This Saturday I’ll be performing a wedding for a couple that I’ve known the better part of a decade. It will be wonderful to see a lot of old friends and to celebrate the coming together of this young couple.
In my meetings with them leading up to this marriage ceremony, we’ve discussed the role of vows informing love. I often hear love described in emotive terms. I love coffee (when it tastes good). I love sports (when my team wins). I love my wife (when she makes me happy).
Everyone, it seems, loves love.
But if marriage is based on this understanding of love, I do believe it will fail. Because the way we understand love is so fragile. At any point in time, I will not feel the love as it relates to any of the things I adore, including my wife. But my love is inspired first by my commitment to something, or someone, rather than the emotional state I’m in.
Stanley Hauerwas says, “We do not fall in love and then get married. We get married and then learn what love requires.”
I heard one pastor recently share his desire for couples to wait until the wedding to say “I love you” to each other. And while that is obviously extreme, it leads us to a closer understanding of how the Bible teaches love. Love is first and foremost a commitment to someone—to be near them, to be with them, and to grow in Christlikeness alongside them.
When the fleeting emotion of love is a dry well it is vows that sustain love. This is true beyond marriage. As we place ourselves near people, it is our commitment to live as Christ in their lives that sustains our ability to love them.
Jesus was given a mission from God the Father to spread His love on earth to humans, and no doubt there were plenty of times when he must have wondered why we didn’t get it. So many times he must have wondered why His disciples couldn’t quite figure it out, and it was the mission He had been given by the Father that made his commitment possible.
In our humanness we’re all prone to wander, prone to lose the emotions that can often sustain us, and in those moments it is the commitment we have made that sustains the love.
It is not love that makes the fulfillment of vows possible; it is vows that make the fulfillment of love possible.