Today’s post is from my new book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus). Last Saturday we posted Chapter 16: Jesus And The 5 Love Languages. Love Like Jesus is due to be published later this year.
Love Like Jesus — Stay Faithful Like Jesus
When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. How could I know how much she would change over 25 years? How could I know how much I would change? My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed – and each of the five has been me.
The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the name I took on back there: “I am he who will be there with you.” When we slough off that name, lose that identity, we can hardly find ourselves again.
How Jesus Loves People
Jesus loves people by staying faithful. Jesus remains faithful to you, and to me. Jesus loves us, by staying faithful, to the bride of Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, he entered into a covenant relationship with you and with me. He said to us, You are My bride, and I am your Groom, and I will never leave you or forsake you – ever. (see Revelation 21:9, 19:7-9, 21:2, Isaiah 54:5, Ephesians 5:25, Matthew 28:20, Deuteronomy 31:8)
Jesus did that even though I’m not a very attractive bride. I’m on the better end of the relationship, without question. Jesus sacrificed his position in heaven with his Father to dwell here on earth, for you and for me. He endured the ridicule of society, for you and for me. He endured unjust accusation and conviction in the courts, for you and for me. He endured the scourging with the cat o’ nine tails, he endured the thorny crown, he endured the nails penetrating his limbs, he endured the cross and the shame, for us. He endured all that for his bride’s benefit – for your benefit, and for mine. He gave himself for our relationship. And what do I contribute, to our relationship? What little good I do doesn’t begin to compare with His contributions. And the bad I do: so often, I do things that are unattractive to my Groom.
But still: He said He will never leave me nor forsake me. And He’s One who does what He says He’ll do. He will stay faithful to His Bride. So you should stay faithful to your spouse, and I should stay faithful to my spouse too. Except — there’s this problem.
Help, I’m Married to a Stranger
“The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.” -Stanley Hauerwas, Professor of Ethics, Duke University
Timothy and Kathy Keller, in their excellent book The Meaning of Marriage, write about the stranger we eventually find ourselves married to. Most of the material in this chapter comes from their book. It’s impossible to know what your spouse will be like tomorrow, or next year, or next decade. Because life will change him, or her. University changes him. Age changes her. Where she lives changes her. A loved one dying changes her. Having kids changes him. The hirings, and firings, and battles at work change him. You can’t really know who you will be married to, in the future, because they’ll change.
It’s inevitable: at some point in your marriage, you’ll find yourself married to a stranger. It happens to every one of us.
It happened to Jacob right away. You know the story. Jacob worked for Laban for seven years so he could have the hand of his daughter Rachel in marriage. She was physically beautiful and the one woman who held Jacob’s heart. Rachel was worth every drop of sweat, every hour in the hot sun, every long day of toil. Year in and year out he worked, until, finally, after seven years, the time came and Laban had to pay up. Jacob was beside himself with anticipation. He entered the tent of his bride on their wedding night, but, the next morning he woke up beside Leah. He was livid. What happened was, Laban wanted to marry off his oldest daughter Leah, but Laban had a problem, Leah was lacking in physical beauty. So Laban slipped her into the ceremony, in place of Rachel – bait-and-switch.
Jacob found himself married to a stranger. He would have to work another seven years before he was permitted to marry Rachel. (Genesis Chapter 29)
Why Did You Choose Who You Chose to Marry?
Why did you choose her, or him? Did you think you found your soulmate? Were you looking for fulfillment? Were you hoping for a person who would help you live out your dreams? If you were, when that day comes, the day you wake up next to the stranger, and you realize just how much of your time, and energy, and focus you’ll have to invest in this other person, just to make your marriage work, you might feel cheated. You might feel as though someone tricked you. You might feel you have been victimized by a bait-and-switch maneuver.
You might feel the same feelings Jacob felt — like you married the wrong person.
But What If . . .
But what if there was another way. Imagine with me you knew she would someday become a stranger. What if you expected he would someday be unrecognizable. But, you also had a mutual understanding that the purpose of your marriage would be growth. What if you had a common point of reference in Christ. What if the purpose of your marriage was for you, your spouse, and God to walk God’s path together.
What if you both wanted your marriage to be about helping each other to let God conform each of you into the likeness of Jesus.
If you choose to approach your marriage in that way, then on that day, when you wake up next to the stranger, you’ll willingly, and enthusiastically, go to work, on your marriage – even if it means working hard for another seven years.
Jacob and His Stranger
In Genesis 49, we see Jacob, at the very end of his life, giving final instructions concerning where he wanted to be buried. And he asked to be buried next to Leah, not Rachel. And he did not ask to make arrangements, to move Rachel’s remains which were near Bethlehem, to the family burial site near Mamre in Canaan. (Genesis 50:25, Exodus 13:19)
For a time Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah. But he persevered with Leah anyway. And maybe one of the reasons he chose to be buried with Leah is because it was Leah, not Rachel, who gave Jacob more sons in the end. And before it was over, Leah even gave birth to Judah, from whose line the Messiah would come.
Your Future Spouse
What if Jacob had left Leah? What if she never had the opportunity to bear his sons? What if there never was a line of Judah? (I don’t like to think about that one.) You see, in order for Jacob to enjoy and appreciate Leah, he had to remain with Leah. Instead of dumping her, he stayed with her, he supported her, he helped her to become the woman who would bear him six sons. He helped her to become the woman who would bring to the world the line of the Messiah.
If you leave, you’ll never see the future version of your spouse in the way Jacob saw Leah. And there’s something else.
If you were to leave, and you found someone new, it’s just a matter of time before that person too would become a stranger. And the whole cycle would start over again.
The only way you’re going to see your husband or wife in the same way Jacob saw Leah is to stay with him, or her.
Your Future Groom
In scripture, God calls us the bride of Christ, which of course makes him our groom. And he sees every fault, and flaw, and sin, and dark thought inside of you, and inside of me. Yet he forgives us. Even though we fall short, over and over again, he forgives us. Even the worst we have done in our lives, he forgives. He died for those faults, and flaws, and sins. Having received such forgiveness, find it in your heart to forgive your wife, or your husband. (see Matthew 18:35)
How To Love Like Jesus
We live in an age of consumerism, and consumerism permeates everything in our Western culture, including marriage. Many today conform the marriage relationship to our culture, and define marriage in terms of economics. So many today are marrying for me. The economics of the relationship must be profitable, to me. If the marriage relationship is operating at a loss, for me, then it’s time to walk away, we say.
But that’s not how God defines a marriage relationship. For God, marriage is a covenant relationship, not a consumer relationship. In a covenant relationship, it’s not about the economics of me, it’s about my spouse. In a covenant marriage, my love manifests in serving and giving. In a covenant relationship, I love my bride as Jesus loves His bride, the church. I give myself for her even as Jesus gave himself for us. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Your marriage, and mine, isn’t a consumer relationship, it’s a covenant relationship, and that makes all the difference. “The connecting link with my old self has always been the memory of the name I took on back there (when I gave my vows): ‘I am he who will be there with you.’ When we slough off that name, lose that identity, we can hardly find ourselves again.” -Smedes
So to love like Jesus, stay faithful and stay married, even as Jesus has stayed faithful to you. You be one who keeps that name: “I am he who will be there with you.” Keep that name. Even when he or she criticizes you and complains and goes negative. Even when what little good your spouse does, doesn’t compare to your contributions. Even when your wife, or husband, does things that are unattractive to you.
This is how Jesus loves us, The Bride of Christ.
This is how you can love like Jesus:
Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? . . . What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Further study will be rewarded. See Matthew 18:21-35.
- Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, Dutton Adult, 2011
Image of couple via Darin Kim – Creative Commons