February 8, 2019
I’ve frequently heard 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 read at a wedding ceremony. Paul’s ode to love is beautiful and appropriate for the occasion. But there is something to notice about Paul’s definitions of love. They are actions and not feelings. This passage contains things we do and don’t do to fulfill love. This kind of love can be commanded. This kind of love is a matter of the choice of will. When we think of romantic love, we often are thinking about an emotional high which we feel towards our loved one. This emotion seems quite involuntary. Paul’s teaching about love is different from this.
Now I am all for romantic love. I suspect that Jacob had romantic love for Rachel, or he wouldn’t have worked another seven years for her. And the Song of Solomon definitely seems to be love poetry. But we need wisdom as we deal with it.
Scientists have even studied romantic love. Researchers from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.
Marriage has its ups and downs: children, illnesses, and stress. The reality of life means our feelings of love for our spouse may also ebb and flow. We need the commanded love of 1 Corinthians to sustain romantic love. Marriage is a covenant—the vows say how you promise to treat one another, not necessarily how you will always feel. These feelings of love may also ebb and flow. The vows call on you to place your actions before feelings—to allow your actions to deepen and at times even rekindle your feelings. That’s why Paul’s teaching on love is so important. He places the emphasis on right actions. This kind of love seeks the best for the beloved.
Love sums up and encompasses every other virtue. To treat with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness is to love. Love boldly acts with the other’s best interest at heart. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love encompasses all the virtues. This kind of love seeks the best for the other. This is the love that can fulfill vows which say for better or for worse until death do us part.
October 19, 2018
Two people fall in love. They find they have “chemistry.” Italian researchers have found that this “chemistry” is more than a metaphor. They studied 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love. These scientists from the University of Pavia found that the powerful emotions of new love are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF). Compared to a control group of singles and people in long term relationships, the newly in love had far higher levels of NGF.
But after one year, the couples who have stayed together find their levels of NGF dropping down to the same level as singles and couples in a long-term relationship. This chemistry may be important to bonding two people together, but this emotional high does not last. Although researchers can now point to a particular molecule, the wise have always known this truth from human experience.
Since the Bible teaches us to make a “till-death-do-us-part” commitment in marriage, we realize that such a commitment means going beyond the emotional high of new love. Marriage takes work. Couples must learn how to communicate. They must also learn how to resolve conflict. They must meet one another’s needs. Emotional ups and downs should be expected. The birth of children and living with teenagers often impacts marital satisfaction. Bills, illnesses, repairs, and crises are the stuff of life with which all of us must cope. The promise of “for better or for worse” should never be entered into lightly. Yet the vows speak of the reality of life.
The person who contemplates going beyond the boundaries of his or her marriage also needs to hear this warning. The emotional high will be short lived, but the consequences will last a life time and maybe even an eternity. God’s ways are truly what is best for us and our children.
Emotions can and do change. Researchers have found that couples who have a drop of feeling in love can change the direction of their relationship. If they begin to do again some of the things of courtship—they communicate, solve problems, and meet needs, then the feelings of love can return. It takes time. In fact, doing the right things must come first. The emotions will lag behind. The difference is caused by an initial lack of trust. Will this person disappoint me again? But as the couple works at the relationship, trust is rebuilt, and the relationship restored. Actually, it won’t be quite the way it was. Researchers have found that it can actually be better.
“Till death do us part” is God’s plan for marriage. The powerful emotions of falling in love are a part of the way God has made us. Yet, we all need to be reminded that marriage takes work. It must be more than chemistry.
September 21, 2017
A recent survey involving 2000 respondents in the U.S. and Europe studied their experiences and feelings about the number of sexual partners. A part of me hates polls. Their validity depends a great deal on getting the proper sample and not having people refuse to take the poll. Further, I’m concerned that polls are used to shape opinion as much as discover it. But with those caveats in mind, what did the researchers find.
- At what number of sexual partners do you think a person becomes too promiscuous? Females: 15.2, Males: 14
- What do you think is the ideal number of sexual partners for a person to have in their lifetime? Females 7.5, Males 7.6
- At what number of sexual partners do you think a person is too sexually conservative? Females 1.9, Males 2.3
- With how many partners have you engaged in sexual intercourse over your lifetime? Females: 7, Males 6.4
Of course, you may be wondering whether respondents are telling the truth. That question was also a part of the poll. Males said they had not lied about the number of partners 58.6% of the time, and females 67.4%. If we assume that the respondents are reasonably telling the truth, we see that people are basically saying their own behavior is close to ideal.
G.K. Beale makes a great observation about our society, “Worldliness is whatever any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness to be strange.”* The above survey is telling us that it is normal to have multiple sexual partners and strange to limit sex to the marriage relationship between one man and one woman. But for the Christian it should never be about what the world views as normal but what God views as moral.
Paul wrote to a basically Gentile audience in 1 Thessalonians. These new Christians came out of a culture not unlike our own. What does Paul tell them?
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV
God defines what is sexual immorality. He defines it in scripture as sex outside the marriage relationship of one man and one woman. Paul encourages them to abstain from the world’s passions and live lives of holiness. He warns them that God is an avenger against immoral behavior. He reminds them that to ignore this teaching is not to ignore human teachers but God himself. So, what will it be: survey says or God says?
*G. K. Beale. We Become What We Worship, p. 300.
February 16, 2016
When marital dissatisfaction grows, our culture tends to tell people that they have just married the “wrong” person. Willard F. Harley in His Needs, Her Needs observes, “We think the dynamics of a good marriage depend on some mysterious blend of the ‘right’ people. Or if a marriage turns out badly, we call the two people ‘wrong’ for each other….More frequently with marital breakups one or both partners lack the skills or awareness to meet each other’s needs.”
Dr. Bill Flatt, a counseling psychologist, observes, “Without God and His power, married couples are left without sufficient strength, guidance or motive to grow through difficulties.” The guidance of scripture and the strength of our faith can help us work through the difficulties. Flatt suggests a list of things to help unlock the door to intimacy in marriage:
- Take time for each other.
- Establish priorities and live balanced lives that allow time for rest, leisure activities and each other.
- Listen empathetically to each other.
- Express feelings in a kind way.
- Be willing to stay with the marriage and work through the problems and anxieties caused by close interaction.
- Express affection continually, including nonsexual touching.
- Get competent counseling if the marriage is stuck or either partner has a desire to do an emotional cut-off.
- Learn what it means to love spouse with agape, unselfish concern.
- Be trustworthy.
- Read appropriate, helpful books.
- Try to understand and meet your partner’s needs.
- Be romantic.
- Do not take your spouse for granted.
- Concentrate upon what each partner likes about the other person.
- Look for strengths rather than weaknesses.
- Try to make your spouse feel special.
- Take time for sex.
- Compromise on different desires and frequency problems.
- Tell your spouse daily something pleasing that he/she did.
- Find a way to get out of double binds. Allow your spouse a possibility of being right.
As people who believe: “What therefore God has joined together let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6b), may we learn and apply Harley’s observation. “Become aware of each other’s needs and learn to meet them.” If we are biblically grounded to understands God’s intent for marriage and have the practical understanding to make marriage what it ought to be, the result will be stronger and happier marriages.