(Fruit of the Spirit Blog post 2 of 9)
We get old and we get used to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes we take each other for granted.
But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.
Nearly 30 years into their marriage, country music icon Johnny Cash expressed his deep love for wife June in this birthday letter. It’s a love letter most of us hope we can write one day.
Each of us desires lasting love that is honest and genuine. Yet, no marriage is without pain. Each of us brings baggage to the altar. A failed first marriage, a tumultuous battle with substance abuse and infidelity made for a rocky start. Yet, somehow Johnny and June Carter Cash found a love that was transparent, inspiring and enduring. In later years, musicians and celebrities who trekked to the Cash homestead frequently testified to the faith and love they saw in the couple.
How do we build authentic intimacy that lasts a lifetime? How can we overcome our own insecurities, poor starts, and shortcomings? We must begin with love, the first fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22).
As the first fruit of the Spirit some theologians believe love is most significant. Love, after all, is the quality that most clearly reflects God’s character. According to Scripture, the first purpose for marriage is to reflect the image of God. That means we are to echo His love through our marriages. Understanding how to love is not only vital for our relationships, it’s important to God.
Three Insights for Loving Your Spouse Well
Most of us marry for love but not all marriages last. These three insights will help you learn how to build a thriving relationship grounded in the right kind of love:
- Realize that love is everything. Starting with the Holy Trinity, Christianity is a faith of relationships anchored in God’s love. Jesus taught that the two most important commandments are to, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and, “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). In marriage, our spouse is the closest neighbor. As we grow in our love for God and look to our spouse’s needs over our own, the marriage relationship will naturally flourish.
- Reject fantasy love. One of the six reasons marriages fail, fantasy love lives in the mind of the beholder. This view of love is hyper-romanticized and projected upon another person. Fantasy love draws from the culture, not Scripture. It’s the stuff of romance novels, love ballads and relationship movies. Fantasy love creates expectations that cannot be met. Yet many couples struggle because the husband or wife maintains a fantasy view of love.
- Reach for Agape In the Greek language, Agape is the term for unconditional love. This love is best exemplified in the sacrificial love of God who gave up His Son, Jesus, to pay the price for the sins of believers who deserved their fate (not being lovingly embraced). The Apostle Paul described Agape love beautifully, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:7-8a).
Agape love is made possible in believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is grounded in two relational realities: each of us falls short and desperately needs unconditional love, and none of us enjoys being judged by how well we meet another’s expectations. Often called “God’s love,” Agape is the foundation of a Faith Relationship, a marriage in which husband and wife look to God and His promises, not to each other’s ability to meet human expectations.
As pastor and author Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage, “The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us.”
Johnny and June Carter Cash were like many couples—overcoming history and past behavior, growing to each other as they journeyed closer to God.
During his last public performance, shortly after June died unexpectedly, Johnny Cash referenced his wife. As he prepared to sing Ring of Fire, the chart-topping song about their love, he said, “The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her...I thank God for June Carter.” He died a few weeks later, four months after his beloved bride.