Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How do I love thee? Um...

The other day I caught a bit of Dr. Tony Evans on the radio discussing marriage when something he said gave me a bit more texture to the biblical idea of love.

What do you mean when you say "I love cotton candy!" You are saying that it brings you pleasure. The sticky goodness receives nothing from you but oh, the delight it gives you as it rides through your gullet.

"I love the Vikings!" (I can hear your jibes.) But what do I really mean? Will I lay down my life for a sub-mediocre football team? Certainly not. Will they benefit at all from me being a fan?  Nope. I have an affection for them. They please me (a whole lot more when they are winning).

Often when we say we love things, we love because they bring us pleasure. I like this (fill in the blank) because it (tastes good, feels good, looks good, fattens my wallet, relaxes me, etc). Now this might blow your mind, but none of that is wrong. God created the earth and its goodness to be pleasing to the pinnacle of his creation. The problem comes when we equate the pleasure obtained from something to the love demanded from God for something, most especially our wives.

Most men in our culture when saying "I love you" to their wife really mean that she makes them feel good. She's a great partner. She's a great friend. She cooks a mean hash. She warms the bed nicely. All of this focuses upon what she does for me.  I mentioned this in my last post (here), but the vows we took at the altar to love our wives had no proviso in them to love them only as long as they brought us pleasure. This behavior might have been acceptable for barbarian kings of the past, but this is not God's plan for husband and wife.

Love does not depend at all upon the other person. If it did, it would not be love but rather payment for services rendered.

I hope your wife pleases you (it's your choice, really, but that's another post), but next time "I love you" tumbles from your lips, consider your heart. Is it solely for the pleasure she brings to you?  If so, sprinkle in a little bit of the "I love you" that hearkens back to the vows that you made to that beautiful woman by your side.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This does not work

One of the gripes that cynics have about sitcoms of yesteryear, those like Leave it to Beaver or The Brady Bunch, is that you can't tie up such familial problems with a neat bow in a mere thirty minutes. Life, especially family life, is gritty and messy and difficult. Can you name a sitcom or even a drama where the protagonist had to deal with heartache and anguish for longer than 23 or 46 minutes?

While I still love the Cleavers and enjoyed the Bradys as a kid, the cynics have a point. What makes for light entertainment cannot be mistaken for real life. Human interaction is a wee bit more complicated.

Recently a good friend e-mailed me after reading one of my "Husbands" posts and asked, "What do we do when choosing to love our wives does not work?" Ouch. It doesn't take a counselor of thirty years to read the agony between the words. There is perhaps no greater pain that to pour heart and soul into your relationship with your woman and to be met with ridicule, derision, and frigidity.

I can't imagine that anyone enters marriage hoping for conflict, isolation, or abuse. Did we not all hope beyond hope that when we said "I do," our relationship with our woman would begin to flourish and only grow richer and more delicious with each passing day? Most have great expectations of and for their bride, but few have expectations for what will be required of them to love their wife.

Here's the deal: in none of the passages about husbands and wives in the New Testament (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Peter 3:1-7) does God, through the apostles, promise a marriage of magical bliss and elation. Never does God say, "Love your wife, and she will love you." Never does he hint that she might become a beast in the bedroom if you buy her roses--not once but twice! No inkling that your grace during her hormonal fluctuations will be rewarded with the same during your ill-thought outbursts. We do see that a believing spouse can have an amazing affect on a non-believing spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-16, 1 Peter 3:1-2), but even then there is no promise for happily-ever-after.

Husband, love your wife. For how long? It's not a time-stamped command. That's why the til-death-do-us-part part gets tossed into the marriage vow. Or used to get tossed in. What should be the quality of the husband's love? It should be as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ignorance is no excuse here. When you walked her down the aisle, when you sealed the covenant with an "I do," you vowed to give not get. Think about it. You promised what you would do, and that vow was not contingent upon her vow (more on her vow in a bit). You committed your life to be God's primary agent of love and ministry in her life.

No time loophole.

No "but she" loophole.

No "what about me" loophole.

Do you feel doomed? Don't. Consider this. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Even rudeness, neglect and abuse? "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) We consider unpleasant things when we see the "all things" of Romans 8:28, but we have forgotten the unpleasantness of all things in the few verses it took to get to verse 32. God continues on the unpleasantness theme of "all things" in verses 35-37:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
No matter the difficulty, even within our own marriage, God will work good for his children. Notice, again, no time stamp. The blessing and reward may not come until heaven. Consider, though, the blessing and good that you are plowing into the life of your woman. Go back to Ephesians 5:26-28 and see why Jesus loved the church:
...that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.
Sanctify her. Cleanse her. That she might be holy and without blemish. Christ died for her, for her good, to ultimately see her redeemed before him in heaven.

When we love our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our wives as Christ loved the church, we may get nothing from her in return. In the world, you might consider this unfair. In God's economy, you are just like Christ (Romans 8:17)! Rejoice in him and with him, and press on.

I love Paul's admonition to the Corinthian church, "Act like men, be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13). This does not mean that in a relationship where the believing wife has abdicated her marriage vows that the husband is to love her in silence. No, the strong husband will lead his wife into difficult communication but will do so with grace and love and respect. He will honor her as the weaker vessel and dwell with her with understanding (1 Peter 3:7) while at the same time pointing out that to cultivate a marriage of richness, a marriage that reflects to the world the love and relationship within the Godhead (1 Corinthians 11:3) and the love the church should have for Christ (Ephesians 5:22-24), the wife must biblically love her husband, too.

We may be spurned and rejected, even by a believing wife. This is a grievous and heavy burden, one which only those who have loved an unloving wife can understand. At the same time, it does not free us from our responsibility to lead and to love. We must not turn inward and shun communication. We must not turn outward and become brutal and hostile. We must not turn inward and find satisfaction within ourselves. We must not turn outward and vent our energies some place else (work, sport, play). Rather, day by day, moment by moment, we must love our wives as Christ loved the church and give ourselves up for her even if it means our life.

It might not work toward cultivating a Ward and June Cleaver or a Mike and Carol Brady marriage, but it will work for good. For you and for her.

Stay the course, brother. His promises will not fail. Love your wife.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The death and life of marriage

Political candidates derailed by infidelities. Hollywood marriages sunk by adulterous torpedoes. America on the verge of letting marriage be any kind of relationship for any length of time between any number of persons, places, or things, almost like standing at the counter at Burger King. Hmmm, what am I hungry for today?
The forecast for marriage in America is cold and dark.
So what do we do? Politics won't plug the titanic holes in the marriage boat. When our nation stepped off of its biblical foundation for more enlightened pastures, it lost its ability to appeal to anything outside of “majority rule” to shore up the bulwarks of civilization like family and rule of law. God ordained marriage when he first brought Eve to Adam. If I reject that, I can make marriage whatever I want it to be. Just ask the DOD (see here). Making a law that states marriage to be a covenant between a man and a woman does nothing—ZIP!—to get people to believe that.  Just ask the Catholic Church.
Don't expect the media to help bail any water. They’re making money!  Every five disgruntled letters is countered by millions tuning in and millions in advertising dollars. You’re hard pressed to find a TV show or a movie that doesn’t cross the boundaries on how much skin it can show or on how varied and in your face its sexual relationships can be. Why?  M-m-m-money.
Even churches seem to have tossed in the towel.  I read a recent blurb on nationalreview.com (here) indicating that it’s easier to get folks in the pew to nod about pro-life issues than they will about marriage issues.  With the preponderance of parishioners having already used up one marriage, who has the courage to speak God’s mind on divorce?
So what’s a man to do when all about him the institution of marriage is collapsing?  Three words.  Same three words.  Love your wife.
Don’t get me wrong. It crushes my soul to see our nation cut itself from its biblical roots. It saddens me that there is little worth my family’s time in the theater or on the tube.  New laws and more petitions will not change hearts and minds. Will loving my woman change the tide of our nation? Maybe. Maybe not.
Here’s the deal. Regardless of the rot in our culture, regardless of what the government has to say about the definition of the family, God’s word remains. He created man and woman for man. He created it good. Marriage can still be very good. It was his idea to unite like-but-different human beings in the covenant of marriage. It was to man that he said, “Love your wife” (Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 3:19). It doesn't matter a lick how government defines marriage or how perversely Hollywood portrays relationships. When a man loves a woman as God intended, blessings abound, blessings in the here and now and blessings in the hereafter.

It is a real downer to see what has become of marriage in America, but this does not have to be marriage in your home. Pursue the Lord. Pursue your wife. As the farmer toils in the soil in hope of a bounteous crop and reaps the benefits thereof, so also must the husband labor and hope. And really, isn't loving your wife far more enjoyable than digging in the dirt?

Could this possibly alter the demise of marriage in America?  Will anyone be moved to follow the Lord because I love my wife?  I hope so.  But that doesn’t matter.  This is the very thing to which God has called me.  You, too.  Whether none follow or millions (my preference would be the latter), as for us and our families, we must, with his help, serve the Lord.