I am a bibliophile. I love books. Because of my wife's restrictions on how many I am allowed to have in the house, most of the books I buy now are eBooks. But when I do buy a book, not only do I expect it to be a good read, but I want it to be in good condition. If I go to a discount book dealer, when I get home the first thing I do is take off all of those discount stickers that they plaster all over the book and the stickers they put on the spine to let you know that it has been used before. If I have to, I get out Windex and a paper towel and get all of that sticky residue off. If I buy a DVD, I am the same way. I want the book or the movie. I don't want all of that extra junk attached to it and I don't want it to be sticky when I pick it up. Someone asked me once why I go through all that trouble since the stickers and all that stuff don't actually affect the reading or the enjoyment of the movie. I responded with something to the effect of, "Because they are mine and I want my books and DVDs to be in the best shape possible." I don’t care if anyone else sees them, I don't get them cleaned up so that other people can enjoy the nice, neat way they sit on the shelf. I do it for me.
In Ephesians 5, Paul discusses the way husbands and wives are to interact with each other and he makes a statement that gets overlooked. In 5:25-28, Paul writes, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy…to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle…In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies" (HCSB). Often we focus on the fact that Christ gave himself for the Church and that husbands ought to love their wives the same way. What we miss is why. Christ gave Himself for the church to present the church to Himself without spot or wrinkle, not for anybody else. Christ didn't do it so that he could show the church off to the world. He didn't do it so that he could gain someone else's approval. He did it so that he could present the church to Himself and husbands are commanded to love their wives the same way.
Many times, we get worked up about how our spouse looks to other people or how our relationship appears to people on the outside. When what we need to be focused on is giving everything of ourselves so that we can see our spouses as spotless and blameless. And, while I know that this statement was made specifically toward husbands, we are all commanded to love people the way that Christ loved. We should all love our spouses (and other people as well, but that's another day's devo) like Christ loved the Church.
But what does that look like? Sometimes, it means offering forgiveness and behaving as if we were the offending party. See, though the Spirit of God is at work in us, slowly conforming us to the image of Christ, we are not the image of Christ but we are given credit for being in the image of Christ. And while, none of us are perfect as spouses or people, can you imagine what would happen if we treated people with the same respect and consideration that we would give a perfect person? Can you imagine how people might respond to us if we were to take their mistakes and sins onto ourselves and we offered unconditional forgiveness instead?
Loving as Christ loved isn't just about being willing to give of yourself, it is about being willing to look at people like Christ looked at people, not just as what they are, but as what they can be and what you hope they will be. Not so that they will look good for anyone else, but simply because you love them. Are you willing to love people that way? If you're married, are you willing to love your spouse that way?