A young man spied a beautiful young woman walking along the road and followed her for about a mile. The young woman knowing that she was being followed, finally turned, looked straight at the young man and asked him demanding, “Why are you dogging my footsteps?” He answered, “Because you are the loveliest, the most beautiful, the most breathtaking thing I have ever seen.” He paused and then went on to say, “I have fallen madly in love with you. It happened the moment I laid my eyes on you. It was love at first sight.”
The young woman replied, “But you have merely to look behind you and see my younger sister who is ten times lovelier than me.” The supposedly love-smitten young man wheeled around, and there his gaze fell upon the younger sister who was very average looking. In fact she was perhaps the most average female that he had ever seen. He looked back at his heartthrob who then said to him, “If you truly loved me, you would not have turned around and looked.”
Gottcha! She was right, for he had failed the greatest love-test of all. He loved her, as long as there was not someone better looking than her. What is that? Very simple really, and yet most profound! When it comes right down to it, there are really only two kinds love in the world. There is no in-between and they cannot be mixed. Both are antithetical to each other and admit of no synthesis between the two. The first kind of love is:
There is no other possibility, for either we attach conditions to our love or we attach no conditions to our love. We cannot have it both ways. The young man wanted it both ways, because he looked both ways.
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE
In my youthful day, we all pledged pretty much the same unconditional marriage vows – for better or worse, for richer or a poor, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” It was cut and dried, for once you get into marriage, the only way out was through a mortician. Everyone understood that insofar as blind love allowed us to see. No other words were necessary for they said it all. And then when you said “I Do” to all of that, your life as you once knew it was no longer yours and was changed forever. My parents, my wife’s parents and 99% of the church we attended modeled those words for us to their dying days even as they had promised.
Tragically today the “I Do” of that magical, unconditional marriage day so often gives way to the “I Don’t” harsh-conditional day of divorce. Today, marriage has become “Close Encounters of the Second, Third and Fourth Kind.” Part of reason for that is because today they have regular sex before marriage, that is to say, they have dessert before the meat and potatoes, and find that they have no appetite for the main meal – marriage itself. And we are finding that Romans 6:23 is still true,
“The wages of sin is death….”
Yes indeed, death even to marriages! Sexual sin is partly why marriages today so quickly go from the marriage altar to the emergency room to the divorce court. It was amazing when I wrote and taught a course called Pre-Marriage Perspectives at First Assembly of God in Grand Rapids, MI, how this eight week super-intensive course on marriage would talk certain couples out of marriage, especially those who were having pre-marital sex. I guess they found out that they didn’t really like the rigors of the upcoming hard work on the marriage-pioneer trail ahead of them, for they thought that they were entering into a continual climax. Furthermore, they also discovered through personality-compatibility testing who they were really marrying and it shocked them. Up until then, all that they were dating were sexual organs that blinded them to true interpersonal discovery.
The vows that are spoken on the all-to-soon forgotten wedding day should be repeated often throughout the marriage, for they become damaged in so many known and unknown ways. That love must be restored to unconditionality again and again. If not, marriage can so easily be held hostage to creeping conditionality. I believe that it would be well for pastors to have all married couples in a church service from time to time stand up and repeat their marriage vows to each other in mass, after they have been taught again the meaning of the “Unconditional I Do.” That is what this three part series of teachings is all about!
FROM THIS DAY FORWARD
I Joe take you Jane to be my lawful wedded wife, to have and hold from this day forward, in better conditions and in worse conditions, in sick conditions and in healthy conditions, in rich conditions and in poor conditions, to love and to cherish until death do us part, and thereto I pledge my fidelity to you.
From this day forward! That means there is no going back on your promise. It also means that marriage is a process, never a destination. We continue to move forward in this marriage project, and as often as those little and sometimes big conflicts and clashes have a way of happening, marriage proves to be much more of a peace-process than a panacea. Oh yes, those times when Attila the Hon becomes indeed Attila the Hun. We promise to move forward together through it all, loving each other through it all, and never look back, or to the side. The “Unconditional I Do” is a never-ending doing and must never be undone.
It is the greatest “Unconditional I Do” in the entire world. There is none like it or equal to it in human relationships! It is the forever “I Do of No Return,” and the “Marriage Mortar” that cements the permanent union between a man a woman. It is the door which when opened and entered, closes and locks with no doorknob of exit from the inside to the outside. Jesus said in Matthew 19:6,
“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
It is then sealed by a kiss, which is their first kiss as husband and wife, the kiss that can never be taken back. They literally have kissed their lives away to each other. Never will any kiss have such significance. All other kisses are but reminders and reinforcements of the biggest smootch in all the world -The Kiss Heard Around The World -The Kiss of Unconditional Marital Love!
The Bible describes God’s unconditional agape-love in these words in I Corinthians 13:7,
“Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….”
When we pledge the “I Unconditional Do” in the marriage ceremony, we are promising to God, to each other and to the witnesses present that at all times and under all circumstances our love for each other shall triumph and endure. No matter how heavy the load, no matter how hard to believe the best about each other in the midst of the worse, no matter how dismal the marriage future may appear at any given moment, and no matter how draining marriage and family can be at times, our “Unconditional I Do” will outlast everything and everyone. Yes, real love is realistic about marriage life and love. True love is always forged in the fires of trial., as much of marriage is a steel mill in Gary, Indiana, and not a champagne-glass shaped bed in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
THE I-DO LOVE FORGIVES EVERY HURT
We read in I Corinthians 13:5,
“…love does not take into account a wrong suffered.”
No account of evil! None! There is no partial-forgiveness in Christian marital love. Of course, partial forgiveness is not only not forgiveness, it is the blue-ribbon oxymoron of all time. It is what makes marriage today a “Limited Lifetime Guarantee” which is yet another idiotic oxymoron. If it is limited, it is neither lifetime nor is it a true guarantee. There is no partial in forgiveness even as there is no limited in lifetime.
Note the word “Suffered” in I Cor. 13:5. That word means just what it says. The Holy Spirit is not talking about a mere bump or bruise here. There is no suffering like that of infidelity. The “I Do” of agape-love means here, yes right here, that we will never hold a grudge against each other should one of us stray from the Lord and from the marriage vow. Never, never, not ever! Agape does not keep a running account of wrongs done to me by you or by to you by me. The slate is kept clean by agape’s complete forgiving spirit. It is the spirit of Christ into Whose name we are married. To that we each vowed, “I Do” no matter what you do!
It also means that we will never fight fire with fire. There is no friendly fire in true marital love. All firing back is unfriendly fire. Nor is there such a thing a partial-cease fire. Another stupid phrase! You either totally cease firing back, or you don’t. We will never get even! If you are unfaithful to me and hurt me, then I will never even the score and hurt you in the same way. God commands us in Romans 12:8,
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
THE I-DO LOVE NEVER MANIPULATES
This also means that we will never, never ever withhold love from each other as a weapon in order to get what we want! You know, a kiss refused, a hug unreciprocated, and even intercourse denied until we get our way. Love never takes a spouse prisoner, nor does it take a spouse hostage for ransom. Why? Because we read in I Corinthians 13:5,
“…love does not seek its own….”
Agape, true love, is never manipulative, it is never conniving. Yes I know that none of this is easy to do for we all by nature are inclined toward self-interest rather than toward the interest of what is best for you and therefore for our relationship. In other words, it is never just what is best for me, but rather what is best for us.
Too often our love becomes a reward rather than a way of life. True love, agape, is never used as a manipulative reward, but is a constant way of life no matter what. Listen to me now:
“IN TRUE LOVE THERE ARE NO ADDED BONUSES FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR.”
God showed His love to us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. Love is never a bonus for good behavior in Christian marriage. It is always a free gift, and truly the only gift that keeps on giving. There is no such thing as bonus love. There is simply love!
This conditional-reward love is so easily seen in our relationship with our children. If they do what we tell them to do, we reward them with our love, but if they don’t we don’t. Like, “Oh Johnny honey, you did so good! Mommy loves you.” Mother was referring to Johnny’s potty training and success. So Johnny connects potty success with being loved as a reward, which then means that the next time he messes his pants, he thinks that he will not be loved.
Hey, come now, we can do the same to our spouses, except that our spouses can see right through it for what it is. It is this:
“WE USE OUR SPOUSES NEED FOR LOVE AS A MEANS OF CONTROL.”
Not at all very original, for we all do it! If you do what I want you to do, then I will have sex with you tonight. That is completely conditional love.But we must understand that because love is unconditional:
“LOVE DOES NOT CONTROL, IT FREES.”
In short, if you read all of I Corinthians 13 honestly and openly, you will find this:
“AGAPE LOVE IS THE ‘I DO’ COMMITMENT TO FULFILL THE NEEDS OF MY SPOUSE
REGARDLESS OF WHETHER OR NOT MY NEEDS ARE BEING MET.”
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE – LIFE OR DEATH
Not for a moment does unconditional love make the one being loved ever feel that he or she has been or is excluded from love or gone beyond some boundary of no longer being lovable. Not for a second, for that very second is conditional love and is not the eternal love of God.
I have always so appreciated the story of Jesus and the leper in Matthew 8:1-3. Jesus could have healed the leper from a distance by simply saying to him, “Be healed.” However, God’s love is in the touch! We must never withhold the loving touch from each other. Love, life and healing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ are in the touch. This leperman had not been touched by or touched anyone for however long. It was a communicable disease which made people keep their distance from lepers. He said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” And then we read in Matthew 8:3,
“And He (Jesus) stretched His hand and touched him, saying, “I am
willing, be cleansed. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”
Jesus did not have to touch the leper in order to heal him. But Jesus not only heals the leper, He touches the leper in his leprous state before He healed him to show the man that he had never fallen out of God’s love. Powerful! Before Jesus touched him, leper felt like a resident alien on planet earth. Jesus did not catch what the leper had, but instead the leper catches what Jesus has – perfect love.
Love’s touch became life for one who was no doubt facing an inevitable leper’s tortuous and slow death. There must not ever be any leprous moments in marital love which make the spouse feel like an ostracized leper cut off from our love. I tell you, when we do that, the one who does the cutting off is more deadly than the leprous one. Only the unconditional touch of love gives life. Anything less will cause death.
The story is told of a sailor in the Second World War, who after the official time period had elapsed was declared lost at sea. His parents in New Jersey had given him up for lost. Then very near to the end of the war, the parents got a telephone call from San Diego, and the voice they heard on the phone said, “Pop, Mom, it’s me, your son.”
In their stunned disbelief and silence he told them how he had survived on and been rescued from an island and that he would be home soon. But then he went on to tell them that he had a friend who had suffered terrible bomb-explosion injuries in which his friend had lost one eye, one leg, one arm and a greater part of one side of his face. He told his parents that he wanted to take his friend home with him, for his friend had no family.
His parents were ecstatic about their son’s resurrection from the dead as it were, but they told him that they really would prefer that he find his friend a home elsewhere. After all it had been such an emotional drain thinking for so long now that he was lost at sea and dead ,and now shockingly discovering that he was alive. They said they just wanted their son all to themselves, and asked him if he would please find others who would take in his disfigured friend.
The very next day they received a telephone call telling them that their son had jumped from a hotel window to his death. Their son had committed suicide and when they received his body for burial in New Jersey, their son’s body had one leg, one arm, one eye and half a face. Their son caught what their parents had, conditional love, and it caused death. It always does!
Jesus reached out and touched the leper, which was comparable in those days to petting a rattlesnake. The agape truth is:
“THE WORSE THE STATE OF THE ONE BEING LOVED, THE MORE THE
LOVE OF THE ONE DOING THE LOVING.”
That is the miracle of “God’s Agape Love.” Without god’s agape, like the conditionally loved son who killed himself, every marriage is on death row.
In San Francisco, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross met every week with those who were suffering from AIDS and dying. Dr. Kubler-Ross was one of the outstanding psychiatrists in the world. To her, Jew and Christian physicians and pastors would come to learn about the various stages that people go through when they are told that they are going to die. You have perhaps seen it up close in a family member or friend as I have. So often there is first bewilderment, then anger and resentment, and then finally a quiet acceptance of death.
Meeting with the same dying men every other week, she couldn’t help but notice recently the face of a young man who would not attract anyone. He was disintegrated with this disease to the point that he had holes all over his cheeks. She glanced over at him one morning, and instead of being in despair as was his usual countenance, this morning he was radiant. She continued to notice him as she talked and tried to encourage these suffering young men.
When the session was over, she went to him as he was about to leave the room and said to him, “I wish you would wait a few moments and talk with me. I want to ask you what in the world has happened to you. You don’t look the same as I have seen you before – you actually look radiant.
He said to her, “I’m from a Midwestern town, orthodox and very conservative. When I became a homosexual and realized that I was a homosexual, I broke all relationships with my family. I knew that they would never have grandchildren because I was their only child. I knew that they would never have a daughter-in-law to love. I knew the hurt it would cause, and I broke off all relationship with my parents.”
He went on, “Recently I have wanted to see my family so much. Last week I called home and my mother answered my call. I said to her, “Mother, I am a very sick man. I would very much like to come home and see you.” She said to me, ‘We would love to see you son!’ So Dr. Ross, I went home this past weekend, and when I came to the door, Mom opened it, and she must have been shocked at my face. But if she was shocked, it didn’t show. She simply threw her arms around me, gave me a big kiss and told me how much she loved me. You know, everyone should have a moment of unconditional love. I’ve have had my moment, and now I am ready to die. That is why I am radiant.” Unconditional love is truly a life and death matter. C
Conditional love threateningly says, “Now read my lips!” Unconditional lips kisses lips no matter how diseased and decimated they are.
Unconditional love is proved only in the testings and trials of marriage. It is easy to say “I Do” in the romance and rapture of the marriage day. But only when the stress and strain comes from a unique, distinct and very flawed man and woman seeking to live as one, then is when unconditional love is affirmed and validated. Other than that it is nothing but talk.
AGAPE – NO NEGATIVE CONDITIONS
I am one of the truly blessed ones in marriage. I have been married to a most precious woman of God who has been the personification to me of the words we have quoted before in I Corinthians 13:7.
“Love…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things….”
I have grown up in the Lord and matured in Him much slower than she has. I have only known her as a saint over these 48 plus years, but she surely has known me as a sinner. Love bears all things! If it wasn’t for God’s agape in her, she would have found me unbearable more than once. Anyone without an agape-filled heart would have dumped me long ago. Her agape forbearance and endurance gave me the needed time to grow up in Christ, and now that I have become a man of God and put away childish things, I look back on what I had been, and even now I see myself as totally unbearable then. I don’t know how or she did it. But she really didn’t, Christ-Agape in her did.
She believed in me! But that means much more than it sounds at first hearing. Much more! When we read in I Corinthians 13:7,
“Love (agape) believes all things….,”
it is not referring to some sort of naïve gullibility. It does not mean that I can tell her that a cow is an elephant and she believes me. No, not my wife, and that is not the meaning of that Scripture about agape either. It means that God’s agape-love believes the best about us, even when we are stinking up our lives and our marriages with our worst. Agape-eyes see us in a positive light even and especially in the midst of our manifesting our darkest side. Here it is:
“AGAPE IS UNCONDITIONAL LOVE BECAUSE IT SEES ONLY POSITIVES IN THE MIDST
OF OUR RAW NEGATIVES.”
For years I was mostly like a baby in diapers, continually needing maintenance and the cleaning of my dirty diapers, with little positive performance. How could my wife forgive and clean up so much on-going dirt and yet see my potential? Agape! Miracle agape! She continued to believe in me, and never stopped because that is how God’s miracle-agape heart is.
My, my, isn’t the love of Jesus something wonderful? My married life began with a multi-year agape gap in me and yet my wife saw no gap, but only glory in the making. It all reminds me of the godly grandmother whose oldest grandson had lived a life of crime. He had stolen cars, committed armed robbery, and had been in and out of prison most of his juvenile and adult life. And if you were to ask her about him and all that he had done, she would always say, “Yes, I know about all of that, but basically he is such a good boy.” And by the time she is done with you, by jiggers, she has you also believing that he is a good boy.
There is in this regard an amazing account recorded for us in Matthew 16:18. That is the time when Peter makes his stunning confession about Jesus in answer to Christ’s question to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter, yes, the usually open-mouth insert-foot Peter, without hesitancy declares to Jesus in Matthew 16:16,
“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is the same guy to whom only a few verses later Jesus had to say, “Get behind me Satan.”
But before that, Jesus says something awesome to Peter after his confession of Who Jesus was. It is even more stunning than Peter’s confession. Jesus said to him in Matthew 16:18,
“And I also say unto you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I
will build My church….”
You may recall that Peter’s real name before he met Jesus was “Simon Bar Jonah.” “Simon” means “Reed.” “Bar” means “Son.” “Jonah” really is “John.” So we could put it all together, as evangelist Tommy Tyson taught us at a minister’s conference at Oral Roberts University, and call him, “Reed Johnson.” Sounds like a first century heavyweight boxer.
Simon the Reed lived up to his name rather well. A “Reed” is something that is blown every which way by the wind. Whichever way the wind blows, the reed will go with it and bend compliantly. Frankly for many years before this, and for some time after this episode, “Reed” Johnson lived up to his name very well. Erratic, undependable, shifty and blown about on the path of least resistance! Looming still ahead would be Reed’s infamous three-time denial of His Lord.
How then could Jesus look here at a “Reed” and call it “Peter-Rock?” That is how you know that you love with God’s love! Jesus-Agape-Love sees solid rock when standing before him is a shifty reed. Anything less than agape would have never discovered it. Without agape, we would not have been able to see even a little pebble.
Oh yes, “Reed” would have to travel a long rocky road before He became that “Rock.” But the awesome glory of God-Agape-Love is that He always calls us first what He is going to make us into second. Jesus calls us saints and then goes to work in making us so. Jesus calls us righteous, and then goes to work in making us so. My dear wife saw me as her dear husband and spiritual head long before I actually lived up to the titles. But that is how it always goes, for we could never have been Jesus’ loving bride, had He not loved us into loving like He loves. We read in I John 4:18,
“We love because He first loved us.” Amen.