Most people at one time or another reflect on their lives and the lessons gained from them. This is especially the case with married life. Being married and having children provides endless fodder for sermons, books, and articles about the meaning of life. One of the recent lessons that occurred to me is the importance of marriage in teaching people about service, not only service to others but service to God. Indeed, by serving others, we become more like God.
Most marriages begin with the bridegroom trying to please his bride in whatever way he can. He opens doors for her, gets her glasses of water or snacks during the night, and paints the walls of her new home the colors she wants or moves the furniture where she prefers. The bride seeks to please her husband by making a home, cooking pleasing food, and taking care of him. Some people come by this attitude naturally. Their love language is service, and the first thing they think of to demonstrate their love is to wash dishes or the car or to plant flowers in the yard. Others struggle more and have to work extra-hard to please while they are wooing the one they love. They buy each other nice things or take each other out to eat, and they are extra careful to wait on each other, fix nice dinners, and do little chores. Even the most self-centered person knows they have to do these little chores to interest their lovers. Sometimes efforts to serve the ones we love lessen over time, but major events such as moving to a new house or having children causes lovers to resume doing little things for their spouse or a mother-to-be.
My situation was always a little different. Because I had known my wife for nearly seven years when we wed, we had come to a state of understanding by the time we were married where we didn’t need to demonstrate our love for each other. The wooing was already over. Nevertheless, I continued to serve her. She had terrible allergies, so we made a natural division of labor in which I took care of “outside” work and kept the yard nice, and she did most of the “inside” work and made sure the house was in order. Once we had children, we divided the chores even more. Even so, we showed each other the normal forms of affection. I was usually up early, made the coffee, and helped her get ready for work. She usually took care of the children in the morning, but I often took care of them at night – after a long day teaching kindergarten the last thing she wanted to do was deal with little children. The problem was that I was often gone for military service, and she had to learn how to do things on her own. Each time I returned, I basically had to relearn the need for serving her, even when I don’t always feel like it.
Ultimately, all love relationships teach us service. The Bible uses different words in Greek to describe what we in English generically call love. Eros is the love we hold for our spouses and includes both romantic and sexual love. Storge is the love that we hold for our children or parents. Phileo is the brotherly love we have for siblings and friends. Agape is the highest love, which is self-sacrificing. Yet all of the loves are pathways to experience agape. When we serve our spouses and put their needs ahead of our own, we elevate eros to agape. When we are willing to sacrifice our children for the greater good, for example by sending them to war, we elevate storge to agape. When we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for our friends instead of abandoning them, we elevate phileo to agape. In all of these cases, we learn self-sacrificing love through these lesser loves. Yet sacrificing ourselves is the height of love because it is who God is. God is described as agape love. This is why learning to serve others is so important. It helps us to become more like God whenever we set aside our own needs to provide for others. This is also the case when we serve God, for it is in serving Him and sacrificing our lives that we show what love is.
Serving others is one of the greatest lessons we can learn from our earthly relationships, whether with family, friends, or our spouse. It is how we become more like God, for God is self-sacrificing love. Whatever we do, let us learn to love others and to love God with this highest love through service to them and to the community.
© 2023 J.D. Manders