"Love That Lasts" is based off the teachings of Rev. Adam Hamilton and his work "Love to Stay." This sermon uses his teachings as a framework, working my own stories into the mix. I'm grateful for Rev. Hamilton's work and hope you are as blessed as I am with this series.
More Than a Piece of Paper April 30th, 2017
Genesis 2: 18-25
So, it was the night before our wedding and we were busy decorating the church and making final preparations when it happened: our first significant fight. To this day I can’t recall why Joanna and I were fighting, I just new it was happening, right before the biggest moment of our lives. We were so angry, probably over some minor detail, but angry enough that one of could’ve easily walked away and said, “This isn’t worth it.” We said some things we wouldn’t have said in our right minds, but with the stress of a wedding day, we weren’t in our right minds. Somehow, by God’s grace, we put the spat aside and finished our preparations. But I knew then that marriage was going to be much harder than I thought and building a love that lasts would take a lot more than an simple, “I do.”
Over the next several weeks we’re going to be exploring relationships, and we’re going to specifically look at marriages, but I think you’ll find the principles and teachings applicable to all sorts of relationships. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that maintaining healthy relationships requires hard work and commitment. Whether it’s a marriage that started strong but now finds itself on rocky ground, or a chasm in a friendship that was once so beautiful, we’ve all found ourselves asking the question, “Can this be fixed?” “Is it worth the effort to try to repair?” And clearly, many answer that question with a “no.” Thismay contribute to a 2014 Pew Research Center study that reveals one in five adults over 25 years old have never been married! That’s an historic rate of people choosing to not marry! But despite the struggles of relationships, there is evidence that human beings still yearn fo meaningful relationships and marriages. And I believe with all my might that we can learn to build the type of love that lasts a lifetime with God’s grace and a little bit of willingness and intentionality on our part.
Christians have long believed that God’s Word is one of the primary resources to consider when wrestling with some of life’s deepest questions. In fact, it seems as if these existential questions lay at the heart of the first several chapters of the Bible. Questions like, “What is my purpose?” “Why was I created?” And even “why is there evil in the world?” And in the midst of these foundational stories of the Bible, we also see that God has something to say about the purpose and mission of marriage. In the book of Genesis, we see two complementary Creation stories listed side by side. In chapter 1, we read about God’s creation of the heavens and the earth, plants and animals, and so on. Every day God creates something new, and that end of the day, he takes a step back and says, “It is good.” At the end of the sixth day, when God has created humanity, he completes his work, takes a final step back and says, “Now this is VERY good.” But in chapter two, the story takes a turn. In more detail, we read about God creating the man, Adam, forming him from the dirt of the ground and breathing his own life-giving spirit into him. And then God puts Adam to work in the garden. But a funny thing happens. God looks down and for the first time sees something about creation that is not good. “It is not good,” says God, “for man to be alone.”
One of the fundamental needs we have as human beings is relationship. We weren’t created to be loners, but were created with an innate desire to be with others. (Only 3 of survey respondents indicated that you had never been married). I think this is at least a part of what it means to be created in God’s image. God co-exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit- a mutually beneficial, life-giving relationship we call the Trinity. And it’s out of a relational heart that God looks at man and says, “ This isn’t good. He shouldn’t be alone. I’ve got to do something about this.” Seeing this need, God sets out to provide us with the gift of companionship, a “suitable helper,” Scripture calls it. God first brings all the animals to Adam and Adam genuinely enjoys the company, but from those birds and beast a truly suitable companion was not found. Then God had a brilliant idea. Putting Adam into a deep sleep, he took a part of Adam and created Eve, what one pastor describes as a “new improved version of man.” And slowly Adam wakes from his sleep and sees what he’s long been waiting for. “Finally, I have someone who is like me. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. And they became one.” This is why, says the text, that a man will leave his father and mother and will cling to his wife.
If I were to poll you and ask for your top reason for marriage, you would probably give me a dozen different answers. But right here in the beginning of the Bible, God gives us his reason. And it’s not for romance or sex or emotions, although those are very much a part of healthy marriages, but it’s this idea of helping one another. The primary mission of marriage is to be a helper. Romance, sexual intimacy and emotions will come and go. But this God-given mission of helping one another will always remain. The Hebrew word used in this passage for helper is ezer, which suggests a stronger one coming alongside to help the weaker one. Ladies, you should remember that! It’s a word that is often applied to God, the stronger one, coming alongside God’s people to bless, lift up and encourage them in weakness. This is what God intends for our marriages. This is the mission God has given us for all of our relationships- to come alongside each other in ways that bless, lift up and help the other.
Now, something I’m very aware of is that my idea of helping Joanna isn’t always her idea. We purchased a new grill the other day (she really wanted me to have it), but it came in a box, which meant someone had to put the thing together. So when Joanna asked if I wanted to help put the grill together, I thought she really meant, “Go grab your tools and help me build this thing. So that’s what I did. I grabbed my power tools (she gave me funny looks) and for an afternoon, we worked side-by-side putting together our new grill, and we managed to bite our tongues and walk away when irritation set in. After we successfully put the grill together, Joanna kindly said, “You know I could’ve done that by myself.” And that’s when it hit me. Joanna didn’t really want me to help build the thing; she just wanted me to come outside and spend time with her. In a healthy relationship, I don’t get to define what it means to help her. She gets to define that. Her needs and I what I perceive to be her needs aren’t always the same. And that’s why the best way I can help Joanna is to love her well.
We don’t always know how best to help the other, but God does give us an idea of how to love. In the same way that ezer exemplifies the type of companion we are to be in the Old Testament, the New Testament uses the word agape to show us how to love. Many times when we think about love, we have the word eros in mind, which is the Greek word that carries romantic connotations. It’s where we get the word “erotic,” and it’s the feeling you have when you kiss for the first time or experience physical attraction. But you can’t build a lasting love eros. It’s fleeting, like a feeling that comes and goes. It may be the love that sets a relationship in motion, but if you want the type of love that lasts a lifetime, you need to lean on another type of love: agape.
Agape is a self-less love that perseveres throughout life’s changes. It’s the love that sustains when the six-pack abs slowly morph into a muffin top, or when the beautiful blonde hair turns into gray. Agape love is what keeps you going when unexpected habits appear, or, when after 30 years of marriage, you look back and realize that neither of your are exactly the same as you once were. It’s agape love Paul speaks about when he writes his famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is patient and kind. It does not envy; it does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs.” And of course the greatest example of agape love is the cross, where Jesus selflessly stretched out his arms and gave up his life so that we could be free of our brokenness and shame.
That’s the type of love that lasts a lifetime, but to be quite honest, I’m not sure how natural agape love really is. If I’m honest with myself, I struggle with selfishness and narcissism more than I care to admit. It’s not natural, but I know it’s possible, because I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it in the lives of those who are constantly growing closer to God. I think this is why Jesus ties the two greatest commandments together: Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor. As we grow in our love of God, we’ll better understand how to deny ourselves, put away our selfishness and truly love in life-giving, sacrificial ways.
I want to wrap up this message with a story. Sometimes in order to get where we want to go, we need a vision of what the destination looks like. I’m not expert on relationships, but I do know the type of relationship and marriage I want to a part of. For most of my life, I had a front-row view of a couple that had been married for almost 30 years, but due to the husband’s cancer, that marriage was coming to an end. I would spend a lot of time with this couple, and they had the usual spats and disagreements, but they had a love that was deep and wide. That was evident to me during one of the last times I saw this couple together, in a hospital room that would become a deathbed just a few days later. There I saw a wife, who had taken a leave of absence from work, carefully dabbing a wet sponge on the lips of her beloved. She would wipe the moisture from his brow, hold his hand when he grew agitated and stand guard by his side, refusing to leave him alone. A stronger one helping the weaker one. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching God’s vision of marriage unfold. It wasn’t about a piece of paper. It wasn’t about sexual intimacy or romantic butterflies. It wasn’t about having children. It was about love, selfless sacrificial love that blesses the other regardless of the return. It was about serving, for better for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. That's the type of husband, father, friend and pastor I want to be.That’s what God has in mind when two become one. That’s what God has in mind for our relationships. Amen.