This being Valentines Day, it’s not surprising that many of us, who had the opportunity to present a sermon somewhere, chose the love theme. For my part, I settled on the “first love” idea found in Revelation 2:4, where we read of Jesus’ evaluation of the church of Ephesus as a church that had “forsaken it’s first love.”
First love is really another way to talk about young love. And young love is all about the experience that all of us know about from when we first fell in love. It’s about that sense of utter abandonment to the one with whom we are in love. It’s the love that especially characterizes dating relationships, engaged couples, and young marriages. First love means we are preoccupied with emotions, thoughts, and deeds about the attractiveness and well-being of the one who is loved. It is an exhilarating, inspiring kind of experience that most assuredly has its source in the very heart of God.
In their book, Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, Les and Leslie Parrott refer to Robert Sternberg’s, Triangular Theory of Love, as a valid way to think about the components of love and how it works. He talks about love as the three points of an equilateral triangle consisting of passion, intimacy, and commitment. Passion is the emotional side of love and includes romance and physical attraction. Intimacy refers to that aspect of the relationship in which a couple relate to one another as soul-mates. It has to do with appreciating each other’s personality and interests, communicating at that level. Commitment is the cognitive part of love. It is that underlying knowledge of the other person’s commitment in which one feels secure.
Unless these three are present and in balanced relationship with one another, theorizes Sternberg, love is not complete. Romantic love focuses on passion and intimacy without commitment. It hi-lights the difference between living in a marital-like relationship without actually being married. And what distinguishes marriage from every other kind of union is that marriage implies a relationship of covenant based on the witness of at least a couple of other people (See 2 Corinthians 13:1, and Hebrews 6:18, for example). Foolish love according to the Parrotts is a combination of passion and commitment without intimacy. This would be characteristic of young lovers who commit to one another in a deep way without giving attention to the chemistry mix of their souls. Companionable love is the kind that combines intimacy with commitment but leaves out passion. This would be the case with marriages that have grown tired and mundane — where partners are living together but without any real spark. Satan loves to take advantage of this deficit to tempt partners into other kinds of romantic relationships.
Consummate love, says Sternberg, is the kind of love that balances these three components well. It entails paying attention to intimacy, commitment and passion equally. This theory of love gives married couples a tool to analyse the nature of their own love relationship.
But it strikes me that it also is a way for Christ-followers to analyse the nature of their love relationship with Jesus. In Revelation 2:7, Jesus assesses the Ephesian church as one that had left its first love. It is certainly true that we can become distracted by a myriad of interests from that consummate love for Jesus that includes abundant expressions of passion, intimacy and commitment. We need to be exuberant and romantic in our relationship with Jesus — a part of what worship is all about. But we also need to take time to cultivate our intimacy with Him through quiet contemplation and communication. And our commitment should be such that it results in active obedience to His will in everything that He commands.
Besides being an excellent opportunity to reflect on the love in our marriage, Valentine’s Day has given me the opportunity to think more deeply about the nature of my love relationship with Jesus Christ. Steinberg’s theory of love is an excellent way to try and understand the mystery of love. It leads me to want to express more passion, to cultivate more intimacy, and to be more diligent in my desire to obey Him.