“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you,” John 13:34
Love One Another – Marriage is our best living evangelistic billboard. In fact, it just might be the only one that God actually commissioned. If the essence of Christian community is found in Yeshua’s commandment to love one another, where is it more likely to be displayed than in the intimacy of a permanent marriage covenant between partners, blessed by God? Unfortunately, that presents us with real issues. If we can’t work out Yeshua’s commandment in our marriages, how can we ever hope to attract anyone to the Kingdom? If we don’t display love for one another in the place where we are most vulnerable and most engaged, what good is the proclamation of our benevolence toward less intimate strangers?
It doesn’t surprise me in the least that marriage is a frequent metaphor for relationship with God. Marriage has all the right ingredients: desire, threat, exposure, comfort, intimacy, vulnerability, fear, love, humility, authority, sacrifice and hope. Consider for a moment how each of these ingredients fits into your marriage (and if you aren’t married, do some serious examination about your attitudes concerning these elements in a future marriage). Isn’t marriage supposed to be the real-time, earth-bound stage play of the actions, attitudes and experiences that I also find in my intimacy with God? The Bible implies that the quality of the relationship with a spouse is a direct reflection of the quality of the relationship with the Creator. I think He designed it that way on purpose. Marriage is the perfect litmus test for my other critical relationships because it does not allow me to fake the results. My spouse knows me. That is gloriously terrifying.
The Greek words here are agapate allelous. You certainly recognize the verb agape. This word is defined by its use in the New Testament. It was imported from its rare and ambiguous use in Classical Greek and fashioned into the transport vehicle for the Hebrew concept of love. In other words, there is no truly Greek definition of agape. The definition comes from the way the word is used in a Hebrew context. That changes things – dramatically. Most of us have no idea what the Hebrew context really is, but we better find out if we are going to fulfill this commandment.
Of course, Jesus didn’t use the word agape since He spoke Hebrew, not Greek. In Hebrew, the word is ahav, one of three verbs expressing love. In combination with allelous, we immediately realize that this is love in relationship with another. This is not my love of the Blues or fast cars or theological dictionaries. This is love between persons. When we dig into the Hebrew background, we find a host of expressions that provide the context of this kind of love. Every one of them has application in marriage. Consider the following as a measure of your marriage relationship:
- cleaving to someone
- running after someone
- seeking someone
- continuing in faithfulness toward someone
- yearning to be near someone
- being knit to the soul of someone
- occupied with affectionate desire for someone
- honoring someone
- united with someone
There are biblical Hebrew expressions for each of these nuances in both human and divine relationships. When Jesus told His followers to live by a new commandment, perhaps He spoke to the heart of the matter in ways that we don’t usually appreciate. In His culture, women were not given the status and honor that God intended in His original design. They still aren’t. Perhaps Jesus was reminding the men who followed Him that they had significant work to do to recover the original intention, and that effort would be a sign to the world that their lives were transformed. Redeemed marriage is the billboard announcement of my divine encounter. It’s Hosea all over again.
If we are going to live by this “new” commandment, we will have to return to Genesis 2. Our marriages will have to recapture what God created before the Fall. We will have to see that loving one another starts with the person God has chosen to be closest to us. If the nine nuances of love don’t apply in this relationship, how can we claim to love one another? What excuse will we offer to Him when He asks how we handled our most intimate relationship?
Topical Index: Marriage