In the previous post on the Cost of Consumption, a commenter asked what a love and marriage that are Christ-centered would look like. I'll address that here. The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another is my book length answer to that question. I've also addressed it in previous posts all over this blog. What I will try to do here is give some examples of what it looks like.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together, "Self-centered love loves the other for the sake of itself; spiritual love loves the other for the sake of Christ."
The first and most important thing that comes to mind when thinking about love is that I can't do it rightly in my current condition. I still live in a fallen body in a fallen world that is alienated from its Creator. My capacity for Christ-centered love is tainted at best. One might ask, "Darby, aren't we Christians now? Haven't we been given new birth? We're changed." I get this often. Yes, it is true that we are saints now. However, we're not perfected yet. That is why Paul had to pray for the Philippians.
"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:9-11)
Paul wrote to the Philippians his desire for them to be ready for the "day of Christ" even while telling them, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:20). So though we are currently citizens of Heaven, we don't quite love like we are yet. So, Christ-centered love in marriage would look like this.
One: Christ-centered love in marriage begins with the minute by minute recognition that neither you, nor your spouse can love perfectly. This does a couple things. First, it drives you humbly to Christ for forgiveness. Second, it exalts Christ for loving perfectly in your place, and forgiving your shoddy work. Third, it forces you to exalt Christ by praying for a greater knowledge and discernment of what virtuous love looks and feels like. Fourth, it leads you to Heavenly-mindedness as you seek this knowledge through Scripture and prayer. Fifth, it enables you to forgive your spouse for not loving rightly. In other words, one of the key characteristics of Christ-centered love is the expectation that much of my love and my spouse's love is very self-centered. Self-centered love lacks this Christ-exalting, man-humbling virtue. Self-centered love never faults itself.
Two: Christ-centered love in marriage will be grounded in scriptural convictions. You will seek to live your life according to the Bible. Husbands will seek to understand their role from Scripture. Wives will do the same. The conclusions may differ according to interpretation. However, the Bible is the starting point, rather than the culture, or your personal whims. If someone asks you why you do something (like raise your kids a certain way or speak a certain way or never go to bed angry or whatever), you will know from Scripture why you do it.
Three: Christ-centered love leads to perpetual peace and harmony in marriage, in spite of circumstances. First, you're so enraptured by the gospel, and its eternal benefits, that hardly anything can frazzle you. Second, in those circumstances where you do get frazzled, and it leads to conflict, Christ-centered love enables you to immediately and freely and completely forgive one another. Christ-centered love never has anything to lose. Self-centered love cannot provide this peace. It can't afford to. It only seeks its own agendas, so that if a circumstance or your spouse don't fit the agenda, it must punish. When you're loving with Christ-centered love, joyful harmony will be the perpetual result, because that's what Christ bought on the cross.
Four: Christ-centered love doesn't seek to bind and control your spouse in order to get your way. It's not needy or greedy. It can afford to say, "That's alright Dear. I'm just as happy one way or the other." You don't have use your words or sex or gifts to manipulate your spouse. Your spouse won't feel pressure to perform a certain way, and neither will you. You'll both feel free. After all, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (see 2 Cor. 3:17).
Five: This one is like a bookend with the first. Christ-centered love in marriage will not end with you and your spouse. It will overflow in love to others outside your marriage, beginning with your children and working outward to family, neighbors, co-workers, friends and strangers. Christ-centered love is by its very nature missional because Christ came to fulfill a mission. Self-centered love seeks its own temporary comfort and ease. It doesn't choose according to eternal values. It chooses according to expedience. Christ-centered love chooses according to how God will be glorified best through the marriage. Self-centered love uses God to build a comfortable marriage. Christ-centered love uses marriage to further exalt God.
These are a few characteristics of Christ-centered love in marriage. I wish there were a formula and a list that I could give out so that people could just do it. There are those counselors and authors and pastors who do just that. I think it's impossible to do that well, precisely because our "lover" is broken. We like to give a list to enable what Paul had to pray for the Philippians. He gave no list, because he had none. Do we honestly believe that Paul wasn't smart enough to come up with a list of "50 ways to love your husband"? It's not just that we don't do what we know. We don't even fully know yet. How can we be anything more than faulty lovers continually in need of future grace? Without God progressively teaching us, we don't even know what Christ-centered love is. We don't even know the fullness of Christ's love for us (which is why Paul had to pray for that for the Ephesians in 3:14-19) let alone what that would look like flowing through us to others. My friends, the cut of sin runs very deep. So deep we will not outgrow its effects in this present, evil age. All we can do is trust that Christ's blood will cover it and heal it for the age to come. The most self-centered love is the kind that demands Christ-centered love from others without desperately praying for it and living it out ourselves.