The Most Perfect Love
by Rich Murphy
Love is one of those words that can be a little funny. It can be so vague as to defy description, or even definition. When we encounter it, we’re sure that we know what it is; even though we’ve never felt it before. When we ask others about it, they act as if they know all about it; but, they can’t define it for us; typically saying, “You’ll know it when it happens to you.”
Throughout the world, people say that they get married for love. But, just because they say they love one another, doesn’t mean that they really do. Let’s be honest with ourselves here for a moment. When we say “love” what do we really mean, anyway? What kind of love are we experiencing?
If it is really love, why is it so fleeting? Why do we have such a struggle to maintain that warm feeling in our hearts? How is it possible that just one wrong word or action from the other person can take away that feeling, and replace it with other, much uglier ones?
I have put years worth of effort into maintaining the feeling of love in my marriage; both in making sure I felt that love towards here, and that she felt that way towards me. But, even with all that expended time, energy, and even money, I can never be sure when something will come along in a second to try and rob that wonderful feeling of being in love.
Personally, I have always felt that if this great feeling was truly love, then it shouldn’t be able to be changed by something as transitory as a misspoken word. After all, isn’t love supposed to be timeless?
Maybe, if my love could be changed, or even destroyed that fast, maybe it wasn’t love after all.
If we want to know about love, we must go to the source of love, its inventor, Jehovah God. Since He is love (1 Jn 4:8, 16), He should know more about it than anyone else does. Looking in His book, we find that in fact, the Creator does give us a definition of what love is:
Most of the time, we look at those verses, and think something like “what a wonderful bit of poetry;” or, possible, “yeah, I know.” But, have you ever taken the time to analyze that list of qualities, to make sure you understand it? Or, how a about using those verses as a checklist, to see if what you feel towards your spouse is really love?
I can destroy most people’s idea of their emotional love with just one of those qualities, the seventh in the list, where it says, “it is not self-seeking.” Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment. How many of us can really say that we married our spouse for the purpose of being a blessing to them? Wasn’t our true motive more selfish than that? Didn’t we really marry them because we wanted to receive something from them?
All women marry because they want someone who will take care of them, buy them gifts, say sweet nothings in their ears, and otherwise be romantic towards them. You won’t find a woman who says, “From the first time I saw him, I just knew that I wanted to cook, and clean and iron his shirts for him.” No, she wants to receive something from the relationship.
All men marry because they want to have a regular sexual partner. They don’t marry thinking, “Oh, if I can just marry her, she’ll go to the mall and spend all my money for me.” Then I can smile at her and compliment her for the clothes she buys. No, he wants to receive something from their relationship.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to receive something from our marriage relationships; I’m just saying that doesn’t meet the definition of love that our Creator gave us.
You see, true love focuses on giving, not on getting. So, when we focus on getting, we’re not operating in love. In fact, that’s the opposite of love. When we focus on receiving, we’re self-focused; but, when we focus on giving, we’re focused on the other person.
Taking that thought one step further, when we look at our marriage relationships, we find ourselves dishing out our love in proportion to what we’ve received from the other person. If they haven’t given us enough to satisfy our wants and needs, we don’t give them what they want or need. Of course, nobody admits they’re doing that, but in fact we all do.
Let’s take for example a woman who doesn’t “feel like” making love with her husband? Why? Typically it’s because he hasn’t done enough to meet her emotional needs. Until he does, she doesn’t want to meet his. Or, how about a man who isn’t romantic towards his wife? He might say that he doesn’t know how to be romantic; but, the truth is that he doesn’t feel motivated to be romantic, because of something his wife is doing that he doesn’t like, or something that she isn’t doing for him.
Love is not supposed to be based upon conditions; it is supposed to be given away unconditionally. If we wait until the other completes our list of requirements, we aren’t loving them, we’re just rewarding them for good behavior.
We could actually take that whole list as a test of our love towards our spouse. If we do well on it, that means what we think is love, really is. If not, well, that means we have some problems.
Remember, this list is God’s definition of true love. It doesn’t say anything about being passionate, or about buying flowers. Nor does it talk about “how you feel in your heart;” it talks about the attitudes and actions that one portrays.
For each of the areas mentioned, rate yourself from 1 to 10; 1 meaning you fail in that area and 10 meaning you’re great in that area. If you don’t know what something means, give yourself a poor rating. After all, if you don’t know what it is, you’re probably not doing it. If you want, you can also rate your spouse as well.
This will only work if you’re honest with yourself. Don’t rate yourself higher than you deserve, or put what you think you should be; rate yourself on what you really do on a day to day basis. Just because you did something on her birthday, doesn’t mean that you do it every day. We’re not looking for a rating on your best day, but on your average day.
If you “feel it” but don’t do it, it doesn’t count either. One can say to themselves, “I’ll always be patient with my wife.” But, then, when he’s waiting for her in the store he’s growling to himself. In that case, the old saying “actions speak louder than words” is true.
It’s amazing how many of those things can give us trouble. Take patience for example. We might think we’re patient, until we have to wait in a place where we don’t want to wait. How many men can wait patiently in a clothing store while their wives are trying on clothes? Or, how many women can wait patiently in the auto parts car, while their husbands are looking for some widget they don’t need, but want to install on their car?
Patience is only patience when we mange to remain patient in spite of circumstances; or in spite of the actions of the other person. If you can only be patient while waiting for your wife to get ready to leave if you’re watching a football game, you’re not patient. In fact, you’re probably hoping she’ll be slow, so you can watch more of the game. It’s true patience when you can wait for her to get ready to go to the game, even though she’s late.
Let’s try another one from the list; how about “kindness.” Are you always kind with your spouse? Ladies, when you have that time of month, do you speak with kindness to your husbands? Men, when you have a bad day at work, do you come home and tell your wife what a wonderful women she is?
Why is it that the people who are closest to us generally receive the worst from us? If they are the people we “love” shouldn’t they receive the best, instead of the worst? How can we say we love them, if we can’t even be kind to them?
I don’t want to go through every item on that list, so let me skip over a few. I already talked about being self-seeking, so I won’t repeat myself. But, how about the one that follows it; what about being easily angered? Do you find yourself being easily angered by the things your spouse says and does?
We all have little hot button items; seemingly insignificant things that can make us angry at the drop of a hat. Do you get as angry when your spouse does those things as you do when other people do them? Or, does your love overcome your anger?
You do realize that’s what God does, don’t you? Even though His justice requires Him to become angry at our sin; His love causes Him to forgive us. In fact, His love caused Him to pay the price for our sin; so that we wouldn’t have to.
Let me try and put that into the perspective of a marriage relationship. One of the common failings of men is that they throw their dirty clothes on the floor, instead of putting them where they belong. Many women are angered by this action, especially since they have to pick up those clothes that their husbands left on the floor. But, if that woman was thinking in love, she would not be easily angered. Instead of becoming angry at her husband for throwing his clothes on the floor, she’d pay the price for his “sin” by picking up the clothing, and putting it where it belongs.
That may seem like a pretty insignificant thing, but do you know that people actually fight over such weighty matters? Do you realize that when Christ went to the cross to pay the price for our sins, he also paid the price for the sins we committed against each other?
In the Old Testament sacrificial system, sins were divided into two basic categories. One would make a sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins against God; or one would make an offering for their guilt for a sin committed against another person. When Jesus went to the Cross, He was the last sacrifice for both our sins, and our guilt. He is the only sacrifice we need.
The very next item on our list says, “not keeping record of wrongs.” I’m going to have to pick on the ladies here a little bit. It seems that they have a much better memory for these wrongs than their husbands do. Every time there’s an argument, the women are able to bring up every similar incident in the entire history of their marriage. I wish I had that good a memory!
Okay, I’ll have to admit that some things are harder to forget than others; especially events that have hurt us. But, where is the line between trying to remember something bad that happened and the memory staying with us whether we want it to or not? I think this verse refers to those who try and remember the bad.
I think you’re getting the idea of what I’m trying to say here. It isn’t what we think of ourselves that matters; it’s how we act that matters. We can think we’re okay; but, if our actions don’t back that up, we’re not okay. We can think that we’re acting in love; but if our actions don’t back that up, we don’t have love.
Have you seen how couples who have been married for years talk about each other? You can tell an awful lot about their marriage, just by listening how they talk. When their marriage is good, it is reflected in the good they say of one another. When it is bad, that too shows up in how they talk.
If we could turn the clock backwards on that same couple, to the time they were dating, we’d probably find them talking much differently; especially in the case of the couples who speak badly about their spouses.
When a couple “falls in love” all they see is the good in the other person; not the bad. Even when their friends point out the failings of the other person, they still can’t see those failings. Love or at least lust is truly blind.
Somewhere along the line, we stop seeing only the good in the other person and start seeing the bad in them. Now, I’m not going to tell you to ignore the bad in your spouse; every person is made up of a combination of good and bad qualities. It’s perfectly normal to see the bad along with the good. The real problem isn’t the bad that we find in our spouse, the real problem comes in when we focus upon the bad, instead of focusing upon the good.
So, if that person had enough good characteristics to overshadow their bad ones before marriage; why is it that the bad characteristics seem to overshadow the good ones a few years after marriage?
Marriage doesn’t typically make people worse, it makes them better. Most people, whether male or female, react positively to the responsibility of taking care of others. They may not know what to do or how to do it; but, they will do the best they can.
Typically, the problem isn’t in the other person’s bad actions that cause us so much trouble; it’s our perception of their actions that does. Or, let me put it this way: it’s not their bad actions that are the problem, but our bad attitude that is the problem. Because we have developed a bad attitude towards our mate, we interpret their words and actions bad. In fact, we magnify their bad words and actions to seem much worse than they are; while we overlook the good things that they say and do to us.
It is interesting to note that our perception of another person’s words and actions has more to do with how those actions affect us than the actions do. Each of us can easily twist something that is meant for good into something destructive, just by the way we accept it. In the same way, we can take something destructive that another person has said, and choose to ignore it; removing the sting of those destructive words.
Our attitude has a lot to do with maintaining a good, healthy, loving marriage relationship. If that is so, why do so many couples have trouble with bad attitudes? Why are they thinking so negatively about their spouses, the ones they promised to love “till death do us part?”
There are two parts of the answer to this question. The first part is found in the word “forgiveness;” and the second part is found in the word “decision.” Let me explain further.
As long as we are all human, we are and will always be imperfect. Since we are not perfect, we do imperfect things; things that can be misunderstood and things that hurt other people. Knowing this, we must make sure that we do not allow those things to stay in our hearts and lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians:
Okay, that sounds like great advice; but, how do we put that into practice?
There’s really only two ways to get rid of wrath. The first is to forget the cause of the wrath; and the second is to forgive the offense. If we do like many people do, and just forget the offense which caused our wrath, then that offense stays in our minds and hearts, waiting until we stumble into its trap.
Because of that, forgetting isn’t really getting rid of the wrath; it’s only covering up the problem. The wrath is still there, it’s just hidden. All too often, another similar offense will trigger not only the wrath of the new offense, but the wrath that has been hidden along with the hidden offense. Instead of reacting normally to the new situation, we overreact, treating the offense as if it is much bigger than it actually is.
So, forgetting an offense isn’t really obeying the admonition that Paul gave to the Ephesians, it’s only pretending to do so. On the other hand, forgiving the offense eliminates the wrath at its root; it can’t come back, because it no longer exists.
Let me take a step aside for a moment to say this. Much of the offense and anger we have in marriage isn’t caused by what the other person has done, but our misunderstanding of what they have done. Remember what I was saying about attitude a little earlier? Because of our bad attitude, what is intended one way can easily be misunderstood another way. An innocent statement or action can become an offense; even though it isn’t intended that way.
To forgive another is probably one of the greatest acts of love. It, in effect, says, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, I love you anyway.” If we truly love one another, this will be our normal response. It doesn’t matter what the other person does, our desire to love them will overcome the offense, and motivate them to forgive.
Let me try and explain this with an example from my own life. When my wife and I started out in the ministry, we traveled in a motorhome that the Lord gave us. At the beginning, we had no idea how many years we would spend in that motorhome; but, we spent a total of nine years living in it. As you can imagine, spending so much time living in such a confined space was very hard on our family.
My wife was never comfortable living in that motorhome (which I really can’t blame her for), but she put up with it. Many times she had to pray, asking God to help her get through the day, or even get through the hour in that confined living space. When we were getting to the end of those nine years, she was at the end of her patience; she couldn’t stand it any more.
Wanting to do something about the situation, but not wanting to close down the ministry, my wife asked me to agree with her going back to work as a teacher in the public schools. That way, I could concentrate on the ministry, while she made the money necessary to move us out of the motorhome. Because of the nature of our ministry, neither of us could see a way that I could both work and minister. Although I was uncomfortable with the idea of her working outside the home, I consented.
The reason I was uncomfortable with her going back to teaching was that I knew there would be a price to pay. The price would be that she wouldn’t have time for the ministry, for the family, or for me.
She immediately found a job, and it went just as I thought it would. Teaching isn’t a nine-to-five job; it requires evenings and weekends for preparation and grading of homework. So, all of my wife’s time was taken up with her job, and she didn’t have time or energy for those things that I thought. Someone had to take up the slack, and that someone was me; forget about the fact that I didn’t have time to do it, I had to.
That’s where my problems started. I felt abandoned, rejected, and like everyone thought what I was doing was unimportant. In addition, my wife would expect me to take time from my work to help her with hers. I felt that was truly unfair.
Of course, the devil came along for the ride. He’s always looking out for an opportunity to bring division into our marriages. So, he was right there to tell me how badly my wife was treating me, and how unfair she was to me, and anything else he could think of to stir the pot.
Now, let me be clear on something here. She wasn’t doing anything wrong; even though I felt (emotionally) as if she was mistreating me. The problem wasn’t in her actions; it was in my attitude towards her actions.
Many times, the problems we have with family members and especially with our spouses aren’t for what they’ve done; the problem comes in how we accept what they’ve done. If we accept it well, their action was good. However, if we choose to accept it badly, then we react, both emotionally, and through our actions, as if they had done wrong.
Okay, so how was I supposed to deal with the situation? There’s really only one way; that is to forgive. I had to forgive my wife for how I “perceived” she was mistreating me. Let me get something straight here. It doesn’t matter if someone has actually mistreated you, or if you just think they have, you still have to forgive. I wasn’t forgiving her for her benefit; I was doing it for mine. I needed to be set free from the feelings I had, she didn’t.
There is nothing that sets one free so much as to forgive another. As long as we allow the bad feelings towards someone to stay in our hearts, we are imprisoned by those feelings. But, at the moment we forgive them, we, not they, are set free.
Of course, the enemy doesn’t want us set free, so he’ll immediately work to bring us back under captivity. The fastest way for him to do that is to bring all those negative thoughts back to our minds. If we accept them, we also accept the hurt and bitterness that goes along with them. This puts us back into captivity. But, if we reject them, he just waits for a more opportune time.
Unfortunately, the devil can be very patient at times; at least, he was so with me. If I refused to accept those negative thoughts and feelings, he just kept coming back time after time, playing the same old recording over and over, until I did accept it.
Here’s the great secret that I learned from all this. That is, even though we’ve forgiven someone for something they’ve said or done, we may have to forgive them again and again and again. What I mean is that when we allow accept those negative thoughts and feelings, it is as if we’d never forgiven the person. Therefore, we need to forgive them again. Each and every time we harbor those thoughts and feelings, we need to forgive them again. We need to do it until our mind stops accepting all that negative junk.
There were times when I needed to forgive my wife twenty times in one day for what I was feeling about what she did. Even though she wasn’t doing anything wrong, I needed to forgive her. Even though I’d already forgiven her, I needed to do it again.
One of the truly great things about forgiveness is that once we forgive our feelings towards that person change. It is easy to feel like we can’t forgive someone, but if we decide to do it, as an act of our will, then our feelings follow our actions. Just the act of forgiving them opens us up to feel good about them once again.
Let me add this, as well. If we don’t forgive others, we can’t expect God to forgive us. Having bitterness or unforgiveness in your heart is a guaranteed ticket to hell. You don’t have to do any “big sins” just don’t forgive your spouse. Jesus said:
Ouch! If my forgiveness of others is a requirement for me to be forgiven, that gives me a lot of motivation to forgive others. I want God the Father to forgive me; so I’d better make sure I forgive.
Now, let’s tie this forgiveness thing in with the love thing and see what we get. I’ve said two things up to this point that are really important in making this tie-in. The first one is that our emotions follow our actions. The second one is that forgiveness is one of the greatest acts of love that exists.
Let me deal with the second one of those first. When we wait for the person who offended us to come and ask for forgiveness, we haven’t really acted in unconditional love. Our act of love is conditional on their asking for forgiveness. But, when we forgive someone who we feel has wronged us, even though they may not even realize how they wronged us; we are acting in unconditional love.
If you want to take even one step further (and we should), forgive them while they are still in the act of doing what is wrong; that is truly unconditional love; like what Jesus did on the cross:
This was the first thing that scripture records Jesus saying while hanging on the cross. Even though He was still suffering the cross, even though they were still killing Him; He chose to forgive them. That’s perfect unconditional love!
What I had said about our emotions following our actions was in the context of forgiveness as well. I said that many people struggle with unforgiveness because they “don’t feel like they can forgive.” However, forgiveness isn’t an act of our emotions; it is an act of our will. I also said that when we forgive, our feelings towards that person change. This is one of the truly amazing things about forgiveness, our emotions follow our actions.
However, this concept isn’t just limited to forgiveness; we can apply it to anything. When we take action, whether positive or negative, good or bad, our emotions will follow those actions. If we act as if we hate someone, doing bad things to them and speaking against them, we will find ourselves feeling hatred towards that person. If we start planning on killing someone, collecting the things we need, and seeking out the perfect opportunity; we will soon find ourselves wanting to kill that person.
On the other hand, when we start acting in love towards another person, we will find that we truly love them. It can be someone we don’t even know, but we’ll feel love towards them. Likewise, if we think positively about loving them, we will feel love towards them.
Remember, true unconditional love doesn’t wait for the other person to do what we think is the right thing, true unconditional love is expressed when we act in love while they are still doing what we feel is the wrong thing. That’s the type of love that Jesus said we are to have towards each other; a love that goes past forgiving, and expresses itself in both word and action, while the other person is acting in a way that shows that they are unworthy of our love.
Jesus is our example of perfect unconditional love. He showed us how to do it, then gave us a new commandment, the commandment of love. He expects us to love one another in the same manner that He has loved us.
If we can’t manifest this love for one another in marriage, how will we ever learn to manifest it in the church. If we can’t manifest it in the church, how will we ever learn to manifest it in our workplaces? If we can’t learn to manifest it in our workplaces, how will we ever learn to manifest it in the world?
This is the great lesson that God taught me in my struggle, to love my wife unconditionally while my mind and emotions were telling me that she was mistreating me. How did I do that? By making a point of going out of my way to do some special act of love towards her, when those feelings would manifest. It didn’t matter so much what the act was, just as long as I did something. At times that would mean I would buy her a gift; other times I would fix her a special dinner (yes, men can cook in the home without affecting their manhood); still other times I would write her a love letter.
The result of those special acts of love was that my emotions followed my actions. Instead of feeling badly towards my wife, I would feel love towards her. Actually, I ended up feeling more love towards her than I had ever felt before. My affliction that was brought about by her working outside the home brought me to a point of greater love towards the one who I originally thought was afflicting me. How’s that for a change of heart?
Now, I don’t fix her dinner just when I feel I need to overcome negative emotions towards her, I do it every night. She works hard. When she comes home from school she’s hungry. If I didn’t have dinner waiting for her, or if I expected her to fix dinner for me, I would be a hypocrite in saying that I loved her; my actions would not back up my words.
Jehovah God, by His Holy Spirit, moving through the pen of the apostle Paul has given us men this commandment:
The word “love” in that verse is the word “agape” in Greek. It is the same word used in Romans 5:8 (see above) to describe God’s unconditional love towards us. If we don’t love in that way, we are in disobedience to God. The last I heard, that’s still called sin.
Ladies, don’t think that I’m just talking to the men either. Jesus said in John, chapter 13, verse 34 that we are to love one another. Once again, that’s the same word for Just as your husband is commanded to love you with an unconditional love, you too are commanded to love him with an unconditional love.
God’s love abounds towards us. It is plenteous throughout the earth. If we lack in love to give to our spouse, all we have to do is ask Him to give us more. He never lacks in abundant love and is always willing to give it to us.
If your marriage is lacking in demonstration of God’s unconditional love, repent before Him, and before your spouse. Don’t wait for them to do it; don’t cast the blame on the other person. Accept your part of the blame, and repent. Then, let God use you as an instrument of unconditional love towards your spouse. For doing this, you will receive a blessing in love so great, that you can’t even imagine it.
Copyright © 1998 by Richard A. Murphy, Maranatha Life All rights reserved.