When it comes to relationships, our culture says physical attraction is everything. But according to the Bible, while chemistry matters—because God created it—it’s not everything.
Jesus taught in Matthew 19 that one of the most important aspects of marriage (that should shape our approach to dating) is that marriage is friendship. God said it was not good for man to be alone, so he created a halup—a “deep friend” for him. Marriage is much more than friendship, but it must never be less than friendship.
If marriage is about friendship and lifelong companionship, then that means character is more important than chemistry.
Did you know that studies show that the effects of attraction (the “butterflies”) wear off in about 18 months (which is why some people have never had a relationship last longer than that)? If that’s primarily what a relationship is built on, then when chemistry fades, you have nothing left.
When you’re dating, it’s wise to prioritize the presence of character. Unlike physical beauty or charm, character is a treasure that never fades.
Love Is Not Warm Fuzzies and Butterflies
Matt Chandler, a pastor in his 40s, got brain cancer a few years ago and had to undergo pretty severe treatment. He says,
“When I got cancer, everything that was sexy about me to my wife vanished—my strength, my vibrancy, my sense of humor, even my hair. … All of that was gone for two years. I became a shriveled up version of what I was before the cancer. But Lauren had entered into covenant with me, and she loved the character that God had formed in my heart. All that mattered in that chapter of our marriage was her character and mine. Character sustained the marriage, fueling and reigniting all the rest.”
Translation: Love is not just warm fuzzies and butterflies.
We know from 1 Corinthians 13 that love is patient. Patience means they’re OK with you not being perfect. At some point, your intoxicating effects on them are going to wear off, and you’re going to disappoint them. Love doesn’t respond by lashing out or punishing you or looking for someone new. Because love is patient, it endures with you.
Love is also kind. That means it’s considerate. It thinks of others’ needs instinctively. When someone loves you, they don’t just think about themselves all the time; they think about you and your needs.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. This is a big one in marriage. Are they the kind of person who, every time you do something wrong, pulls up their mental list of every way you’ve disappointed them since you got married? That’s not someone you want to be married to.
Love does not envy. That means they are happy when you feel good, even if they don’t feel good. In contrast, envy takes the attitude of, “I’m not happy in life right now, so there’s no way I’m going to let you be happy, either.”
Love does not boast and is not proud. A person of true love doesn’t think life is all about them. They don’t think they are entitled to everything and that it is everybody else’s role in life—including yours—to provide those things for them.
Love does not dishonor. That means love doesn’t use someone else like a commodity for the fulfillment of their needs, emotionally, sexually, or whatever. They honor and respect you.
Love never gives up. It doesn’t give up when you’ve let them down. It doesn’t walk out. It never stops believing in you and working for the success of your relationship.
Isn’t that the kind of person you want to marry? If so, then prioritize character.
The Litmus Test for Character
To recognize relational character, I find this one litmus test very revealing: Look at the relationships that are already there.
In the dating stage, people are often in the used-car salesman mode, trying to hide all their defects. Of course they’re treating you well. They’re trying to win you over! But how do they treat others?
How do they treat their parents? Their friends? Their siblings? The server at the restaurant? Do they keep their word? Do they honor and encourage others, or do they cut others down and gossip about them?
The English word “character” comes from the word cherax, which refers to the engraving done by a metal tool. That tool makes the same imprint no matter what you dip it in. So look at today’s relationships to uncover what tomorrow’s imprint will be.
This article originally appeared here.