If your summer plans include attending a wedding—or five—I bet you'll be hearing the reading from 1 Corinthians 13. In this letter to the early Christians in Corinth, the apostle Paul explains how a loving church should behave. But at some point, well-meaning ministers hijacked this chapter to use it to describe how a married couple should love. Words such as Love is patient, love is kind make brides and grooms gaze tenderly at each other while the congregation gets warm fuzzies.
It all feels very right during weddings—as if Paul knew he was providing sermon fodder and earning the thanks of pastors for generations.
Look closer at 1 Corinthians 13, which has become known as the "love chapter." Paul wasn't talking about cozy feelings. He was telling the Corinthians that their love would be known if they put it into action. In other words, at a time when being Christian wasn't cool, Paul was instructing the Corinthians to show Christ's love through what they did, not what they said. If they did this, he knew, skeptics would look at the devoted Corinthians and say, "See how they love one another? I want to be like them."
When we adopt Paul's intention and apply it to marriage rather than growing the church, we find that loving our spouses isn't "feeling" patient or "feeling" kind—it's doing something about the feeling. I don't know how many times I've heard a married person say after he or she does something wrong toward a spouse, "But she (he) knows I love her (him)" as if that erases any obligation or liability. What if the Corinthians had said the same as an excuse for stealing or hurting people? No one would have wanted to become a Christian! In the same way, when we display poor marriages, we give people reason to say such things as, "Why get married when it just ruins your relationship?" or "I don't want to be tied down in case I end up in a situation like that."
I'm especially sensitive about action as an expression of love because my love language, according to Dr. Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages, is "acts of service." For me, the best evidence of my husband's love is when he does something for me, especially without my asking him. So if I come home and Rich has cleaned the kitchen, made the bed, fixed a broken vase, or even just made dinner reservations, I feel loved.
Rich's love language is "physical touch." He likes nothing better than a hug—anytime, any place. When we watch TV, he prefers to sit next to me on the sofa, our feet entangled on the ottoman. When we are in public, he often grabs my hand to hold or comes up behind me for a quick peck on the neck.
Just like those wedding readings of the love chapter, my description of how Rich and I enact our love languages might sound ideal. But here's the kicker: It isn't easy for us to work within each other's languages. The initiative to take on household projects or schedules doesn't come naturally to Rich. Similarly, it isn't instinctive for me to open my arms for a hug or reach out to hold his hand. Sometimes we just get lazy and stop speaking each other's languages, instead expecting the other to talk the way we want. That results in my frustration over his seeming to do "nothing" and his annoyance that I am "pulling away" from him rather than touching.
But when we start paying attention and putting that love into action, we continue to be surprised at how gigantic a small deed—when done in the right language—can be. He mows the lawn, and I tell him four times how much I appreciate it while he says, "It was no big deal." Or I stop what I'm doing and give him a long hug and kiss, to which he displays a wonderfully serene smile that tells me he feels loved.
What is your spouse's love language? Start speaking it. And if you aren't sure, ask! When you speak your spouse's love language, people will look at you and say, "See how they love each other? I want to be like them!"