The best marriages infuse divine love into the various human loves:
- Epithumia. In a negative sense, this word is translated lust, but it can also be used in a positive way to speak of legitimate desire. Physical desire should be a part of each marriage; an absence or minimizing of the sexual relationship is symptomatic of problem areas that need to be corrected such as painful experiences in the past or tension and poor communication in the present. Marriage was divinely designed to create oneness between a man and a woman on every level, and the shared experience of sexual pleasure is an important form of love that enriches the other forms of love in a marriage union.
- Eros. This word was commonly used in Greek literature, though it does not appear in the New Testament. While it is the basis for our word erotic, it is not limited to the sensual dimension of love but goes beyond this to the romantic preoccupation with the beloved. Eros can be present with or without epithumia or sexual desire. It can lead to such a powerful identification that it virtually overcomes the distinction between giving and receiving. Because it is such an emotional love, eros cannot be summoned at will or sustained without help.
- Storge. Like eros, this word is not used in the New Testament. Storge is the love of affection and belonging, and it is borne out of familiarity. It is a love shared by members of a family who know they belong together and are comfortable in one another’s presence. It provides a sense of security and an emotional refuge from the outside world.
- Phileo. This is the love of friendship, companionship, and openness. It is the product of shared interests, time, insights, vision, and experiences. In eros, the lover is occupied with the beloved; in phileo, two or more companions are occupied with common interests and activities. Without this dimension of friendship, a marriage will slip into the rut of mediocrity.
- Agape. This is the highest of the loves because it is characterized by unselfishness and giving, even to the point of sacrifice. Agape is not a conditional “if” love that places others on a performance basis. Nor is it a “because” love that results from mutual attraction or friendship. Agape is an “in spite of” love that sets no conditions and stands firm in spite of circumstances. It is prompted by a willful choice to put another’s interest before one’s own and to serve another person regardless of his or her response. It relates more to the will than to the emotions. Agape is not theoretical but practical, because it is expressed in actions. Agape is not natural. It is a divine love, and our choice to love others in this way requires us to be willing vessels of God’s love. It is not something we can manufacture in the power of the flesh. Agape is the only love that can provide a true foundation for a successful Christian marriage, since it is an unconditional covenant commitment to an imperfect person. The other loves are all important, and each of them should be facets of the marital relationship. But they are like flowers in a garden that must be cultivated, nourished, and weeded by agape. Without it, the other loves can degenerate and become ends in themselves.
There are various ways to express these loves, and Gary Chapman argues in The Five Love Languages that we should seek to discern the predominant languages that best communicate love to our spouse. He distinguishes quality time, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Knowing this can make us more effective in ministering to the needs of a husband or wife.
In the marital relationship, it is proper for the husband to concern himself with pleasing and serving his wife, and for the wife to desire to please and serve her husband (1 Corinthians 7:3-5, 33-34). The greatest enemy to marriage is the selfish attitude that is concerned with the other person’s character and one’s own needs. Other-centered love focuses on our own character and the other person’s needs.
If we look to our marriage partners to get our personal worth needs met, we will be exploiting the relationship to get something the other person can never deliver. But if we look to Christ and daily renew our minds with the truth that our needs are fully met in Him, we will liberate our partners from unrealistic demands and find fulfillment rather than frustration. When we trust God’s love for us and believe His promise that our deepest longings are satisfied in Him, we are then free to give to the other person without expecting or demanding anything in return. Even if we are rejected in our efforts to serve, we can continue to give in spite of the pain as we acknowledge our feelings to God and reaffirm our true and unchanging position in Christ. We can do this knowing that we are secure in the love of Christ; our true significance is not threatened when we are hurt and rejected by others.
It is natural to desire that our partners reciprocate in this process, but this desire must not become our goal, since it depends on the other person for its fulfillment. We must continue to pursue the goal of ministry and leave our desires in God’s hands.
The best thing you can do for your partner is to love Jesus more. If you love Jesus more than you love your spouse, you will love your spouse more than if you loved your spouse more than Jesus.
Taken from Ken Boa’s Handbook to Spiritual Growth
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