The Bible’s depiction of true love is so astonishingly unselfish, we may not even realize how much selfishness we take for granted and are blinded two. Two men—Charles Finney and John Gossip—had a wake-up call when their wives died and they realized the true root of biblical love.
The lesson God taught Charles Finney
The great 19th century evangelist Charles Finney mourned long and hard when his wife died. She had been weak and ill for some time; Finney knew her passing was coming, and he labored long hours in prayer to surrender her to God, but when the day finally came for his wife to go home and be with the Lord, Finney found himself passing through “seasons of sorrow that were almost overwhelming.”
Eventually, during a time of deep prayer, God challenged Finney with the words, “You loved your wife?”
“Well, did you love her for her own sake, or for your sake? Did you love her, or yourself? If you loved her for her own sake, why do you sorrow that she is with Me? Should not her happiness with Me make you rejoice instead of mourn, if you loved her for her own sake? Why do you think of your loss instead of thinking of her gain? Can you be sorrowful, when she is so joyful and happy?”
Of course, one could say it’s possible to be both happy and sad. Sad for the lost years, sad that your children no longer have their mother, sad that you will miss her direct companionship, while happy for her blessed relief and sweet communion with God. But it strikes me that death is the moment that tests just how “sacred” our marriages really are and just how real heaven is to us. It also reveals the root of our love—whether it’s selfishness or authentic love. Can we be truly happy that our spouses are enjoying their eternal reward, while we suffer without them? Won’t that be the true test of how selfless our love is?
The lesson of John Gossip
Arthur John Gossip (1873-1954), an English pastor, faced the death of his wife with similar thoughts. Though initially devastated by his loss, knowing that for him life would now be “long and lonesome,” when the blow of her death finally fell, after he contemplated the glory she was certainly in, he found himself praying, “Do not for my sake deny her anything.” If the price for her to be with him was to remove her from God’s design to be immediately in His holy presence, the cost, John Gossip eventually came to realize, was too great.
Do not, for my sake, deny her anything.
That’s the ultimate selflessness: “For my sake, I wish she was with me; for her sake, I’m happy to have her in a better place.”
The Takeaway: Do we love our spouses for our sake or theirs?
Both Finney and Gossip challenge us with an entirely fresh take on marriage: do we truly love our spouse for their sake or for our sake (what they bring us, offer us, do for us)? Do we desire their good even more than our own?
It’s not like we have to wait until our spouse dies to ask this question; indeed, the most spiritual benefit will come from waking up with this thought every living day, while there is still time to offer up our selfish hearts to God and let Him replace them with the others-centered heart of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve. Do I want my spouse to serve me today or am I looking for ways to serve her? Is there anything I can do to particularly bless my spouse? What pain can I remove or lessen, what joy can I renew? What gift can I give her?
It’s so easy to slip into the reverse: “When is the last time my spouse did anything for me? Why doesn’t my spouse get how tired I am? When does my spouse ever look out for my interests?”
These questions, though understandable, reveal that we are still largely driven by selfishness. Will we learn to love our spouses for their sake, or will be keep loving them for ours?