[This message was prepared for a wedding that took place on Saturday.]
1 Corinthians 13:4-5
Emma and Kyle, I like the words from the Bible that you chose to have read here today. Well, mostly I like them. They are from the Word of God, after all. But I have to confess to finding them a little frightening too.
Just to remind you and everyone else what the words are, I’ll read them again. This is 1 Corinthians 13:4-5: “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.”
That description of love was written by Saint Paul, the apostle, back in about 55 AD. It’s part of what’s often called the love chapter of the Bible, chapter 13 of Paul’s letter to the Christian church in the Greek city of Corinth. Words from this chapter are often read at weddings. That’s good because Paul’s picture of love is one to which anyone with a sound mind and a beating heart can agree. You can do so whether you have deep faith or no religion at all.
Paul originally wrote these words though, to a church that was torn with conflict. He wanted to remind its members of what love is: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, nor proud, nor hurtful of others, unwilling to keep a record of the wrongs done to us by others. If your church relationships are going to be all that they need to be, Paul was saying, you need to live with this kind of love for each other.
But guess what? For any relationship to be everything we want it to be, there must be this kind of love. That includes marriage. I’m getting to the frightening part. The kind of love Paul is talking about has only ever been purely displayed on this earth by one person. That person is the One revealed to be truly God and truly human, Jesus. Jesus displayed this kind of love when He died on a cross as punishment for our sins and faults, not His; our failure to love, not His. Jesus was and is sinless and perfect. I’m not. He always loves. I don’t.
And that’s what I find so frightening. I know what love is. I know that I need to live with this kind of love toward others to make my relationships work, including my marriage relationship. But I was born in sin, a condition I inherited just by being a member of the human race, born out of sync with God. Because of this, my tendency is always to look out for number one. The love that all good relationships need is foreign to my nature. I feel like Paul who confesses in another place, the good “I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
Fortunately, for me..and for you, Emma and Kyle, our relationships do not have to fall prey to our imperfect capacity to love. It’s possible, through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, to be filled with the love that sustains marriages, helps our marriages and helps us as human beings to become all that we want to be, all that I know the two of you aspire to be as you begin your married life together. It’s a matter of daily turning to Christ and daily putting on Christ.
To turn to Christ is to turn to God, the only true source of love. It’s also to turn away from sin, darkness, and death. The Bible says that when we turn to Christ, we “are being transformed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).” As I turn to God in the name of Jesus, because of Jesus, God fills me with a renewed life. He corrects my wrongs and empowers me to live differently toward my spouse today than I did yesterday. Speaking for myself, I can say that when I repent daily, receiving forgiveness for my sins and new power for living, God renews my commitment to being a better husband today than I was yesterday. As we turn to Jesus, with honesty and trust, we become more like Jesus: more able to love as we have been loved, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven, to understand others as God understands us, to live in relationships of mutual sacrifice and commitment.
To put on Christ is to let Him live in and through us. The Bible speaks of clothing “yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14).” For me, this means when my energy is low, my frustration high, and my capacity for empathy is bottomed out, Christ blankets me with Himself and I live, love, and react to others, including my wife Ann, with love and grace. We still will disagree sometimes. After all, as someone has said, if two people agree on everything, at least one of them is irrelevant. But when we put on Christ, He makes it possible for us to speak the truth to one another in love, to resolve our conflicts before the sun goes down, to do for others as we want them to do for us, including the “others” with whom we share the marital bed.
Kyle and Emma, today you embark on what would be an impossible task if you thought you could have a solid marriage built solely on your human capacity to love each other. That tank can run dry in the face of financial difficulties, disagreements, family responsibilities, and setbacks. Jesus means it when He says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” That matches my experience in life: I can do nothing without the inspiration, the permission, and the power of God that’s ours through Jesus. But if you will root your lives and your marriage in Christ, you will find that whatever the joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, advances or disappointments, your love will grow stronger. Your marriage will grow stronger. You will find that you can do all things through the crucified and risen Jesus who fills His people with strength, especially the strength to love. That’s what I pray for the two of you today and always. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]