Thursday, January 3, 2013
Phileo Love in Marriage
I have started reading a book by Carolyn Mahaney called Feminine Appeal to start off the sabbatical. I’ve been putting off this book for quite some time, but am pleasantly surprised to find it very challenging and applicable!
The second chapter of the book is titled, “The Delight of Loving My Husband”. Before beginning to read, I mentally put a check in the box thinking, “I’ve got this one covered. Josh and I have a really good marriage and I think I love him pretty well!” Imagine my surprise to find that Mahaney has actually caused me to rethink some of the ways in which I relate to my husband.
For instance, she talks specifically about the different kinds of love described by the Greek language (which is used in the New Testament). There are three different terms for love in Greek: phileo, eros, and agape. Eros is erotic love. Phileo is the love of friendship. (Think of Philadelphia, also called The City of Brotherly Love.) And agape is self-sacrificing love.
Mahaney says this about phileo:
This word describes the love between very close friends. It is a tender, affectionate, passionate kind of love. It emphasizes enjoyment and respect in a relationship. Sad to say, I have been guilty of neglecting this phileo kind of love on numerous occasions. I often become so preoccupied with the duties and responsibilities of my marriage that I fail to nurture tenderness and passion in my relationship with my husband. I get so busy serving him that I overlook enjoying him. In light of my tendency to neglect this tender love, I find it interesting that Paul chose phileo rather than agape to describe the kind of love we are to have for our husbands. In fact, in commands specifically related to wives, agape is never used.
Husbands, in contrast, are specifically commanded to love their wives with an agape kind of love. I believe that Scripture’s specific commands to husbands and wives regarding their duties in marriage attest to our respective weaknesses. Men may be weaker in showing sacrificial love and are therefore exhorted to undertake it. But I believe women are generally weaker in exhibiting an affectionate love.
I’ve been hit between the eyes on this because as I give my marriage a good, honest look I’m realizing that I am great at agape love and only so-so in regards to phileo love. I will happily bend over backwards to help and serve Josh. I will put everything in my life on hold to run an errand for him or even just make him that cup of tea he’d like me to brew before he comes home for lunch. It is much the same way that I serve my children.
And while I do show some phileo love, I certainly could do better. It’s interesting how this relates to love languages. My primary love language is quality time. You’d think that would indicate that I constantly initiate moments of quality time with my husband. But I’m ornery and that’s not how it works in my head. I want Josh to initiate time with me so that he can speak my love language to me. If I initiate, I feel like I’ve done his work for him! Mahaney’s book is challenging my assumptions on this. I am called by God to initiate time with my husband. To learn about him, to take an interest in him, to enjoy him because of who he is – exactly who God made him to be and exactly the man I was desperate to marry 13 years ago!
So, how do we women cultivate and show this phileo love to our husbands?
Mahaney says: Loving our husbands with a tender and passionate love is not something that happens automatically in our marriage. Ever since Adam and Eve took that fatal bite of forbidden fruit, our natural human inclination has shifted toward sin. Therefore, we are not naturally prone to love. We are not naturally inclined to be passionate and respectful toward our husbands. Rather we must learn how to adopt this kind of love. Loving our husbands – as biblically defined – is a learned response through the grace of God. The good news is that God is eager to teach us this love.
King Solomon, who after the Lord Himself holds the distinction of the being the wisest man who ever lived, said, “Keep your heart with all vigilance” (Prov. 4:23). In order to cultivate and maintain a tender love for our husbands, we must guard our hearts against sin.
And to get a little more practical, here’s a quote from Elisabeth Elliot which hits the nail squarely on the head:
A wife, if she is very generous, may allow that her husband lives up to perhaps eighty percent of her expectations. There is always the other twenty percent that she would like to change, and she may chip away at it for the whole of their married life without reducing it by very much. She may, on the other hand, simply decide to enjoy the eighty percent, and both of them will be happy.
– Taken from her book Love Has a Price Tag
What good advice! How often do we concentrate on the little things that irritate us about our spouse! Josh can serve me after a long and tiring day’s work by doing the dishes not only from dinner, but also the ones left over from lunch and breakfast. But because he has left his dirty socks on the floor, I am tempted to nag, to overlook his care, and focus only on the small thing irritating me. It not only shows an unthankful heart, but it shows my own selfish tendencies. Rather, if I choose to focus on the gracious way my tired man is helping around the house, I am much more likely to not only think well of him, but to voice my appreciation, thus demonstrating phileo love.
I think sometimes we make this out to be so difficult and it’s not really. As women, we tend to want our husband to be everything we need. To provide, to care, to serve, to watch the kids whenever home, to spend his free time with us, to bring flowers, to remember dates and appointments without fault … in a word, we want him to be perfect. He is NOT God! Ladies, we need to put our expectations and hopes in the right place and on the right person. Your husband will fail you many times. But there is One who will not. And He has graciously given you a husband to walk alongside you, support you, and care for you. Make a deliberate choice to show some phileo love to your man today.