In our last post we discussed the primary ingredients in a godly relationship. Love is patient and kind. Without patience and kindness, human beings quickly find themselves driven apart. No one can sense love from someone who seems perpetually impatient or unkind to them.
Another key point is that love does not envy or boast.
That sounds so benign, though. Let’s look at it a bit closer. The ESV reads that love “does not envy,” however, the original word used here is ζηλόω, pronounced zēlóō. It is a Greek word that imitates the sound of boiling water. The word picture painted here would be a simmering jealousy that threatens to bubble over. To be boiling inside with jealousy.
We must be careful here to place this jealousy in its rightful context. Jealousy is not necessarily wrong. For example, God Himself is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14) Therefore, from the context of the verse we can gather that a protective jealousy of affections is a godly attribute. In a marriage, a protective jealousy of the affections of a spouse is right and proper. That form of jealousy communicates that this person is bonded with me and cannot be bonded with another.
The kind of jealousy mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is more accurately represented as a jealousy of instead of a jealousy for. Imagine for a moment that both you and your spouse are actors in Hollywood. Your spouse releases a film and becomes a huge star. Everywhere you go, fans flock in giddy expectation of a word or an autograph. You, on the other hand, find yourself in your partner’s shadow, unnoticed and seemingly unappreciated. Well, you might think, he’s not so great! If only they knew the flaws that I see on a daily basis! I’ve got more talent in my little finger than he’s shown in his entire career!
I use the stereotype of the Hollywood marriage because we’ve all seen it happen a dozen times. But it happens daily in relationships that are far less public, as well. A wife excels in her career or has a very outgoing personality. The husband feels underappreciated or neglected. He attempts to level the playing field by cutting her down, being domineering, or passive-aggressively controlling her time. A wife gets annoyed because everyone thinks so highly of her husband. He makes people laugh, knows how to present himself well in public, and is generally admired by the people in their circle. She, on the other hand, sees herself as underappreciated because she is always busy taking care of the needs of the children. She begins to resent him because he spends all day at the office while she’s at home playing referee between bickering children.
We’re all guilty of this at one level or another. But the thing to remember is that love doesn’t see one’s partner as a competitor. Love sees one’s partner as an extension of oneself. My wife is an extension of me, and I of her. We are one. If my wife is recognized because of her skills, personality, or accomplishments, I should rejoice in that. I should be promoting and admiring her rather than being jealous of her. Love prefers to show honor to our loved-ones rather than to heap it on ourselves. Love exalts one’s partner, often at the expense of oneself. Love is self-sacrificing.
At this point, I think it appropriate to point out that the Greek language contains multiple words that are often translated to mean love. It is important to note that Christ points us to, and exemplifies, agape love. Agape is a selfless kind of love that causes one to be willing to set aside one’s own desires in preference of another’s, to sacrifice one’s goals in favor of another’s good, or to even lay down one’s life for another. It’s the kind of love Jesus showed when he gave His life for us. God doesn’t call us simply be collegial or cordial with our partners. He calls us to live lives of agape love, always willing to place our partner’s needs before our own.
This is not a popular thought in today’s culture. In the West, we are taught to look out for ourselves. We are taught to promote our own sense of self, our own desires, and our own ambitions. We are taught that we need to “love ourselves before we can love others.” Such a sweet sounding sentiment, but such an ungodly lie. Take a look at 2 Timothy 3:1-5, for example:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV
The point is, anything that calls itself love but is not a selfless, self-sacrificing love falls far short of that to which God has called us. If you’re jealous of your partner, feel the need to elevate yourself in importance above your partner, or are puffed up because you’re not feeling like the center of the relationship, you might need to rethink your definition of love.
One of the major keys to a godly relationship is this: true love places a higher priority on others rather than oneself. The world will tell you that you need to love yourself first before you can truly love others. This is a false and destructive piece of advice. The kind of love Christ points to–the kind of love Jesus–lived is a love unattainable outside of Him! It’s a kind of love that is so selfless as to allow oneself to want to lay down one’s life for one’s partner! It is an utter freedom from self-interest. It is a love that longs to serve and honor others without regard for one’s own interests.
It is freedom. True freedom! The world thinks freedom is defined as the unrestricted ability to please oneself. However, the joy that comes from pleasing someone else without regard to oneself is far beyond what any earthly, self-serving definition of love can ever afford. Love is the freedom to lay aside self-interest and the restrictions of selfishness in order to please and honor another. That is a freedom that cannot be adequately described. It is a freedom that cannot be attained while harboring jealousy and boasting.
When reading or hearing relationship advice, it is important to keep a godly perspective. The feel-good seminars, memes, and quotes must be held up next to scriptural standards to gauge their truth. Always ask: Does this advice point me toward a Christ-like love, or to a self-serving counterfeit? Does this advice directly or indirectly boast of my own strength, value, or importance? Does it draw attention to me, or shine a light of honor on another? Memes and quotes may sound soothing to the soul, but they can actually wreak utter destruction. God calls us to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds! Let us challenge the thinking of our society and focus like a laser on Christ’s example of true love!
Father, I thank you for the relationship with which You’ve blessed me. I thank you for the partner You’ve brought into my life. Help me to honor my partner and help me to honor You. Help me to seek to bring joy and honor to the spouse You’ve given me. They are a gift from you. Help me to experience the freedom that comes from Christ-like love. Help me not to be self-serving, proud, envious, or boastful. Help me, instead, to be caring, giving, and observant. Help me to love others the way Jesus loves me.