Another Valentine’s Day is upon us! You may be excited about your plans for romance, or the day may be just another reminder of the growing chasm separating you from your spouse. Perhaps you both feel as if love, once a blazing fire, now lies extinguished, leaving behind cold ashes. Whatever happened to the love?

You started out as great companions, united in everything. You nodded when the preacher at your wedding quoted Jesus’s words, For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,  and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:7-9). Intimacy and companionship were once your mutual goals. Separation wasn’t even on your radar.

It all seemed so romantic at first, but then life happened. Now you struggle to find anything to say to each other, apart from syncing hectic schedules and arguing about how to manage the kids. Companionship has been replaced with bored silence, mindless scrolling, and hurried arguments about who’s doing what chores this week. You may be thinking, “Whatever happened to the love?”

Rekindling love.

The good news is that even lost love can be rekindled and fanned into flame. Love is not a feeling, but where true love is expressed, feelings soon overflow.

Sometimes we buy into our culture’s lie that love is a feeling that comes and goes. But love is actually a decision to do good to another person no matter what. It is a steadfast and faithful commitment to act lovingly in action and attitude, without expecting anything in return. “Love is love” is a myth, since God has defined what true love is, especially in the context of marriage (1 Corinthians 13:4-8; Matt 19:4-5).

In God’s economy, love is not a transaction between two people. When I was in the law profession, we applied the ‘reasonable person’ test to assess whether a person acted negligently to harm someone or not. We would ask, “What would a reasonable person have done in the same circumstances?” But real love does not apply the reasonable person test. Real love is more than a social contract between two people who promise to act ‘reasonably’ and fill each other’s emotional cups. Real love is more than the feeling you get when your husband or wife meets your needs.

Whatever our culture may believe about love, marital love is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman to be kind and faithful to each other over a lifetime. Companionship lies at the heart of that commitment because God said, “It is not good for a man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen 2:18).

Seek intimacy with God first.

Inevitably, a lack of companionship in marriage follows a lack of intimacy in our relationship with the God who created us and invented marriage. It is only the Lord of love who can empower a sinner to persevere in loving an imperfect partner over a lifetime of ups and downs.

Love will burn hotter and brighter over the years, as we experience more of the love of our heavenly Father and the undeserved gift of his beloved Son, who laid down his life for us (John 3:16; Rom 5:6-8). It is this vertical relationship with the Lord that fuels the love of our horizontal relationships.

And so, if you recognize that your love for your spouse is lukewarm or getting ready for the ash heap, there’s no time to waste. Pursue an intimate relationship with the Lord as your first priority. The divorce statistics are not in your favour and Eskom will not ignite the fire of your love! It’s time to learn how to love each other by returning to God’s original design for marriage and the redemptive gospel picture that it represents.

The truth is that marriage operates best when God’s plan is followed—with the husband as the loving leader and the wife as the respectful completer. When a wife’s submission is in response to a loving husband’s leadership, it’s not hard. It’s a joy.

Intimacy is a byproduct, not a goal.

Ironically, a ‘happy’ marriage comes to those who focus on pleasing God rather than themselves, on giving love, rather than receiving it. If you pursue an intimate marriage as an ultimate end, you will fail and be disappointed. Your marriage will become just one more idol on the throne of your heart. But if you seek to love your spouse in the way that God loves you, your cup will be full and you’ll never be disappointed.

At times, you will still be hurt by your spouse’s sins. You will fail to be the husband or wife that you know you ought to be. Your relationship will still be rocked by the pressures of life. But over the long term you will be transformed and intimacy will steadily grow in your marriage. Intimacy is the natural byproduct when a husband and wife are loving God first and finding their needs met in Him.

As Christopher Ash writes, “Paradoxically, the most secure and happiest marriages are those that look outwards beyond their own (often stifling) self-absorption (or introspective ‘coupledom’) to the service of God and others in God’s world, through love of God and neighbour.” That was always the point of marriage (Gen 2:18-25; Gen 8:16-18; Gen 9:1-3).

A bigger vision of love.

What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?

What if God gave us marriage to expose the sin in us so that we could begin to learn how to love and to grow in becoming more like Christ?

What if every married Christian has the privilege and responsibility to showcase the love relationship between Christ and the church?

No wonder marriage is under such attack today! Even faithful Christians are feeling the pressure to accept, affirm and celebrate every kind of twisted ‘marriage’ the imagination can conjure up, for fear of being called hateful bigots or condemning pharisees. The image of the gospel in marriage is at stake. One of the things that Satan hates most is a marriage which displays the selfless love of the gospel. And one of the things that Satan loves most is seeing an ugly parody of the relationship between Christ and his bride.

The image of the gospel of grace.

“Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, but I am referring to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:31).

Marriage points us to our hope of Christ returning to claim his bride, the church, making marriage a living picture of the gospel of grace. Marriage is designed to demonstrate God’s redeeming love for his people and Christ’s restorative power to bring beauty from the ashes of sin and brokenness.

The Gospel, God’s answer for sin in this world, provides both the model and motivation for lifelong love and intimacy between a husband and a wife. For those who trust in Christ as their Saviour and Lord, the Gospel is the key which God has given to unlock closed doors between Himself, husband, and wife. The Gospel of grace empowers us to treat each other with kindness, to forgive, and to build trust, intimacy, and companionship year after year, not just on Valentine’s day.

The Gospel of grace ignites and fans into flame selfless marital love. It is the bridge between husband and wife who instinctively do things that create distance in their marriage. Genesis 3 explains why the flames of love tend to become embers overnight. The natural trajectory of marriage is to transition from a harmonious, one-flesh union to a state marked by distance and animosity. Let’s remind ourselves of how this distance and disharmony came about:

Distance and disharmony.

Satan deceived Eve through a clever combination of outright lies, half-truths, and falsehoods disguised as truth (Gen 3:1-6). She listened to the serpent instead of to God and her husband. Adam was a passive bystander who failed to actively lead his wife into righteousness. Instead, he followed her into sin. Roles were reversed and disorder ensued.

When Adam first eyed his beautiful wife, he started out exclaiming, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” But he ended up blaming God and the woman you put here with me (Gen 2:23; Gen 3:12).  The loving husband and wife who once lived in blissful harmony, “naked and unashamed”, ended up hiding in the shadows, with fig leaves to cover their guilt.

Doesn’t the Fall narrative expose the heart of every argument and every cold, estranged marriage?

A distracted heart is too busy to love. A disappointed heart gives up on love. A hard heart doesn’t know how to love anybody but itself. A rebellious heart finds God’s ways too restrictive. An idolatrous heart clings to its spouse like a saviour. There are so many heavy blankets of sin that threaten to snuff out love’s flame. But change begins when we recognize our need for the mercy, power, and love of God that we don’t have.

We need Jesus to forgive us and move our hearts to choose our spouse’s good over our own. That’s why God’s redemptive power is most clearly seen in marriages where Christ is revered as Lord.

Reverence for Christ.

In Eph 5:22-25, Paul gives us the blueprint for a loving and intimate marriage, fueled by the renewable energy of the gospel and reverence for Christ as Lord. Notice how many times Christ is mentioned, the invisible man in every interaction between husband and wife. The Lord Jesus is the heartbeat of every instruction Paul gives about marriage:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing  her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

Your spouse does not always ‘deserve’ your best, but reverence for Christ means that love covers over a multitude of sins. After all, “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God’s love sprung out of pure grace, as there was nothing good in us to commend us to Him. So, when it feels hard to express love and to forgive your spouse, remember that it wasn’t easy for God to send Jesus to die for you either.

Jesus modelled how a husband should love his wife– by dying to his own needs and desires, laying down his own rights and comforts, to pursue the optimal good of his bride. The onus to initiate this sacrificial, selfless love falls on the husband, who is the head of his home, as Christ is the head of the Church: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.”

Both the husband who doesn’t lead and serve his wife in love, and the wife who doesn’t submit, respect and complement her husband are ultimately rejecting Christ as their Lord. But Paul says, “Remember what God did for you in Christ! Remember that God sought to reconcile you with himself, at ultimate cost to himself! Remember that He acted for your good even when it cost him everything. Now go and do the same in your marriage!”

A life centered on the Lord Jesus will enable us to confess our sins and freely love our spouse without demanding anything in return. Christ is the ultimate Groom who fans the flame of marital love, not just on the wedding day or Valentine’s day, but every day.

A prayer for marriage.

Lord, help me to see that the more I learn to love like Christ, the more joy, contentment, intimacy, and happiness I will have in my marriage. Teach me to love you with all my heart and to love my nearest neighbour as myself. Give me fresh eyes to see the gospel of grace, so my life will be marked by the attitudes and actions of love: Help me to be patient and kind in my marriage, not jealous of others or my spouse. Keep me meek, so I will not brag, nor speak arrogantly or rudely to my spouse. Keep me humble, so I will regard my partner as more important than myself and seek opportunities to do good to him/her every day. Rescue me from my stubborn selfishness! In the heat of conflict, give me self-control, so I will not be easily angered nor embittered by my spouse’s past wrongs. As husband and wife, may we refuse to rejoice in unrighteousness, but rather rejoice in the truth of your Word. Lord, impart to us your unfailing love for each other– a love that bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Remind us daily that our greatest achievements, services, and sacrifices are worth nothing without love.  Thank you that your love never fails, even if ours does. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

(1 Corinthians 13).

Please sign up for the Marriage Enrichment course at CCM on 2, 9 and 16 March. No cost.

Share this post