There are a few verses in the Bible that both Christians and non-Christians lean on when conversation takes a turn for the religious. “Do not judge” and “love your neighbor” are two of the most popular, but right up near the top is 1 John 4:8: “God is love.”
The notion that “God is love” is confusing, however, in a culture where “love” can apply to anything from Jesus’ death on the cross, to sex, to deep-dish pizza.
It is common to hear married people speak of “falling out of love” with their spouses, and “falling in love” with someone else in adultery. In using the language of “falling,” they are cleverly avoiding any responsibility, as if they were simply required to follow their hearts.
But the Bible tells us not to follow our hearts, but rather “guard” them because they are prone to selfishness and sin (Prov. 4:23; Jer. 17:9).
Because “God is love,” that means love does not come from our hearts, but rather through our hearts. In relationship with God through Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, we receive God’s love to share with others (1 John 4:7–21). Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love . . .” And Romans 5:5 says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are able to continue loving others—including our spouse. Even when we don’t feel “in love” with our spouse, we can give love to them and receive love from them if we live Spirit-filled lives.
The Bible does describe love as a feeling. But rather than beginning as a feeling that inspires an action, love is often first an action based on obedience to God that results in a feeling. This explains why the Bible commands husbands to love their wives (Eph. 5:25) and wives to love their husbands (Titus 2:4) rather than commanding them to feel loving. This further explains why the Bible even commands us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43–47).
Additionally, the Bible describes love as a verb—it is what we do. Like Jesus’ love, it is a covenant commitment that compels us to act for the good of the one we love. The most popular wedding Scripture of all time depicts love as active: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7).
Christian marriage is reciprocal acts of covenant love. That may sound like a heady theological concept, but it includes the little things. Here are a few practical examples that I collected from some married couples to illustrate:
•“He lovingly goes to McDonald's for coffee when I am still in bed, and it means a lot to me!”
•“He still opens the car door, and it means a lot to me.”
•“My husband will not leave the house without kissing me goodbye.”
“God is love” does not mean that “love is God.” This liberating truth allows us to worship God by serving each other, rather than worshiping love and demanding it from each other. When both spouses each make a deep, heartfelt covenant with God to continually seek to become a better friend, increasing love and laughter mark the marriage.