One of the original purposes of marriage as God intended it in Eden was to reflect His image. That means marriage is about something bigger than the two of us. Marriage is one of God's primary means of speaking to the world. An athlete doesn’t enjoy the pain of serious training. But he trains for the future reward of winning. This is the challenge for marriage—to sacrifice my momentary definition of happiness for the long-term good of my spouse, thus reflecting God's heart and earning His praise, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Al Janssen, from his excellent book, "The Marriage Masterpiece").
As the celebration of Easter and Good Friday draws near and there are so many that are experiencing revival in their spirit as the movie, "The Passion of the Christ" has been showing throughout our communities making us all the more aware of the sacrifices Christ made for us, we feel moved to focus this marriage message on the bigger picture of what it takes to truly love each other. It's one thing to vow we will love each other until we're parted by death in our wedding ceremonies. It's another thing entirely to live it out each day as God would have us.
For this message we'd like to share a portion of the book titled, "The Healthy Marriage Handbook... Solid Answers to More than 200 Questions That Will Strengthen & Enhance Your Marriage" (from the editors of Marriage Partnership Magazine, Broadman & Holman Publishers ISBN 080549054-X). These particular thoughts can be found in the chapter: When Loving Feelings Take Effort by Jerry Bridges, with Annette La Placa. We pray you'll find it as inspiring as we have:
Question: There are times I find it nearly impossible to love my spouse. And yet I know I'm commanded, as a Christian, to do so. Should I put up a false front & act as if I have tender feelings toward my spouse, even when my feelings would dictate that I behave otherwise?
No one before or since has loved more—or sacrificed more for those He loved—than Jesus did. And following His example begins with the "good news" –the gospel.
I want to love my wife the way Jesus would, so I preach the gospel to myself every day. If I didn't, it would be easy to forget the impact of God's mercy on my own life. Knowing, really knowing, God's love and forgiveness toward me makes it possible for me to love my wife—especially during the times when it doesn't come naturally.
But I couldn't choose that loving alternative without God's power to fuel my actions. Paul said, "I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). That's the secret weapon we obtain when we understand the gospel—the power of God to live His love through us.
Paul encouraged us to "be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us & gave Himself for us" (Ephesians 5:1-2). A second clue to loving the way Jesus did is to see ourselves as God's "dearly loved children". The extent to which you believe you're dearly loved by God, that's the extent to which you can love others.
I recently received a letter from a woman who for years had felt trapped in a continuous cycle of guilt & confession. When she finally realized her guilt had already been taken care of by Christ's sacrifice, her life changed dramatically. She had discovered the freedom and power that comes with being God's dearly loved child, and it enabled her to start showing patience and kindness toward her husband.
I can't ignore the instruction in Ephesians 5 to love my wife with the love of Christ, who "loved the church and gave Himself for her." Sacrificial love sounds great—on paper. But every married person knows how tough it is to put into practice. Too bad the Bible doesn't say: "Love your wife as Christ loved the church, and here are 10 easy steps for accomplishing that."
Christ set the example for sacrificial love when He left heaven's glory to live 33 years of grime, dust, humanness, and rejection, all without sinning, just so He could give Himself up for the people He loved. For Christ, love was a motive, not a duty.
I admit that too many times I've served my wife out of a sense of duty or to keep peace, without the motive of love. Reality is messy, and I'm still learning what it means to love as Christ loved when my desires conflict.
Jesus' sermon to husbands and wives delivers a tall order: "Remember my love and sacrifice for you, and do the same for your spouse. Love each other the way I did." It would be an impossible task if we didn't have our secret weapon: God's power to love, which He has freely given to His dearly loved children.