Few ears this side of eternity haven’t heard the popular maxim ‘love is a two-way traffic’. Few hearts therefore aren’t inclined to love only when loved, and be kind only to the measure that kindness is demonstrated in return.
Should a colleague at work be perceived as unkind, one has every right to withhold kindness on their end. Should a boyfriend be offering less attention than he used to, why on earth should a lady hang on when her commitment is not duly reciprocated? And should a spouse be deemed less loving, no one will judge if you walk away. Love is a two-way traffic after all, so why stay when the beam leans embarrassingly to one end?
The impact upon society is pretty obvious. Few relationships last as young men and women are swirled up in a constant searching for the next busier traffic. When eventually they find it and get married, the slightest sign of stalling traffic – fewer dates than usual, intensified fights, coming back home late, and perhaps a suspicion of infidelity, is all it takes to wave the white flag.
The Progressive Shutting of Doors
Recently when God allowed me the privilege to counsel with a couple who had been separated for nearly a year, I wondered what in the world I would say to help them. There was a chance such a protracted separation would have caused them to miss each other so much, making my work easier. But there was also a chance their hurt would only have grown deeper and their resentment towards each other stronger, setting me up for a mountain climb.
As I pondered on the Scriptures separately with the husband, God began revealing to our hearts just how progressively he expresses his firm desire for marriage to be permanent. From the beginning his unchanging will is expressed with the words “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” – Genesis 2:24.
But because the hearts of the Israelites were hard (Mark 10:5) as Jesus replied some Pharisees, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her (his wife) away” – Mark 10:4. But the God-Man would reinstate things to how the Father intended them to be at the beginning by quoting Genesis 2:24 and adding “Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate” – Mark 10:9.
He does not make things harder by taking away the caveat that was a result of the hardness of God’s people’s hearts. He simply affirms what has all along been God’s will. This would make the most sense when Paul commands husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” – Ephesians 5:25. The prohibition from ripping apart a marriage therefore ceases to be just a command from God, but one that has in every way been exemplified by God.
With an outstretched arm (Psalm 136:12) he delivered a people who would prove stiff-necked (Exodus 32:9) in every way imaginable. Because of his steadfast love toward those who fear him (Psalm 103:11), “he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” – Psalm 103:10. Ultimately, with the perfect sacrifice of his Son (Hebrews 10:12-14), he invites all who may believe (John 3:16); people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 7:9) into his everlasting joy – Matthew 25:23.
When Paul says that “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), he is simply joining the Psalmist in declaring “for his steadfast love endures forever” – Psalm 136:11. Therefore God, he who is love (1 John 4:8) does not just hate divorce (Malachi 2:16) as a mere dislike. He hates it because it goes against his very nature of faithfulness expressed to even a thousand generations – Deuteronomy 7:9, Exodus 20:6.
When a marriage fails, it is not just the happiness of a couple, or the stability of the children that marriage is blessed with that is compromised. The greater wound is inflicted upon the glory of God that marriage was intended to display. When believers abandon marriage because love suddenly feels like a one-way traffic, the consequence is “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles” – Romans 2:24.
And therefore because he pursues his glory (which is our happiness even when it often times doesn’t feel like it), God ushers us into marriage with a mammoth signboard reading “Until Death, Shut the Door behind You!” If from eternity past to eternity future Christ remains faithful to his bride, we can, by his Spirit, from the moment we’ve said “I do” to the second we breathe our last remain faithful to our spouses. It matters little how undeserving they seem.
Love Does Not Seek Selfishly
With many lies the enemy slams the door to marriage. And yet with a single trick called ‘unmet expectations’ he swings wide open the door leading out of marriage. Few individuals go into marriage excited to give. Often times, love is preconditioned on what will be received. Eyes are fixated on “What I should be getting”.
But whether those expectations are met a hundred percent or delivered in underwhelming fashion, the fallen human heart will soon be gripped by dissatisfaction. If it does not possess the kind of love that would gladly receive but focuses solely on what it ought to give, it’s only a matter of time before it quits.
God has been incredibly gracious to the couple I counseled with. How quickly they’ve reconciled after being apart for so long and giving up any hope their marriage would work is a miracle.
But one warning was key; “You might soon find out your spouse hasn’t changed. He (she) might be worse than the person you couldn’t stand a year ago. If there has to be any condition that must be met before you can agree to go back to him (her), let it be only the condition that your heart has changed. Resolve to love and serve him (her) even when you don’t get the same in return. Base your performance in your marriage only on your commitment. If instead you base your commitment on your spouse’s performance, your reunion will be short-lived.”
And many marriages and relationships are short-lived because one end of the traffic is supposedly busier than the other. Should one feel like they deserve better than they are receiving, they opt to keep from offering as much as is required of them. And by intentionally choosing to offer less, you will soon offer nothing at all.
The last nail on the coffin that bears a lifeless marriage, perhaps a nasty fight that took the intervention of neighbors to stop is never the worst. Most damage is usually done by the first nail; that subtle ‘justified’ retaliation to an offense committed against you.
Though it is hard to love a spouse who only hurts you, and be kind towards a spouse who acts selfishly towards you, evil can only be overcome with good – Romans 12:21. If honoring the God of marriage is what motivates, then a very unloving husband can still be respected by his wife, and a very disrespectful wife can still be loved by the husband.
At the heart of the Gospel is the wonderful news that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” – Romans 5:8. The foundation upon which any marriage can stand is only such Gospel living; extending grace just as received from God. ‘Happily ever after’ only comes to those who commit to living ‘selflessly ever after’. Those who resolve to pave one road towards Christ and the other towards their partner if indeed love must be a two-way traffic.