Valentine Reflections on Love, part 2

God is guiding your marriage. Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man . . . As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “A Wedding Sermon from Prison.”

These words were written by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he sat in a Nazi prison camp, having been placed into captivity for his role in the resistance movement against the Nazis. He was composing a sermon for his best friend’s wedding, and was compelled to re-think the nature of true, costly, sacrificial love, which seemed to be seriously lacking in Germany in his day. Too many people chose to remain safe and quiet, rather than joining in protest and bearing the burdens of those who were suffering.

It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” At first, these words probably seem strange and backwards to us. But, to understand them properly, we must learn the difference between human love and God’s love.

All human love is a reflection of God’s love, and God intended human love to illustrate His being and character. In fact, the Bible says that God IS love (1 Jn 4:7), which means that all love has its source in God and comes from God. But because of the existence of sin and evil in humanity, we do not reflect the love of God in a perfect and complete way. We fail to draw upon God, who is the source and origin of all love. Instead, we attempt to live from our own will, our own resources, our own desires. But without the perfect love of God as its source, human love gets entangled with selfishness, mixed intentions, and ulterior motives.

It still reflects God’s love, of course, because all good things come from God. But it falls short of His original intention. At its worst, human love is merely a veiled expression of self-will, self-assertion, and self-satisfaction. In wanting the other person, it really wants itself. It seeks to draw the other person into itself and conform that person to its own needs and goals, without prioritizing what is truly best for the other. Even when it desires to serve the other person, it can’t help wanting to be congratulated or even paid back. In other words, it keeps score.

But God’s love is not the same as human love; in fact, it is radically different. It is not self-seeking, but always seeks what is best for the other. It does not imprison others in self-motivated desire. GOD’S LOVE ALWAYS SETS PEOPLE FREE! It is not limited by human capabilities, but actually opens us up for unlimited possibilities by allowing us to see the world through the eyes of Another. God’s love is not a contract, which says, “IF you please me in this way, THEN I will love you.” Rather, God’s love is an unconditional covenant, which says, “I love you . . . THEREFORE, live your life in me and walk in my love.”

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) God’s love never fails. Ultimately, God’s love is demonstrated to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 Jn 4:9-12).

It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” In the marriage covenant, God adds His ‘YES’ to your ‘yes’ and joins His love with your love. In marriage, man and woman are joined together in the love of God. Just as Christ gave his own life for you in love, you in turn give yourself to your beloved. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt 19:6). God is the source and origin of all love. And God will sustain your love and your marriage, making it a source of mutual joy, encouragement, and fulfilment.

But since GOD is the source of love, you will need to tap into that source continually. So, drink deeply from the well of God’s love. May God be your strength, your joy and delight. May God’s Holy Spirit be the flame of love that burns passionately within you, refining and shaping you as husband and wife, united as one in Christ. Seek God daily and remember that when you are closer to the One who is LOVE, you will be closer to each other. When you know God more intimately, you will know yourself and your spouse more intimately as God created each of you to be. And when you seek to be obedient to God’s will, God will show you His plans for your life together—plans that are far greater than you could possibly devise or secure on your own.

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