Friday, May 9, 2008

How Deep is Your Love?

"Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).

How does love cover a multitude of sins? Let's look at some examples of common sins in marriage, and how love covers them. We probably sin against our spouse more with our words than any other way. Consider Jack and Jill. Jack went up the hill to fetch a pale of water. He fell down and brought Jill with him. At the bottom of the hill, Jill shouts, "You're such an oaf, Jack. You can't do anything right." Naturally Jack responds, "You tripped me. You're always in my way." At this point, the verbal damage has been done. Neither can take back what was said, even though both may want to. So how do they get beyond this joy-killing exchange? If they love each other, it's easy. Love covers the hateful words.

Love covers hateful words first by forgiving them. When our spouse sins against us with words, we have to make the silent choice to forgive the offense. In forgiving the offense, we are agreeing to bear the cost of the wrong. In other words, rather than get the satisfaction of calling our spouse out, and demanding retribution, we quietly absorb the hurtful words on our own and deny ourselves the pleasure of vindication. When love covers a sin, it is really covered. It's not stored in a mental safe deposit box until it matures and is useful to us later. It is dismissed as not that big of deal, even if it felt like a huge deal.

Love covers hateful words by progressing beyond mere forgiveness to value. Love begins as an affection flowing from a sense of beauty or value. When we look at our spouse we see all the good things that prove how valuable they are. We line up the offense against the overall value of the person, and realize how small the sin is in comparison. You might be thinking that your spouse isn't valuable enough to offset the cost of his or her sins. That's what happens when people divorce. This kind of thinking says more about your capacity to love than your spouse's value. Perhaps your spouse isn't valuable enough to inspire your love. But Christ is, and it's Christ who is telling you to love.

All love toward our spouse must flow from our love for Christ. Love often breaks down in its ability to overlook offenses because our love isn't Christ-centered enough. We often expect our spouse to justify our love for them by their actions. When they sin against us, we assess a "weight" to the offense and stack it up against the "weight" of good things we've assessed. If the good outweighs the bad, we find it easier to overlook. If the bad outweighs the good, we go off on them. Such man-centered, works-oriented love is bound to fail. The proper way to overlook our spouse's offenses is by first soaking in, and meditating upon the love of Christ. Then when we are overwhelmed with the gracious love of Christ, we are in a state of mind to graciously love our spouse. So the bulk of deficiency in our ability to overlook sin is due to a lack of Christ-centeredness in our own hearts.

While I've given the example of words, because James tells us that if anyone can control his tongue, he is a perfect man (James 3:2), you can plug whatever sin you want into the above scenario and it fits. Rather than speaking hateful things, let's assume your spouse forgets your birthday. While some would argue the sinfulness of such a mistake, others would think it points to selfishness, and that's a sin. Either way, if we are Christ-centered, and our hope is in Christ more than in our spouse's ability to make much of us, then we can easily overlook their forgetfulness and not make a big deal out of it. I think it's likely that the deeper our love is, the greater our capacity to overlook our spouse's sins. So if we want smooth, happy marriages, we must take to heart Peter's counsel and overlook our spouse's sins. Or we can keep a record of wrongs, snap at every provocation, refuse to forgive, and live a life of mutual misery. How deep is your love?

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