What should love in Christ mean for the spouses in a Christian marriage? How can we rise to it? Alexander Tkachenko, a psychologist and Christian writer, shares his views.
What is Christian love in marriage? Philosophers, psychologists and men of letters have written about love for centuries. They have explored its many facets, hues and nuances. But to understand what love in Christ means, we must first know what makes it different from all these other kinds of love.
Yet recognizing Christian love might be easier than we think. To love someone in Christ means to wish the best for them. For a Christian, the gift of salvation and eternal life is the ultimate good. The spouses love each other in Christ when they assist one another in their progress to eternal life in every possible way. Where the spouses look to other ultimate goals, they may love each other, too, but not in Christ.
The New Testament teaches us many things about marital relations and their importance for our eternal salvation. It tells us how one spouse can save the other with their faith. Apostle Paul writes: “If a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12-17).
Yet the Gospel also warns us that even between Christians, married life can sometimes be tragic. “I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.” (Luke 17:34).
The Bible makes it clear that loving spouses should dedicate themselves to the goal of their salvation, and put it at the centre of their married life. And it is not a figure of speech.
So how can the spouses put this teaching into practice? First, by carrying each others’ burdens, as Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Galatians (6:2). Paul’s words are not simply advice or a recommendation, they are commandments to be followed by all Christians. And it means more than just carrying a heavy shopping bag for our better half. As St Theodoret of Cyrene explains, “You have one weakness but not another. Your spouse is free from your weakness but has some of their own. So bear with her weaknesses, and she will bear with yours. In this way, the law of love will be fulfilled. By the law of love, we mean the law of Christ.”
However, bearing another’s burden with patience and grace does not mean condoning their sins. If we allow our beloved to indulge in their passions and sins day after day, we do not fulfill the Apostle’s commandment, but participate in their self-destruction.
But how can we bear the weaknesses of our beloved while also helping them improve? First, we should remember that not all weaknesses are sins. We often consider a weakness something that displeases or annoys us without necessarily being sinful. Learning to take them with patience is a necessary part of the adjustment process, a necessary stage of any marriage.
How can we be patient with our beloved’s shortcomings and also help them eradicate their weaknesses? Remember that shortcomings are not necessarily sins, but Christians should condone sin anywhere, not even in marriage.
Man and wife are one flesh. Sin is a disease, and it is destructive. When we help our beloved find healing, we do not intrude in their personal space but exercise our right and fulfil our Christian duty. We protect our family from pains and sorrows, the inevitable consequences of sin.
The husband and wife are the closest people in the world, and they are in the best position to notice in each other the budding seeds of sin before they become full-grown and give birth to death. The spouses in a Christian marriage have a duty to keep their souls pure and to care for the purity of their beloved’s souls. Frequently, we cannot notice the seeds of sin in ourselves before they bring their destructive fruit; but our beloveds will see them much earlier before they even begin to bud.
The little prince in Exupery’s famous story lived on a small planet threatened by the baobabs. They started as tiny weeds and would firmly take root unless weeded out and discarded on time. They could even shred his home apart. The Little Prince tells the narrator: “You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rose-bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth.”
In our spiritual lives, the initial manifestations of sin are like these baobabs in their earliest youth. The spouses in marriage love each other in Christ by bearing each others’ burdens and by attending to the routine but difficult task of pulling out the baobabs on the tiny planet of their marriage.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds