According to romantic ideals, there is a supernatural epiphany, which indicates whether two people should be together; something involving “sparks” or “fireworks.” Those who believe such myths expect to be “completed” by a soul mate but are often disappointed when real life is so different from fictional love stories.
Enjoyable as romance is, it is not substantial enough on its own for the Christian man or woman to rest on as a relational foundation. What is the problem with looking for fulfillment from a romantic partner?
First, the Pros of Romance
Romance in itself is not a bad thing. One can make romantic gestures to his or her partner and receive them without sinning. Many marriage counselors and wise couples who have been married for a long time encourage other couples to keep a spark of fun in the marriage and to proactively demonstrate thoughtfulness with unexpected gestures, which say, I see you. I know you. I still choose you.
Personal pictures of romance differ based on priorities, preferences, and finances. One might feel oppressed by an expensive romantic gesture, which another individual would be delighted to receive. Couples decide how romance looks by communicating their desires with one another and by a process of trial and error. This is a way to have fun and to learn about one another.
But the question is not whether a romantic partnership is good or bad but whether or not it is fulfilling in its own right. Marriage is often lauded by Christians as the most important relationship, the one each person is seeking, and worth saving at almost any cost.
Here are several reasons why a Christian will not be fulfilled solely by romance and why even marriage — the ultimate romance — is not the ultimate relationship.
Romance Is Superficial
Romance is fun, an “extra” as long as neither party becomes legalistic about these joyful experiences. There is the danger, however, that romantic gestures will replace communication. They can be performative and transactional.
One individual might attempt to elicit favorable behavior from the other: sex, forgiveness, or forgetfulness. He or she might be expected to do certain things or else the other party will withhold affection.
This is an oppressive exchange rather than an opportunity to uplift one another. And instead of having a conversation and dealing honestly with one another, one party avoids committing to life-giving communication by trying to buy the other person’s silence with gifts or sex.
Romance focuses on finite things and tends to be a distraction from deep, important discussion. With the intention of creating and maintaining a certain mood, certain topics are avoided.
Particularly, in the beginning, two people need to find out if they both love Jesus; if they feel the same way about critical issues; if they could handle spending two weeks together on holiday, or hours in an emergency room, or days of wordless, visceral grief over the death of a friend.
Not Everyone Finds Romantic Love
Any single person who has longed for a life partner will tell you of the frustration he or she feels when romantic love is idealized. While marriage is good, the gospel is not pro-marriage or anti-singleness. Yet, the church so often sets marriage on a pedestal, as though it is the epitome of relational completeness.
Sam Allberry argues that “whatever relational cost our discipleship may incur, however much family we may lose in the course of following Christ, Jesus is saying that even in this life it will be worth it. Following him means an abundance of spiritual family.”
There is a good chance that we will actually lose or be excluded from familial, romantic, and other relationships when we choose Jesus. Certainly, many potential partners will be discounted because the Bible calls for us not to be “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14).
We Need More than Romantic Love
“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25). The writer of Hebrews says that Christians must have fellowship. We were made for community, invited into the Trinity, which is in itself the model of a perfect relationship.
The gospels mention specific types of relationships such as those between younger and older disciples; parents and children; husbands and wives. A church body is compared to a human body with many parts, and these parts only work properly when they come together (1 Corinthians 12).
“To expect my spouse to meet all my relational needs is to expect her to be more than who she really is,” wrote Dave Dunham. Even if two romantic partners shared virtually every interest in common, however, it would be unhealthy to view the world and one’s faith solely from within that insular union.
Not only does this cause one’s view of the world to become distorted; the purpose of such an isolated union becomes one of merely mutual satisfaction and fulfillment, which is unbiblical.
Love Is from Jesus and about Jesus
Paul’s illustration of the church as a body reminds us that the Christian’s purpose is not to seek personal fulfillment. One’s purpose in life is greater. Christ’s definition of fulfillment is not self-focused while desiring romantic fulfillment is entirely wrapped up in “self.”
Jesus painted the perfect picture of love based on friendship without romance or physical intimacy. He told his disciples that the greatest love possible was one in which a person laid down his life for a friend (John 15:13).
Ray Vander Laan wrote that the Book of Ruth is often viewed as a love story, but more importantly “it is about God’s [...] desire for His people to not only experience His love for themselves, but to reach out and display it in such a way that God is made known to His lost, hungry and hurting children.”
Compared with this deep, selfless, and abiding love, romance is a heartless sacrifice on the altar. It is the coin dropped with ease and pomp into the offering basket by a wealthy priest who can afford it, not because he loves the Lord.
Love is the offering of a poor widow who has given her last coin as an act of worship and trust (Mark 12:41-11). Jesus embodied that trust and devotion with his very life. He had nothing left to give; he gave everything.
We are here to do as he did: to obey God and to give everything we have to spread the gospel. This is our purpose, so our fulfillment must come from love that is richer and more difficult than the formula of romance.
Romance is not love. A strong union will involve giving one’s self over to the needs of another person, and doing so joyfully, not out of legal obligation or drudgery. “It is the same for us all [...]. I am to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice,” whether he is married or single, and this reality is far from romantic.
Fulfillment in God
We worship God, not people, not even our spouses. Only God is there for his people at all times, in all situations. Only he is omniscient and omnipotent. Only he can save. One’s boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse cannot. Only God can fill the Christian heart and meet every need. He gives us Daily Bread and fills us with Living Water.
Husbands are called to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her” (Ephesians 5:25-26). Wives are to “submit” (v.22) to their self-sacrificing husbands.
This scenario reflects the marriage of Christ (the bridegroom) to his bride (the church). Each person’s role is specifically designed by the Lord himself. What he has designed he will uphold, for his glory. His purpose is far more fulfilling than achieving personal, temporal, earthly desires.
Jesus is ultimately enough for the single person, the married person, the widowed, and the divorced. “If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency,” according to Sam Allberry.
Christ gave us all of himself and he is willing and able to walk with his people at any time, through any experience, good or bad. A person might crumble under the strains of life, but not Jesus: he can carry our load.
Why Does This Matter?
God defines fulfillment. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence [...] so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” We are encouraged to increase in “brotherly affection, and [...] love” because “they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3-5,6).
God’s purpose in fulfilling us by his own Spirit is to glorify him. Romance is fine, and we can celebrate it, but only Jesus sustains and fills us.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.