This is the third and last week of our series Celebrating Marriage. We are using the metaphor of a three stranded chord, with Faith, Hope and Love as three strands that contribute to a solid marriage. Thirdly love, and by love I mean deep self-sacrificing love. This third element is the magic in marriage, something that can only be given and never forced. The willingness to give as well as receive. The willingness to pray for your spouse and be kind to them. Love is action when you are exhausted. Love is different to faith, it goes beyond faith, it gives when you can’t see a reward, it forgives when you have been wronged, it confronts when things are not right. And it accepts even when sometimes it does not agree.
Love is at the heart of the Christian Faith, a faith that turns the world upside down. Christians believe that God created the world, that we are not an accidental accumulation of atoms. We believe that the emergence of human life has been crafted and guided and planned by a vastly superior intelligence. We believe that human beings are the crowning glory of God’s creation. That is love. We believe that human beings – me and you –we all fall short of God’s plan and desire for us. That’s what we call sin – selfish – indulgent – Narcissistic; the desire to do life my way rather than God’s way. And God knew that we, human beings would sin and rebel and generally hate on him – and he loves us anyway. At that point in the story – humans were destined to go down to eternal death and that would have been it. But, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that we might not die but have eternal life. This is love. God sent his son into the world – Jesus. To live and teach and heal and love. But this is the crucial part – he then died a sacrificial death – he died to end sin. He died at the hands of human violence, but God had also foreseen this and used this as an incredible turn around. Christians believe that when Jesus was crucified he died carrying our sins, God put on him our guilt. In this miraculous spiritual exchange Jesus took on himself our sin so that we could be forgiven – and most importantly our relationship with God restored, fixed, made perfect. So if you will accept the sacrifice Jesus made for you, and if you will ask Jesus into your heart and mind and give him control of your life – then he will fill you with his spirit and you can meet God – now and in eternity. Do you understand the offer? Have you made the decision?
Love of that sort is what Jesus encourages us to have in our marriages! Wow what a challenge. I know for many couples getting married is a huge wake up call, they didn’t realise how much they are used to doing things their way. Now when you are single that’s fine. But when you’re married! Big challenge. Love gives up having to do it my way. It decides that the toothpaste doesn’t need to be in the toothpaste holder. Now hold on. Believe me those little things are crucial. Love decides that my wife is right some times – Love isn’t a walk over, but it does prefer the other. Then love sometimes follows someone to a different part of the country. When we were first married Karen had been training as a Dietitian in Auckland and I was in my first parish on Waiheke Island. When Karen finished training she got her first job, at Middlemore and we realized that it was too far for her to commute everyday. So at God’s leading I resigned my job to follow Karen. The mythology at the time was Ministers who resign never get another job.
But what happened next was miracle after miracle.
Love means costly sacrifice
Love means to forgive. Forgiveness is hard work. I think the type of forgiveness that we need to make relationships work is forgiveness before contrition. Now there are times that it’s important to let someone know that you have been hurt; a cutting word, a joke that didn’t work, a snub, forgetting them. We all need common forgiveness to make a relationship work. But sometimes we have to forgive our partner before and even sometimes despite them not recognising that they have hurt us. Forgiveness is the oil of relationships and it goes ahead and says – it doesn’t matter that you forgot our anniversary. I forgive you.
Now the church has sometimes given the wrong message about violence in relationships; and I don’t mean a bit of horseplay that goes too far. If your partner is violent towards you, love says that I will not enable you to become a violent person so that for myself and for you - I will not accept violence. The place for forgiveness then is when the truth is told, when other people are told perhaps a counsellor and a definite plan is made to change the behaviour. Repentance not remorse.
But when it is time to forgiven we need to forgive deeply from the heart and that means to give up the right to revenge. And in a marriage it means not bringing up stories from the past, once they are dealt with Remember how 20 years ago you were rude to my mother? Forgiveness has a dynamic relationship with active forgetting.
I remember when Karen and I were getting married, and a friend was giving us advice. He said don’t go into marriage expecting it to be 50/50. Expect to give 80%; because we all over rate what we give and under rate what is given to us. We never know how hard some things are for our spouse. Love gives and does not expect too much in return. It’s easy to think things like, well we’ll go to your parents one year and mine the other. But those two experiences can be very different. At one house the spouse might be asked to take it easy, have a drink the food is lovely and the kids are looked after, no difficult conversation and even the bed is comfy. However at the other family, everyone drinks too much – the kids hate the food – you are expected not only to do all the dishes but also to muck in with the house renovation. And to top it all off there is an uncle who has just written a new book on politics and religion! And some spare beds can be awful! We should not under-estimate what our partner, or our friend is giving.
What else does the scripture say. Love is patient. That means waiting for people, waiting for someone to get on board with your exciting scheme as well as waiting for your husband to get his suit right. I mean ladies how many times have you waited while your husband has tried on three suits and still isn’t sure which one to wear! But patience is much deeper that that as well, it means waiting while a person considers and wonders about an idea. It means waiting quietly while someone has a bit of a blow out. It means waiting on a person when their world falls apart and they are in a deep depression and they just can’t get out of bed today. Marriage should be a place where you have someone who has your back as long as you need it. Now I know that for some of you as your partner develops Dementia this can become incredibly difficult, and my encouragement is to find a way of being faithful while also nurturing other interests and activities. I have too often seen one elderly partner wear themselves out caring for another. Love is patient even when the other is not going to get better.
Love is kind. Foot and back rubs. Find out what your partner likes and be kind. Kindness is under rated in our world. It does not envy. Wow that is a challenge beyond the surface because envy seems an obvious awful thing – but actually it’s a very human emotion. I wish I got a raise. I spend all day with the kids and you get the huge hug when you come home! Or I wish I got to stay home. I wish I got to travel. In a 100 ways we can envy our friends and partners, it’s normal but not godly. Love practices contentment.
Love doesn’t boast and it’s not proud. That’s a invitation to something really cool. To boast for your partner, to be proud of them. The problem with boasting is that you don’t realise that while you are doing it – it’s so easy to be putting someone else down. Love is not rude or self-seeking, it is not easily angered. That’s an interesting one. You see there’s nothing actually wrong with anger in relationships, it’s what we do with anger – do we express it in a way that is positive and transformative – “I’m so angry I just need to go and break some trees.” Why am I angry? What can we do about it? How can I use that anger for change?
Love keeps no record of wrongs. Ok so if you think that marriage is going to work like this. You have a little note book and then each time your partner does something wrong you write it down. And you can allocate points to the different offences. And then at the end of the week you can go through this list with your spouse and tell them what they did wrong and how they can fix it. Well that sounds like performance management. But here’s where it get even better. How about you make the list cumulative, and each Friday you go through the 300 worse things your spouse has done since you got married. Pretty awful eh.
Let be fair if there is a recurring issue it’s fine to name it once. But if you even bring up three things from the distance past – your marriage is going to be on the rocks.
Years ago I was taught in Church relationships – if you have sometime negative to say, say it face to face once; but if it’s sometimes good to say write in down. Practice remembering the good things.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
This is the love of God, the love we as Christians are called to emulate not just in marriage but in all our friendships, however this is what married love should look like.
Love forgives, believes and makes better. I remember as a boy when something went wrong at school. My dad would fix it for me. As I got older he would help me to fix it for myself. That’s what love does it doesn’t run away from stuff, it get alongside and helps you fix it. That is the best part of a marriage having someone on your side. God Bless