Have you ever felt like you have "lost your first love?" (Revelation 2:4). While Christ was speaking directly of the love of the Ephesian's church toward him, there are many couples that come to counseling and feel that they are not "in love" with their spouse anymore. One of the secrets to maintaining that ‘first love" is commitment. Commitment, one of the strongest and most obvious factors in God’s love for us, is reflected powerfully in the idea that marriage is an earthly picture of how Christ loves the church. Commitment is also the 4th factor essential to bonding for a couple in Van Epp’s RAM model.
The heart of commitment has been described as "how you belong to each other in the relationship" (John Van Epp).Van Epp goes on to remind us that commitment produces a "resiliency in marriage that strengthens a couple’s ability to cope with stress, required separations (military duty, etc), and difficulties. But, it "must be more than a vow made those many years ago. It must be translated into daily promises and actions." What a great description of God’s commitment to us and our commitment to Him! In the same way that commitment produces resiliency in marriage, commitment to God, and an assurance of God’s commitment to us produces resiliency for His children in dealing with the difficulties of every day life. It is essential that we remember that we "belong" to God (Mark 9:41; Romans 1:6; Romans 14:8; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; I Corinthians 15:23; 2 Corinthians 10:7 –just to name a few).
For many years I have thought the heart of biblical marriage, the truest definition of love, is the concept of "commitment." The vows that were used for many years in most churches reflected this concept in the phrase "til death do us part." We committed to love no matter what financial difficulties, physical illnesses, or emotional pains came in the relationship. In a study of how people would describe love and commitment, researchers discovered that about two thirds of the words used for commitment were also used as synonyms for love.
Dr. Scott Stanley (sometimes known as Dr. Commitment) has done extensive research on commitment. He believes there are two sides of the coin of commitment: 1. Dedicated (devoted) commitment and 2. Constraint commitment.
1. Dedicated commitment is the sense of connection, of desire to stay together (bonding)–no matter what happens. Most couples experience this type of commitment in the beginning of their relationship, but it tends to come and go, and can be impacted not only by the quality of the relationship but also by emotional ups and downs most individuals experience. Brain research has revealed that there are several neurotransmitters that impact our sense of bonding or dedication to each other.
"In humans, oxytocin is released during hugging and pleasant physical touch, and plays a part in the human sexual response cycle. It appears to change the brain signals related to social recognition via facial expressions, perhaps by changing the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a primary role in the processing of important emotional stimuli. In this way, oxytocin in the brain may be a potent mediator of human social behavior. ‘That’s why oxytocin is sometimes called ‘the love hormone,’said MacDonald. ‘It’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul…they certainly are the window to the emotional brain. We know that the eye-to-eye communication—which is affected by oxytocin—is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kind of emotions – love, fear, trust, anxiety.’" (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080208172104.htm)
It fascinates me that eye-to-eye communication produces oxytocin, and that God has instructed us to focus on Him. In Matthew 6:22-24 Jesus speaks about the eyes. "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Jesus connects the importance of where our focus is and where our commitment (devotion) will be.
After losing his sight when Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, and regaining his sight 3 days later when Ananias came to him, Paul prayed for believers in Ephesians 1:18 "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." We must focus our eyes on Christ to truly know Him.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us to "fix our eyes on Jesus." The more we focus on Him, the deeper our commitment and devotion to Him will be.
Because the chemicals in our brain come and go, husbands and wives do not always, every day, feel a strong sense of "devotion" to each other. Some days I just don’t feel very "loving." Fortunately God created us in such as way that our commitment is not dependent only on a set of chemicals in our brain. He saw the need for another side to commitment. Constraint commitment (the second side of commitment identified by Stanley) includes the impact of those issues that might keep us committed to our marriage even when our heart is not in it. It would include things like not leaving a marriage due to what the family, co-workers or friends might say, religious beliefs or convictions, staying together for the children’s sake, or even fears of the financial impact. As Christians, husbands are commanded to love their wife as Christ loves the church. Wives, although never directly commanded to love their husbands (wives are commanded to respect their husband), would certainly fall under the command to love your neighbor as yourself. When the sense of commitment due to desire (devotion) waxes and wanes, constraint commitment will often keep us in the relationship until the difficult time passes. Constraint commitment based on our beliefs and convictions about what the Bible teaches can enable us to keep acting in loving ways even on those days we don’t feel very loving.
Of all the factors involved in the bond and connection for the marital relationship, commitment is probably the most reflective of our relationship with God. He loved us–committed to us-- before we knew Him, and before we loved Him. Romans 8 is a beautiful picture of the depth and strength of God’s commitment to us. It ends reminding us that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39).
Not only is there nothing that can ever separate us from His love once we have become His child, but He is always with us. (Matthew 29:20). The most common rationale people give for wanting to get married is to not live this life alone, to have a companion to go through the experiences of life. We always have Christ with us, no matter what we face, what we experience. Marriage is one of the closest reflections here on earth of that wonderful experience of having someone with you to face life.
When a couple or even one partner in the marriage "feels" like they are not "in love" anymore, constraint commitment will enable them to stay in the relationship and to keep acting "as if" they loved their partner. Love in the scriptures is described in I Corinthians 13 as a set of actions and behaviors. Words like "patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not self-seeking, keeping no record of wrongs, protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering" are all actions that we can chose to do or not to do. These are the words of love, but also of commitment!
These same concepts of commitment in marriage are essential in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. My challenge to you and myself is that we continue to work at keeping our eyes on Christ and our spouse, and we recognize we have the ability to "chose" commitment in our everyday behavior whether we feel like it or not.