David Jeremiah - Staying in Love for Life
A pastor stood up on Sunday morning and he said, "Folks," he said, "today I'm gonna ask you to help me preach". He said, "I'm gonna say a word and when I say that word, I want you to sing the song that comes to your mind". So he said, "blood". Everybody starts singing, "What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus". He said the word "power". Everybody started singing, "Power in the blood". He said, "grace". Everyone immediately started singing, "Amazing grace". And then to the shock and dismay of the whole congregation, he said the word "sex". Everybody stopped dead, they couldn't believe their pastor said that word in the pulpit and they had no idea what to do with it. It was the most deathly silence they had every heard in their congregation. And then an 87-year-old grandmother sitting in the last row of the balcony stood up and started to sing at the top of her voice, "Precious memories".
So, in reality, this series has been for everybody, right, from the youngest to the oldest. Amen. Well, if you ask a hundred people on the street to define love, you will get a hundred different answers. In my library, there is a book of quotations, a rather famous book edited by John Bartlett and it has around 1300 different definitions, reflections, and opinions on love by the world's greatest writers, thinkers, philosophers, and theologians. And it's no wonder the world is confused about the definition of love. What does it mean? The abundance of views on the subject show that love remains the most popular and powerful emotion in our world today. Love, whether we like to admit it or not, is the core emotion of the world.
If you want to know what the Bible says about love, you have to study the Scriptures and especially when you get to the New Testament, you will discover that the Bible's take on love is different than anything you will find in the world today. Love, from the perspective of God, was introduced in its most prominent form, when Jesus Christ came into the world. Before that particular time, the concept of agape love may have been known in the hearts of the rabbis and the Jewish scholars, but the concept of a love that emanated from the heart of God was primarily an unknown thing. For you see, the love of God was defined in a new and fresh way. It was agape, the word is the Greek word, agape love, and this love was different than any had ever been defined before.
Agape love is a pure love that resonates from the heart of God and the best definition I know of it is agape love is to love someone without restraint and expecting nothing in return. It is totally selfless. It is totally focused on the object of the one who is loved and that's the love that was introduced into this world when God sent his only begotten Son and gave him freely to us, and there was nothing we could do in return for it except to receive the gift that he provided. And then as you start to read the New Testament, this word starts to show up, not just in our relationship with God, but in our relationships with one another. And you finally come to the 13th chapter of the book of 1 Corinthians and the Apostle Paul writes this incredible chapter on the nature of love.
In 271 words, Paul defines love as God meant it to be understood. He penned this greatest description of love and it is the great description of love in all of world literature. His words are precise. His words are focused and very practical. John Wesley and many other historic leaders of the church regard 1 Corinthians 13 as the greatest chapter in all of the Bible. As you read through Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13, you are arrested immediately by all of the verbs, all of the action words. Paul describes love, not as a passive quality, but as an active endeavor. Love is something that one does. This truth is very hard for us to manage in our culture today, a culture which views love as a response that gushes out of us naturally, but love, God's love, is not like that. God's love is a response from our hearts in obedience to his command and it is a quality that we learn.
And we learn it again and again and there's no end to learning of it. Hatred needs no instruction. It is a response to a provocation, but love, God's love, is an obedient response to the command of God. And it's interesting to think about that as we come to these final verses of the Song of Solomon. For the final verses of the Song of Solomon provide an excellent summary for us of the kind of biblical love that came to exist between Solomon and Shulamithe. We're going to identify today 7 characteristics in this passage that are very similar to the principles of love that are found in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians. I have highlighted these verses in my notes that go with the passage and it's quite intriguing to see the connection. In fact, I wondered, as I was studying this week, if perhaps Paul, before he wrote 1 Corinthians 13, read Song of Solomon because many of his ideas for this great work are principles that summarize the things we have learned in this book.
Now, in the fifth verse of the eighth chapter which forms the beginning of the last section of this book of lyric poetry, we began to learn about some of the characteristics of love. We began, first of all, with the stability of love. Verse 5 of chapter 8 said, "Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I awakened you under the apple tree. There your mother brought you forth". Now, scholars believe this particular stanza in this poem pictures Solomon and Shulamithe in the royal chariot returning to the palace from the desert. She is leaning upon Solomon and they are reminiscing about their love life together. She recalls their earlier time of intimacy and if you remember way back in the second chapter in the third verse, we have a story of their love and it is all wrapped around the scenery that is mentioned here in this last chapter.
Here we are in chapter 8, which is well into the married life of Solomon and Shulamithe and they're still experiencing love. Paul's take on this quality is found in the 8th verse of 1 Corinthians 13. Here's how he says it, "Love never fails". Say it with me, "Love never fails". "Oh," you say, "Pastor, that can't be right. Look at all the relationships that are broken. Look at all of the Hollywood people who've been married, four, five, six, seven times. What do you mean love never fails"? I didn't say marriage never fails, I said love never fails. And I didn't say the earth's definition of love, I said heaven's definition of love. Agape love is eternal love and according to Paul, that love and as we emulate that in our relationships, we can have that kind of love, that love never fails. And in the New Testament when he uses the word "fail," he uses the word which means to collapse, or to fall down, or to be lowered in value.
And what the Scripture is saying is that the love God puts in our heart when we know him, the love that we get from him that he puts in our hearts that we become followers of that love, that love doesn't fall down. That love doesn't collapse and it never loses its value. The poet said it this way about this kind of love, "When the last day is ended and the nights are through, when the last sun is buried in its grave of blue, when the stars are quenched as candles and the seas no longer fret, when the winds unlearn their cunning and the storms forget, when the last lip is palsied and the last prayer is said, love shall reign immortal while the worlds lie dead". The love that God gives us, the love that God expressed in the gift of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, that love becomes our love when we embrace Christ and it is that quality of love that sets a Christian marriage apart from other marriages.
That doesn't mean it's automatic, but as we embrace that love, as we understand it, as we learn that love is not a performance-based quality, but it is self-giving, selfless quality, then that love, according to the Scripture, that love has stability. That love never fails. Notice secondly, the security of love in verse 6. Verse 6 we read, "Set me as a seal upon your heart," now, this is Shulamithe speaking, "as a seal upon your arm". 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, "Love endures all things". We're talking here about the security of love. The seal of a person during the writing of the Song of Solomon was a sign of ownership and an indication of great value. Shulamithe, in her little soliloquy here asks to be a seal on her husband's heart because in being near his heart, the source of affection, she felt secure in his love. She asked to be a seal upon his arm because here lies the strength to encircle and protect her.
The security of marriage, as you know, has been a constant theme. It's been here at least four different times in the Song of Solomon, we've run into it. It's been quite a surprise to me because when we talk about marriage today, we don't talk very much about that, and yet, if you talk to people and you get them to be really honest about what it's all about, they'll tell you that security is a very big part of a relationship. This is especially true for women in the relationship, security. It's about love, yes, but it's about security. Listen to Shulamithe, she says, "I want you to set me as a seal upon your heart and a seal upon your arm. I want to know the security". And she already has it but she wants to reaffirm it. She wants to be secure.
And I want to tell you something, men and women, there is not anything like that in all the world to which you can appeal. You don't find your security in any other relationship like you find it in a Godly marriage. Ultimately, our security is in God, but in the human realm, the one relationship that provides the greatest sense of security is when you have a man and a woman who are definitely in love with each other, who have begun to understand the self-giving kind of agape love. In that relationship, they can ultimately relax and feel secure and know that they're okay and that's one of the things people want today more than anything else, security.
Many of you know Gary Smalley, who God has used so wonderfully in his writings especially and his speaking, but I always am interested when a man raises up a son to follow him. And Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin, are now doing the business that their father had been doing all these years, doing seminars, writing books. He's a really interesting communicator, and he's very vulnerable, and he tells about his own life. And on one occasion, he wrote this story about what happened in his marriage. He said there was a time in their marriage when all of the children in their family would sleep with his wife Erin every time he went away on a speaking tour. And he didn't think much about it at first but often when he returned, he would have a difficult time getting them to go back in their own room and, may I say, that is a problem. He did not like that at all.
And so, finally he decided to lay down the law to his family. He got his kids all together and he told them that while he was gone, they could sleep in his room, but on the night before he was to return, they were to go back to their own rooms where they belonged and he would be even more appreciative if they didn't sleep in his room at all but they stayed in their own room. And the kids reluctantly agreed. Several weeks later after his next trip, Erin and the children came to the airport to pick Greg up and this was before 9/11 so they were able to go right past the security, go right to the gate and right where the jetway empties into the hall.
As Greg tells it, as his family and hundreds of others were waiting for their loved ones, Greg came down the jetway and was greeted by his son Garrison. He came running toward him shouting, "Good news, Daddy, good news". And Greg waved back and asked, "Well, what's the good news, Garrison"? "The good news is that nobody slept with Mommy while you were gone". Greg said, "You should have seen the looks on the faces when people, when we came walking out of the jetway". You know why he could tell that story? 'Cause he knew nobody would ever take it the wrong way and the security he has in his relationship with Erin is so powerful that there's even a sense of joy in it all. Isn't it wonderful to have a relationship of trust and security?
I want to tell you something, if you have that today, if God has given that to you, whether it has anything to do with this series or not, you should be so thankful to the Lord. That is such a wonderful gift and I see some of you shaking your heads. Notice thirdly, the strength of love. I don't know that I've ever seen anything in all the Bible quite as powerful as these next words. Listen to the end of verse 6, "For love is as strong as death, Jealousy as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame". And 1 Corinthians says, "And now abide faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love".
Here at the conclusion of the Song of Solomon is the most beautiful and heavenly tribute to love you could ever imagine. Shulamithe describes the strength of her love for Solomon using three metaphors. It is as strong as death, as cruel as the grave and a most vehement flame. Now notice, the first point in her comparison is this, love is as irreversible as death, for who can loosen the hold of death? And what he wrote is more victorious in conquering than death. The strength of death is the universal witness of all humanity and just as death cannot be subdued, so love is also invincible and it cannot be repressed. When love calls, its sound is so compelling that no one can resist it. True love never lets go of the one loved.
Let me say that again, true love, agape love, never lets go of the one loved. And this is so different from our modern times, is it not? It is so different from what we see in our culture and even from what is becoming more and more acceptable among the people of God. I don't do a lot of counseling anymore. I've done enough of it and I continue to do it a little bit, but I suppose over the years of talking with couples that were in trouble, I've heard a dozen, maybe two dozen guys say to me, "But pastor, you don't understand. I just don't love her anymore". And I can see by your nodding that many of you have heard that same thing. That seems to be the ultimate copout for walking away from a relationship. "I just don't love her anymore".
And I remember the first time I used to not just listen to that, but confront it. And I said to a man, "Oh? So you've decided to disobey God"? "What did you say"? I said, "Well, didn't you just say you just don't love her anymore"? "Yes". "And I said, so you've decided to disobey God". "Well, where did you get that"? "Are you ready? 'Husbands, love your wives.' Which part of that don't you understand"? "Well, you don't understand, I just don't have any feeling for her". I didn't say anything about feeling because, you see, that's the big problem right there. Love is not a feeling. Love is an act of obedience to Almighty God. And the Bible says that husbands are to love their wives. What does that mean? Exactly what it says.
You say, "Well, what if we're going through a tough time and she's done this", it doesn't make any difference. There are no excuses. Husbands, love your wives. And I know that's a hard thing for a lot of guys. You say, "Well, Pastor Jeremiah, if you knew what I was living with, you would never say that". Almighty God has given us that which we need as followers of Christ to love the one he has given to us. You can't do it in your strength. If you try to do it in your own strength then all these things you bring up, they'll get in the way. But I love what it says here, "Love is stronger than death". Death is irreversible. God's love is irreversible.
Notice, the second thing he says is this, he says, "Jealousy is as cruel as the grave". And this expression doesn't have the negative meaning we would assign such an expression today. This is not about envy, but about righteous jealousy. Did you know that God is jealous? God is jealous for us. He's jealous for his church. He's jealous for our purity, for our honesty and in that same way, that's what this means. And then he says, "Love is like a vehement flame of fire". And the way the expression is written, the emphasis is on the intensity of the flame like a flaming forest fire, love burns out of control. It burns in our hearts. God gives us that love. It may seem to us at first that it is a human thing, but if God is in the marriage, God builds that love so that it goes beyond what is natural to that which is supernatural.
Do you want to know how strong it is? Let's go to the fourth thing and let's talk about the stubbornness of love. We have the stability of love, the security of it, the strength of it. Notice, the stubbornness of it. "Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it". The metaphor in this verse is connected to the last verse, an abundance of water is not able to quench the fire of love. Rivers or floods of water are not able to overflow or drown love. Love is stubborn and it hangs in there when everything else is giving up. True love, God's love, and I can tell you some stories that would make any challenges you face seem very incidental.
The stories of how people have loved even when their partner has been disabled, has been put in a situation where they're totally dependent upon their mate. I have watched and seen the love of God burning in the heart of a person for someone to whom they give that love who has no ability to respond in any way. That in its essence is agape love. It is love given for the sake of love itself expecting nothing in return.
And then notice number five, the sacrifice of love. Once again, how powerful are these words? Verse 7 says, "If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised". And 1 Corinthians says it this way, "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing".
Here's a statement about the value and the worth of love. Listen, "The world knows that love is too precious and costly to be purchased at any price". How many of you know today you cannot buy love? You can buy sex but you have to give love. And the Bible says that love is costly. It is worthy. It is priceless. The Bible says that if a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, if he would try to do that, it says he would be despised. He would be mocked. He would be laughed at because people would say, "Well, what a foolish thing to try to buy with your possessions love". Love is not for sale. Love must be given and received.
And notice number six, the self-control of it. I kind of got to this passage and I wondered, "Now, what am I gonna do with this"? But as I've come to understand it, there is not anything intimidating about this passage at all. Notice at the top of verse 8, if you have a Bible like mine it says, "The Shulamite's brothers". Now, have we ever met them before? I don't think so. We met Shulamithe's mother. Apparently, her father was decreased or gone but now we're about to read her brothers. Let me read this verse, "We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for"?
Now, this passage is difficult to read in public but it's not difficult to understand at all. Shulamithe's brothers are reminiscing about their sister's childhood. By the reference to her not having breasts, they are describing their sister before the age of puberty. As they look at their sister and they see her beauty and anticipate the day when someone would come to speak for her knowing that she does not have a father, they are wondering what they should do to protect her and her virginity until the right man comes along at the right time. As they contemplate this problem, watch, they come up with two possibilities. She could be a wall or she could be a door. A wall represents moral resistance to sexual temptation, a door may be opened or closed at will and this picture is one of more of weakness. As her brothers think about this, they obviously want Shulamithe to be a wall and not a door. If she will guard her purity and her chastity, if she will be a wall, they vow to honor her.
Notice verse 9, if she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; however, if she choosing to be a door, they will not abandon her. They will protect her from that which she is incapable of protecting herself. Notice, the end of verse 9, "And if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar". Put in today's vernacular, "If she becomes a little promiscuous, we will put her in a room and lock the room up and throw the key away". And there's not a father in this room here today who hasn't has a thought about that with regard to his daughter growing up. "I'm gonna put her in a room. When she gets to be about 20, we'll start talking about marriage and I'll unlock the room. She can come out". Do you see what this is? It's such a beautiful thing and there's a decision to make, isn't there?
You can be a wall and guard your purity or you can be a door, and for many young people today, that's a revolving door that people are welcome into at all times and they throw away the one thing God has given them that they can present to the one they wonder and love. And so, here in this passage of Scripture, Shulamithe's got some older brothers. Oh boy, isn't it wonderful to have some older brothers? And these older brothers are gonna take care of her and they're gonna make sure she goes up and when it's time for her to get married, when someone comes to call for her, she's gonna be a young chaste woman as we discover her to be in her relationship with Solomon.
Then I love what happens in verse 10, Shulamithe is gonna set them straight. She's gonna let them know where she stands on this issue. She says, "I am a wall, And my breasts are like towers; Then I became in his eyes As one who found peace". What she's saying is, "I got through all of this. I have been chaste. I have been pure. My virginity is still intact, and I am now a full grown and mature woman. And I have found favor in the eyes of Solomon, for I have given him the most important thing you can give your mate. The stability of love, and the security of it, and the strength of it, and the stubbornness of it, and the sacrifice of it, and the self-control of it". And finally, the selflessness of love, in verses 11 and 12 and this is, again, you have to go back into the culture of the song to understand it. "Solomon had a vineyard at Baal Hamon; he leased the vineyard to keepers; everyone was to bring for us its fruit a thousand silver coins. My own vineyard is before me. You, O Solomon, may have a thousand, and those who tend its fruit two hundred".
Now, watch what's going on here. Here is a pastoral story, agricultural, pastoral in that sense. It's a picture of a relationship between Solomon and his wife and the argument goes like this, Solomon has a vineyard that he owns. He can do whatever he wants to do with it. And we are taken back to the beginning of the relationship between Solomon and Shulamithe. He has many vineyards, one of them at Baal Hamon near her hometown. This particular vineyard was under the care of her brothers, just as she was under the care of her brothers. Often Shulamithe referred to herself as a vineyard. Remember, in fact, one time early in the series, she complained about having to work so hard in the actual vineyard that she did not have time to keep her own vineyard, that is, her own feminine charm. She couldn't keep herself up 'cause she was working so hard in the vineyard.
In caring for the vineyard, her brothers bring a profit for Solomon. In caring for Shulamithe, they produced in her a special gift for Solomon, the gift of character and virtue. Shulamithe was Solomon's vineyard and just as he could do as he chose with his real vineyard so he could do with his wife now. Solomon had given over his real vineyards to Shulamithe's brothers. Shulamithe had given her vineyard to Solomon. In all reality, this was the selflessness that was the hallmark of their marriage from the beginning. Did they have moments of selfishness? Oh, we remember one, don't we? When he came home late and she wouldn't let him in the room and all that whole thing, remember that? Here's the deal in a Godly marriage, you may visit some selfishness, you just don't stay there.
As soon as you do if you're walking by the Spirit, something goes off in your heart and it says, "You know, that wasn't really a very nice thing for me to do". How many of you know that self gets into marriages pretty easily, isn't that true? Marriage is about selflessness. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, "Love does not seek its own". Love seeks the best interest of the one that is loved. We'll spend our whole lives learning that lesson, won't we? Guys, we'll learn it ultimately but it will take a long time. We're learning it but we're making progress and thank God for that. But love is no longer about what I want to do. Love is about, what does she want to do? What is God speaking into her life? How can I be a part of what's happening with her?
When we learn that, we have learned the great secret of a godly marriage just as God sent Jesus Christ into this world. And the Bible says in Philippians 2, that he came and he gave up the independent use of his own attributes and for a period of time, walked upon this earth in a self-sacrificing spirit. He came not to be ministered unto but to minister and give his life a ransom for many. Just as Christ came as the servant to all of us and went to the cross and gave himself for us, when we could do nothing for him in our sin and in our lack of strength, we offered him nothing, and yet he loved us and he gave himself for us. In that sense in our marriages, we give ourselves for the one we love. We do not know going into marriage all that that will entail. For some people, that becomes a huge sacrifice, for others, the giving and the giving equal each out. Can you imagine a relationship where the husband is thinking of everything he can do to ennoble his wife and the wife is thinking of everything she can do to honor and respect her husband? That's how a Godly marriage should work.
I remember years ago I read a book called, "The Art Of Understanding Yourself," written by a guy named Cecil Osborne. He tells about a couple who went to see a marriage counselor and with her husband sitting there listening to every word, the woman told the counselor, "I'd really like to have married a man who was very strong, and yet, very gentle. I'd like to have married a man who would have been strong enough to put me in my place when I get out of line but understanding and sensitive enough to know when I have to have my own way. I'd like to have married a man who would be tolerant of my occasional outbursts and emotional tantrums and wise enough to see that I need a good cry now and again. I would like to have married a man who would pat me and console me without bothering to argue with me". And she went on at considerable length describing this paragon of virtue that she had hoped she would have married while her husband was sitting there listening to all of this. When she finished listing all of the traits she wished she had in her husband, the man said with a trace of bitterness, "There was someone like that once, but if I remember right, they crucified him between two thieves".
And I remember when I read that then and read it again that I was reminded that there is nobody that can live this kind of life in their own strength. Do you know the only person who lived the kind of life we've been talking about, the total life of love? Jesus Christ is the only one. He came down here and he walked around in a body and for those years that he was on this earth, he lived a perfect life, and in every way, his life was an embodiment of agape love. Now, here's the good news, when you receive Jesus Christ into your life, he comes to live within you and he wants to live his life out through you.
Friends, if you take all the instruction of the Song of Solomon and you go home and make a list and say, "I'm gonna try to do all of this," you will be the most frustrated person in the world 'cause none of us can do it in our own strength. But here's what I'm learning, as I more and more yield my life to Jesus Christ in the power of his Holy Spirit, he more and more begins to emulate his Spirit in my heart and in my life. I'm not there yet. I'm on the way, but I see that I'm making progress because more and more I see Jesus Christ living his life out through me. I don't live for Christ, Christ lives through me. It is not I, but Christ who lives within me.
And here's what I want to leave you with as we close our Bibles on this wonderful study from the Old Testament, don't forget, this is not a two-person relationship. This is that triangle we talked about before where each of us are individually related to Christ then we're related to each other. The more we grow toward Christ, now watch this, the closer you get to Christ, do you see this? The closer you get to each other. If you start down here, you may be far apart because you're not close to Christ, but as you go up the side of the triangle, the closer you get to him, the closer you get to each other.
So, what would I do were I sitting out there? First of all, I would think, you know what? I really need to work, to guard my relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to know him, and love him, and follow him, and if I do that as a husband, my wife will take the cue. She will see, and together we can grow toward Christ and grow toward one another. And then Christ, who lives within us, begins to show himself strong in our behalf. One of these days, when the old self has a tendency to respond, you will see the old self not responding that way, and something will pop out of your mouth that is so unnatural, you'll know it's not from you, that Almighty God has started to do a work in your heart. Let me tell you something, Godly marriage, as we've described it, is not possible, it's impossible, but it is supernaturally possible through the work of Christ and his Spirit in your heart and that's why if you don't know Jesus Christ today, if you've never trusted him, that's the most important thing you could ever do for your marriage.