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Haddaway proclaims in his hit song:

“What is love?

Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me

No more

What is love?

No more

I don’t know why you’re not fair

I give you my love, but you don’t care

So what is right and what is wrong?

Gimme a sign”

 What might be an ear-worm of a song has become a cultural anthem that we proclaim. Time and time again, a couple comes into the counseling office, one spouse saying I am giving all of my love, and the other strongly disagreeing. Both parties are exhausted, sad, and hurt by the actions of the other. They both think they are giving it their all, but nothing seems to be working. They have “fallen out of love” and are ready to go their separate ways. “So what is right and what is wrong?” Haddaway asks. Thanks be to God that he does give us a sign, and a pretty big one. 

 Paul Tripp in his book, What Did You Expect? walks through this question of what love is and gives some great insight from 1 John 4:7-21. I recommend you take a moment to read through this passage before continuing. Tripp breaks it into six principles foundational to any marriage because, as we see with Haddaway, if you do not understand what love is, there will only be confusion, complacency, and idleness in your marriage. 

First, Love is an event. According to 1 John 4, the best definition of love is not in a song or psychological theory. It is the event of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to a different kind of love than our emotional connection. It is a love shaped by the cross, a cruciform love that comes from sacrifice. Do you and your spouse understand the need to replicate this in the daily mundaneness of your marriage? If there is a lack of understanding in this principle, then there will be no growth, change, or solace in your marriage until you reach out for help from a biblical counselor or pastor. 

Second, Love is willing. If Jesus shows us anything through his life and love, it is that he is willing to lay down his life on his own accord (John 10:18). Thus, you cannot force another person to love. They have to be willing. So the question remains, can you love someone other than yourself?

Third, Love is willing self-sacrifice.  If we are called to love someone, then that means there is a requirement for sacrifice. Remember, Abraham was called to sacrifice his son for his love of God, but God spared Issac with the ram, which was a place holder for Jesus, God’s only son. Yet, we tend to withhold our sacrificing for a lot less. What are the personal pleasures you are unwilling to give up for your spouse, better yet, God?

Fourth, Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another. Jesus’ sacrifice was for your good. This fact begs the question, do you really want better for your spouse? Or are we only tied up in what we get out of what we give? If this were Jesus’ mantra, we would be in hot water right now. 

Fifth, Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another that does not require reciprocation.  Are you comfortable with sacrificing for your spouse even when they do not reciprocate? There will be times when you feel like a glass of water pouring out and not getting filled back up. Are you willing to accept this, or do you think that you deserve better? True biblical love is not withheld based on the reward you receive from it. 

Sixth, Love is willing self-sacrifice for the good of another even when you feel the other person does not deserve it. Really? The other five, maybe, but this one seems unfair at this point, right? But this is the most important of the six because it is the principle that gives you the most precise picture of the love Christ has for us. When Jesus was spat on and abandoned by his own people, his own friends even, he knew that they did not deserve the action of love that he was about to carry out through his death. But what was his response? Humble submission to the will of the Father for the sake of his children, who most definitely did not deserve it. Your spouse likely does not deserve it because you likely don’t deserve it. But if we truly want to imitate Christ in our marriages, then what an excellent opportunity we have when we can choose to love someone as Christ loved us. 

Why should we love at all if it requires so much giving of ourselves? John tells us why: We love because he first loved us. God cared so much about you that he was willing to give up his son to the torture and pain of bearing the punishment for the sins that we committed, and yet he still pursues us day in and day out as we willingly return to our sins. What a fantastic display of how much you are worth to him! If we can learn to translate God’s view of us to our view of our spouses, then there is real hope for our marriages that comes from Christ alone.

If you would like to read more on this subject, Paul Tripp’s What did you Expect? is a great resource to begin with.

Braden holds a Master of Arts of Christian Counseling and a Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. He received a degree in Psychology from Mississippi State University with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of the Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC). He is also a Certified Christian Trauma Care Provider—Level 1. For the past seven years, he and his wife Victoria have worked in counseling ministries, adult Christian education, and with Joni & Friends, a Christ-based ministry to the disabled. Through the Owen Center, Braden pursues a life-calling to serve Christ by cultivating the ministry of biblical counseling in the Auburn community.