Hope all things? Endure all things?
If I am failing in these categories, then I ought to stop pointing the finger at my spouse and start fixing my own heart problems. What changes can we affect in our spouse simply by loving them the way Jesus loves us?
1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4:20 need to be our go-to ammunition against the enemy’s temptation. Jesus fought Satan’s temptations with three little words: “It is written.” Imitate his example.
Satan wants us to zero-in on our spouse’s mounting mishaps. He wants you to resent your husband who can’t seem to find the hamper for his socks, or your wife who racks up credit card debt. He wants the sound of their voice—once music to your ears—to sound like nails on a chalkboard. Satan desires to either end your marriage or make you idolize it. He will take you to extremes to sabotage God’s purpose for you both.
The enemy is not your spouse, the enemy is Satan. Instead of lashing out at your husband, tell Satan to take a hike. Instead of glaring at your wife, close your eyes and say in your mind, “It is written…” Instead of flaring up in anger, take a moment to pray. Step into the fray against the real enemy. Defend your marriage.
When your blood pressure rises over yet another unmade bed, say, “If I cannot love [my husband/my wife] whom I have seen, how can I love God, whom I have not seen?”
When your eyes are tempted to roll at yet another bad choice, repeat after John, “If I cannot love [my husband/my wife] whom I have seen, how can I love God, whom I have not seen?”
A time may unfortunately come when the marriage is no longer salvageable. Infidelity, abuse, and other violations may render reconciliation impossible. But it is not always those things that end a marriage, it’s usually a mountainous pile of minor infractions we’ve failed to forgive.
If your spouse feels like the enemy, guess what? Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies too! So get on your knees and start praying earnestly for your spouse. Ask the Lord to grant you wisdom to demonstrate Christ-like love for your spouse—especially when you feel no love at all.
Do you believe your marriage is worth fighting for? If so, recognize the real enemy and take up the sword of the spirit against him. Your husband is not the enemy. Your wife is not the enemy. They are under fire. Are you going to fight to defend them or fight to destroy them?
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
~ 1 John 4.21, ESV
Your spouse and your marriage are worth defending. Begin on your knees, and remember what is written. Love like Jesus and fight like Jesus to the very end.