By Alan Dowd
The world will know we are Jesus’ followers not by the fish decals on our bumpers, but by the love we show for one another.
Trying to be a better reflection of Jesus, I recently turned to one of the Bible’s authoritative passages on love: 1 Corinthians 13. And I found that Paul’s powerful love litany is much more than a go-to verse for weddings. For me, it has become a way to help measure how I am doing at loving my wife—and reflecting Christ.
Perhaps what helped me will also help you.
Holding Up the Mirror
Paul’s descriptions of love can serve as something of a mirror to help people like me recognize where we need to improve. But holding this mirror in front of you will work only if you’re honest with yourself. In other words, the purpose is not to puff yourself up or beat yourself up, but rather to measure up against the only definition of love that matters—God’s.
With that in mind, step in front of the mirror and take a look at your love letters. Grade yourself on each of the following characteristics of love as a student is evaluated in school: A, B, C, D, or F.
Love Is Patient
If God is love and love is patient, then God is also patient. I know he is patient with me—patient enough to wait on me until I answered his salvation call, patient enough to revive and resuscitate my faith when it went cold, patient enough to keep chiseling away at the hardness that never stops building up around my heart. His patience is a sign of his grace. And he has given me more than enough grace to share with my wife.
Love Is Kind
I don’t think of myself as unkind. I treat my wife with decency. I try to be generous and courteous. But I sometimes notice a sad reality about day-to-day living—that I often am kinder to acquaintances than I am to the person I’m supposed to love the most. I seem to greet them more warmly and listen to them more intently. I am not late for meetings with them. I am quicker to apologize to them or praise them. In short, I give my best to those who matter the least to me. And when my wife sees this, she sees the opposite of “kind.”
Love Does Not Envy
Do I delight in my wife’s successes and victories, in her moments in the spotlight? Or do I dismiss or marginalize them? And as she pursues new goals and new opportunities, do I help her become what God intends her to be, or does envy cause me to hold her back?
Love Does Not Boast
Likewise, do I elevate what I have achieved? Do I seek the praise of others? Do I forget that everything I have accomplished is a team effort—that God has blessed me with gifts, that my wife never stops supporting me in using those gifts, that she cheers me on, encourages me, and prays for me?
Love Is Not Proud
Am I too proud to seek forgiveness when I fail, too proud to imitate Christ through service and sacrifice, too proud to admit I have been hurt, too proud to confess wounds I have inflicted? If so, I am not reflecting Christ’s love.
Love Is Not Rude
My parents raised me to have good manners. So if I wouldn’t interrupt or dismiss someone at the office, why would I do that to my wife? Again, why would I reserve the best of me for those who matter least to me?
Love Is Not Self-Seeking
Again and again, Jesus showed us that love—that he—is other-centered. His example reminds us that God wrapped in human flesh “did not come to be served, but to serve.” So do I go to work for my family, or to escape from my family? Do I maneuver, manufacture, and manipulate events so that my little world serves me? Do I serve my wife? Or do I portion out my service based on what she does? Do I recognize that my growth, joy, life, passion, hopes, and dreams are supposed to be tied up with her growth, joy, life, passion, hopes, and dreams?
Love Is Not Easily Angered
Anger is not a sin. Jesus displayed righteous anger. But being easily angered is a sin. Sadly, I am easily angered by things I should deal with in a calmer manner. I’ve been noticing lately that my home and my heart would be better if only I were less sensitive about how others affect me and more sensitive about how I affect others.
Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
I’m blessed and cursed with a good memory. My default is to keep score. This is worse than unproductive in a marriage; it is destructive. And that’s why I’m trying to become as forgetful—and forgiving—as God. God has showered me with his forgetful mercy, and he calls me to do the same for others.
Love Does Not Delight in Evil
Few of us consciously delight in evil. In fact, the Holy Spirit living inside us gives us a sense of shame when we sin. But if gossip motivates us, if our anger constantly flares, if we shade the truth, if gluttony or drunkenness define us, if we get a charge from lusting after someone or from enticing someone to lust after us, isn’t that delighting in evil? And if so, how does that affect our marriages? How does that reflect on Jesus?
Love Rejoices with the Truth
The Bible calls on us to speak the truth—but in love. In other words, I can fail my wife by not speaking the truth or by speaking the truth without tenderness or compassion.
Love Always Protects
There are many things I cannot protect my wife from—a crazy coworker with a gun, a tornado, an automobile accident. For these, I feel called to pray for God’s protection over her every morning and to trust that God will protect her from this chaotic world. Of course, there are some things I can protect her from: Do I make sure her car is dependable? Do I make our home a refuge where she feels safe and secure? Do I shield her from people that burden her?
Love Always Trusts
Failure to trust creates an environment where it is impossible for love to bloom. Trust is as important to love as water is to life. Trust always begins with one side taking a risk. Likewise, distrust begins with one side breaking a promise, breaking a commitment, breaking a word. Because it’s so hard to repair that damage, it’s best for me to keep my word.
Love Always Hopes
God wants me to hope for and believe in my wife. There is a time for realism, but pessimism serves only to undermine hope. It does nothing to encourage love to grow.
Love Always Perseveres
Love could be considered a synonym for perseverance. Think about it: If we don’t love others, we don’t care enough to sacrifice time and effort for them. But when we love someone, we work at it. We invest energy and time. We don’t give up. We persevere.
Love Never Fails
The hard truth is that even good husbands and good wives sometimes let each other down, get priorities out of whack, and hurt each other. But I try to remind my wife that my failure or her failure doesn’t mean we have failed. Mysteriously, miraculously, we have not failed. We have succeeded and overcome because love—God—never fails. He unites us into something stronger, something better, something greater than just two human beings.
After you have finished your self-evaluation, ask your spouse to offer his or her perspective on how well you love. You might find that you’re doing better in your mate’s eyes than in your own. Sometimes our toughest critic is the person in the mirror.
Alan Dowd is a freelance writer in Fishers, Indiana.
A Discussion Guide
After you’ve completed the self-evaluation in the article, use these questions to guide your discussion with your spouse.
• When in the last week have I most clearly shown you love?
• When in the last week did I undermine the love in our relationship?
• In what ways do I show my love for you most consistently?
• Where am I most often weak?
• In what areas have you seen me grow?
Now have your spouse ask you these questions.
Pray together about what you’ve discussed. Make a plan to help each other grow in areas of weakness and affirm each other’s strengths.