Put [Set] me like a seal [ leaving an impression on clay, showing ownership] on your heart [ inside], like a seal on your arm [outside]. Love is as strong as death; jealousy [or passion] is as strong [tenacious] as the grave. Love bursts into flames [Its flame is an intense fire] and burns like a hot fire [or a godlike flame]. – Song of Solomon 8:6 (EXB)
When I started my commentary on the Song of Solomon, I’ll admit, it was not an undertaking I expected to be such a challenge. The inspiration from it came in a strange way (which I will not get into for time’s sake because it’s not really relevant to the message here), and in those initial moments, it flowed freely. Everything I wanted to say, every thought I had as pertained to issues about relationships, things that exist between men and women, even interactions in general, were all there. I had the basic premise of the book and the commentary, thus I started it out, not expecting much from it. I wasn’t new to writing Bible book commentaries. In fact, I’d written two before the Song of Solomon, and one, my commentary on Malachi, was my ministry best-selling book for four years running at this point. I knew how to write a Bible commentary. What I did not know was how to write a Bible commentary on the Song of Solomon.
I’m not going to get into the whole of the commentary here (go get the book, Discovering Intimacy: A Journey Through The Song of Solomon, available wherever you want to get it, including Amazon). What I am going to say is that it was an eye-opening journey into just what we define as “love” and “relationship.” We have grown accustom to hearing a lot of lectures about roles and rules and interactions with other people, but the Song of Solomon study really destroyed all of that, especially the deeper I got into it. The more I read, the more I studied, the more I commented, the more I realized that what God desires us to become and what we are becoming based on how we interpret things is not the same. In the process of writing the commentary, which took approximately three years (I started it in 2012 and didn’t publish it until 2015), I experienced multiple stalls. I would start working on it, then have to leave it, then I would not seem to be able to pick it up again. It didn’t help that the book forced me to look at many things in my life I was lacking, some I was missing and really did hope to have in my life at some point in time, and look overall at several issues that I will outright admit I had avoided through much of my life.
One particular issue that became quite glaring to me was the reality of love and love in our relationships, or the lack thereof. If I look around, I am amazed to see how few people are able to truly get along with others in their lives. Daily I hear about someone cutting someone off, not speaking to someone anymore, feeling slighted by someone (often with justification), and general discord among families, friends, churches, communities, and nations. People want to pray the general prayer for “marriages,” for an institution and for the continuation of an institution, but they do not pray for the individual people who are in the marriage. People want to pray the general prayer for “families,” for an institution and the continuation of that institution, but not the people who are facing issues, day in and day out, that we cannot fathom and don’t bother to help them with.
We sit and argue, quarreling over this political issue or that one, trying to convince people that our perspective is the most moral, most accurate, most correct, and we never stop to look at ourselves. We are so caught up in issues and being heard, getting people to understand where we are coming from and feeling like our needs in the debate are met, we have reduced our entire world perspective to a one-sided political issue and the need to make sure everyone knows we are “right” about it.
…And don’t we all love to be right?! (That’s the wrong love to have, by the way!)
Our need to be fed is causing us to lose the world because we don’t love anyone. We can say we love God, but does the church right now really love God? Do they love God enough to know Him, to read the Scriptures, to engage with Him, to spend time in His presence, or is He just a musing that we use to forge battles with others and create useless debates and wars that have no purpose? Are we using God to try and further ourselves, our own attempts to cling and hold on to the past? Are we using God as an excuse to avoid our own issues, and point the finger at everyone else? Have we made God another politic…and is that just maybe why we aren’t transforming the world?
The Bible tells us that judgment starts in the house of God, but it doesn’t say how God does it. As I have sat back and watched the reaction of the church to multiple modern issues, I am noting that God is using the world to judge us. We are quick to balk at the way other religions operate, but the second they are treated and regarded by the world in a way that we feel Christians are not treated, we throw a royal fit. Whether we want to deal with it or not, Christianity is held to a higher standard than other religious groups. The reason for this is our own doing: we are the ones who have set the bar high, who talk about love and understanding and wanting people to come to know a God Who is love. We clearly want love to work for us when we want to win the argument or things to swing in our favor, but love is there for those times when we don’t win the argument and things don’t go in our favor. God is waiting for us to measure up to this Book, to this doctrine that we claim to believe in, right up until it gets uncomfortable for us. The only way that we are judged is if we are put into situations where we have to confront ourselves. In this, God is pressuring us, through the world. He is judging us, and expects us to measure up. And, overall, the church is miserably failing.
I don’t care what the world is doing. I don’t care what people in the world are doing. I am not talking to them, I am not dealing with them. I am dealing with the fact that I hear church members debate over whether or not to take someone to church because they might have to do it a few times and not be offered gas money. I am dealing with ministry couples who can’t stay married because one of them feels the other is overshadowing them too much or one of them feels resentful because they have to cover more of the bills. I am dealing with the fact that I hear too many leaders who are using the pulpit to vent their political views, to express their own personal frustrations, and to be angry, hostile individuals who can’t handle life. I am dealing with leaders who don’t want to get it together and don’t want to be something different, because they feel God is doing something for someone else, and not for them. The Bible says God gives to each one of us according to the measure we can handle. If someone else is getting by with something, or not moving up to something, maybe God just doesn’t expect as much from them because they can’t handle it.
None of this is love. None of this is what Jesus told us to do, and none of this exemplifies the character we are supposed to have.
The longer I am in this, the more God calls me to cease the noise and hush the strife, and realize that love is about laying ourselves down. ALL OF OURSELVES. Your opinions, your feelings, your need to be right, all of it, in pursuit of the Gospel. When we take on the title of “Christian,” Christ is to be our identity. It’s fine to have political and social views and opinions, as long as they stay OUTSIDE of church. The worst thing we ever did in church was introduce all these political actions into the church, because that gave the flesh of the individual the ability to debate love and make it conditional in the name of doing what is politically correct “in” church. We decide how we are going to treat someone based on what they do, who they are, and how they are. We tell people, “I’ll love you, but I won’t love what you do…” or “I’ll love the sinner, but hate the sin…” and we are automatically making sure that they know how we feel about that topic. I have a better idea: why don’t you just tell them you love them? Why don’t you just hate your own sin and let God deal with you and let God deal with someone else about things going on within them? Why does everyone need to know, all the time, where you stand on everything? Being so overly opinionated blocks the Spirit’s opportunity to flow through you because it creates walls. People do not come to us sanctified from the womb and they do not come to us perfected (and for the record, you’re not there yet, either, so stop playing Holy Ghost, Jr.) Give the Holy Ghost some room to wiggle in there and deal with people and change their lives! Let love say something so powerful, so transforming, something that says, “I am willing to lay down how I feel about any issue and stand as a witness to that before you,” that you can allow yourself to be His vessel rather than being the vessel of what’s sanctimonious and self-righteous under the guise of holiness.
We’ve all read the chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13 so many times, we skim over just what it says. We all love reiterating that love is patient and kind and that it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs, but if we think about how we interact with others in general, it’s pretty safe to say that the love we are supposed to have is not in us. I believe one of the most tell-tale verses in 1 Corinthians 13 is also one of them that we almost never touch on, and that is found in verse 5:
Love…it is not self-seeking… (NIV)
Love… It does not demand its own way… (NLT)
Charity… seeketh not her own… (KJV)
Love… it is not self-serving…(NET)
Love… is not ·selfish [self-serving]…(EXB)
We’re beating people over the head with our faith, and not only is it wrong, it’s just not working. We are trying to get people to see that “our way is right,” when that is completely not what we are supposed to be doing. It’s forcing our own way on people, which is the opposite of love. It doesn’t matter that you think it’s great, or it’s “guidance,” or it’s some sort of moral compass. You are forcing it, behaving badly with it, and disgracing the Name of Jesus with it. Don’t call it love, don’t blame it on faith, call it exactly what it is: self-seeking.
If you are seeking yourself through the Kingdom, then you are still seeking yourself, and that is still wrong. If you are seeking something through ministry, whether it’s fame, a certain type of life or social circle, a certain status in your relationships or marriages, “fixing” your spouses or children or praying against them through your prayers (which IS witchcraft, but that’s another blog), if you are attempting to just be something you’re not in the name of Christ, you are seeking yourself. If you have become the ultimate politician, adhering to all the right social “commentaries” in the hopes that you will advance your ministry, you are seeking yourself.
You want to have a good ministry or a good Christian witness? You want to be a good believer? Learn how to love like God loves. Learn about the true principles of intimacy. Look at how those who loved and walked in love sustained their lives and built upon principles of love and honor as they went about their days. You can’t love and be so opinionated, be so full of yourself, and be so self-seeking. It’s time for us, as believers, to lay it down, once and for all, and love like Christ would, sacrificing Himself, thus us sacrificing ourselves (ALL of ourselves) for the sake of the Gospel.
© 2015 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.