Cross-Shaped Marriage

by Ryan Joy

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).

Everything in Harmony?

When my wife and I first married, we would spend HOURS in “discussions” that were anything but harmonious. We loved each other, but it was a roller coaster ride, and we were frustrated. It could almost make you wonder if it could be true that “love…binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Should we add a disclaimer to the verse above, with a big asterisk? “*Not valid for relationships involving in-laws, a shared bank account, division of household chores, differing views on raising children, and differing needs for intimacy.” This statement doesn’t harmonize with what we see in many couples who’ve fallen in love. So, are we missing something about love?

Is it possible that romance and marriage—the part of our lives where we talk about love the most—is where our view of love needs the most work? How can love bind our marriages together in perfect harmony?

A Goopy Kind of Love

We find something compelling in the New Testament’s original word for love. Jesus and the apostles talk about agape love. There’s a big difference between agape love and a “goopy” love. A “goopy” love can be lovely, but harmony comes through agape love.

You can find a “goopy” love between any two teenagers looking dreamily into each other’s eyes. Greeks had a word for the kind of love that gets swept up in romantic butterflies. That word is “eros.” Eros is where our word “erotic” comes from. Yet, for the ancient Greeks, it included romance, not just physical sensuality. It was that pulse-quickening enchantment we often call “love.” There’s nothing wrong with a goopy love (see Song of Solomon!). And as you bring more agape love to your marriage, you might be surprised to discover that more of a “goopy” love follows.

Eros says: “I’m intoxicated by your best attributes.” Agape says: “I’m committed to your best interest.” It can feel good to find yourself “intoxicated” by someone’s qualities. But it isn’t enough to provide lasting harmony. Eros was far more important and prevalent in Greek culture than agape. Yet, the Bible never uses the word “eros.” It dusts off this seldom-used vanilla word, “agape,” and places it at the center of the story of God. Interestingly, it never actually defines it, though. The closest it comes is describing WHAT IT DOES.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

Love Does

Do you want to know what love is? Here it is: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The best way to understand love is to watch what God did! He “sent.” God sent Jesus to care for our need for peace by removing our guilt. Jesus was the “propitiation”— satisfying God’s justice for our sins.

Love Initiates

Our relationship with God isn’t the give-and-take love of equals. We had NOT loved God, but he loved us (1 John 4:10). How do we know that? He didn’t act in love because of our actions; he did it despite our actions. He initiated a relationship because of agape. That’s love.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).

“Give Me a Love Like Thine, Lord”

After defining God’s love (1 John 4:10), John commands us to agape one another (1 John 4:11) . Sometimes we start marriage conversations with our differing roles from the end of Ephesians five, but if we backed up to the beginning of the chapter, we would see that the starting point of every Christian relationship is love and submission. We have different roles, but we each imitate God and love like Christ (Eph. 5:1-2), submitting to one another in reverence for Him (Eph. 5:21). Clement of Alexandria described this kind of love as Christians “practicing being God.” How did God love us? He sent. He gave. He showed. He manifested. We want to talk about love as something we fall into, like a maintenance hole — or fall out of! But when the Bible speaks love, God says, “This is love — that I acted.”

Love steps into the awkward silence between you and says the first painful words. It gives the first reparatory act of kindness. Love creates the bridge even when it feels like a concession, even when it humbles you. God did this at the “right time … while we were weak” (Rom. 5:7-10). We soften rather than harden in conflict and transform problems into greater harmony and faith in one another’s love. For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.

Apply Agape to 5 Common Marriage Problems

What if you saw every problem as a chance to serve your spouse?

  1. IN-LAWS: How can I serve my spouse’s parents? If we’re one flesh, and I love my wife as my own body, don’t I have the responsibility of caring for her parents? Shouldn’t I honor them as if my own? Remember how Ruth followed and cared for her mother-in-law after her husband died (Ruth 1:16-17; Matt. 15:3-6)?
  2. MONEY: How can I give my spouse more security? If you have battles over money, what is their source (Jam. 4:1-2)? What does your spouse need from you? If your spouse has your heart, it will show up in your finances (Mt. 6:21).
  3. WORKLOAD: How can I lighten my spouse’s load? If you’ve ever said, “I’m not going to help with their stuff, I already do too much,” read Galatians 6:2-5.
  4. KIDS: How can I better understand my spouse and their approach to parenting? If you’re unhappy with how you partner in parenting, start by trying to understand (1 Pet. 3:7). You might say, “I think we should raise the kids this way, but help me see your perspective better.”
  5. INTIMACY: What can you do to serve your spouse’s needs for physical and emotional intimacy (Read 1 Cor. 7:2-5)?

NEXT: Love & Respect >

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