About five centuries ago, Copernicus changed the way we think about our universe when he postulated what we all now know to be true: the Sun, not the Earth, is the center of our universe. Archimedes, Plato, Socrates, Augustine, and Aquinas all lived without understanding a basic truth that any educated person today takes for granted.
One hundred years later, just four centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton discovered what we call gravity, something that even a contemporary fifth grader could describe.
The relative youth of basic knowledge is rather stunning. For all his wisdom and brilliant insight, Aristotle knew less of hard science—astronomy, anatomy, and even physics—than the vast majority of advanced placement high school students do today. It’s remarkable to consider relatively recent advancements in intelligence and understanding.
Regardless of one’s view of evolution, early humans (whatever date you would assign to them) would seem like brutes to us today. In fact, a TV series like Mad Men, initially set just fifty or sixty years ago, seems like a ridiculous relic of an atrocious past—men treated women like that? People were that insensitive to race issues?
Just as intellect and social understanding has grown, so our love should grow, as well as our view of what marriage can and should be. What was accepted as the highest and truest love in the ancient world of Paris and Helen of Troy, or the medieval world of Shakespeare, or the romantic era of Jane Austen, might perhaps look rudimentary to spiritually perceptive persons today, if we were to apply the same scientific methods to love and marriage as we do to science. Yes, of course, Jesus defined the very highest love for us about two thousand years ago, but how this love applies to the way a man loves his wife and the practical way a wife loves her husband can still evolve, as so much of other human understanding has.
Why shouldn’t the love of a husband and wife of a Christian couple in 2017 look vastly different than the love of a husband and wife in 1617 or 1817? Why, indeed, should we glamorize marriage from the 1950s instead of asking even more of marriage today? Why would we let marital love lag behind physical or social science? And shouldn’t Christians lead the call for the spiritual evolution of marriage?
A New Model of Marriage
There’s a key to “marital evolution” in the vows most of us uttered to “to love and to cherish until death do us part.”
Cherish is an attempt to define that higher love between a man and a woman. Just as we have sought to better understand the intricacies of the human brain, the vagaries of our climate, the shamefulness of racial prejudice, so we should seek to understand true honor, selflessness, service, kindness and even happiness as it relates to marriage. We’ve killed forests’ worth of trees writing books about “love.” Perhaps it’s time we pay attention to “cherish,” a higher kind of love. We should expect more of Christian husbands and wives, just as we expect more of today’s screenwriters, academics, and social commentary. People said things thirty years ago they would never say today—or pay a heavy price if they did. There will always be those who “lag behind,” who fail to keep up with the advancement of society, but we don’t want to be among them. Not because we are proud, but because we want to breathe the purer air of a higher, more refined existence.
The interplay of love and cherish is best demonstrated by ballet. Ballet requires enormous strength, significant endurance, balance, and athleticism—the same things required of an NFL wide receiver or even linebacker. What makes the dancer different is that she also has grace, fluidity, beauty, poetry in motion. Love—sacrifice, service, commitment—is and always will be the backbone, the strength, and the muscle of marriage. Cherish brings the beauty and poetry—it’s supported by love, but it complements love, showcases love, and delights in love. It’s not just about sticking it out together; it’s about turning marriage into a beautiful dance.
As love is known by First Corinthians 13, so cherish is captured in the Song of Songs.
Love is about being gracious and altruistic. “Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Cor. 13:4)
Cherish is about being enthusiastic and enthralled. “How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice.” (Song of Songs 4:10)
Love tends to be quiet and understated. “[Love] does not envy, it does not boast.” (1 Cor. 13:4)
Cherish boasts boldly and loudly: “My beloved is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand.” (Song of Songs 5:10)
Love thinks about others with selflessness. “Love is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking.” (1 Cor. 13:4-5)
Cherish thinks about its beloved with praise. “Your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.” (Song of Songs 2:14)
Love doesn’t want the worst for someone: “Love does not delight in evil.” (1 Cor. 13:6)
Cherish celebrates the best in someone: “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful!” (Song of Songs 1:15)
Love puts up with a lot: “[Love] always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7)
Cherish enjoys a lot. “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.” (Song of Songs 5:16)
Love is about commitment. “Love endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:7-8; ESV)
Cherish is about delight and passion. “Your name is like perfume poured out.” (Song of Songs 1:3)
Love and cherish never compete—they complement each other and even complete each other. At times, they certainly overlap. By pursuing “cherish” we’ll become better lovers as well.
Men, your wives don’t want you to just “love” them in the sense of being committed to them. They want you to cherish them. They don’t want us to stop at, “I will be committed to you and never leave you.” They want to hear:
“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride, you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” (4:9)
And women, you’ll discover that a cherished husband is the happiest of husbands. A friend of mine asked seven male friends, “Do your wives love you?” and every one of them answered “yes.” He then asked, “Do your wives like you?” and every one answered “No.”
All seven husbands feel loved, but none feel cherished.
Husbands want to hear their wives say, “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, is my beloved among the young men.” (2:3)
Cherishing your husband will motivate you to pursue him, and thus raise the temperature of your marriage: “I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:2)
Choosing to Cherish
The good news is that cherishing your spouse is something you can learn to do. People talk about “falling in love” (which is a misunderstanding of biblical love), but cherish is clearly a choice. It’s not just a feeling that comes and goes; there are spiritual and relational practices that generate feelings of cherishing your spouse as you act on them so that you do hold your spouse dear in your heart. Learning to cherish actually creates joy, fulfillment, happiness and satisfaction. It’s one of those spiritual realities that may not make logical sense, but when you take it by faith and put it in practice, it works.
It just does.
Learning to take our marriage from polite co-existing or even just basic friendship to the much higher spiritual call of learning to truly cherish each other is a spiritual journey before it’s a marital journey. God’s word will instruct us; we’ll need his Spirit to empower us and his truth to enlighten us to shape our hearts in such a way that we are able to cherish someone who “stumbles in many ways” (James 3:2), even as God cherishes us as we stumble in many ways. If you believe your marriage has all but died or even just gotten a little stale, the hope behind learning to cherish each other in marriage is found in this: God is more than capable of teaching us and empowering us to treat and cherish our spouses the way he treats and cherishes us.
Envy, Not Pity
May God raise up in this new era a renewed church that demonstrates a different kind of marriage. Not just a marriage that sticks it out—people have been doing that for millennia. But marriages that grow in grace, sweetness, kindness, service, joy, and understanding; where we even value cherishing each other more than we value being infatuated with each other.
Isn’t it a little pathetic that two young infatuated people think they have something deeper, richer, and more profound than what most married couples share after twenty or thirty years of life together? Yet hasn’t that been the popular, almost unquestioned cultural message for the past three or four generations? By pursuing cherish instead of just love, we can build the kind of marriages that inspire younger couples rather than make them feel pity for us. A thoughtful, cherishing marriage can make infatuation look like a Neanderthal kind of love.
If God has been gracious enough to allow us to grow in our understanding of the physical world; if God has allowed us to advance from the abacus to the slide rule to the calculator to the computer, why would He not allow His church to move marital love from mere commitment to active cherishing?
It’s not that cherish is opposed to love or in competition with love, but rather a higher, deeper understanding of love applied. Jesus taught us that others should know we are his by our love. Our marriages should be factories of such a love. Cherishing marriages can be evangelistic as others will ask, how can a husband and wife cherish each other like that after thirty years of marriage?
The battle against redefining marriage is significant and necessary, but like in World War II, we have to fight on multiple fronts. We can’t let the battle over the definition of marriage lead us to ignore the battle over personally experiencing and demonstrating a higher, purer love, a marriage in which two people truly cherish each other, in our own families.
The analogy I make in Cherish is that just as God the Father cherished Jerusalem (Ezekiel 16), and just as Jesus cherishes the church, so we are to cherish each other in marriage. God laid the cornerstone of a cherishing marriage when he first began his relationship with Jerusalem roughly five thousand years ago. An ignored city has risen to become one of the most, if not the most famous city in the history of the world, because God chose to cherish her. His act of cherishing lifted Jerusalem to a new place of being.
A cherishing marriage can produce the same kind of people and point us to a higher kind of love.
A New Day
A young couple I’m preparing for marriage recently asked me an honest question: “Gary, we’ve had so many older couples tell us that there’s one and only one secret to a happy marriage, and that’s for the husband to learn two words: ‘Yes, dear.’ Is that true?”
Though this is an old, bad joke, it was refreshing to see a young couple be all but mystified by it. The subtext of their question was sincere astonishment: “People used to look at and define marriage like that? Do we have to do that?”
No, they don’t.
People my age (I’m 55) have to understand that the way our children relate to each other in terms of gender roles is very different from what we grew up with. This shift is going to have a huge impact on the quality and nature of marriage. There will be some new challenges—as there is much to appreciate about old truths—but also potentially many key gains.
I’m not talking about the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Thoughtful complementarians take pains to distinguish what they believe from 1960s’ chauvinism. Yet young people in their twenties can’t even imagine women being “kept” or condescended to; they are valued, listened to, considered as true partners, with equal intelligence and worth. How can this evolving understanding fail to positively impact the depth of intimacy a couple might have in marriage, if, that is, we are willing to expand our view of marriage from merely loving each other to cherishing each other?
I think it’s rather promising. Old jokes and old prejudice must die, or preachers will start sounding like ad executives from Mad Men when we talk about marriage.
It’s all in the Bible. We just have to move past thinking of the Song of Songs as something that exclusively discusses what’s happening between the sheets and expand it to also include what’s happening within our hearts and minds.
I’ve been infatuated, and I’ve been in a cherishing marriage.
Cherish is better.
Perhaps it’s time to spread the good news that the world is setting its sights much too low when it comes to the standards of true, intimate marriage. We’ve spent so much time talking about love. Let’s raise the bar and start talking about cherish.