A while back I saw Oprah magazine had a list of 16 signs you may be in a loveless marriage (with the obvious assumption that love is something a person can fall in to or out of). Since this is a time in which many people are thinking about loving relationships, I’d like to offer something better than what Oprah magazine gave. But instead of offering 17 signs, I’ll do better by offering biblical truth and give 15 signs that you are in a loving marriage from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
This passage is not directly about marital love—it’s about the kind of attitude that is necessary in the church to utilize our spiritual gifts. But it is about loving relationships, and marriage is the closest human relationship. So, the way love shows up will be similar.
Before we get into details, let me suggest a right way to think of this passage and a wrong way.
- You can rightly think of this passage as laying out the goal for you in your relationships—you can put your name in place of “love” and be challenged as you see areas you need to improve.
- You can wrongly think of this passage as the goal for your spouse. While your spouse should be seeking to demonstrate this love, your primary focus should be on whether or not you are living this out. You can be in a loving marriage even if you are the only one who is loving. After all, God often loves those who do not love him in return, and we are called to follow his example.
- Love is patient
Love is willing to hold back—it is willing to endure or suffer things for a long period of time. It even means being wronged and not automatically retaliating. For your marriage, that means you are in it for the long haul. It also means you do not expect to see problems to change overnight.
2. Love is kind
This is the opposite side of the coin. Not only does love passively hold back in patience, it actively demonstrates kindness to others. In marriage, a helpful way to show kindness is to look for things you can do that you know your spouse appreciates, like making his favorite meal, bringing her flowers, making sure the broken appliance gets fixed, etc.
3. Love does not envy
This begins a list of 7 ways that love does not behave—unfortunately they also describe how we often do behave! Love does not envy in that it does not seek its own position or agenda, creating strife or rivalry. The benefit of others is not harmful to us. That means you don’t sarcastically reply “Well, I’m glad you had a good day” or “that’s great that you slept well.” Instead, you are glad when things go well for your spouse, even if they are not going well for you.
4. Love does not boast
Love doesn’t try to bring an inordinate amount of attention to itself. A loving spouse does not constantly talk about all the things you are doing for your marriage or family. Instead, you can look for ways to praise your spouse for what he/she is doing.
5. Love is not arrogant
It is not proud or puffed up. It doesn’t see itself as better or higher. A loving husband does not think of himself as doing a great deed when he serves his wife (or vice versa). When you love your spouse, you do not look at yourself as the reason your marriage is doing well and your spouse as the source of any problems.
6. Love is not rude
Love doesn’t act in unseemly ways. Its behavior is not shameful or disgraceful. That means you will avoid things that you know bothers or offends your spouse, and you will not say “I’ll act how I want in my house” without regard for the rest of the family.
7. Love does not insist on its own way
It is not self-seeking or concerned with its own desires, position, approval, etc. You will not be focused on what you are getting from the relationship instead of what you are giving to the other person. Nor will you be concerned primarily with whether or not your needs are being met.
8. Love is not irritable
It does not get easily provoked into anger and rage. It is not easily offended. Does your spouse feel as though they need to constantly walk on edge around you because they are not sure whether or not you are going to take something the wrong way, twist their words, or blow up? If you are loving, they won’t.
9. Love is not resentful
Love keeps no record of wrongs. The emphasis is on noting the evil or wrong done to us. The loving person does not hold that wrong against someone else. Do you have a “recording” in your mind of the ways your spouse has wronged you—that you play regularly? Do you think “this is the 3rd time” or “remember Christmas of ‘98”? While you may always remember those times when your spouse hurt you, you can choose in love to no longer cling to them.
10. Love does not rejoice at wrongoing.
It does not delight in evil—things opposed to the gospel and Scripture—whether globally or locally. It does not rejoice in killing or oppression, or in the fall of individuals. That means you will not take pleasure as a couple in sinful things, nor will you find satisfaction when something bad happens to your spouse.
11. Love rejoices with the truth
Instead, love rejoices at things in line with the gospel and Scripture. It rejoices at salvation, at repentance, at mercy and grace, etc. Do you rejoice when you realize your wife was right? Or are you more concerned about your being right? Do you seek to rejoice in God’s Word together?
The final four signs are connected, with the first and last referring to the same basic idea.
12. Love bears all things (always protects; puts up with everything)
13.Love endures all things (always perseveres)
These two refer to life in the present. Love is willing to put up with things in this life and persevere/endure. Nothing that happens can faze love. Marriage is going to be hard. Loving marriages are not easy, since love includes having to bear and endure things. But love enables you to continue, even when things are difficult.
How is this possible? Because of the middle two signs.
14. Love believes all things (always trusts)
15. Love hopes all things (always hopes)
These middle two verbs focus on the future, and are most likely a reference to our faith and hope in God. Thus, it is not saying that love will simply believe the best in everyone, but that love will always believe God. Which means the only way you can truly have a loving marriage like this is to be born again. That’s part of why John emphasizes love as a distinguishing mark of believers—when we are born again (and die to ourselves) we will begin to love more and more. For example, when we die to our own need to be praised and admired, we will no longer feel the need for jealousy and boasting.
When we believe that God will do what he says, we are enabled to endure all things in this life. When we really believe that our inheritance with Christ is better than any earthly possession, we are enabled to sacrifice our earthly possessions for the good of others (Heb 10:32-36). When we believe that God will deal with all wrongs, we are enabled to no longer be provoked to anger ourselves or to keep a record of wrongs. We don’t need to exact our own revenge because God has promised to deal with it (Rom 12:19).
Your faith and hope cannot be in your spouse, nor in what your marriage can be, but in God and what he offers. By God’s grace, as you look to him, you can have a loving marriage.