Marriage Encased In Agape Love - For You

The following sermon is posted/printed with the permission of the bride and groom, Jordan and Heather Swanson.  

Text:  1 Corinthians 13 

Grace and peace to you, Jordan and Heather, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The scripture verses from 1 Corinthians, the ones that we just read, are some of the most familiar passages in all of scripture.  The reason why they are so popular is that they are typically considered the ‘wedding verses.’  Indeed, I am often alarmed when these verses are ‘not’ read at weddings.  The reason why? They are verses that speak on the essence of love itself; a most fitting topic for a wedding indeed.

Now, when we think about this idea of love, we need to acknowledge that in our English language we only have one word for love.  It is rather ridiculous when you think about it.  We can say, “I love this cheeseburger.”  We can also say, “I love my spouse.”  Notice that the word love can be used to describe our feelings towards everything from a cheeseburger, to a truck, to one of our hobbies, and even to a spouse.

It is not this way in every society and every language though.    For example 2,000 years ago when the New Testament of the Bible was written down by the Apostles, they wrote it down using the language of Greek.  Yes, the New Testament portion of the Bible was originally written in Greek.  The reason why I mention this is that within the Greek language, there is not just one word for ‘love’ but actually ‘four’ different words for love. 

The first word that was used for love was the word ‘stargeh.’  This was a word that was used for familiar things.  For example: I ‘stargeh’ pizza, or, I ‘stargeh’ my new pickup truck.  It is a word that we use when we take comfort and safety in things.

The second word that was used in the Greek language was the word ‘philia.’ This word communicated love between friends; brotherly love.  For example: Two Bobcat workers working on the same line would have ‘philia’ love for each other as they trusted each other and served side by side in manufacturing.  It is a word that is used when we have trust and companionship with another friend. 

The third word used in the Greek was the word, ‘eros.’  This was a word that meant romantic love, that is, sexual love between a man and woman.

Now, it has been properly stated that these types of love are based on our feelings, needs and desire.  Yes, the first word focuses on loving something when it grants us comfort or security.  The second word focuses on love that comes from mutual respect and common interests with a friend.  The third word focuses on the idea of sexual love that satisfies.  In other words, even though these words are used for love, they are not true love.

There is a fourth word in the Greek language that can be translated as love, that hasn’t been mentioned yet.  That word is the word, ‘agape.’  The reason why this is important to note is that this word is the one that is used in our text from 1 Corinthians today.  It is not like the other three ‘loves.’  The reason why, ‘agape’ love is the kind of love that seeks no reward and only seeks what is best for others.  Indeed, it is a love that is unconditional.  It is not resentful and it does not rejoice in wrongdoing. 

Otherwise stated, this love that is spoken of in 1 Corinthians does not act the way that we might think.  It does its works of love secretly, and hides them from others.  This ‘agape’ love does not do acts of charity to be seen or known by others.  This ‘agape’ love is not boastful or arrogant.  It doesn’t seek to gain, but seeks to give.  It doesn’t insist on its own way, nor is it irritable or resentful.  It doesn’t make a lot of noise in rejoicing in the evil of others.  But this ‘agape’ love rejoices in truth.  It doesn’t hold on to or recognize the works that it does.  This ‘agape’ love simply does works for others without saying, “Look at what I can do!” 

As we contemplate this amazing ‘agape’ love we must confess that it is really out of this world and a bit difficult for us to wrap our minds around.  The reason why it is difficult to handle is that we like to boast of our loving works and be recognized for our compassionate deeds to others.  Truly, we want others to notice our loving deeds that we do and think that we are special for doing them, but this is not ‘agape’ love. 

Surely, we all want to love and serve our neighbors, especially our spouses with this ‘agape’ love, but when we look at this supernatural love in this text we realize that even the best of our good works of love fall short of this ‘agape’ love.  Frankly, our attempts at love are spoiled by our pride, resentment, boasting, conditions, and so forth. 

The sober reality is that when we contemplate this ‘agape’ love we arrive at two conclusions.  1) That this form of ‘agape’ love is patient, quiet, non-boasting, looking out to others.  It is phenomenal!  2) The second thing we realize is that we don’t and can’t love this way.  While this ‘agape’ love is quiet, humble, and serves others, we are the very opposite.  We are turned inward on self and when we love others we typically try to obtain some sort of kudos for it either by boasting of our love, comparing our love with others, as well as a host of other sinful problems.  Truly, we do not love with ‘agape’ love. 

So, Heather and Jordan and the rest of us here today, we must confess that we fall short of loving according to ‘agape’ love.  We must confess that we love with conditions, we love wanting to boast, we love without patience, and so forth.  We must confess that we do not have this ‘agape’ love… but wait a minute, or do we?  Jordan and Heather, there is one place where this ‘agape’ love is found though.  Yes, there is one place and only one place.  There was a man who was the essence of ‘agape’ love.  He was kind.  He never envied.  He did not parade His own love for other to see.  He did not behave rudely, although He was sometimes accused of that.  He did not seek His own way, but the way of His Father.  He was not provoked to senseless rage.  He did not think evil of others unless the evil was plain.  Even then, He worked for their restoration.  He did not rejoice over the sin of others but rejoiced in the truth.  For He was the Truth, and He took upon Himself your sins, your slander, your lack of love, and the insults placed upon you.  He endured all things to the end, even a death on the cross—because He loved you with an ‘agape’ love.   Yes, Jesus Christ is the quintessential picture of this ‘agape’ love; He is the essence of this ‘agape’ love.  We could say that because Jesus Himself embodied this perfect ‘agape’ love, you Jordan and Heather are redeemed, as well as the rest of us.  Because of His kindness, patience, love, and service to you, you have perfect love.  For Christ, this ‘agape’ love is not some abstract idea, but something that He embodied and it is what motivated Him to shed His blood—for you, Jordan and Heather. In order to forgive you of your lack of love and in order to redeem you, Christ died so that your sinful flesh, which shall never learn to truly love, will be put to death and so that you both be raised anew daily in Him—freed to love each other.

But what does this have to do with your marriage today?  Jordan and Heather, today you are coming together as a bride and groom.  You see, your coming together does not make a marriage; rather, you are stepping into marriage as a bride and groom.  This marriage estate is God’s gift to you—because of His love to you.  Furthermore, marriage is God’s design for ‘agape’ love to flourish.  Permit me to explain.  Just as you were created due to God’s love and just as you were redeemed by the Lord’s great love, today you are entering into this blessed union called marriage; marriage that is encased with love and given to you as a gift. 

Yes, your marriage is the perfect setup and the perfect gift to you.  You are received into it, and within this marriage union ordained by God, you receive each other as the Lord teaches you to walk in the unforced rhythms of ‘agape love.’   Within marriage your love is enclosed in God’s greater love for you and for you as a couple. 

Jordan and Heather, today a new life begins for both of you in marriage.  You begin as two lives joined into one life.  Receive each other as gift and receive the gift of the new life as husband and wife.  Receive the gift of marriage, for it is within this marriage that you are held.  Held within His love, you cannot fall apart.  At the end of each day being enveloped in the gift of marriage, you will lay it all out before the Lord, nothing kept back, nothing held outside His forgiveness and His ‘agape’ love.  Yes, confident of Christ’s ‘agape’ love and forgiveness, today you are bold to make the staggering full-size promises of marriage.  In the days to come you may fear that your love for each other may wear thin, but take comfort that Christ’s love does not fail or weigh thin.  Yes, running with and through your love, with its ups and downs, is His Love-for you.  Yes, within His larger love, your love for each other need have no fear but can grow and deepen.  

Jordan and Heather, the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’s ‘agape’ love—for you.  Amen.

(Note: portions of the sermon above are direct excerpts from two Norman Nagel Sermons in the book "Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel."  Thus, the message above is heavily indebted to Dr. Norman Nagel.)

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