THE CELEBRATION OF LOVE Based on Gen. 29:1-30
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the famous medical missionary to Labrador, was a fast worker when it came to falling in love. He was on board a ship returning to England when he spotted a charming lady on deck. He was 43 years old, and so it was not as though he had never spotted a charming lady before. But this woman had such an appeal to him that he proposed to her shortly after he met her. She naturally resisted saying, "But you don't even know my name." He responded, "It doesn't matter, I know what its going to be." Here was a case of love at first sight, and history is full of such romantic stories where people find their mate in a moment and live happily ever after.
Others who are equally open to God's leading have a tough time finding their life partner. Billy Graham is a prime example of this side of the coin. Graham was going steady with Emily Cavanaugh in college. He felt she was beautiful, talented, and spiritual, and he told his parents he planned to ask her to be his wife. She admired Billy a great deal, but she came to a point where she told him she had reconsidered his proposal, and she could not accept it. He was devastated and felt the world had ended.
Later Graham developed a relationship with Ruth Bell. Their love grew, but it also hit a snag. She was a missionary kid and felt God wanted her to be missionary, but Billy felt called to be an evangelist. They became engaged in 1941, but at Wheaton College Ruth told Billy she was unsure after all. There were tears and struggles before Ruth could make a commitment to be his wife. She realized he needed the balance she could give him. He was too serious, and she could add the lighter touch to his personality. They have had a long and happy marriage, but the point is, there was struggle and a lot of adjustment.
Love stories can be romantic love at first sight, or tangled webs of struggle type stories. In one of the great love stories of the Bible we have a case which is both. The story of Jacob and Rachel is a classic case of love at first sight. She came with her flock of sheep to the well, and Jacob became an instant servant by rolling away the stone from the well to impress her. A short time after he was negotiating for her hand in marriage. But the story takes on the characteristics of complexity and struggle as Laban throws his oldest daughter Leah into Jacob's bed, and thus began a lifetime of conflict and competition in Jacob's love life.
Out of this both simple and complex love story God brought forth His people-the 12 tribes of Israel, and the blood line to the Messiah, and the greatest love story of all-Christ and His bride the church. Romantic love is to be celebrated because the whole redemption plan of God's love revolves around the romance of human love. You cannot tell the story of God's love without the story of the love of husband and wife. Romance is at the very heart of God's plan of salvation, and it becomes an effort in futility to try and separate love into the sacred and the secular.
Romantic love is a vital part of the sacred plan of God to save a lost world. It is valid, therefore, to celebrate the gift of romance. God does so Himself by making romantic love such a major part of His revelation. It is exalted to the highest level in the Song of Songs where we read of romantic love in 8:6-7, "It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love it would be utterly scorned."
Jacob's love for Rachel illustrates this. He wanted her as his mate so strongly that he would work for 7 years to possess her as his own, and v. 20 says the 7 years were like only a few days because of his love for her. It was a small price to pay for such a treasure. Love was his motivation; love was his energy, and love was the fire that could not be quenched even though one wet blanket after another was thrown on its flame. There is no escape from the emotional side of love. It is a passion, or an intense feeling. The story of Christ's suffering for his bride is called a passion play. His intense feelings were a passion. Passion can be torment, and love sick people can go through torment in what they are willing to pay in terms of suffering to possess the object of their love.
I remember the risks I used to take to see Lavonne when she lived 20 miles away from me. I was a teen driving 50 dollar cars, and more than once I was broke down on the highway between her home and mine. If I had a date with her nothing else mattered but the keeping of that date. I literally risked my life to keep a date with her. Blizzard warnings were irrelevant, and I would take off in a car most people would not keep for parts, and head into the storm to get to her. In our courtship I put 18,000 miles on an assortment of junk bound cars as I traveled that 20 mile stretch over and over. I had to get out sometimes and put snow in the radiator to keep the car from burning up. I had to get help from both her father and mine to get out of the ditch. I had to suffer the torment of near worthless vehicles over and over, and all of the pain of it was nothing for the joy of being with Lavonne. I know the power of the passion to possess.
Romantic and Redemptive love have this in common-they are passions to possess. God's passion to possess fallen man, and Christ's passion to possess His lost sheep were so great that they took on infinite suffering in order to make it happen. The greatest power in the universe is the power of love. It moves and motivates persons toward more goals than any other power. It is the prime mover of God, for God is love, and because He is love He created all that is, and he provided a plan whereby fallen man can be redeemed and restored to fellowship with Himself. Love is why there is anything to celebrate at all. Love is why there is a heaven to hope for, and why there can be joy in a fallen world.
The most powerful motive for the overcoming of any problem is love. Aleida Huissen had smoked for 50 years and tried often to quit but just could not do it. Then 79 year old Leo Jansen came into her life and proposed. He refused to set the wedding day, however, until she quit her smoking. Will power had failed her for years, but love was stronger and she was able to quit for the sake of love. Love was the passion that gave her the power to do what she could not do without love. A. Z. Conrad said of love, "It furnishes to the world its progress passion. It is storm-defying, energy-conquering, venture-challenging, soul-awakening. It eats up the fires sent to consume it. It swallows the floods sent to drown it."
If we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, it will not be hard to give up anything that interferes with that love. If we cannot do it we lack the love that give us the power of passion. If we cannot give up things that hinder our relationship with our mate, it is a sign that we have let the passion of love drain away. When we lose the passion of love we lose the power that makes all relationships the priority they need to be.
Jacob loved Rachel, and when a monkey wrench was thrown into their lives, and he had to work another 7 years to possess her, he did it for his love for her kept her in the place of priority. This love story is like many of the classic romance stories of literature. It is often like a tragedy. Rachel had to fight the battle of the other woman, which was her own sister. She had to watch as Leah gained status by giving Jacob children she could not give him. She eventually bore him his beloved Joseph, but she never won the competition to give him the most children. She also died before Leah and Leah got to be buried with Jacob in the end. There were a lot of tears in this love story, but it is still a beautiful and powerful story of passion and priority that should motivate us who have less complex lives to celebrate the joys of love.
The passion of Jacob for Rachel was persistent through all of the changes of life. Rachel did not stay the cute little shepherdess she was the day they met, and the day he fell in love with her. In chapter 30 she became a jealous wife and a nag. She wanted children so badly that she became obsessed, and Jacob had to get angry with her. Later she stole her father's idols, and she risked getting Jacob into serious trouble. It was not a trouble free marriage at all. Both had blemishes on their character, but they never ceased to put each other in a place of priority. "Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds."
As monogamists we think we only marry one mate, but the fact is we all marry a number of people because our mates keep changing, and we have to adjust to these changes and learn to love a different person than the one we married. Through the years all mates change, and sometimes it can be hard to adjust, for your mate may not be the person now that you expected them to be for life. You have to fall in love again with a new person. Those who cannot adjust to changes in their mate often get divorced. All couples go through what is called divorce periods where they are in the process of deciding if they love the new and different people they have become. This is where love is again the power that keeps them together. If love is allowed to fade, and there is no effort to rekindle the flame of passion, there is a danger that they will part. Those who make it through these periods do so because they work at rekindling the flame. Those who neglect love and just drift tend to drift apart completely. Divorce is a refusal to remarry the new person your mate has become. Long-range marriage is a commitment to keep on marrying the mate you have no matter how often they change.
Here is the other side of love that goes beyond the feelings and emotions of passion to the act of the will. Love on this level is a matter of choice. In Gen. 30:2 Jacob is angry at Rachel. He is no longer filled with passion to roll away stones for her, or to labor for 7 years for her. He now has negative emotions, and he wonders how she can be so ridiculous as to hold him responsible for her barrenness. If love was only passion and positive emotions, Rachel could have been divorced at this point, but Jacob's love was a commitment to her to love her even when she was totally unreasonable. One sided definitions of love that stress it to be a feeling fall far short of the real thing. Some have defined love this way:
1. "A tickling sensation around the heart that can't be scratched."
2. "Love is a dizziness that won't let me go about my bizziness."
Such feeling oriented definitions lead to serious problems when people take them as the whole picture, for these feelings may be real for a time but they do not persist, and if people expect them to always be present they will feel that love has left them and they will move on to find it again with someone else. Feeling oriented love will lead people into affairs, for people can have strong feelings, and even passion for complete strangers who are attractive. If you let this kind of feeling and passion be your guide you will never have a lasting relationship of love. Love is commitment and choice to be loyal to one person even when the feelings are not there.
The world's advice is to find a new partner when you come to a divorce period in your relationship. This is a rejection of the other side of love which is commitment. Commitment is what enables love to bridge the divorce period in marriage. The feelings cannot leap that gorge, and so two people are cut off from each other unless there is some other means by which they can remain in contact. Commitment is that means. Eliminate commitment and live only on feeling love, and you can count on being a statistic, for divorce is almost inevitable where there is no commitment.
Commitment is a choice. If I commit to turning right I cannot also turn left. Every commitment means a loss of some other choice. If I choose to be faithful to one person I cannot also choose to play the field. But on the other hand, if I choose to play the field I cannot ever again choose to have been faithful to one. Everybody has to give up something, and so the wise person looks at the record of where different choices lead. Our promiscuous people the happiest people? Are prostitutes noted for being the happiest partners in wedded bliss? Does anybody give the playboy highest marks in being the example for youth to follow? The facts are that two people committed to one another for a lifetime are always the ideal of what love is all about. This is the kind of love that continues to grow, and makes a poet like A. Warren write,
We could not know, my dear, we could not guess
How years augment the miracle of love;
How autumn brings a depth of tenderness
That is beyond young April's dreaming of!
How there would burn a richer flame some day
Then that which first threw glory on our way.
The Bible makes it clear that God's ideal is two people who fall in love and passionately seek to possess each other, and spend the rest of their lives committed to weather all storms, and keep that passion alive until they are parted by death. This means that marriage is not a gamble. It is a sure thing that it is going to be costly. Love is a commitment to pay that cost of maintaining the relationship. The Jacob-Rachel love story shouts out for all of history to hear that bad times, conflict, and obstacles do not destroy a love which has gone beyond feelings to commitment. The reason the world is full of people who once loved each other, but are now divorced is because of a one sided love, which is passion that never developed the other side of commitment.
The number one secret of a strong marriage is the assurance that your mate is committed to you. You can fail them, and get angry at them, but you know they are committed to you. This is the solid rock on which marriage is built. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." And Paul said, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." This is the foundation for security in our faith. When you have that kind of security in your marriage you build on solid rock and not on sand. Lack of commitment leads to insecurity. If we had no assurance that Christ's love was permanent in spite of all our sin and failure, we could have no sense of security at all. Some polls have revealed that many Christians feel spiritually divorced, for they do not have the assurance they will go to heaven. They have a very unhappy spiritual marriage. Mates who do not feel secure are also unhappy, for they feel their failure could lead them to be forsaken. Commitment is what makes mates realize their failure will not ever lead to being forsaken. It can be costly to make such a commitment, but it is worth it for those who want the full potential of love in their relationship.
When we celebrate love we need to see it as a matter of rejoicing in the cost two people have been willing to pay to keep their relationship alive and growing. Jacob had to give up always feeling the energy of his passion to labor for Rachel, and instead feel the energy of anger at her pouting and depression. She had to give up the ideal of being the one to give him his first son, and the most sons. She had to endure the heartache of barrenness. Anybody could write a script for romance better than what reality produces, but reality is the price we have to pay for love in a fallen world. Nobody gets it without cost, and that even includes God. But God says, and history says, and life says, love is worth the cost. Therefore, let us rejoice in romantic and redemptive love, and celebrate love as God's greatest gift.