Some time ago, in a marital counselling appointment, I asked the counselee this question. His answer was not immediately forthcoming. Suspecting that it was a trick question, he slowly and cautiously answered, “Well, I think so.”
During that session we discussed that the Bible teaches a husband’s agape love for his wife is the foundation upon which marriage is built. The husbands are commanded to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Wives are never asked to “love their husbands” with this agape love (unconditional, initial, regardless of the qualities or response of the loved one), only with phileo love (to approve of, to like, to respond to the qualities of the loved one – Titus 2:4). Agape is only found in God Himself and is not just one of His characteristics but is used to define who He actually is (1 John 4:8). We can love others is this way only if He gives that love, supernaturally, to us. All human resources are inadequate.
How would you answer the question I asked my counselee? I want to go through the portion of the famous “love chapter” in the Bible that defines this agape love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8), one characteristic at a time. This is exactly the way God loves us, and when we actually realize this in our experience, we are now equipped to love, first our wives and then others, in the same way. I am using the Amplified Bible with some of the words, as it expands each Greek word to help understand its full meaning.
1.) “Love endures long and is patient and kind.” In Ephesians 4:2, Paul calls this “putting up with one another’s faults because of your love for one another.” This means understanding either those whose sins we are sick and tired of, like our wives, or those to whom we aren’t drawn or don’t naturally like. They are growing and maturing, just as we are, and neither of us see, as yet, our sins clearly (even though theirs is much more obvious than ours!). But we love them anyway, because we know God is at work in both of us, showing us our sin and changing us.
2.) “Love is never envious or arrogant with pride.” This means I am not comparing myself with others, as Paul admonishes us not to do (2 Corinthians 10:12). We are envious if we think they are further up the performance ladder than we are, and arrogant and proud if we see ourselves on a higher rung. Love realizes there is no ladder with God, no getting better and better. The ladder was removed at the cross. We are all equally little children, beloved of God. We are right where Daddy wants us, with our hand in His, and He is taking us exactly where He wants us to go, at the rate He determines.
3.) “Love is never rude.” This is the opposite of “kind” in #1. Rudeness does not value another person, considers them unimportant, and openly communicates as much. Love values all as important creatures, made in the very image f God.
4.) “Love does not insist on its own rights and is never self-seeking.” Love is able to get us out of our continual obsession with ourselves, our own rights and what we can get for ourselves in the relationship, to actually think of the other person. We forget about ourselves entirely, focusing on them and their needs, becoming very naturally, with no effort, a blessing to them.
The next characteristic in this chapter is, I believe, love’s most amazing feature. I know I have never loved in the situation that Paul describes here.
5.) “Love is never resentful nor does it even take into account evil done to it. Love pays no attention to a suffered wrong” (Amplified Bible). How is this even a possibility? An evil, wrong act done to me invariably provokes, irritates, exasperates, and even arouses me to anger, which is exactly what the Greek word in the passage means. How can anyone, when evil is done to them, not react is such a way? Only agape love does so, and it always does, and not to do so is not love! No way can I find a way to say I have not sinned in this instance. Now, do you love your wife? Do you love anyone?
6.) “Love is never glad with sin; it always sides with truth. and is pleased that truth will win.” If I truly love someone, I cannot rejoice with my them when they live in deliberate sin. I must stand with biblical truth, not forcing my position on them, judging and condemning them, or being critical of them. He will answer to his own Master. But I must not stand with him in his sin. That is loving him; coddling or enabling him is not. I have the faith to believe that his Father has him right on schedule and that truth will win!
7.) “Love bears up under anything and everything that comes; Love is ever ready to believe the best of every person in all circumstances; there is no limit to Love’s hope for the future in every situation; Love endures everything” (Amplified Bible) Love is constant and doesn’t disappear when circumstances, conduct, or belief systems change. It always knows by faith that the loved one is safely in his Father’s care, whether he even wants His care or not. God’s love needle does not move, no matter what he does, says, or thinks; if I love him mine won’t either. God has got him and will not let him go. He cannot run us off!
8.) “Love never fails.” Agape love is the most powerful force ever released in the universe, and it is the way God brings us into the the way the family functions—by firmness and compassion. He never lowers the standard of His law, but He loves us with the love described in this chapter whether we keep it or not, or even want to keep it, and He loves us enough to discipline us until we learn to “will and do of His good pleasure.”
This love first came to earth in the physical body of Jesus Christ, bound to His physical location in Palestine. That love has now exploded over the whole world in His spiritual body, the Church of Jesus Christ. Satan was defeated by it at the cross, runs from it on the earth today, and he has no place to hide from it, because his gates cannot prevail against agape love’s advance. As we learn to walk in it, we, the church, are going to win, because love never fails!