I know that’s a controversial claim. I’m not backing down from it.
I first started thinking about this one April morning in 2017. My coworker, who was 24 and single, mentioned that he wanted to find love. Nothing at all weird about that, but what surprised me was that he went on to say that he thought he had already found it once.
To be honest, I would have expected him to say “I thought it was love, but it just wasn’t the real thing.” That seems to line up pretty well with our culture’s view of love. That view is problematic, but I think his view of being “in love once” is too.
Is love something you just “find” or “fall” into? Can it be found and then lost and then found again?
Here’s the bottom line: if we are restricting love to mean a temporary emotional state, then yes, absolutely, you can fall in and out of love every 5 minutes. An upset stomach can cause you to fall out of love. But love is more than just an emotional connection. Love absolutely includes emotions, but it is much more than that and the fullness of it cannot be found outside of marriage.
When I say “true love,” I’m obviously not talking about what I mean when I say “I love Chipotle.” I’m not even talking about the love that best friends, siblings, or even relatives have with each other, even though that sort of love is real and profound. I’m talking about the love that people have been singing about forever. The kind of love that includes the extra dimension of romance. The exclusive sort of love that lasts a lifetime. The most intimate kind of love that can be shared by two people.
This love, true love, finds its ultimate expression in marriage.True love finds its ultimate expression in marriageClick To Tweet
As I began to challenge my coworker’s views a little bit, it became clear that “marriage” to him is just a social construct that comes with a piece of paper.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common view. It’s important to remember though, that marriage is many things beyond a social construct, but at its heart it is a covenant. Two people enter into a mutual promise where they agree to love, choose, and cherish the other person forever.
This is crucial because marriage involves willingly giving up part of your freedom and autonomy. Your commitment to the other person is so strong that if it ever comes to the point of devotion to them or devotion to yourself, you choose devotion to the other person.
That’s the promise that you’re making in marriage.
This makes marriage fundamentally different than any other relationship. Every romantic relationship outside of marriage is inherently self-centered. You’re in the relationship to make yourself happy and if you’re not happy, you end the relationship. In marriage you’ve agreed to be more concerned with the other person’s happiness than your own.
To many people, this probably sounds horrifying.
Why would you ever voluntarily give up part of your freedom and autonomy?
The reason is that true love is inherently self-sacrificial. We see this in the greatest act of love ever: the giving of the Son of God to die in our place for our sins.True love is inherently self-sacrificial. We see this in the most loving act ever: Jesus dying in our placeClick To Tweet
In fact, I would go so far as to say that love is only possible to the extent that there is a measure of sacrifice. Any time you make any level of commitment to another person you are giving up some version of who you could have become otherwise. There are certain sacrifices that are necessary for love to exist, and the mutual covenant promise to lifelong devotion is the capstone of these sacrifices.
As Christians, this shouldn’t surprise us. In Ephesians 5, one of the most famous passages on marriage in the Bible, a husband and wife are said to be a picture of Christ and the Church. The relationship between Christ and his church is the most beautiful example possible of a permanent, covenant relationship. The culmination of all human history will be a wedding feast, the marriage supper of the lamb as described in Revelation 19.
So it’s possible to have romantic love outside of marriage, but it’s not possible to achieve the sacrifice necessary for true love: total devotion.
One thing that I need to respond to in advance is the fact that no-fault divorce has greatly weakened marriage in modern culture. I’ve been writing as if marriage was automatically permanent when in reality it is getting easier and easier to dissolve.
This is a great shame to be sure, but it’s worth remembering that legal marriage is nothing more than that, a legal marriage. According to Jesus, when two people covenant to be together forever it is God that joins them together as one (Matthew 19:6). In the in the verses that follow, Jesus does give a condition where divorce is allowed: sexual immorality (Paul seems to add another condition of permissible divorce for Christians in 1 Corinthians 7:15). In any case, the point is clear: except for edge cases, marriage for a Christian is permanent.
This permanent commitment is the foundation of true love.
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