We live in a very emotion-driven age. We are tempted to think that when we feel something strongly, it must be right. We are encouraged to accept that when we want something strongly, we are justified in having our desires fulfilled. Perhaps nowhere is this more often felt than with romantic love.
But as Christians, a question we all need to ask ourselves in every situation is, are my thoughts, words and actions honouring to God?
In the Bible we find much written about love. Indeed, one verse says that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8 ). There is, therefore, a pure and God-honouring love. But you may be surprised to discover that the word ‘love’ is also used in the Bible to describe a sinful emotion, which we might call ‘lust’.
In 2 Samuel 13:1-15, we read about the desires of a young man, called Amnon, who was one of David’s sons. We read that he ‘loved’ Tamar, his half-sister (verse 1).But from the subsequent account, we learn some of the characteristics of his ’lust’ which are so different from God-honouring love.
- Amnon’s lust was driven by selfish sexual desire, only to be fulfilled by raping his sister. It had no regard for God’s laws nor what was right and caring towards Tamar. God-honouring romantic love normally involves sexual attraction, but in contrast to lust, such love is marked by a desire to wait for fulfilment until marriage. This love seeks to preserve the sexual purity of its object. You need to question and control powerful emotions that provoke you to clear sexual sin.
- This lust caused Amnon to become sick (verse 2a). Sinful emotions can cause damage to our whole selves, mind, body and spirit. Be on your guard against emotions that make you self-focussed or physically unwell. In contrast, God-honouring love is uplifting and will encourage you to serve God all the more eagerly.
- In order to fulfil his lusts, Amnon manipulated and deceived Tamar and others in order to have his desire fulfilled (verses 5-14). He took to his bed pretending to be ill to entice Tamar to his presence where she was vulnerable to his advances. Be careful of strong desires that tempt you to manipulate or deceive others. In contrast, God-honouring love is honest and has the interests of others uppermost.
- Amnon’s lust was resistant to the wise and well-argued warnings from Tamar about the disgrace of his sexual advances (verses 12-13). If godly friends warn you about your desires or intentions, take them seriously and seek, with God’s help, to take control of them.
- Amnon’s emotions towards her were shockingly fickle. Having got his way, Amnon hated her more than he had loved her (verse 15). He only ever wanted to use her and having done so he discarded her like rubbish. In contrast there is a constancy in God-honouring love – though feelings towards one another may go up and down, there should be a steady desire for the other’s good and God’s honour.
From this, what can we conclude about the nature of God-honouring romantic love?
There is nothing more romantic than the happy, committed, and sacrificial love of a husband and wife.
It is a fondness and affection for someone of the opposite sex that encourages us to care for them (see Boaz’s constant attention to Ruth’s wellbeing in Ruth 2 and 3). It is selfless rather than selfish. It has the characteristics of God-honouring love defined in 1 Corinthians 13.
It is likely to involve physical attraction but is not driven by sexual fulfilment.
It will involve a desire to commit, initially perhaps in wanting to commit time to being in their company and sharing their interests in conversation. However, the reality of this commitment will only be demonstrated in the commitment of marriage. A willingness to commit is the greatest test of true love. There is nothing more romantic than the happy, committed, and sacrificial love of a husband and wife, and the commitment they have made to each other in marriage supports that love, even in tough times.
- 1 John 4:8 “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”