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The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. John 15:13
Many years ago, a Christian group produced a dramatic short film that beautifully pictured the incarnation of Christ. It was an allegory, set in the remote, tropical mountains of Latin America. A lush garden at the summit of the mountain, representing heaven, is occupied by a Latino gardener and his son, who dress in simple, white peasant garb. They are surrounded by a host of servants, picturing the Father and Son with the angels. The setting is serene and idyllic.
Far down the mountain slope in the barren valley lives a colony of ants, representing mankind. But the ants cannot get along. Their colony is full of jealousy, envy, stealing, hatred, fighting, all-out war, and pain. Eventually the sound of the tumult wafts up to the mountain summit. The gardener and his son hear and grieve the ants’ condition. Something must be done to save the colony from its sinfulness.
In one poignant scene, the father and son are locked into a knowing gaze. No words are spoken, but the dialogue is eloquent in their eyes: "Son, will you leave the beautiful garden and go to the barren valley?"
"Yes, father, I will."
The son leaves the garden and begins the long, treacherous descent down the mountain slope alone. Along the journey, his clothes are torn to shreds, and his skin is scraped as he determinedly pushes his way through the dense, thorny foliage. Reaching the valley floor unnoticed by the colony, he assumes the fetal position on a large rock and, through the magic of cinematography, is transformed into an ant larva.
Before we continue with the allegory, think for a moment about what Jesus left behind when he entered human history as a baby born in Bethlehem. He had enjoyed uninterrupted intimacy and fellowship with his Father in eternity. Anything and everything the Father was involved in across the expanse of the universe and the heavenly realm, the Son was also involved in. Jesus enjoyed the moment-by-moment adoration and devoted service from angelic hosts.
Furthermore, he was completely free of the bonds of time and space. He could be anywhere and everywhere at his will. He wasn't confined to a human body that could only occupy one spot on the map at a time. He knew nothing of hunger, weariness, or pain. As the film so graphically depicts, Christ– the gardener’s son – forfeited thas soon e comfort, security, and privilege of having to save us from sin. He laid down his life in more ways than his ultimate death on the cross.
In the allegory which was filmed using real ants, the orphaned lava is found and raised by the ant colony. But this ant is different. He loves and accepts everyone and boldly confronts the evil powers behind the strife. He attracts a devoted following, but the masses are angered by his radical life, and he is killed.
As the film concludes, the martyred ant comes back to life. But now he has wings, enabling him to fly to the summit. There he becomes the gardener’s son again, now with nail prints in his hands. And the ants who believe in him also develop wings, equipping them to soar over their difficulties.
When Jesus said, "The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends," he wasn't just talking about becoming a literal martyr. He laid down his life for us more than 33 years before he was nailed to the cross. Every prerogative of deity he set aside was a sacrifice. Every limitation of humanity he assumed to enter our world was a death. Like the gardener’s son in this town, Jesus laid down his life the moment he left heaven for earth. Calvary was just a conclusive act in the sacrifice.
Laying down your life for your spouse is a vital element of renewing love. Just as Christ’s sacrifice culminated in the resurrection, so your sacrificial love infuses your marriage with new life. And literal martyrdom has little to do with it. There may come a time when you have opportunity to save your spouse’s life at the cost of your own. It happens on rare occasions. But more than likely, your sacrificial love will be lived out in everyday choices you make to honor and serve your spouse. When you do this, even in small, seemingly insignificant ways, you are emulating Jesus Christ, the greatest lover of all time, the lover of our souls.
One way you may lay down your life is by setting aside your prerogative, just as Christ did. You have certain justifiable prerogatives and rights. For example, you may feel it's your right to play 18 holes of golf every Saturday. After a hectic work week, bashing your Titleist into the next county is a great release. Let's even assume that your dear wife doesn't give you any flak for spending four or five hours on the course each week.
But could you set aside that prerogative for your dear one occasionally by spending a Saturday taking her anywhere she wants to go or doing anything she wants to do? We're not talking about giving up your golf date and then sulking about it while she drags you through a dozen model homes at a snail’s pace. We are talking about taking delight in honoring your wife for the day you determined to enjoy because it is something she enjoys. The experience may give you a sense of what it needs to lay down your life for your friend.
Another way to lay down your life is to enter your spouse’s world in order to honor him or her, just as Jesus entered our world to bring us the gift of salvation. In the process, you may assume some limitations just as Christ did, but that is the sacrifice of love.
Let's say, for example, that your husband is into wood-working as a hobby. In order to honor him, you may choose to enter his world a number of ways. Spend time with him and his shop, showing interest in his projects and learning about the various tools and techniques he uses. Save up your spending money, and buy him that special router he's been wanting, just as an I-love-you present. When you see a wood-working show scheduled at the local exhibition hall, be sure he knows about it, and consider attending with him.
Each of the steps will cost you something in time, money, and/or energy. That's what makes sacrificial love the "greatest love." As you die to yourself in order to love your spouse in these ways, you breathe life into your relationship. Your sacrifice is the oxygen of renewing love. And the benefits to your marriage will far outweigh the cost to you.
In what ways does your spouse lay down his or her life for you on a daily or weekly basis? What personal rights or pleasures does he or she give up for your benefit? In what ways does he or she enter your world in the everyday course of your life together? What does it cost to your spouse to love you in this way? In what ways has your spouse made extraordinary, above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty sacrifices for you? How have these loving acts – the ordinary and the extraordinary – strengthen your marriage relationship?
I am humbled and grateful, wonderful Savior, for the reminder of your ultimate act of love on my behalf. Thank you for stepping out of heaven, giving up many of your divine prerogatives, and subjecting yourself to confinement in my world as a man. As commander of the house of heaven, you became a simple carpenter. As Creator, you became vulnerable to be created. As the Lord of eternal life, you gave yourself up to a criminal's death. Great lover of my soul, teach me this week how to love my spouse your way. Help me let go of anything that is keeping me from laying down my life and love for my dearest one. Amen.
Renew Your Love
How can you apply Christ teaching an example of sacrificial love in your marriage relationship this week? And what specific way can you enter your spouse’s world in order to honor him or her? What might you feel led to set aside to demonstrate that you prefer him or her? Determine one way you will respond to God's Word this week in your marriage relationship.