Let’s 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 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. Christ forfeited the comfort, security, and privilege of heaven to save us from sin. He laid down his life in more ways than his ultimate death on the cross.
When Jesus said, “The greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends,” (John 15:13) 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. Jesus laid down his life the moment he left heaven for earth. Calvary was just the 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 would 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 prerogatives, 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’re talking about taking delight in honoring your wife with a day you determine to enjoy because it’s something she enjoys. The experience may give you a sense of what it means 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 woodworking as a hobby. In order to honor him, you may choose to enter his world in a number of ways. Spend time with him in 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 woodworking show scheduled at the local exhibition hall, be sure he knows about it, and consider attending with him.
Each of these 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.