I recently observed an unrestrained public display of affection by a couple who had just fallen in love. They were quite demonstrative, leaning on each other, fawning over each other and frequently kissing each other. It made some onlookers feel uncomfortable.
In the same gathering I noticed a couple who had been married for over 45 years. They smiled understandably at the younger couple. Maybe the P.D.A. rekindled some past memories. The older couple wasn’t touching and showed little outward affection between them. Yet no one questioned their love for each other. They had been faithful to one another for four decades and were devoted to serving each other.
Stages of love
Famed radio commentator Paul Harvey once pointed out that love usually goes through three stages. First there is romance when the couple wants to be together 24 hours a day and can’t keep their hands off each other.
As wonderful as it is, romance always fades and gives way to the second stage, which is tolerance. Each learns the other has faults, the excitement dwindles and infatuation wears off. The couple sits in awkward silence when traveling and learns to put up with each other.
Later, mature love sets in, or love in the third degree. Mutual experiences bond the couple together and they remain committed to one another for a long time. They have learned what it means for the two to become one.
While still alive, Harvey pointed out that one of the problems of our shallow society is that people in the tolerance stage think that because romance has faded, their love is over. So they jump the fence and try to rediscover romance. In reality, they go back to the beginning of the cycle and delay ultimate fulfillment. Mature people know that romance, while an exciting phase, is just the beginning.
I went to a very expressive worship service recently. Young people clapped their hands, closed their eyes, raised their hands, and at times jumped up and down to exciting music. They declared their love for God, an enjoyable thing to witness. However, it made some older Christian observers uncomfortable.
It seems to me there are two wrong reactions to emotional, demonstrative worship. One is to be condescending and say, “That’s phony! God can’t be pleased with that; it’s not done decently and in order.” However, romance is a wonderful stage of a developing relationship, and we ought to rejoice with those who are falling in love with the Lord. Jesus commended the woman so overcome with love that she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.
Yet, while spiritual enthusiasm is refreshing, it’s wrong to conclude that the more expressive love God more deeply than those whose worship is restrained. Some of the most dedicated Christians I know are reserved in the manner in which they express it. Their many years of faithful service to Christ is ample proof of their love for the Lord.
God makes it clear in His Word that He measures our love for Him by our obedience to His commands, not the public display of affection. For example, John 14:23-24: “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.’”
Reflecting on relationships
Samuel told King Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). Jesus said simply, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). That leaves us with simple questions: Do you put Christ first? Do you sacrifice for the needy? Do you guard your speech? Do you worship regularly? Are you faithful to your mate?
One preacher told an excited audience, “I don’t care how loud you shout or how high you jump as long as when you land, you walk straight.”
That is good counsel. Mature love for God is not just an emotional expression but what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same direction.” Pastors, remind your people that inward obedience is better than outward shows.