Not Self-Seeking

Reading: Ephesians 5.21-33
There is such a striking contrast between Paul's description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 and so much that goes by that name. So much of what is called love is self-centred. It is so wrapped up in personal satisfaction and fulfilment.

Paul writes that love "is not self-seeking" (1 Cor. 13.5).

In a couple of old Greek manuscripts it is put a little differently - "love does not seek what is not its own." Was this a mere slip of the pen? or did some scribe have difficulty accepting the full revelation of Christian love?

As one writer has put it, "Love not merely does not seek that which does not belong to it; it is prepared to give up for the sake of others even what it is entitled to."

There is no more important place to learn this, and no more necessary place to learn it - and yet no harder place to learn it - than within marriage.

There has been a tendency to despise what the apostle Paul says about marriage, and he has certainly been one of the targets of the feminist movement. Unfortunately, today's sloganism has merely picked up a few phrases out of what Paul has written - phrases which, by themselves, become half-truths and distortions of what he is really saying. Our reading from Ephesians 5 tells us about love in marriage, and says a lot about love in general, too.

So much has been said about what Paul writes in v. 22 of our reading - "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord" - that we have scarcely noticed that he prefaces all these remarks with - "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (v. 21). Is any less expected of husbands than of wives here?

The roles of men and women in marriage are not identical, but this does not imply that one is inferior to the other. In fact, a marriage is meant to be two people who have committed themselves to serve one another. The Christian motivation for this is our relationship to Christ.

Freedom? Liberation? Marriage is a mutual bond. A problem creeps into a marriage when one partner (in our society, this has often been the man) ceases to take this commitment seriously. But that is no reason to overthrow the institution of marriage itself. With such so-called "freedom" everyone suffers - parents and children alike (especially the children), and society as a whole is weakened.

A wife had waited for many weeks for the mirror to be put up in the kitchen. At last, she took hammer and nails and hung it on a cupboard door. The inevitable happened - one day as the door was opened, the mirror fell and was broken. The husband - who should have done the job long ago! - gently chided her. "Darling," he said, "it's no use there! It has to be fixed to something fixed!"

How nice of him to say so! But isn't this the problem with so much of our life today? We refuse to acknowledge any fixed point of reference outside ourselves.

We have our own standards, our own ideas, our own plans… And marriage, a husband, a wife, children - these must all fit into our plan. But people are people with a will of their own - even little people are like that! Because it all involves people, our own little "plan" gets a bit ruffled. Strange, isn't it? It's people who are the problem - and we're one of them ourselves!

When life is "me"-centred, the result will be friction and a greater or lesser degree of unhappiness. True freedom doesn't go hand in hand with selfishness - though we strangely seem to think so.

When Paul calls us to submit to one another, it is "out of reverence for Christ." Christ is our "point of reference." He himself is the supreme example of this sort of love. As home and family life centre on him we learn to relate to one another with the kind of love that "is not self-seeking."

PRAYER: Loving God, I love to be right and hate to be found wrong. I live so much for myself, yet I know I need other people and I need to be accepted. Forgive me, Lord. Turn the focus of my thinking and my living from my way to your way, so that, together with others, your way may become our way. For the sake of Jesus, Amen.

To Live to Give

The flower cannot keep its petals shut
and live.
Its hidden fragrant beauty opens
to give.
Nor can I find life within myself
or else life's joy and peace will soon
be gone.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Burdekin Blue Care devotions, 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

Previous Love is... Next
Back to Sermons