It was 2010 when I first came across a Scripture that has since become my favorite piece of marriage advice.
I had been blogging for less than a year, but I had been studying marriage for many years beforehand in my attempt to understand God’s heart for our marriage. I had even read the verse – of course I had – it’s in the opening to Paul’s famous chapter on marriage in Ephesians. But I’d never read them in The Message translation, and the rendering struck me at my core.
Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.Ephesians 5:2 (MSG)
Love. Like. That. Three ridiculously simple words. Brilliant, but oh so hard to actually do.
The Bridal Paradigm
Much of what Jenni and I believe and teach about marriage comes from the truth that God designed marriage to reflect the relationship between Christ (our Bridegroom) and the church (his bride). This is much more than a trite metaphor. It’s central to our identity in Christ and key to understanding how marriage works best.
Paul draws the parallel between the spiritual and marital a few verses after the one quoted above. He first lays out instructions for husbands and wives on how to live in mutual surrender to one another, then adds this zinger:
“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.Ephesians 5:31-32
The key to unraveling this profound mystery, literally “mega-mystery” in the Greek, is found in discovering how our oneness with Jesus relates to our oneness as husband and wife.
And the lessons are everywhere you look.
It Starts With Love
Jenni and I have spent years examining the treasure trove of parallels between our walk with Jesus and our marriage. Each informs the other. Over and over.
But as with Paul’s famous chapter on marriage, it all starts with love – extravagant, selfless, sacrificial love that holds nothing back. We are called to be the kind of generous lovers that give all for the sake of intimacy, for the sake of a deeply connected and abiding relationship.
What else does this kind of love look like? This love…
- pursues relentlessly and never gives up
- is unconditional, that isn’t based on correct behavior
- gives first, without the expectation of reciprocation
- blesses, protects, and supplies every need
- goes beyond expectation, that gives according to the need and then some
The list is endless.
Being the Beloved
Loving like Jesus may seem like an impossible task. I suppose it is.
The best way I’ve found to “learn a life of love” is to experience, encounter, and embrace being the beloved bride of Christ. You can’t give away what you don’t have. You can’t give what you don’t “get.”
So let your life in Jesus major on the love of Jesus. Make love the central pursuit of knowing God. Let him love you, and let yourself experience his love. Pursue it relentlessly.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3 17b-19 (NIV)
The “knowing” here is a deep experiential understanding. In Greek, the word gnosko is also used as a euphemism for the sexual union, as in “Joseph knew his wife, Mary.” I’m not trying to be sacrilegious here, but it does convey the intense, intimate, and experiential way in which we are to know God’s love.
The fact that Paul describes the love of Christ as ultimately unknowable means it is a lifelong exploration that leads us ever-onward toward “fullness” in God.
We Have Help
To “love like that” is a tall order. But the good news is that, as believers, we have the very love we are called to lavish on each other living right inside us. We also have the Holy Spirit to guide us into the “life of love” we are called to emulate.
Imagine for a moment that love was the main driving force in your marriage. What kind of relationship would you have if every action, every word, and every thought was motivated only by love? Not by what you might get out of the bargain. Not even to get love in return. But simply to love because we are called to love for love’s sake and for the sake of the intimacy it fosters.
Want to transform your marriage? Do all in your power to live a life of love.