“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)
In the New Testament, Jesus often used stories or parables to get a point across to his listeners. He would use the things they could see to explain the things they could not see. This is not a tactic used only by Jesus though, because we can see instances of its effectiveness in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 12:1-15; 14; etc.) An effective teacher is able to paint a picture for his audience that reveals to them a lesson from that picture.
One lesson that we have all learned, either from experience or observation, is the power and pain, the longing and loss, the give and take, of love. Perhaps a parable will help explain my point.
There was a woman who found herself in a relationship with a man. This man was a cruel man, who treated her more like a slave than a lover. He got her addicted to drugs, filling her mind with so much pollution, that she soon forgot who she was or where she was going in life. He routinely abused her both mentally and physically. He forced her to sell her body to bring him profit. Her life was filled with degradation and shame.
One day something inside her awoke, telling her there was something better out there; and she began to seek deliverance from her bondage to that cruel lover. She snuck away in the night and roamed the streets alone, lost with nowhere to go. That is, until another man saw her. This man saw her not as she was, but as he knew she could be. He saw deeper than her filth and shame. Where the world saw a woman of the street, a prostitute, a drug addict, an undesirable; he saw a jewel to be cherished. He went to the woman and courted her. He did everything in his power to win her love; which she readily gave, because she so much desired to be loved. The man cleaned her up, took her home and made her his wife. He filled her days with gladness and spared no expense to spoil her.
Nevertheless, the woman still felt a strange urge to return to her former lover. She couldn’t quite explain the desire, irrational as it was. Sure, he was abusive. It’s true he degraded her in ways only the most demented could imagine. But still, there were some good times. Weren’t there? There was never a dull moment, to be sure; and the feeling the drugs gave her made it seem as if she could fly. Maybe she should go by for a short visit, just for old times’ sake; nothing serious; just a taste of the former love. And so she went back. Not once, but twice, then three times, then four; until she lost count and all she could think about was returning for that temporary pleasure, wishing it could last. She soon forgot all about the love she had been shown by her husband. She forgot about all that he had given her and done for her. She returned day after day, like a dog to its vomit, to her old lover; lying in his bed; filling herself with his false, destructive love.
Meanwhile, her husband searched relentlessly for her. He loved her with an all-consuming love that refused to let him give her up. He loved her enough to give his life, if it meant saving her from her own destruction. Her husband went through the streets asking if anyone had seen his lover, his precious bride. Soon he was told of all that she had done and exactly where she was and who she was with. The husband felt furious at his wife’s betrayal! He felt rejected. But above all else, he still felt an undying love for his wife. He spent his days courting her yet again, calling her to come back home.
In each of the three characters in the story, there is one common denominator: love. The cruel lover had his love for himself and his personal gain through controlling the woman. The woman had her love of sensual pleasures and fulfilling the lust of the flesh, no matter what the cost. The husband had his love for his bride, also with no consideration of the cost.
In everything we do, love is the motivating factor behind all our choices as well. As in the story, we were, or are, in bondage to a cruel lover – the devil. He despitefully used us to further his own kingdom, allowing us just enough temporal pleasure to string us along. He left us feeling empty and hollow, yet begging for more. All the while, God has been courting us and calling us out to something better, to a life more abundant, to pleasures everlasting. He loves us enough to give up everything to win our love; He gave His life to save us from our own destruction.
But it is our love that compels us to choose one lover over the other, be it God or Satan. Paul once wrote that it was the love of Christ that constrained, or compelled, him (2 Corinthians 5:14). Moses chose to suffer affliction rather than “…to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25), because of his faith in and love for God. The rich young man of Matthew 19:16-22 rejected Christ because of his love of money.
The questions are: What compels you? Why do you do the things that you do? Is it your love for God? Or do you do it because you love yourself? or the world? or Satan? What is it that you love? What do you devote yourself to? “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). What is it that you treasure? What do you hold dear to your heart?
Love is a powerful thing. It has the power to give life or to destroy it. Love can cover a multitude of sins, or it can give birth to all forms of iniquity. The choice is yours. With whom does your love lie?