The Essential Element of a Godly Marriage

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34

The last several weeks we have discussed the importance of prayer to our marriages. We have also looked at the importance of committing our marriages entirely to Christ, of praying for His help to do so, and praying that God will use our marriages to serve Him by serving others.

This week we want to look at an element that is essential to having the marriage God desires for us. It is crucial to being able to serve Him together. That element is love.

Even the world knows that if there is not love between a couple, there is no marriage. There may be a piece of paper issued by the government, a ceremony, a honeymoon trip, two people living under the same roof, etc. But if there is not love between those two people, it is not really a marriage.

I have done pre-marital counseling for many years. And not one couple I’ve counseled has entered into their marriage without saying they love each other. Then why do statistics show us that somewhere between 40 and 50% of marriages end in divorce?*

The answer to this question lies in what we understand love to be. Most people think of love as it is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The first definition is “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” The second is “attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship.”

Notice that both definitions are based on feeling. But God’s idea of love is quite different. Feelings are not unimportant to God. And that includes the feeling of love. But love is so much more than feelings.

God’s Kind of Love

God does call us to love each other in marriage. He says to husbands, for example, in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” And Jesus tells both husbands and wives in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

But the word used for love in these verses is different from the dictionary definition we noted earlier. This word is “agape.” It means to direct our will to discover what is best for someone, what brings him or her joy, and to supply that “best” for that person. Notice it does not depend on how we feel about the person.

This is why Jesus can tell us in Luke 6:27-28: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” We can love our spouses in this active way–“do good,” “bless,” “pray”–even when they act badly. This is because our love for them is founded on much more than feelings.

We cannot achieve this type of love on our own.

The Bible tells us where this type of love comes from. We read in 1 John 4:7-8: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 

God first loved us. | Simply One in Marriage.

Real love comes only from God. If we want to enjoy that love, we have to be born of God and know Him. There is only one way to do that. God tells us that way in 1 John 4:9-10: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Once we have experienced, received and really understand the love of God through faith in Jesus, we can truly love each other. We read in 1 John 4:11-12: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 

So if we are going to love each other as husband and wife as God intends and desires, we must begin by giving our lives to Him through faith in Jesus. (If you want to know more about how to do this, read Meet Jesus.)

When we do that, as part of God’s love for us and the gift of salvation we receive from Him, we receive another gift–the Holy Spirit. We read about this in 1 John 4:13: “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit.”

And our generous God and Father is not finished giving us gifts. He also gives us the fruit of the spirit that comes with the Holy Spirit. These gift fruits are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). This is a gift basket of fruit any of us are glad to receive. Notice the first of those fruits is love.

God gifts us with love for Him, our spouse, and others. He gives us all these gifts, beginning with love, so we can serve Him. And we serve Him as we serve others.

We begin serving others by serving each other in marriage. But we do not stop there.

Read what God says to us in 1 Peter 4:7-11: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (bold mine)

Out of His love for us, God not only gives us the gift of salvation (see Romans 6:23), He also gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brings with Him the gift of the fruit we need to live a God-pleasing life and to have a joyful marriage. The Holy Spirit also brings us gifts we need to serve God and others (see 1 Peter 4:11 above; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 for further explanation about this, and a list of some of the gifts).

Along with all this, God has led us as couples to love Him and to love each other. He has made us as one in Him (see Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:6-9; Ephesians 5:31). Thus we have each other as partners to use the gifts He has entrusted us with to serve Him and others.

Love truly is vital to our marriages–genuine agape love. This love begins with loving God above all else (see Matthew 22:34-40). Only then can we love each other above ourselves. Then we can serve God, each other, and others around us.

God’s agape love is the essential element of a joyful, fulfilling marriage.

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♦   Read this week’s teaching together. What did God bring to your attention individually and together? How will you apply those things to your lives and to your marriage?

♦   Discuss how God’s love has affected you and your marriage. Encourage each other by each of you telling your spouse at least one way that he or she has shown you love and how it had a positive impact on you.

♦   Discuss together the gifts each of you have. Read the Scriptures noted in the teaching above to help you recognize your gifts. Help each other see and affirm your gifts. Discuss how you can use them to serve God together.

♦   Pray together and tell God how much you love Him. Thank Jesus for the love He has shown you. Ask God to help your love for Him and each other to grow and continue to grow. Ask Him to show you how you can show that love to Him and others.

♦   The song “More Love to Thee, O Christ” by Elizabeth Prentiss might help you in worshiping Jesus as you close your time together. You can find a video of it, including the lyrics here:

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Next week, as the holiday season begins, we will discuss the importance of thankfulness in our marriage.

Until then, may God bless you and your marriages in all His wonderful ways,

*Statistics vary some, and there are many factors that enter into this, i.e., couples with a strong commitment to their faith have somewhat lower divorce rates, but the overall rate is accurate for all marriages.
THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Photo by cortez13 via pixabay (CC0), cropped/text added.

Do you have this essential element of a godly marriage? What is it exactly and how do you get it? This Couple's Bible Study looks at the one thing each marriage needs to be what God intended. | Simply One in Marriage.




About David Penley

A devoted husband and father, former pastor and seminary professor, who longs to grow closer to the likeness of Christ each day and share God's love and truth with everyone.