Monday, May 12, 2008

What Benefit is Loving a Spouse?

"If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" (Luke 6:32-36).

In the above verses, Jesus introduces a staggering ethic. Many husbands would congratulate themselves on how perfectly and deeply they love their wives. Many wives would feel good about the way they love their husbands and children. We might feel like we're being good Christians because we make so much of our family. Our bills are paid on time, we keep up a polite and respectful attitude in a finely structured household, our children have clean clothes and clean noses, the grass is cut and the garage is tidy, we eat our meals together around a table (unlike the busy heathen), we have family devotions, we go on date nights with our spouse to keep the romance alive, we obey the laws of the land, and we mind our own business. God must be pretty impressed with our stability. Or maybe not so much.

Could it be that what passes as respectable, responsible Christianity in our minds and across our culture is just plain old-fashioned love for ourselves? Jesus questions the benefit of loving those who love us back. We know there is a benefit from the one loving us back - a temporary one. But Jesus is asking ultimate questions here. What heavenly benefit is there for loving someone who loves us back? If even sinners who deny God and scorn the Gospel can muster up the capacity to love those who love them back, and be good to those who are good to them, and can loan to someone expecting to be paid back, then surely a Christian, with God's love flowing through them, can do better than that. And if they can't, they shouldn't expect a great reward to be awaiting them in Heaven.

I wrote The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another because texts like these show how idolatrous our comfortable little marriages can be. We who think our marriage is heaven on earth because we don't fight like other couples, and don't make messes like other couples, may be deluding ourselves. As Christians, our goal is not to make much of our spouse. Our goal is to join forces with our spouse as one flesh to make much of God by looking beyond each other to a lost and dying world all around us. Don't settle for the benefit of reciprocal affection - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours - but rather, rise above such sinful, cowardly love to Christian love. Christian love flows to enemies, those not like us, that we don't want to associate with. Christian love does good to those who can't do good back. Christian love gives to those who can't repay.

Christian love comes from Christ. Those who know their Bible may think of Jesus' words in John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends." In this verse, it seems that Jesus thinks loving friends is virtuous. Is Jesus contradicting himself? Not if we consider that Jesus had no friends until he died for them. Everyone is born at enmity with God, not one loves him and seeks him. So Jesus practiced what he preached. He loved those who hated him, did good to those who cursed him, gave to those who took from him, and was merciful to those who did evil. That kind of love is so far beyond the love the world has for its own, that it is impossible to perform without the saving and sanctifying aid of the Holy Spirit. So I encourage all of us to examine our lives. What benefit are we getting from loving our spouse and our children? Naturally, we shouldn't stop doing it. But we should be looking beyond it, to those whom we consider unlovely and unlovable. Then we can expect a heavenly reward in addition to the old "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." I don't know about you, but I want more than a massaged back. I want fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at the right hand of God.

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