A Little-known Element For Endurance In Marriage

With today's prevalence of domestic violence, divorce, infidelity and more plaguing marriages today, one could very well wonder whatever happened to love. I feel part of the problem lies in the word "love" itself, at least in the English language. For this, I know the answer is within the ancient languages of the Word of God.
A Little-known Element For Endurance In Marriage
Source - Image owned, uploaded and copyrighted 2017 by the author, Peter P. Macinta (BrotherPete).

If asked, most married people would say they got married because they loved the other person. In English, the term "love" is very over-used, being applied to a wide range of situations including, but not limited to, a warm attachment, devotion, or enthusiasm; admiration or benevolence; dedication; marital commitment; and copulation.

Our children hear the term "love" applied to things that might be immensely enjoyed by some for weeks, but are soon trashed. As they grow older, they hear the term "making love" in regard to activities that should be reserved for marriage, but learn that privilege is occurring outside of


Other languages have a number of words to describe different types of love. For the sensual or sexual type of love the Greeks {1} would often use “eros.” For the fellowship type of love the term was often “phileo.” However, in English and most likely other relatively modern languages, only one word for "love" is used. As a result, the wide range of definitions for the one term lay in the minds of many as they enter into marriage. As a pastor, I have seen couples approach marriage with the idea, "Well, if this does not work out I'll just divorce my spouse and get another." Others place too much emphasis on sexual matters.

The Highest Love

While it is true that ancient peoples had their own marital dilemmas, the creators of the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures), and those moved upon by God to write the New Testament, were apparently impelled at times to use another term distinguished from "phileo" or "eros." That word was "agape" (ah-gah-pay), which Joseph Henry Thayer {2} states is a purely Biblical and ecclesiastical term.

While "eros" would stem from fleshly desire and "phileo" often from emotion or the desires of the soul, "agape" essentially is an act of one's will. It includes deciding to  love even if the recipient of that love might be deemed unworthy of such love. "Agape" is unselfish and usually requires nothing in return to maintain love.

Hence, in John 3:16 we read, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." A verb form for "agape" is used for "loved" in this verse, and we can readily see the depth of that love in that God chose to love a sinful human race.

While most people express "phileo" and "eros" in marriage, "agape" is the missing element in many. If married couples would mutually apply and maintain "agape" in their relationship, divorce lawyers would have to find something else to do.

By "agape," one willfully and, at times, sacrificially loves their spouse, even when the lower forms of love might cause us to think our spouse cannot be loved. Hence, the highest love is there and remains, in sickness and in health, richer or poorer, for better or for worse -- unto physical death.

"Agape" In Focus

Though "agape" should be in marriage, it must start well before marriage, and way before "phileo" becomes powerful. In other words, put all emotion "on hold," so you might view a prospective spouse objectively and then make a decision to increase the "agape" toward that person in such a way it controls your emotions and governs the “phileo” you feel and express.

Laying emotions aside, dating couples should be candid with each other in regard to their human frailties whether they be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual short comings. Ask yourself are you willing to love that person as they age and change? Is their personality one that will work with your's as you both face the challenges that will undoubtedly come your way if you marry? Ask yourself other questions as guided by the Holy Spirit. Make decisions a matter of prayer, directed by the Holy Spirit. Of most importance is knowing personally, being totally committed to, Jesus Christ.

A Sure Foundation, A Sure Structure

Christ needs to be the foundation in every marriage. Upon that foundation, "agape" must first be laid. "Phileo" should be placed next, then "eros." This makes for a solid structure. Now, place this following illustration in mind: First a table, then on the table a large Holy Bible, on the Holy Bible another book that is smaller, and a set of keys on top of that. For our purposes the table will represent Christ, the Holy Bible for “agape,” the other book can be “phileo,” and “eros” will be represented by the keys {3}.

As you see, the largest of the objects supported by the table is the Holy Bible, the smallest being the keys. The same should be

true in marriage, that "agape" is the greatest of the loves while "eros" is the least. The order of the objects is also important, illustrating "agape" comes first, "phileo" next, and "eros" last for a solid structure.

Incorrect Order Welcomes Disorder

Though husband and wife may be true Christians, there are times many of us get these types of love out of order. If we place these things in any other order, an unstable structure is created {3}. Any pressure on the structure makes it tilt, wobble, or both. All marriages experience some type of pressure and even if Christ is our foundation an incorrect order of these loves will make things shaky.

To me, a worse case scenario is where “eros” comes first and “agape” last. In premarital counsel I warn those who are about to be married about how frail our bodies really are. I discuss menopause, loss of testosterone, prostate cancer, and just plain old chronic illness. A strong, unwavering commitment must be constantly present on the part of the husband and wife to continue “agape” love and “phileo” love each other until physical death occurs. Apart from not making Christ the foundation of a marriage, putting “eros” first often creates the most problems in marriage. 

There is a chance of trouble with "agape" in second place, even though "eros" remains last. Unless it is conditioned by “agape,” “phileo” is many times conditional and could be moderated instead by self-centeredness. 

"Agape" Is A Must

"Agape" is an indispensable element for endurance in marriage. It needs to be present and active even before marriage. If it is lacking, or you feel you need more, the Holy Bible encourages us to ask God for such good gifts. "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow." -- James 1:17 

It is good to remember that “agape" is the love listed as the first mentioned fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." If you apply "agape" through Christ and in His strength, you will enjoy decades of marital bliss until "death do you part."


{1} When I write "agape", "phileo", "eros", I include all their main forms / declensions in the Greek.

{2} Thayer, Joseph Henry: Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI: 1972) p. 4

{3} For detailed information on agape, phileo and eros see, Real Love at https://oasisofhope.neocities.org/lv1.html .

Also consulted for this article was Vine, W. E.: An Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words (Flemming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ : 1966) Vol. 3, pp 20-22

For more help for your marriage, please visit the Marriage Pages at https://oasisofhope.neocities.org/ma00.html .

Unless otherwise noted all Holy Scripture is from the New American Standard Bible changing LORD to YHVH as it rightly should be when the text so indicates. * = For other versions the spelling of some words is updated for our time in addition to changing LORD to YHVH as it rightly should be when the text so indicates.

This article was originally published through Triond on socyberty.com and has been revised for publication on Experts Column.

Article Written By BrotherPete

I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, having served over forty years as a pastor. I graduated from Northeast Bible College of Green Lane Pennsylvania and have a Bachelors Degree in Bible. I am enthused about the Word of God and how it can make a positive change in the life of anyone once it is teamed up with faith and the Holy Spirit. I am happily married. Visit www.sapphirestreams.com.

Posted on 31-03-2017 218 1

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