Love this commercial! Don’t some choices seem like you’re going down in an elevator to the dark nether regions? CHOICES — they are so critical in life, right?
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Love is patient, love is 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. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
It’s a beautiful description, isn’t it? This is how love should always be described: patient, kind, trusting, hopeful. But for most of us, that’s where it stops: it’s a beautiful description of what a marriage should look like, and hopefully it is. But sooner or later, the honeymoon ends. Then you’re chasing careers, having kids, paying bills, fixing toilets, just doing life, and it’s amazing just how quickly this feeling of love that we see here in 1 Corinthians 13 gets lost in the chaos of life.
That’s why so often married couples look at each other after several years and say, “I just don’t love you anymore. Whatever feeling that was there is gone.” It doesn’t help when we get a constant picture from society telling us exactly what love should look like and what should feel like. Culture would tell us that love looks like a romantic getaway, but doesn’t mention the debt that comes from trying to maintain a lifestyle you can’t afford. Culture tells us that love is like The Bachelor, with exotic locations, background music, script writers and seven takes to get your lines right.
But that’s not what marriages look like. Marriages look like conflicting work schedules, folding laundry at 10 pm, biblical marriage looks like monogamy, one man, one woman, together forever. From a sexual standpoint, when’s the last time tv and movies celebrated monogamy in marriage? It just doesn’t happen.
So, on the one hand, we’ve got this beautiful picture of love in 1 Corinthians 13 that is read once at our weddings and then promptly forgotten about, and after that we’ve got a constant bombardment from culture of a false narrative of what love is supposed to look like.
From culture’s standpoint, love is a feeling. Here’s the argument I want to make: I don’t think culture’s definition of love and marriage is working, because I think culture’s definition of love is flawed. That’s why so many marriages, even good Christian marriages, are struggling. So, what I want to humbly suggest is that we go back to 1 Corinthians 13 and see what we’ve missed. If the Bible is true, if it’s authoritative, if it’s inspired by God, and I believe it is, then the 1 Corinthians 13 definition of love should have practical application and should improve our marriages even today.
So, let’s look back at this passage again, and I’m going to simply pull out one small but absolutely marriage-changing truth from 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4
Right here, we see it five times. This one statement flies in the face of how culture defines love. You’ll see it in the words that are italicized: patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud. What’s significant about these words? They are all verbs. They are all actions. None of them are feelings. And that’s the whole ballgame right there.
Culture would have you believe that love is primarily a feeling. The Apostle Paul taught that love is a verb, love is an action. Love is a choice.
How would this change marriages? Well, think about what typically happens a marriage breaks down. At some point, the husband and wife look at each other and say, “I’m sorry, I just don’t love you anymore.” And if love is a feeling, well then, you can’t control your feelings, can you? It’s just one of those things. You can’t be held accountable for how you feel, can you? If love is a feeling then you’re off the hook.
But if love is a choice, well then, that changes things. When you look at your spouse and say, “I don’t love you anymore,” in reality what you’re saying is “I’m choosing not to love you anymore. I’m making a choice, and I’m choosing to stop showing you love.” Wow, that’s a bit more harsh, isn’t it? Now, here’s the pushback to all of that: are you saying that marriage is supposed to be an emotionless void of feeling where we just stay married out of obligation even if the feeling we associate with love is long gone? No, God created feelings, God created emotions, and He wants and designed marriage to be filled with romance, feelings of elation, contentment, laughter, ecstasy. But that’s the byproduct. Let me put it another way, because this is a deep concept and if we can understand it we can fundamentally improve all of our marriages.
Let’s say you want to be happy. Let’s say that your goal is to be happy in life. It’s a very common goal and it’s not necessarily a bad goal. Who doesn’t want to be happy, right? Well, there are different ways you can be happy. You can go for immediate happiness. What does that look like? Well, it’s more enjoyable in the short run to take a vacation and skip work rather than have to earn a paycheck, so you could say that skipping work and dropping out of school will lead to happiness. And in a very short-sighted way, it will. You could also make the argument that drugs lead to happiness, at least in the short-term. That’s why people take drugs, to try and find happiness.
So what’s the problem with quitting your job and taking drugs if you want to be happy? Well, that momentary happiness will quickly give way to a longer term unhappiness as now you have no job, no money, and a drug addiction.
But, that is one way to be happy, at least in the short-term. What’s another way to be happy? Go to school and get a good degree, which doesn’t sound like fun in the short-term but leads to a higher income and a higher quality of life, which results in happiness. Find a job that where you can make a difference, and alongside the paycheck, you’ll discover that when you’re living your purpose you’re a happier person. Even when you become a giving person, when you give back towards others, it actually makes you a happier person.
So, there is a much better way to seek happiness in life, even if it means a bit of hard work. Let’s carry this concept back into marriage. Everyone wants to be happy in marriage. We want a marriage filled with love and laughter. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that the world’s definition of love, that love is an elusive feeling, that will lead to only short-term happiness. And then when the honeymoon is over and the feeling is gone, you’ll break things off and search for the feeling somewhere else, never mind the relational scars that will remain in you and kids in your ever elusive quest for happiness. What Paul presents is a different way, the harder way, the staying in school and working hard in your career way to achieve a deeper, longer lasting form of love and happiness in a marriage.
David sees where Saul and Abner, the commander of the army, are sleeping. Abishai accompanies David and when they get to Saul (who is sleeping), he says to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Let me pin him to the ground with one thrust. I won’t strike him twice!” (v. 8).
David refuses, asking who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? David is confident that the Lord will strike him or his time will come to die or he will go into battle and perish. “But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed” (v. 11). They take Saul’s spear and water jug near Saul’s head.
Lest one think that David’s stealthiness was world-class, the text tells us that “the Lord had put them into a deep sleep” (v. 12).
David calls out to Abner, mocking him that he had failed to protect the king (the evidence: the missing spear and water jug). Saul speaks to David and David asks him why he is pursuing his servant.
David asks what the source of Saul’s actions are. “If the Lord has incited you against me, then may he accept an offering. If, however, people have done it, may they be cursed before the Lord!” (v. 19). David describes himself as “a flea” — “as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”
Saul says he has sinned and acted terribly wrong. David returns Saul’s spear and Saul blesses him. But David does not return with Saul (v. 25).
Some takeaways for me:
1. Don’t let others interpret the will of God for you. Abishai was certain that “God has delivered your enemy into your hands”, but David refused to touch the Lord’s anointed. David’s conscience trumped Abishai’s certainty.
2. Although he will not kill Saul, David nonetheless uses the occasion to plead with Saul to stop pursuing him. David took advantage of the Lord’s action of putting Saul and his soldiers in a deep sleep. [I wonder if David knew that the deep sleep was a work of the Lord?]. God often works “behind the scenes” of what you and I see.
3. Even though Saul repents of pursuing David, David chooses not to trust Saul. Yes, love “believes all things” — but is not foolish and gullible!
Rather than following the crowd in crossing a crocodile-infested stream, two wildebeests discuss their best options! This kind of dangerous crossing actually happens every year with hungry crocodiles and hippos waiting for lunch. How convenient (in this commercial) is a bridge that these two stars decide to take instead!
Decision-making. We make thousands of decisions every day. Some good. Some not so good. For believers, we can’t always escape the risks of the choices we make. But sometimes, just sometimes, God provides a bridge for us to cross to avoid unnecessary danger. Looking for any bridges today?
Jonathan doesn’t believe that his father Saul is trying to kill David. David is convinced that “there is only a step between me and death” (v. 3).
David comes up with a plan for Jonathan to lie to his father about David’s hiding in the field. Jonathan asks David to show kindness to himself and his family. They make a covenant, a covenant out of love (“because he loved him as he loved himself”- v. 17).
Jonathan leaves the feast in “fierce anger,” grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David (v. 34).
The three-arrow-plan is enacted; David is informed of Saul’s threat. Jonathan and David weep together. Their sworn friendship is reaffirmed. David leaves and Jonathan returns to town.
Some takeaways for me:
1. Isn’t it true that for each of us, “there is only a step between [us] and death”?
2. The genuine love and friendship between Jonathan and David is admirable (and sadly perverted by the gay community). Oh, to have a friend like that! [Oh, to be a friend like that!].
3. Saul’s jealousy and murderous heart causes him to try to kill his own son Jonathan! We must never underestimate the evil power of our sinful nature!
4. There is no despair in either Jonathan or David’s heart about the sovereign power of the Lord. But they make human decisions to remove David from the wicked intentions of King Saul.
Samuel gives Saul a direct command from the Lord to “totally destroy” the Amalekites. He is told to not spare them. “Put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (v. 3)
Saul assembles his men — 200,000 men plus 10,000 from Judah. Saul spares the Kenites, then attacks the Amalekites, taking Agag the king alive. He destroyed all the people with the sword. But Saul and the army spared the best of the flocks — “everything that was good” (v. 9). “These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed” (v. 9).
Samuel is informed by the Lord of the Lord’s regret that He had made Saul king “because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions” (v. 11). Samuel was angry and cried out to the Lord all that night.
Samuel goes to meet Saul who is setting up a monument to himself at Carmel (v. 12). Saul greets Samuel with the words, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions” (v. 13). Samuel then responds, “What are these animal noises that I hear?”
Saul passes the buck and blames the soldiers — “They spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest” (v. 15).
“Enough!” Samuel says. “The Lord told me last night that you’ve changed from the time you were ‘once small in your own eyes.’ The Lord anointed you king — and you’ve not obeyed the King! You didn’t fulfill your mission. Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” (vv. 16-19).
Saul defends himself, thinking he had obeyed the Lord. He uses religion as an excuse for the choices he made.
Some takeaways for me today:
1. The original temptation in the Garden of Eden was to take from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan said, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5). In Saul’s situation, he and his army decided what was good and evil. They spared “everything that was good” (v. 9) and totally destroyed everything that was “despised and weak.”I am falling into the sin of Saul, his army, and the original first couple when I make myself the final determiner of what is good and what is evil.
2. The Lord is grieved by disobedience. And we should be as well (Samuel became angry and stayed up all night crying out to the Lord, v. 11).
3. Sin is self-deceptive. Saul thought he had obeyed the Lord (v. 13).
4. It is quite easy to play the blame game — and to take the credit for anything good that is done (v. 15).
5. Humbleness is not a permanent quality. Saul lost his humility when he became king; he was no longer “small in his own eyes” (v. 17).
6. We must never underestimate the power of greed. We, too, “pounce on the plunder,” don’t we? (v. 19).
7. We can use religion as an excuse for the bad choices that we make (v. 21).
In preparing for my ministry at Cedarcroft Bible Chapel (their website is here) in New Jersey, I will be speaking on Sunday, September 30th, on the topic “The Poor You Have With You Always.” On the following Sunday, October 7th, I’ll be speaking on the issue of our using our spiritual gifts to serve in the local church.
There has been a rift between Evangelical Christians and liberal Christians on the issue of the poor. For liberals, some believe caring for the poor is the gospel. For Evangelicals, some focus on preaching the gospel and, only occasionally, look for ways to help the poor.
I’m intrigued by the event recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12 when Jesus is anointed by Mary and her action is rebuked by Judas and the other disciples with the words “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?” Jesus’ response (we’re looking at John’s account) was to rebuke Judas and to say, “You will always have the poor among you.” Some have interpreted those words as an excuse not to help the poor, but they need to read the rest of Jesus’ statement. He continues, “. . . but you will not always have me.” (Jn. 12:8).
The worship of Jesus and the care of the poor are not mutually exclusive categories, are they? Although on this occasion they appear to be. Mary’s expensive perfume (which she might have saved up for over a long period of time) could only be used once. And she chose to pour it out on the feet of Jesus. She had to make a choice. And, it appears, for her that choice was easy. Jesus deserved her extravagant and overflowing worship.
Jesus or the poor? That seems to be the question raised by Judas (and the other disciples, Mt. 26:8 and Mk. 14:4). And the choice was not value-free. In other words, Judas castigates her for her “waste” (the term “waste” is used in the Matthew and Mark accounts). Judas might not have used that term, but that was his perspective. This unnecessary, over-the-top adoration of Jesus was a poor use of something so valuable!
Of course, to de-value her act of worship was to de-value Jesus! In this situation, with Jesus physically present, she did not consider choice “B.” She went with her love and she poured out her heart and it was right that she did. (to be continued)
[I just had an article published on Patheos on the theodicy of Jesus. Click here to view.]
Dr. William Sloan Coffin of New York’s Riverside Church said this in the April 20,1984 Lutheran Standard after the death of his son, Alex.”The night after Alex died, I was sitting in the living room of my sister’s house outside of Boston, when a middle-aged lady came in, shook her head when she saw me and said,”I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly, I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady!!” I said. (I knew the anger would do me good, and the instruction to her was long overdue. )
I continued,”Do you think it was the will of God that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper of his, that he was probably driving too fast in such a storm, that he probably had had a couple of ’frosties’ too many? Do you think it is God’s will that there are no street lights along that stretch of road, and no guard rails separating the road and Boston Harbor?”
Dr. Coffin continues in the article:”Nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with His fingers on triggers, His fist around knives, His hands on steering wheels. God is against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy and muteness. As Alex’s younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket:”You blew it buddy. You blew it.”
Dr. Coffin continues:”The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is,”It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s was the first of all our hearts to break.”