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Relationships That Give Life: Is Love a Duel or a Duet? 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones

Colossians 3:12-16
John 15:12-17

April 29, 2011 was the date of one of the most memorable wedding days in a long, long time. Millions and millions of people all over the world tuned in to witness the Royal Wedding, surely the wedding of the century, as William and Kate tied the knot in Westminster Abbey. The streets of London were packed with well-wishers, but the living rooms and dens across our own country were filled with people who got up in the middle of the night not to miss this storybook wedding between William and Kate.

The Bishop of London, quoting Catherine of Siena to open his sermon to William and Kate: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." Then he added, "Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves." He added that in spite of our fears of what the future might hold for this world, this was a joyful day, one the whole world shared, "as every wedding day should be, a day of hope." Then he added to the couple, "You have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that He gave Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to one another."

It was a wonderful moment for marriage in general and for Christian marriage in particular. It was a Gospel moment, where God's gracious and generous intentions for marriage were the focus of the world for ever so shining a moment. When our culture pictures marriage, or tells its stories, we too often are given a very different message or image of marriage. Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City are a long way from Westminster Abbey.

Now as we close our fall series on "Relationships That Give Life," I want you to know that as we move to the subject of marriage, that I know that for so many of us, marriage is a painful word. It is a word that brings to the surface many of our deepest wounds. Some of us have been betrayed, some of us have tried and tried to heal a failing marriage, and in spite of how hard we have tried, the situation does not get any better. Marriage is a powerful word, if only because the hopes we attach to it are so high, and the experiences we have had with it are so human. Some of you know what it is to feel rejected, and some of you blame yourself, while some blame someone else for what marriage has become for you. I say this because I want you to know that I know how painful the topic of marriage can be. But I preach on it anyway because I believe that God designed marriage "for the welfare and happiness of humankind." God believes in marriage, and God wants us to understand marriage as a gift from the Divine hand.

But I also want you to know that if this sermon touches you in a tender place, God is still with you, holding you in His embrace, comforting you, forgiving you, healing you and giving you hope. Because this is ever and always who God is.

Tony Campolo likes to say that one of the things that makes marriage so difficult in our media-saturated culture is what he calls "The Enzio Pinza Syndrome." You may remember the song. "Some enchanted evening, you will meet a stranger across a crowded room." "He will cock his eye at her; she will cock her eye at him: and the two of them will look cock-eyed at one another!" You are supposed to fall madly, head-over-heels in love with one another in an instant, and then live happily ever after on that feeling. And of course, that is not how marriage ever really works. Christian marriage is a lifetime commitment that we make. And that always ends up meaning "for better or for worse, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health." Live in a real marriage for any time at all and you experience some of each of those states of being. Will you let me introduce four Biblical principles for marriage that surely have relevance to so many more of the important, life-giving relationships of our lives? The words are friendship, intimacy, sacrifice and forgiveness. If our marriages do not offer these four Biblically founded gifts, then they will struggle to flourish and to be what God intends for them to be.

Friendship comes from the Greek word öéë§á. We know, of course, Philadelphia as "the City of Brotherly Love." The word, which appears often in the New Testament, means literally the love that values someone as a human being. It is a love that says, "I treasure your company," or "I like to be with you." Marriage starts with this kind of love because if we treat our spouses like we would treat our best friends, we will always have a healthy marriage. Friendships are built on conversation, on time spent together pursuing joy, and nothing is more important to maintaining a vibrant marriage. And friendship is all about loyalty.

One of the reasons so many people engage in extra-marital affairs is that at some point they cease to be friends with their spouses. And pretty soon, someone else expresses interest in them as a person, someone else listens to them. I have always believed that most affairs start with the ears. We long to be heard. The best gift you can offer to your partner is to listen to them, to let them know you like them, that you enjoy their company, that you love sharing the moments and days of your life with them. A week never passes that Connie doesn't say to me, "We have it made!" That is friendship, öéë§á.

A second vital word to marriage is intimacy. I like the word romance as well. There is a Greek word that points to this, though it never is used in the New Testament. It is the word ’ñïò. We speak in English of erotic love. But the word eros is much deeper than that. The Hebrew word for sexual love is the verb "to know," and that is really what intimacy is at heart. It is "to know" another person deeply, to share fully and passionately in another person's life.

We think of romance as something that hits you out of the blue, and it often feels wonderfully that way when it starts. But to sustain romance over time takes time, attention and intention. It takes a plan. Husbands and wives should never stop dating, never stop doing the kinds of things together that they did when they first fell in love.

Reuel Howe wrote a classic book years ago called, The Miracle of Dialogue. He said, "Dialogue is to human love what blood is to the body. When there is no dialogue there is death; when dialogue flows, there is life." Howe claims the miracle of dialogue can restore a dead relationship. If people can start to listen to one another, to share with each other, the miracle of dialogue will start to flow again. One of the most romantic things a man can do for his wife is to listen to her, really listen. In his bestselling book on marriage, His Needs, Her Needs, Willard Harley offers two lists of the top five needs of men and the top five needs of women in a marriage. The number one need of women? "Affection." And not far behind it is "Conversation."

A group of insurance company actuaries engaged in a study of factors that lead to longer life among men. Do you know what they found? Husbands who kiss their wives before they go off to work live measurably longer than husbands who do not. Gentlemen, we have to pucker up! Intimacy, romance, or eros, are indispensible in marriage. To know and to be known is a wonderful thing.

Third is sacrifice. The Greek word for love I am thinking of is the one used most often in the New Testament. It is the word Üãá
  • Þ. This is self-giving love, and the word used when John quotes Jesus: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." This kind of love, Üãá
  • Þ love, means sacrificial love, extending yourself for another, looking beyond what you may want to learn what your partner wants.

    Let me say it gently: Our culture has gotten so caught up in our rights, what we justly deserve, that we have largely lost sight of the nobility and necessity of sacrifice. And as long as we remain focused on what we deserve, what we have a right to, what someone else owes us, I am not sure how much love can grow.

    Often love does not grow up until it means giving up what you want for what someone else wants. I don't mean being a doormat, where one person does all the giving, where it goes only one way. I mean giving up your desires for your partner's desires. Ephesians says, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." When we can do this in a marriage it is a powerful thing. It can mean forgetting about your needs long enough to attend to the needs of your spouse, and then discovering what Saint Francis learned, "that it is in giving that we receive."

    Jesus teaches us in Luke that you reap what you sow: "Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, running over your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." The more I sacrifice for Connie, the more she sacrifices for me. And that is a whole lot better way to live than always asserting your rights and dwelling upon how someone has short-changed you. When Bryant Kirkland retired at seventy-two as Pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, he did so because his wife Bernice had Alzheimer's Disease. Bryant visited Bernice for many years every day, and would rub her feet as they sat in silence. He would think about how often she laundered his socks, served his needs and cared for him. Kirkland said, "Somehow love is more precious when it is one way."

    So marriage calls us to friendship, to intimacy, to sacrifice. Most of all, though, marriage calls us to forgiveness. You heard what Paul said to the Colossians: "Stand always ready to forgive. Forgive as freely as the Lord as forgiven you." Desmond Tutu was right. There is "No Future Without Forgiveness."

    Charles and Martha Shedd made a promise to each other never to go to bed angry. But one night they broke their promise; they got so mad at each other that they "let the sun go down on their anger." Charlie got up the next morning and where he usually found a cup of coffee instead he found a note from Martha: "Dear Charlie, I hate you! Love, Martha." That dear friends, is forgiveness! You are ready to strangle someone, and you go on loving them anyway. Do you remember the sentence I shared with you in the first sermon in this series on relationships? "Anyone married for more than a week can find grounds for divorce. The challenge of love is to find grounds for marriage." Without forgiveness no enduring relationship of any kind would ever be possible. It is why the central symbol of our faith is a mark of God's action to forgive us.

    Last Sunday one of the best human beings I have ever known died. Connie and I are heading to Princeton, New Jersey tonight for Tom Gillespie's funeral tomorrow at Nassau Presbyterian Church. Tom Gillespie was the President of Princeton Seminary for twenty-one years. Tom preached twice in this church over the last ten years, and when Connie and I were married, Tom performed the wedding ceremony. The morning before our wedding, we sat in a New Jersey diner right across from Tom and Barbara, who had been married then for fifty-two years. Tom said something I have shared many times since, something I never want to forget as long as I live. "Forgiveness is the oil in the machinery of marriage. Without it, marriage grinds to a halt. With it, it can move forward into the future."

    Friendship, intimacy, sacrifice, forgiveness. May God bless our most important relationships with these four precious gifts.

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