"Valentine's Treat: Love's Hidden Filling"
Feb.11/07 1Cor.13 SS 8:6f
With Valentine's just 3 days away, it seemed good to serve up a bit of a treat as we savour God's Word together: not a box of chocolates, but some helpful analogies. Later we can profit from a NOOMA video; I'd like to introduce the subject of love with a little more explanation of the Hebrew terms Rob Bell uses from Song of Songs, and bring in some broadening from 1Corinthians 13, the "Love Chapter".
If you're single, you may be wondering if this has much application to you. Valentine's is generally associated with couples and romantic love. But what the apostle Paul writes about in Corinthians, and much of what Solomon wrote in Song of Songs, can be adapted to other relationships besides courtship or marriage ones. So if you're single, translate this into other types of relationships - how you can love your friends better, be more endeared to your family, and share Jesus' love for you with your neighbour in general - as He calls us to. (Just leave out some of the gushy guy-girl aspect!)
The NOOMA video will offer its own picture of love - a huge flame bringing together three distinct types of fire. But here's another metaphor: Love is like a (Hershey's) Caramel Kiss. Now, if you're not familiar with these, you really ought to try one. They're kind of a cross between the usual chocolate kiss and a Caramilk candy bar. Basically 3 parts: an outer shiny attractive foil wrapper; then the solid chocolate; but inside is a pocket of liquid caramel that pops when you bite it and oozes sweet flavour through your mouth. Each part can be likened to an aspect of love: the foil is like the physical attraction; the chocolate is like the solid unconditional support; and the caramel reminds us of the way love pours itself out passionately for the other person.
Don't be Foiled by Dod Alone
First let's look at the foil. Shiny, pretty, eye-catching - but not a lot of nutritional value. In fact you're better off not to try and eat it! But it's more interesting to look at than just the plain brown chocolate. We can liken it to the physical aspect of love, with regard to couples. In a secular sense, when you talk about "love" or "making love", it's the physical that comes to mind. But real love, Biblical love, is a lot more than just getting someone into bed. Physical attraction alone is not a satisfactory basis for a lifelong relationship.
When Solomon wrote Song of Songs, the word translated "love" 32X in our versions is the Hebrew term "Dod". It comes from a root word meaning to boil. Dod can be translated as "carouse, to rock, to fondle"; it's the physical, sexual element to a relationship. There's a strong connotation with touch, smell, and taste. Here are some verses in which Dod is used: "My lover [dod] is to me a sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts....Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover [dod] among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste...your mouth [is] like the best wine. May the wine go straight to my lover [dod], flowing gently over lips and teeth...The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my [dod]." (So 1:13; 2:3; 7:9,13) Very physical, sensual, pleasure associations. Praise God for wiring us male and female, when that's enjoyed with a clear conscience within the security and exclusivity of a marriage relationship as intended!
But sexual urges alone are not a satisfactory basis for a lifelong partnership. They wear off all too soon, sometimes falling casualty to arguments, neglect, and selfishness. Sooner or later time takes its toll and we get wrinkly and gray and not as attractive as in our youth. Like the foil around the caramel kiss, dod serves to attract your interest, but it's not the whole goody - not by a long shot.
The chemistry of a relationship can even be quite disruptive to the normal functioning of a person's life. Here's a poem that could be from a young lady caught up in the throes of dod:
"I climbed up the door, and I shut the stairs. / I said my shoes, and took off my prayers.
I shut off my bed, and I climbed into the light, / and all because he kissed me goodnight!" [Faith A.Mills]
The Solid Support of Raya
The Hebrew word "raya" occurs 11 times in Song of Songs. It can mean friend, companion, soul-mate, someone you enjoy hanging out with. To some degree you 'like' or enjoy being with this person, but it's not intense; 102 times in the King James OT it's translated simply "neighbour". You can imagine a double-decker bus driver in London England helping an elderly lady step off and saying in a Cockney accent, "Mind your step there, love." She's not going to swat him with her purse for being saucy. There's some polite affection, but really, he doesn't know her from a hole in the ground!
There's more attachment than that in Song of Songs, but it's not yet close intimacy. Raya is a term of solid support (just as the chocolate in the kiss is solid, keeps its shape, supports the caramel inside from oozing out all over the place). Song of Songs in several places uses it in connection with making favourable comparisons of the one loved: "I liken you, my darling[raya], to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh...How beautiful you are, my darling[raya]! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves...Like a lily among thorns is my darling[raya] among the maidens...How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead." (Guys, try that one out on Valentine's day and see how far you get!) Here's a better one - "All beautiful you are, my darling[raya]; there is no flaw in you." (What woman wouldn't enjoy being told she's practically perfect!) "You are beautiful, my darling[raya]...lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners." (So 1.9,15; 2.2; 4.1,7; 6.4) You might want to think twice before using that last one - being compared to an army might not have the desired effect. What he means to say is, how impressive and awesome she is.
Meaningful word-pictures capture the imagination and are a powerful way to communicate support, affection, and worth to another individual.
Boston marriage and family therapist Dr Ellen Dunn says sometimes the simplest things we say convey the strongest messages to loved ones. Some of these powerful words and phrases are: Nice going! Terrific! I'm proud of you! Wow! Way to go! I really appreciate your help.You're the best! Awesome! Great job! I know you can do it! Most excellent! Couldn't have done it better myself! Note - how simple these all are, but effective; 'music to your ears'. (And, you're a lot less likely to 'get their goat' than with those animal analogies!)
Many of Paul's phrases describing love in 1Cor 13 also communicate respect and esteem towards the other person. "Love is patient" - long-suffering, long-passioned. "It is not rude..." - not indecent, or magnifying the other person's faults, or making fun of their weaknesses. "It is not easily angered..." - not quick to become irritated, provoked, or exasperated. Often unfortunately we're pretty understanding toward near-strangers, but awful 'short' with our own family. "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth" - it's filled with sadness by wrongdoing of any kind.
And, speaking of solid support, note the word "always" repeated for emphasis 4X in v7: "[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." It's not volatile or soon gone, but constant, lasting permanent. You know you can count on the person.
Love is patient - it makes allowances for the beloved. Once on a railway train an elderly man accidentally broke a minor regulation and was unmercifully bawled out by a young train employee. Later a fellow passenger nudged the old gentleman and suggested he give the employee a piece of his mind. But the old man just smiled. "Oh," he said, "if a man like that can stand himself for all of his life, I surely can stand him for five minutes."
The Passionate Pouring-out of Ahavah
17X in his short song, Solomon uses the term 'ahavah' which is also translated 'love'. While 'raya' has to do with friendship, companionship, someone you show solid support to, 'ahavah' is the love of the will; passionate, yearning towards the other, but way more profound than fleeting romantic feelings or temporary urges. Rob Bell says, "Ahava is making a decision to join your life to the life of another. This is an emotion that leads to commitment." There's a strong passion or desire that's to do with much more than the physical; it's treasuring the other person, there's no one else you'd rather be with. It pours itself out, makes sacrifices to meet the other's needs.
Song of Songs reaches its literary climax in 8:6-7, where 'ahavah' signifies the peak of love's caring and commitment: "Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love[ahavah] is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench [ahavah]; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for [ahavah], it would be utterly scorned." Powerful words; powerful sentiments. Love is stronger than the forces of death, it resists abandoning the life entrusted to it. The primeval torrents of chaos and corruption may sweep over two 'ahavah-ers' but won't succeed in ripping them apart. (That's how strong Christ wants to build marriages!)
In chapter 3:1-4 the woman consumed with the passion and commitment of 'ahavah' runs through the streets of town searching for her man: "All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves[ahavah]; I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves. So I looked for him but did not find him. The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.'Have you seen the one my heart loves?' Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother's house..." (So 3:1-4) Wouldn't give up till she found him; wouldn't relinquish him once she had him. Passion pouring itself out in sacrifice, enduring hardship, determined to yield comfort in order to connect with the lover.
We can see similar terms in 1Cor 13. "Love is kind" - that's a positive action; 'useful, gracious'. It's oriented toward the good of the other person, instead of oneself. This is shown in several of the adjectives: it does not envy or get jealous; it doesn't boast, become a braggart; it's not proud, puffed-up (the Greek hints at a bellows); it's not self-seeking, watching out for one's own interests (cf 1Cor 10:24,33). That's so COUNTER to our society which BLESSES if not idolizes self-actualization, self-fulfilment.
And, love "keeps no record of wrongs": it's forgiving, absorbing the hurt without becoming resentful. It's not keeping accounts in a ledger book, waiting to 'get even' or settle the score. The caramel in the candy loses itself to give energy and flavour to the eater, spilling itself, being punctured to be fully released and appreciated. So, Jesus poured Himself out for our transgressions, so we could be reconciled to a holy God.
In John 13(34) He commanded His followers, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Note especially that 'as I have loved you' - His self-giving at the cross is the model for our love to others. A couple chapters later (15:12f) He repeated, "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.[and added] Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." True love - Jesus-style love - lays its life down, spills itself for the good of the one loved: whether that be your spouse, your friend, your co-worker, or that quirky neighbour across the street. Of course, that goes against the grain, humanly speaking; it's impossible in our own strength. We'd be tearing our hair out. But surrendering our lives to Jesus plugs us in to the supernatural gracious love which is the fruit of the Spirit. As the apostle John wrote, "We love because He first loved us." (1Jn 4:19)
Ready with a Smile
Just before we show the video, I'll close with this final illustration of sweet, passionate, yet costly love. A remarkable woman shared this recollection of her parent's love she witnessed in her early years as a girl. See if you can guess who's speaking.
"My own mother used to be very busy the whole day [this person recalls], but as soon as evening came, she moved very fast to get ready to meet my father. At that time we didn't understand; we used to laugh; we used to tease her; but now I remember what tremendous, delicate love she had for him. It didn't matter what happened that day; she was ready with a smile to meet him." If you're a parent, you can imagine how difficult that would be many days; you'd be ready to pack it in, grumble about your own troubles that day, and just be waiting for him to come in the door so you could finally grab some time for yourself. But this mother nurtured that solid support of 'raya' and the passionate pouring-out of 'ahavah' towards her man. And the children's lives were impacted by witnessing that. Now, who was that little girl that remembered? Mother Teresa! Her own life became a source of caring and compassion for many, through the power of the Saviour. [video]