The Sanctity of marriage: Grounded in Love
Read Titus 2:2-8; Col 3:18-19
"Husbands, love your wives…Encourage the young women to love their husbands."
In English, we have one primary word for love. The term can mean a variety of things. It speaks of strong affections, sexual desire, and benevolence. It is both an emotion as well as a score (or lack of a score) in tennis. We say we love our spouse and, in the next breath, affirm our love for our pet and our favorite food. Within the Greek language, which was the basis for the New Testament writing, we find several different words for love. The first word, which we see used several times in the New Testament, is the word "philia" (which today is combined with the word brother "adelphia" to form the name of the east coast city we call the City of Brotherly Love-Philadelphia). Philia points to the warm feelings one has towards another. On some occasions, it is translated as "kiss." When we use the word love today—i.e., an emotional attraction to another- we are usually speaking of love in a way that corresponds to the Greek word "philia."
However, the most frequently used term in the New Testament is the word "agape." This word moves beyond the warm fuzzies that one might experience. It speaks of a strong commitment to the other person, a love grounded in the will rather than the emotions. To illustrate the difference between agape and philia, let us look at two lovers. The first is a young man dating a young woman and, after a moonlit walk, wants to affirm his love for her for the first time. After a quick peck on the cheek, with stars in his eyes, he says, "Goodnight, I love (philia) you." The second is an old man sitting beside the death bed of his dying wife and wants to affirm one last time his lifelong love for her. In the pain of his approach loss, with tears in his eyes, he utters these words, "Dear, we have had a great marriage, and I just want you to know that I always have, and always will, love (agape) you."
When the New Testament writers command husbands and wives to love one another, they did not choose the word philia; they chose the word agape. This brings us clarity in our understanding of the nature of marriage. Marriage is not about the warm feelings of love (philia). Feelings come and go as life goes through the ebb and flow of daily living. Tragically, many marriages end when because they no longer "feel the love." Marriage is about a deep commitment we make to remain committed to the other person. It is the decision to place the needs of the other above our own.
When Paul commands husbands to love their wives and wives to love their husbands, he is affirming the agape love. This love is what keeps the marriage together through all the ups and downs of life. Rather than seeking our own selfish needs, we are willing to sacrifice our needs for the other's benefit. This love is sacrificial rather than demanding. It is driven by mutual submission. Furthermore, this love, which most often is used to describe God's love for us, is to be an expression of God's faithfulness. To love one another is to strive to encourage one another in our growth and relationship with God. This love takes work, but it passes the test of time. To affirm the sanctity of marriage is to affirm that we will love our spouse with a commitment of the will rather than just a feeling of an emotion.