I’ve seen some interesting wedding cakes over the years, but none quite like the one in a recent story. The bride to be asked the caterer to inscribe I John 4:18 on the cake, which says there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. The caterer misread the verse as John 4:18 and inscribed that verse on the cake, which reads for you have had five husbands; and the one whom you now have is not truly your husband.
Next week we conclude our series on marriage with the final phrase of the wedding vows, which will combine two of the vows, in sickness and in health, and until death do us part. From those vows we will examine the topic of Building Permanence In Marriage.
I want to begin this morning by asking you a simple question that serves as a litmus test about marriage, a wake up call of sorts – would you be happy if your child ended up in a marriage like yours? Would you be pleased or troubled? Let that sink in for a moment. If you are troubled by that question, here are several other questions to consider – what is wrong with your marriage that you would not want your child in such a marriage? How bad is your marriage? Is your marriage salvageable? Do you want to save it? What will it take to save it? What will you do to save it?
Today we come to the vow to love and to cherish. This vow is really a summation of everything the other vows are saying. To love and to cherish is a way of saying that if there’s anything else not covered by the other vows, it’s covered under this one. All these messages are really just variations on the theme of love.
1. Love Is Fragile.
How many of you have ever baby-proofed a home? When you have very young children you have to take some precautions to prevent injuries to your children and to protect precious items from being broken. Tanya has a very delicate statue, a Lladro, of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, which her brother brought to her from Italy some years ago. It’s a beautiful piece, but very delicate and very fragile. It sat on a small table in our foyer, which was a rather dangerous location for it. When our kids were very young we put it away to protect it, and then took it out some years later, thinking it would be safe. It wasn’t, but unfortunately, I was the problem. I knocked that statue over and broke it about five times. Poor Joseph has had his head super-glued back on his body so many times that he doesn’t have much of a neck left.
The damage came from an unexpected source – me. It can be a surprise to find that the damage that comes to a marriage stems from an unexpected source – from ourselves.
There is a great fragility to marriage. Marriage is fragile, because love is fragile. Love is susceptible to an ill-spoken word, a careless act, and so many other occurrences that can shatter a relationship, and once it is shattered it is very difficult to repair because of the residue of hurt.
That is why we must remember that love will not maintain itself; it takes time and care and effort, and some of the greatest damage that can come to marriage is not from the outside, but from the inside, because of our actions and our attitudes. In one of my previous churches there was a young lady who burned up the engine in her car because she never checked the oil and never had the oil changed. When her father asked about the last time she had the oil in her car changed she had no idea what he was talking about. There’s oil in an engine? And you have to change it?
Don’t place yourself in the position where you realize one day that the problem with your marriage resides in you, because you did not protect love.
2. Love is tough.
I’ve observed some married couples with an amazing talent for conflict. I say talent because they manage to take the smallest matters and turn them into World War III. Maybe it’s that one person seems unable – or unwilling – to pick up after one’s self. They are just being themselves by leaving things all over the house. And their spouse gets tired of it, but doesn’t like stuff all over the floor and hanging from chairs, so they pick it up, day after day. One person digs in their heels and says I have a right to be who I am, and if leaving stuff all over the floor is who I am then that’s just tough, and the other person quietly grinds their teeth, and gets mad, and gets bitter and resentful? Is being one’s self worth damaging a marriage?
Is that a tough situation to fix? It is if you’re focused on yourself. We can be remarkably egocentric, self-centered, and self-absorbed people who want to do what we want to do and act they way we want to act. That’s why love is tough, because love is not egocentric, or self-centered, or self-absorbed.
Anyone who says love is not tough really doesn’t understand love. Love is tough because it takes you out of yourself and your own interests and wanting your own way and working for the best of another person, and that’s not easy. Love asks us to sacrifice and to set aside what we want for the greater interest of a marriage and family, and that can is tough.
Everyone comes into marriage with a set of expectations, and many of those expectations relate to what we want from the other person. Some people expect that they are getting a cook, a housekeeper, a mechanic, a yard care expert, an accountant, or an ATM.
But love does not concern itself with what it receives but what it gives. There is an aspect of servanthood to love, and you cannot love someone you do not serve, not in the Biblical sense of love.
You cannot express love when you are demanding things from your spouse, you cannot express love when you desire them to serve you; you express love when you serve them.
3. Love is an act of the will.
The title of this message is To Love and To Cherish: The Greatest Command. I use the phrase the greatest command because that is what Jesus said of love – it was his greatest command. But let me ask you a question – can you command love? Is it really love if it has to be commanded?
You can’t command love, and I think what Jesus is talking about creating the conditions under which love can thrive. When we talk about love in the context of a marriage, we have to move beyond romantic love and emotion. Those are wonderful elements of a marriage, but love is far deeper than just romance and emotion. In the context of a marriage, love is very often an act of the will. It is an act of the will because it is a different kind of bond from that of parent and child, sibling – those relationships that are bond together by blood relations. A marriage is a relationship entered into by a decision and it is maintained by a continual decision – an act of the will.
So what will you do? I preached about marriage some years ago, and often, what happens after you preach about marriage, is that people come and talk to you more about their marriages. One couple talked to me, and I was surprised to learn of how deeply they were struggling. I told them they needed to get some help and pointed them to a good counselor, and they did great. I wish it were always that easy.
One of the most difficult and nerve-wracking moments in life is when you tell someone for the first time I love you. I remember very well the first time I said the words I love you to Tanya. We had been dating a while and I knew I was in love with her. I thought about how to tell her, and, of course, I had some anxiety about doing so. When Tanya and I first went on a date she told me she never dated anyone longer then about six weeks. I had somehow managed to continue on longer than six weeks and I had also come to the point of believing we had a great future together. But to say those words – I love you – was a big step. I came up with a plan, when and where I would tell her. All during that day my stomach was in knots. That evening, as I walked her back to her dorm, and as we stood in the courtyard of Hart Hall, I somehow managed to work up the courage to say I love you. Thankfully, she said I love you in return!
It is a great gift to tell someone I love you; it is an even greater gift to hear someone say to us. I love you.
But love is not always smooth sailing, and there are many challenges that come to love. We are programmed in our society to concentrate so much upon the emotions of love, and what happens in marriage if you don’t always feel the emotion? It is absolutely essential to the health of a marriage to love and cherish your spouse, and to be sure they know this every day of your life together.
6 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Solomon 8:6-7