The second of the “Three Weeks Of Love” sermon exegeted culture more than Scripture.
I don’t do this often, but when I do it has to do with an significant life issue. In this case, the question so many people ask — whether single, single again, or even those who are married but unhappy — “how do I know when I’m really, truly in love?”
Jumping off from I Corinthians 13:11 and inspired by Andy Stanley’s The New Rules For Love, Sex, and Dating, the message ends up turning the question on its head while pursuing something far better and much different.
To see the question we should be asking, read below.
I just love, love, love the fact that Valentine’s Day is the almost perfect mix of Christian and pagan. Of total godliness and outright idolatry. Isn’t that great?! And did you know that about our annual romantic holiday? See, St. Valentine (AV), who is actually the patron saint of love, was an early, early Xn pastor/priest who died in about 270 AD. According to various reports, St. Valentine was beheaded for his faith by the Roman emperor . . . so, sadly, we see that what ISIS does to Jesus’ people now is really nothing new.
And yet who have we glommed on to this day that commemorates that ancient saint? This guy! (AV of Cupid) Who is armed with this thing! (Bring arrow). And exactly who is Cupid? In Roman mythology, Cupido is the God of Desire — hey baby! – and is the Son of Venus (the love goddess) and Mars (the war God). You know, right, that no one believes in those gods and goddesses anymore? Just checking. But those are exactly that kind of deities, idols, about which Scripture says “eh-eh, none of that!” So what do we do? We bring it on in! And Cupido, of course, has this mythological mission of shooting arrows at people and when his arrows pierce hearts, it makes people fall in love on the spot. That’s Valentine’s Day: a beheaded saint and a sharpshooting idol. And ppl get bothered because Xmas coincides with Winter Solstice! So with all that . . . HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, people!
But in a way, all this holiday hodgepodge kind of makes sense. Because . . . so many people, even if they don’t LITERALLY believe in Cupid, nevertheless believe in his mission. In his philosophy. Like the woman who kept having this guy pursue her. And she kept stiff-arming his advances. And finally, in a fit of frustration, he asked, “Is there someone else?” And she answered, “There’s GOTTA be!” Yes! We think there’s gotta be that ONE for us. We believe along with Cupid that there’s someone who will sweep us off our feet – or at least, out of our walker – and into deep, abiding love. Sometimes it happens in a moment, other times it happens gradually, but there is this mixture of chemistry, attraction, INCOME (!), and humor, and BAM, we’re hooked. Pierced. Some of you married that person. Others of you were married to that person. Others of you watched as to your great dismay and everlasting regret that person didn’t return the favor of your love and married someone else. And then a whole lot of you – single, single again, or even unhappily married – have your eye out for that person.
And wherever you are on that continuum, what you want answered is this: “How will I know when I’m in love?” How will I know if it is real? How can I tell if this is meant to be? With all the pretending out there, how can I be sure this thing I’m feeling is love and not some imposter. Like “like.” Or “infatuation.” Or “lust.” How can I know if I’m really, truly IN LOVE?
I have a young son, recently engaged, and no doubt he’s asking that question. Some of you have recently met someone through online dating, and there’s chemistry and you’re hoping there’s income, and you’re asking that question. And some of you are married and it’s stale and she caught your eye or he looks good and you’re wondering if that old song by England Dan & John Ford Coley is true: “It’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along.” (Play clip?) You wonder if that’s YOUR song. How can you know if you are really, truly IN LOVE?
And a closely related question: How do I know when I’ve found the Right Person. (Mr. Right or Ms. Right) And the ultimate related question: Who is my Soul Mate and where is she? If I’m single, how do I find her? If I’m married, how do I keep her? Or: If I’m married & not feeling it anymore, does that mean my real intended, my true soul mate, is out there somewhere? All these under that larger heading on Valentine’s Day & Cupid’s Night: How can I know if I am really in love?
And I just think it is so helpful to spell out much of what is implied with that question. As in, #1: as if the worst think in the world could be a relationship or marriage built on LIKE. You want so much for it to be about love that you skip right past like. And I know a lot of you long-time marrieds have found like to be pretty helpful! Or, #2: That there is an ideal person for you out there and that person can, in a sense, complete you. Like Jerry Maguire (play clip). Or, #3: That love is something you fall into or discover and that once you find it or stumble into it, it doesn’t take much work to tend it.
Because this question – REPEAT – and, honestly, it’s a question most of us have asked in the past and a lot of us are asking in the present, even when we shouldn’t be, is a living example of I Corinthians 13:11. Now, some of your ears perked up when I said “I Cor 13” because you know that is the LOVE chapter and you’re like, “I knew it! The bible’s gonna tell me how to find my right person!” Not exactly. Look at 13:11:
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
To that list you could add a childish view of love, a view of love in which you hope it hits, hits hard, and that pure arrow will nail you and then sustain you. How do I know when I’m in love and on reflection that’s one of those childish question we ought to leave in our toy box.
Because here’s the much better question to ask: “How do I know when I’m someone who someone else can love?” Not: how do I FIND the right person. Instead: how do I BECOME the right person? Not: where do I start LOOKING? But: how do I start TRASNFORMING? It takes relationship and romance and even marriage out of the realm of the lottery – there’s ONE IN 7 BILLION FOR ME! – and puts it in the realm of a living relationship with Jesus Christ. “How do I know when I’m someone who someone else can love?”
Do you see how asking that different question changes EVERYTHING? It moves the desire for romance and relationshiop out of the domain of the self – where is MY person? Why am I so unlucky in love? – and it puts it into the realm of what’s best for the other: how do I embody the kind of habits and values and personality and faith that would make ME a catch? That other-centered love is what I Corinthians 13 is all about anyway! It all makes sure that you have prepared yourself – the only person you have any control over anyway – before you promise yourself on the altar. Because here’s what I know after observing and counseling marriages for over a quarter century: most people don’t have marriage problems. They don’t. They have personal problems that pre-date the marriage by many years. And then they don’t get those personal problems dealt with in a meaningful way, they fall in love WITH SOMEONE ELSE WHO HAS PROBLEMS and BAM! His problems meet her problems and BOOM! Major collision. Why? Because both of them had spent more time looking than becoming; more time asking “is it love?” and less time asking “am I the kind of person who someone else can love for the long haul?” “How do I know when I’m someone who someone else can love?”
You know what you should do if you’re not married. Go ahead and make a list of things you’d like in a mate. You’d probably include things like . . . financially stable. Physically fit. Patient. Unselfish. Loves Jesus. A healthy understanding of past wounds (we all have them!) and in process of healing them. Not a longer talker. Not addicted to drugs, alcohol, porn, or gambling. Not easily offended. And then after you’ve made that list of what you’d like in someone you love – you can even make it pretty comprehensive! – then you start the process of becoming that. Of becoming what you are looking for. Where you get to that place where you actually stop looking so you can start becoming.
It may take some steps like joining a gym or changing your diet. It may take therapy . . . OK, very likely it WILL take therapy because almost all of us have wounds from the past that we had better address before marriage than in the middle of marriage. It may take joining a recovery group. It will involve getting in a LifeGroup and on a ServeTeam. It will include building that pattern of getting away and alone with your Father every day. And then there’s the whole matter of discipline and purity. Because here’s what I know: NO ONE, in thinking to themselves about an ideal mate, no one making that list, ever says, “Whew! I want someone with a LONG sexual resume! A varied history with lots of experience and a whole lot of partners! That’s what I want walking down the aisle to me!” NO ONE. EVER. Hey – if that is not what you’re looking for, don’t be that. And that’s a decision you make now, not in the heat of whatever moment you got planned for next weekend.
Because so many guys – probably not only guys but I suspect more guys than girls – think to themselves, “I’m gonna sow my oats, I’m gonna be a PLAYAH, and then when I find the right person I’m gonna settle down.” That’s a lie from the pits of hell. It never works. Marriage doesn’t fix bad habits; it magnifies them. That pre-marital experience hollows you out & diminishes your capacity for authentic, genuine, sexy intimacy in the one places where God ordains it: marriage. So make that list and become that list. “How do I know when I’m someone who someone else can love?”
Now I know: some of you are thinking “Oh my gosh, if I stop looking, Talbot, like you’re telling me to, how will I ever find my one true love? If I stop hunting, how will I snag my prize catch?” Oh, it’s like my car. See this? (AV, my Maxima). I really, really like my Nissan Maxima. I bought it new in 2009, it has 290 horsepower, it’s never given me no trouble, and best of all it has the word’s best car payments: 0. But you know what about me and my Maxima? Whenever I’m driving around, I notice every other Maxima on the road. Each time I think, “oh, look at that great looking car! I’m sure its owner is really smart. And good looking. And happy.” I have an eye for Maximas because I am really into my Maxima. This thing I am, I notice in others.
Oh, that’s the way for you. Stop looking. Start becoming. And you will be astonished at the ways you see people who are on that same sacred path. Because you will have a natural eye for this thing you are becoming, you will realize that like attracts like. Not as you pursue it; as you become it. You don’t locate your one true love, you grow into becoming someone else’s and then you can enter into this glorious, beautiful, lifetime thing called a godly marriage.
Speaking of which, do you remember me telling you earlier that St. Valentine’s was beheaded. Do you know why? Because in a Roman culture of that time that valued – yes, VALUED – promiscuity, prostitution, and a male-centric worldview in which girls were for procreation and little boys for recreation, (and sadly, sickeningly, US soldiers in Afghanistan find those same values in that culture — girls for procreation & boys for recreation) St. V stood for something else: the joining together of a well-prepared man and a well-prepared woman in the lifelong commitment of Christian marriage. And so he’d marry them. Over the objections of the Roman gov and culture, he’d marry people who’d spent a lifetime becoming folks with a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And to say thank you, the Romans cut his head off. Somehow, that makes this holiday a little less romantic and a lot more truthful.