After Three Years of Marriage: Love is Unconditional

One of the benefits of reflecting on the past year is that it affords me the opportunity to see areas where I need to continue to grow. It also reminds me of the importance of my role as a wife. Carolyn Mahaney has taught me so much (through her writing and speaking, of course) about God’s design for me as a woman and as a wife. The last few days I have been listening to some of her messages and in her message “Loving Your Husband” on Titus 2:3-5 she highlights two things that were really convicting to me:

  1. Loving my husband like Paul talks about is a learned behavior, not what comes naturally to me.
  2. Loving my husband like Paul talks about is not contingent on my husband’s treatment of me or his meeting of all of my expectations.

First, Paul exhorts the older women to teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children. The idea of teaching implies that one is not an expert at the subject matter. You don’t have to teach a young woman how to love her husband if she is already good at it. The truth is we are not naturally inclined to love our husbands in the way that Paul is talking about here. Mahaney explains that this form of love that Paul speaks of is a warm, affectionate love, not a love mainly expressed through action. Yes, we can serve our husbands and take care of them, but as Carolyn so helpfully says, we can do all of these things without having any affectionate feelings towards them. Often I find myself loving my husband in ways that I think he needs to be loved (i.e. serving him, doing things for him, etc.) rather than really working hard at getting to know him and love him as my dearest friend and lover. This is why the older women are commanded to teach the younger women how to love their husbands. They have walked the road of marriage. They have years of experience in failure and success. And more importantly, they have seen Christ’s transforming work in their own life and in their marriage. This is the basis of their wisdom and experience. And they can transfer that knowledge to the younger women around them. Because of sin, I am naturally inclined to love my husband in my own selfish way, which leads me to my next point.

Second, loving my husband is not based on his performance as a husband. Loving him, submitting to him, and respecting him as my God-given partner should not be withheld in the moments when he is failing me as a godly leader and spouse. My love for him is (and should be) unconditional. I married a sinner. And I know he married a sinner. If Paul wanted loving my husband to be contingent on his behavior towards me he would have put a clause in this verse in Titus 2. But he didn’t. For a long time I have pretended like that little clause is actually there in Scripture. I withhold respect and trust in Daniel because he is not doing what I want him to do. I treat him with contempt because he is not meeting my expectations. I ignore biblical truth about soft answers and humility because I sense that my needs are not being met by him. What I have had to learn is that my expectations are not ultimate, nor are they always accurate. Yes, my husband has responsibilities before the Lord, but so do I. And Jesus makes it very clear that I must deal with my own heart, sin, and actions before I get in my husband’s face about what he is not doing right (Matt. 7:1-5; Luke 6:39-42). Failure to do this on my part has actually revealed my own idolatry more than I care to admit at times.

The reality is that marriage is a daily exercise in self-sacrifice. Sometimes I have to sacrifice my expectations and desires in order to serve my husband and point him towards the Savior. Sometimes he must do the same for me. When I love my husband and submit to his leadership regardless of how he is acting I am actually closer to the path of Christ than if I spent my time stewing over his imperfections and failures. Christ has paid for every failure of leadership on the part of my husband in the same way that he has paid for every unkind word, idolatrous desire, and hateful reaction towards my husband on my part. When I withhold love from my husband because of his sin, I am actually saying more about my unbelief in the Gospel’s power in his life than I am about my husband’s behavior.

Christ’s love for us is unconditional. There is nothing we can do that can change his love for us. It is based on the merit of his shed blood on our behalf. And our marriages, which are meant to image the beautiful relationship our Savior has with his Bride (us), are to be rooted in the same type of unconditional, covenant keeping love. It’s the covenant and commitment that enables me to love my husband. But even more than that, it’s the cross of Christ that proves to me that this love is even possible. Jesus made a way for me to love my husband so that God will get the most glory as a result. Jesus made a way for me to love my husband even when it goes against what I naturally want to do. Jesus made a way for me to love my husband even when he doesn’t meet every expectation and need I have. Why? Because Jesus is enough, and every act of submission and trust towards my husband is actually displaying my trust and submission to the Savior.

That is my hope for obeying Titus 2. That is my hope for my fourth year of marriage. And by God’s grace, that is my hope for every year after that.

The message by Carolyn Mahaney that I referenced (Loving My Husband) can be listened to here.