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Love your spouse unconditionally

For a long time now and at times at great personal cost, my behavior towards my wife has been perfectly reconciled to my best and most sincere understanding of God's character. This changed yesterday at approximately 4:15pm, when the Lord suddenly opened the eyes of my understanding and tied together filaments of things that he has been teaching me over the last month or so that I presumed were unrelated.

Men and women have the same needs: to feel loved, respected, valued, and heard. However, when it comes to the acts of the spouse in generating these feelings, there are major differences between the sexes and (typically more subtle) specific differences between individuals within the sexes.

For example, if a woman does not feel physically safe with a man, she will not feel loved by him, while the opposite question has no impact whatsoever on a man's feeling loved by the woman. As another example, a man will not feel loved by his wife if she is not sexually aroused by him, but a woman's arousal is generally dictated by how loved, respected, valued, and heard she feels.

Men and women are very different creatures. These differences are why Paul described the duties of husbands and wives separately.

24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. (Ephesians 5)

18 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. (Colossians 3)

How did "Christ love the church"? He grew into having something to offer, then he continuously and consistently sacrificed himself without regard to how his sacrifice was appreciated, noticed, or used, even unto death. A husband is expected to have something to offer his wife that she doesn't have without him. He is also expected to be consistent and unfluctuating in his benevolent behavior towards her. His behavior toward her is meant to be completely independent of her behavior toward him. The Lord does not lean on us to be able to do what he does. Our inconsistency does not hamper his consistency. Who he is comes from who he is, not who we are. As Christ loved us first while we were yet sinners, a husband is meant to pour out every benefit he has the capacity to bestow to his wife no matter how she acts towards him. Christ was expected to be perfect and a husband is too. It is good for a wife to strive to do these things as well.

How is the church "subject unto Christ?" The church reveres Christ, cares about him, notices who and what he is and how much he loves them, and in doing so turns their hearts toward him. Wives love their husbands by doing the same. They regularly demonstrate their love by considering the circumstances of their husband and acting in ways that empower and support them. It is good for a husband to strive to do these things as well.

Unconditional love

We are to love our spouses as God loves us.

God's love for us has an indescribably "breadth, and length, and depth, and height":

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3)

As we learn more about God's love, we will be filled with it, and we are able to love others in the same way. The first frontier of our application of God's love is towards our spouse.

God loves us unconditionally, meaning his love for us is not dependent on our love for him.

23 And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men;
24 Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3)

Too often, we condition our love on how our spouse treats us. This is wrong, and will lead to severely diminished joy. We ought to love our spouses as if they were ideal in every way; as if they were Christ himself.

We should be relentless, tenacious, and limitless in our love for our spouse. They ought to feel cherished and ravished by our love for them at all times and in all places.

But what if my spouse treats me badly?

Why did Jesus treat Judas the same as the other twelve apostles, even though he knew his heart? Jesus loved him like the other eleven in spite of his heart.

God's word is abundantly clear on this subject: we must love our spouses independent of their treatment of us.

5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5)

We love him, because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47 And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5)

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (Matthew 5)

16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. (1 John 4)

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15)