While the Bible is filled with stories of great loves and devoted marriages such as those of Abraham and Sarah and of Jacob and Rachel, it offers relatively few verses that speak directly to the relationship between husband and wife.
But there are numerous verses in the Bible that describe the attitudes and behavior that are necessary for a healthy and holy life within the community. These same attitudes and behaviors are important within a married relationship as well.
These Bible verses all emphasize the importance of a healthy love. As 1 Peter 4:8 puts it, “Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 spells this out more emphatically: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
St. Paul’s understanding of the importance of love within the community certainly shapes his understanding of the love that should exist between husbands and wives.
In Ephesians 5:21-32, Paul writes that men and women are to be “subordinate to one another” in the same way that they would give themselves to Christ, freely because of love, and work with love to grow increasingly close to each other.
Paul notes that we should love our spouse as we love our own bodies, cherishing and nourishing each other, for the more we care for the other the more we are ourselves cherished and nourished.
The familiar passage from Micah 6:8 is also a spiritual resource for couples: “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
St. Paul in Ephesians 4:2-3, echoing Micah, encouraged all Christians to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” These instructions for following God are just as true for life within a marriage.
In practical terms, within marriage we do justice by honoring and respecting the other, appreciating and celebrating their gifts and giving credit where it is due.
We love goodness by showing appreciation for acts of love and kindness. We walk humbly by understanding that others are wonderful in their own right and not because of what they do for us. We put the needs and desires of our spouse ahead of our own.
Mulhall is a catechist who lives in Louisville, Kentucky.