As I write this, Charleen, Ian and I are preparing to leave for Virginia, where I have been asked to officiate the wedding of my nephew. Mark’s fiancé is from Germany. We are looking forward to seeing family that we haven’t seen in several years as well as meeting members of her family who are flying over for the wedding.
Wedding are joyous occasions but, sadly, we know that not all that starts well ends well. The initial love that brought couples together grows cold and they decide to part ways, and almost always with a great deal of pain.
Marriage is one of three “creation ordinances” found in the opening chapters of the Bible. Along with the sabbath (worship) and labor (tending the garden) God established marriage prior to the fall to serve as pillars of life. Together they are part of what it means to be created in the image of God.
Sadly, in the fall of Adam and Eve everything changed. Martin Luther wrote that sin has made us incurvatus in se, “turned in upon ourselves”. God is no longer the center of our universe, we are. Work has become a necessary evil as we struggle against the thorns and thistles, and the marriage relationship is not always characterized by the harmony Adam and Eve once enjoyed.
The Apostle Paul exhorts us, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church.” In writing that he borrows a biblical analogy from the Old Testament. God is as a husband to his people, and his people are as a bride to him. Is it any wonder that we see the same analogy in the New Testament with regard to Jesus and the church?
There are various words for love in both the Greek and Hebrew languages. One word, eros, which incidentally is never found in the New Testament, is broader than just sex. It has to do with our emotional response to what pleases me or fulfills my desire. It’s all about me. (in curvatus in se). Is it any wonder that this word is most associated with the world of Playboy? Another word means “brotherly affection”. Close friends, comrades in arms, etc. The other word, agape, is really almost exclusively a New Testament word. I’m convinced that Jesus and Paul in using this word are reflecting back to an Old Testament word, chesed, which is closely associated with God’s covenant. It is best translated “steadfast love” and is almost always used in conjunction with the word “faithfulness”.
We read in Romans (5:8), “God shows his love (agape) for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Jesus willingly gave himself to the cross, not because we were worth it, but in order to redeem us from the curse of sin. If that is not the opposite of in curvatus in se I don’t know what is.
So, when Paul writes, “Husbands love (agape)your wives as Christ loved the church.”, he’s talking about more than just the emotional response that comes as a result of our wives satisfying us (or vice versa). He’s talking about an action, a commitment, something we do for the other person, not just about using our spouse to satisfy our own needs or desires.
Many of us are getting older and have been married a long time. (Charleen and I will celebrate 43 years next month.) I have to say how thankful I am that my wife has exercised real agape love toward me for all these years, and I trust that I have done the same for her. (Happy Mother’s Day, dear.) But we need to pray for and encourage our younger families as they face the daily challenges of living as husbands and wives. Marriage is a commitment, true. But it’s one that has its rewards because God has established it from before the Fall.
Pastor Tom Bridgman