Monday, January 29, 2007

When Love Grows Cold

“What happened to your marriage?” the friend asked.
“I don’t know. We just drifted apart. We don’t love each other anymore. The divorce was final last week.”
That conversation is repeated thousands of times every day in America. The sexual revolution after World War II didn’t bring us happiness, it wrought havoc on the family. From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate climbed from 10% to 50% before staying at about 50% ever since then. The percentage of single adults went from 6.5% to 20% in that same period, and single adults now number 30% and climbing, as fewer and fewer people are willing to commit themselves to marriage. (Willard Harley, His Needs, Her Needs, p. 9)
What is happening to marriage? What causes love to grow cold and die? Is there anything that can be done to turn it around?
[Read the full posting in the first comment below.]


Brother Bob said...

“When Love Grows Cold” (Song of Solomon 5:2 - 6:13)

INTRODUCTION: “What happened to your marriage?” the friend asked.
“I don’t know. We just drifted apart. We don’t love each other anymore. The divorce was final last week.”
That conversation is repeated thousands of times every day in America. The sexual revolution after World War II didn’t bring us happiness, it wrought havoc on the family. From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate climbed from 10% to 50% before staying at about 50% ever since then. The percentage of single adults went from 6.5% to 20% in that same period, and single adults now number 30% and climbing, as fewer and fewer people are willing to commit themselves to marriage. (Willard Harley, His Needs, Her Needs, p. 9)
What is happening to marriage? What causes love to grow cold and die? Is there anything that can be done to turn it around?
Yes there is, and it was written long ago in Solomon’s Song of Songs. The beautiful Old Testament love song that celebrates marriage also tells about what happened when the burning love of Solomon and his bride became a flickering flame. It’s a timeless lesson that is as fresh as your latest layer of lipstick.

I. Love is lost (5:2-7)

Love is lost by apathy. The scene begins one night as the bride of has already gone to bed. Her lover comes to his bride, speaking affectionately to her, asking to come in. He calls her “my sister, my darling.” Don’t be confused by the term “sister,” for it does not mean a literal sister but the term is used frequently as a Hebrew term of affection, like we would say “sweetheart,” because of the family closeness that they have.
However, notice that she responds to him with apathy. She takes him for granted. In so many words, she is saying, “Look, I’ve taken off my makeup and washed my face, and I’m too tired. And could you get me some Tylenol for my headache since you’re still up?”
This careless attitude causes the lover to withdraw. She regrets her response, and she decides to get up and answer the door for him, but it’s too late. He’s gone.
This represents how love can grow cold in a marriage. When partners start taking one another for granted, ignoring each other’s needs, and becoming insensitive to one another, love can die, like a dying ember in a fireplace.
When she finally got up to answer the door, she found she got “flowing myrrh” all over her fingers as she touched the door handle. This was a love note that he left for her, for even though he withdrew in hurt because she spurned his love, he left her this reminder of their marriage. (In the wedding procession in 3:6, it said their wedding carriage was perfumed with myrrh.)
She realized her mistake, and said in v. 6, “My heart sank at his departure.” Literally, the Hebrew says “My soul went out.” As she went out to seek him, the watchmen found her and beat her.
Remember that this is a poetic song, symbolic of their relationship. She may not have literally been beaten, but this is meant to show how she suffered for her indifferent attitude. How said when marriages drift apart like this.
In a very similar way, Christians often allow their first love for Christ as a new believer to grow cold. Christ knocks at the door of their hearts (Revelation 3:10 is spoken to the church), but the believer has grown indifferent. He’s more interested in watching the Super Bowl than worship. She’d rather go shopping than pray. So the Lord withdraws His presence, and when the believer realizes it, his or her heart sinks. They pray, but feel nothing. Yet Christ has left us a love note, a reminder of his love. Remember the myrrh on the door handle in v. 5? Where else have you heard about myrrh in the Bible? The wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Christ, didn’t they? And myrrh is often recognized as a perfume to use in anointing at death, a symbol that Jesus would die on the cross for us.
So believer, when your love for Christ grows cold, when you become indifferent about your faith, Christ’s myrrh is a reminder that He died on the cross for you.

II. Love is renewed (5:8 – 6:9)

Beginning in verse 8, the bride seeks to renew her love. Notice how she and her husband seek to do this:
A. By loving words (5:8-16)
In verse 8, she tells the women of Jerusalem that she is seeking her lover, and she says that if they see him, “Tell him I am faint with love.” So she first seeks to renew love by telling him something. She renews love with loving words.
In verse 9, the women of Jerusalem counsel her to see the good qualities in her husband. They wisely prompt her twice with the question, “How is your beloved better than others?” This is to get her to think of why she originally fell in love with him, to renew the spark of love that was once there.
The counsel of the women in verse 9 should be a model for all of us, when counseling a person whose marriage is in trouble. Don’t say, “I’d divorce the rat.” Instead, encourage them to think back to what caused them to fall in love in the first place.
What follows in verses 10-16 is some of the most beautiful praise found in all of the Bible. Prompted by the women of Jerusalem the bride lists 10 qualities that she loves about him. In verse 10 she describes how handsome he is. Then she begins to be specific, and what she describes contains a list of wealthy jewels: gold, chrysolite, sapphire, marble, etc. This reminds her of how he provides for her. Perhaps she had been distracted by that, and then realized that her greatest treasure was her husband himself, for she describes his body: head, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, arms, body, legs, mouth. As she gets a full picture of the man himself, she renews her love for him.
Gary Chapman, in his book The Five Love Languages, lists “words of affirmation” as the first love language. He urges husbands and wives to speak words of encouragement and praise to one another, instead of condemnation. If your marriage is hurting and broken, it will not help to attack and criticize, but it may do wonders to give honest praise and encouragement.
As believers who have become indifferent to our Lord, one of the best ways that we can renew our first love is to meditate upon Christ and praise Him. Many commentators have seen in this passage characteristics of Jesus Christ. Compare the picture of Christ in Revelation 1:12-16:
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. -- Rev 1:12-16 (NIV)
B. By loving actions (6:1-3, 11-12)
Just as her friends prompted her to speak of her love, now they prompt her to express her love in action. So in 6:1 they urge her to go to him. We read in v. 2 that she knows where he has gone: “My lover has gone down to his garden.” This may be taken literally, or “garden” may be symbolic of her, as in 5:1. Either way, we know from verse 11, where she says she went down to the walnut grove to see if the blossoms had budded, that she went to him.
You see, in addition to speaking words of love, we need loving actions to bring about healing in the relationship. They didn’t just say that they loved each other, but they took action. When her friends prompted her to go to him, she went.
In addition to words of affirmation, Gary Chapman lists four other love languages: quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. All of these love languages require action. Are you speaking your spouse’s love language? Don’t assume that just because you’re telling her that you love her, that she feels loved, if you aren’t spending time with her or serving her or talking to her, etc. Don’t assume that just because you are spending time with him that he feels loved, because his love language may be acts of service or physical touch, or words of affirmation.
Men and women are very different, and have different emotional needs. Unconditional love means seeking to meet the other person’s needs.
C. By reassuring forgiveness (6:4-9)
He reassures her with compliments, but unlike the wedding night in chapter 4, he uses no sexual references in this passage. When she is so vulnerable and unsure of his forgiveness, he gently avoids the sexual compliments of the wedding night, and focuses on other praises of her.
Notice especially that he tells her how special she is and unique.
After 17 years of marriage, Marianne finally left Larry. "It was a culmination of things," said Larry. "But I am desperately trying to save our marriage."
Marianne left their home in Orlando, Florida, and went to her parents' home in Jacksonville. She changed her cell phone number so he couldn't reach her. Her parents blocked him from entering their gated community, so he sent her five-dozen roses. His goal was to ask forgiveness, to plead for the chance for the two of them to work on their relationship.
When none of those actions brought any response from his estranged wife, Larry took out a full-page ad in the Florida Times-Union on January 25, 2005. The ad read: "I can only hope you will give me the chance to prove my unending love for you. Life without you is empty and meaningless."
The cost of a full-page ad meant that Larry sent Marianne a $17,000 apology. A relative told Larry that his wife had seen the ad. "She said my wife read the ad and started crying," he said. "But so far I've had no response from her."
After being ignored by the ones he loved, our redeemer God put a billboard on a hilltop just outside Jerusalem. Written in blood, the message says he is willing to pay the ultimate price—giving his only Son—to have a relationship with us. ("Man Begs Wife's Forgiveness in $17,000 Ad,", 1-26-05)
When one partner repents and/or makes efforts to return and restore the relationship, it is so important for the other partner to respond with encouragement and forgiveness.
Repentance alone does not bring about reconciliation. Forgiveness alone does not bring about reconciliation. It takes both repentance and forgiveness to bring about reconciliation.

III. Love is reconciled (6:10-13)

Just as love is lost by apathy, and renewed by loving words and actions and reassuring forgiveness, so love is reconciled with joy.
Verses 10-13 seem very strange to us at first, but with a little explanation we see that they describe a joyful reconciliation.
In verse 10, “who is this?” uses the feminine pronoun, so literally it is “who is she?” So the friends are seeing the Shulammite bride, reunited with her husband, Solomon. The word “dawn” or “morning” in Hebrew is shachar, which sounds very similar to the word for “dark,” shacowrah, the word she used back in chapter one to describe herself. So the play on words dramatically points out the great change in her, reminding us that the bride who once was “dark,” shacowrah, now shines like the “dawn,” shachar.
In verses 11-12, she explains what happened to her friends. She explains that she came to him “to see if the vines had budded,” that is, to see if their relationship would blossom again. “Before I realized it” they were back together in the chariot. That phrase, “before I realized it” describes the sudden moment of reconciliation.
Then in verse 13, we have a reference to the reconciliation between Jacob and his brother Esau, as found in Genesis 32. Perhaps you remember the story: Jacob and Esau were twins, but Esau was born first, and Jacob came out grasping his brother’s heel, so he was named “Jacob,” which means “one who grasps,” a Hebrew way of saying, “deceiver.” So Jacob grew up with the name “Deceiver,” and he lived up to his name. He tricked Esau out of his father’s birthright and tricked him again out of his father’s blessing. Esau was ready to kill him, so Jacob fled to a faraway land, where he married two wives and had 12 sons. Later Jacob tricked his own father-in-law. Finally, Jacob decided to get things right with God and get right with his brother, and return home. Genesis 32 describes how he stopped at a place on the way to camp, and the angels of God met him there, so he called it “Mahanaim,” meaning “two camps.” There he wrestled with God through the night. God gave him the new name, “Israel,” to represent him being a new person. Then Genesis 33 describes how he met his brother Esau, asked his forgiveness, and Esau forgave him.
What does all of this have to do with Song of Solomon? Notice how 6:13 is a deliberate allusion to the story of Jacob in several ways. The verse begins with the friends calling to the Shulammite to come back, so that they may see her. I have been referring to her as the Shulammite, but this verse is the first time that her name is used. Her name is now revealed. Remember that in the Bible, names have great meaning. Just as Jacob had his named changed to Israel, as Abram became Abraham, and Simon became Peter and Saul became Paul, so the bride of Solomon is given a name: Shulammite. It is interesting that “Shulammite” is basically a feminine form of “Solomon.”
Then verse 13 continues with Solomon uses her name again, asking the friends why they were looking at the Shulammite “as on the dance of Mahanaim?” Remember that “Mahanaim” was the “two camps” in Genesis 32, where Jacob reconciled with God and was changed, and where Jacob was reconciled with his brother Esau. Solomon mentions this place of reconciliation, but he refers to it as a “dance.” What he means is that they are celebrating their reconciliation with joy! They have come together, renewed their relationship, taken on a new name and new oneness, and it’s time to dance!
The love song says, “breaking up is hard to do,” but we also know how beautiful it is to “kiss and make up.” This is true in marriage, and true in our relationship with God. How interesting that the Song of Solomon makes reference to an experience of Jacob that involved both a reconciliation with his earthly brother and with his heavenly Father. Likewise, we can see in 6:13 the dance of joy that God wants us to experience on both levels as well. He encourages us to reconcile our marriages and to reconcile our relationship with God.

CONCLUSION: A husband and wife were on a downward spiral. The husband told his friend that his wife moved out, and he needed a divorce. They had no children. “What should I do?” he asked. The friend suggested to him that he not make any rash decisions, that he take some time to think things through.
He reluctantly agreed. Two weeks later, as he was packing up a few things his wife had left behind, he came across photographs from their vacation in Colorado the previous summer. He lingered over the pictures of her against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. He remembered the freedom and happiness they felt hiking in the great outdoors. He thought of the passion they shared in the cabin where they had stayed.
Later he found some of her things in a drawer: random cosmetic items, her fountain pen, and a few credit-card. A couple of days later, he picked up his clothes at the cleaners, which he had dropped off weeks earlier. A summer dress his wife often wore was mixed in with his shirts and slacks. When he got home, he started to pack it with her things…but he didn’t want to let it go. In his heart, he realized, he didn’t want to let her go.
She had gone back to her parents’ home to sort out what to do. In that time apart from her husband, she remembered the reasons they first fell in love and many of the happy memories they shared. When he called her to suggest they give it another try, she wept. That was six years, two children, and many treasured memories ago. (Craig Glickman, Solomon’s Song of Love, p. 117-118)
They had come to their Mahanaim, and like Jacob and Esau, like Solomon and the Shulammite and countless others, they embraced and danced together with joy. If your love has grown cold may you do the same.
And if you have wandered from your God, see him there at Mahanaim, his hand extended, eyes pleading, inviting. Will you let Him have this dance?

Bloodiest of Ladies said...

While I was reading this I was getting the message and understanding all that was being said, but all I could really think was a chorus from (of all things) a Damien Rice song, "So why'd you feel my sorrow with the words you borrowed from the only place you've known. Why'd you sing Hallelujah if it means nothing to you. Why'd you sing with me at all?"

Having married a musician that has long been very specifically attached to a horrible scene in my head of him saying goodbye. But while I was reading your blog it took on a different feeling.

How often do people find themselves talking to their loved ones in words they've 'borrowed' without thought? A lot, I dare say. And that's horrible, to forget all the reason you loved and were proud to be a part of someone. How much worse is it to picture eyes that died for you and loved you while you crucified him listening to you say things that have no passion behind them? Just talking and feeling nothing after all the years and all the hurts he's been watching.

I'm going far overboard with this, but I can see his face. I can see that desperate, hurting look that comes with thoughts like 'I'll help you if you'll let me.' and the just barely visible lift of a moment thinking we might really remember him, then the sinking of hearing us say something that no part of our heart really feels.

Anonymous said...

Bro. Bob,
I want you to know how much I appreciate you and the way you break things down. You are a blessing.
I really appreciated the series of messages you preached on the Song of Solomon, even though it was awkward to interpret (when I do the sign language for the Deaf). I've never "gotten" the book before. It really is beautiful, poetic, romantic and very encouraging when you get it. I hope that you will repeat the messages occasionally in the future, and perhaps use them for a marriage enrichment or singles thing. Again, thanks for all you do,

Brother Bob said...

Thank you! We plan to put the whole series together on a set of CD's, so people can get the audio CD and listen at any time.