1 Cor. 13 & Col. 3:14-20
In the reading from Colossians Paul says, “Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Paul has just finished telling the Colossians to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness. In some ways it might seem kind of redundant to say, above all these things put on love. What else is there? Aren’t kindness and patience and forgiveness already love? Maybe Paul meant to say, ‘and that’s what love is.’ Of course elsewhere, as in the 1 Corinthians reading, he does: Love is patient. Love is kind. That much is true, but here, Paul seems to say a little more. He says that there is another dimension to love. Love is patient. Love is kind. But love also binds everything together in perfect harmony; as the old King James puts it, love is the bond of perfectness.
This suggests that love is strategic. Love sees the big picture. Love sees the situation and knows what is called for. Love is thoughtful and careful. This is different than what our culture tells us, which says that love is thoughtless. Love is impulsive. Love, we are told, just happens to you, like chicken pox, like the flu – there’s nothing you can do about being “love sick.” There’s no cure, only giving in to your heart’s desire, even if what your heart wants is bad for you and harmful to others.
In fact, Paul says we are to “put on love.” The Bible teaches that love is something you can and must choose. And think about all the other things love is: patient, kind, thinking the best, keeping no record of wrongs, forgiving. That kind of love is rarely spontaneous and instinctive. You have to choose to be those things, to do those things. Our instinct is to be impatient, unkind, fear the worst, keep a long record of wrongs, and hold grudges. Our instinct is the opposite of love.
The Bible also says you can even do good things without love. You can speak with a tongue like an angel, and without love, your words will sound like a junior high marching band. You can have enormous faith and understand mysteries, but without love, your faith and understanding are worthless. You can give generously to the poor, and without love, Paul says it is nothing.
But this thoughtfulness does not mean we must be passionless prudes. The God who made us male and female did not create us to be merely reasoning brains traveling about in these strange shells we call bodies. No, God Himself, though He has no body like ours, is the perfection of passion as well. He does not change. His feelings do not fluctuate. But God’s love is full of passion. When His presence passed before Moses on Mt. Sinai, He proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Ex. 34:6-7) Or David sings, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Ps. 36:7). And again, “But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress” (Ps. 59:16). And it is this same steadfast love that has been at work through the centuries saving men from evil and sin: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love, he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” (Eph. 1:4-7). Or the apostle John: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us… In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 3:16, 4:10).
The love of God is steadfast. The love of God is patient, kind, forgiving, compassionate, and it culminates in the death of His Son for the sins of the world. In God’s love we see the perfect union of premeditated love with authentic passion. God’s love isn’t stoic. It isn’t a caustic calculation, as though we are some kind of bargain, as though we are worth it. But notice that while God’s love is constant and steadfast and passionate, it isn’t mindless or thoughtless. It is supremely mindful and thoughtful. Before the foundation of the world, God determined to adopt us as his sons through Jesus Christ, and that determination to adopt us included making us completely holy and blameless through the blood of Jesus taking away our sins. The love of God takes into account all that we need to become holy and blameless. The love of God in Christ took into account all that you would need to be Kiersten’s husband, and all that you would need to be Charlie’s wife. God’s love is thoughtful and passionate: love is the bond of perfection. It binds everything together in perfect harmony. It sees the big picture, and it gladly bleeds for a better future.
Charlie, it’s in this context that Paul tells husbands to love their wives and warns them not to be harsh with them. Men can be harsh with their wives in at least two ways: sometimes they are harsh directly, actively speaking harshly, acting harshly, without gentleness, without honoring and valuing their wife. But sometimes men are harsh through neglect and passivity. A man who ignores his wife is also being harsh. He may not be saying anything or think he’s doing anything to her, but he’s still being harsh – harsh like a famine, harsh like a drought, harsh like loneliness, and death. Both forms of harshness are supreme forms of waste. God is giving you a woman today. She is made in God’s image, and if you love her in imitation of God’s love to us in Christ, she will become even more glorious than she is today. Frequently men are harsh because they are afraid of actually loving their wives because real love, true love means imitating God’s love, laying your life down, dying to your own desires, letting your personal dreams bleed out for her ultimate good. So Charlie, my charge to you today is to put on love, which binds everything together in harmony. If you want your kindness to count, if you want your generosity to count for something, then you have to do it for love, which is to say that you must conspire to see Kiersten holy and blameless in the sight of God. Today, God is giving you the mission of loving Kiersten into the most holy woman you know. This is the love you are called to put on today, and as you put this love on, God will bind you together with Kiersten in perfect harmony.
Kiersten, Paul exhorts wives to submit themselves to their husbands, as it is fitting in the Lord. There’s a positive and negative aspect to this duty. On the negative side, there’s a limitation to your submission, guarded by the Lord himself. A husband’s authority is no more absolute than a police officer or a supreme court justice. Those are true positions of authority, but we submit ourselves to all human authorities, as it is fitting in the Lord. This is why when Daniel heard about the king’s decree to forbidden any prayer offered to any god but him, Daniel went home and cheerfully disobeyed the king and prayed to the God of Israel. Likewise, a husband who attempts to lead his wife away from Jesus must be cheerfully refused. Kiersten, you are responsible before God to only submit to your husband as is fitting in the Lord. But on the positive side, Paul says that when a wife follows the lead of her husband, this is fitting in the Lord. Today, the Lord is giving you this man and not a different man. This is part of God’s love for you. He is not tricking you. He is blessing you. The Bible does not teach that women submit to all men in general. No, before God, men and women are complete equals in dignity and honor, both being made in the image of God. But in marriage one woman freely submits herself to one man, receiving his hand from the Lord as an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love. So today, God is giving you Charlie, this man, with his strengths, his interests, and capacities and possibilities that are not yet even fully known. As you give yourself to Charlie, as you submit to his lead in the Lord, this is your ministry to him, causing him to grow in holiness and wisdom. Charlie needs this from you. This is your assignment from the Lord beginning today: honor this man, follow this man, lay your life down for this man, so that he may become the most godly man you know. As you put this love on for your husband, respecting him, following his lead, God will bind you together with Charlie in perfect harmony.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.