The marriage of a man and a woman is the uniting of two very different people. They may not be able at that moment to see their differences, but those will soon become painfully visible.
Similarly, when two or three or more people unite together in a church, this is a union of very different people. They may share many things in common, but they are in the end very different. That, too, soon becomes obvious.
The question is, how do people who are so different from one another successfully love one another?
I would not want to over simplify what is in reality a very complicated matter. But several ideas have been in my head recently, and they all seem in one way or another to lead back to Ephesians 5:21:
“…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
This verse precedes Paul’s instruction to married couples, but it is seminal for all relationships. We submit to or serve one another not because of the worth of the other and not because of what the other brings to us. We serve, love, submit to one another, because we desire in this to honor Christ.
If I love another because of the worth in him, then I may be inclined to stop loving him when his worth changes. If, for example, I show love to my wife because she is pretty or perky or pious, then should any of those things change, my love for her will change.
If on the other hand, I love another for what he brings to me, then when he stops performing or producing, my love changes. Women will look to their husbands with this ideal concept of the income they will supply. But when the husband does not produce what the wife expects, she disrespects him and derides him.
We are to love not for the worth in the other (which may be great or, to our eyes, small) or for what we gain from the other (which may be substantive, or not so much). We are to love ‘out of reverence for Christ’ – that is, out of service to Jesus.
Each Christian has been loved fully and completely and undeservedly by Christ. We have been served by one to whom we can give nothing in return. Our inner worth deserved condemnation, not submission. But Christ has shown us the model of love.
And when we can begin to see that we are to love the others in our lives in service to him, then we will be freed to love.