A. One day and older couple was sitting in their front porch rockers watching the beautiful sunset and reminiscing about “the good old days.”
1. At one point, Grandma turned to Grandpa and said, “Honey, do you remember when we first started dating and you used to just casually reach over and take my hand?”
a. Grandpa looked over at her, smiled and obligingly took her aged hand in his.
2. After a few minutes, with a wry little smile, Grandma pressed a little farther, “Honey, do you remember how after we were engaged, you’d sometimes lean over and suddenly kiss me on the cheek?”
a. Grandpa leaned toward Grandma and gave her a lingering kiss on her wrinkled cheek.
3. A few minutes later, growing bolder still, Grandma said, “Honey, do you remember how, after we were first married, you’d kind of nibble on my ear?”
a. Grandpa slowly got up from his rocker and started to head into the house.
b. Alarmed and hurt, Grandma said, “Honey, where are you going?”
c. Grandpa replied, “To get my teeth!”
4. Oh, the sweetness of love and romance, and the heart-warming thought of happily ever after!
B. Today we continue our series: “Counterfeit Gods – Defeating the Idols that Battle for Our Hearts.”
1. In this series, we have been learning that anything in life, even good things, can be turned into gods when they take the place in our lives that only belongs to the One True God.
2. So far in our series, we have explored the god of food, the god of sex, the god of entertainment, the god of success, and the god of money - today, we are going to explore the god of romance.
C. The human longing for true love has always been a part of the human experience, but in our contemporary culture it has been magnified to an astonishing degree.
1. Our culture holds up romantic love as the greatest and noblest of pursuits.
2. We are led to believe that the need for romantic affection and the tingly, bubbly feeling we call “falling in love” is the most important thing in our lives.
3. We are encouraged to spend our lives searching for our soul mate – that one person out there who is the right one just for us – the internet has become an important tool – online dating sites.
4. The message to those who aren’t married or at least dating someone is that you won’t be content or complete unless you’re in a relationship.
5. It is insinuated, that without a romantic relationship of some kind, even the wrong kind, your life is somehow incomplete.
D. Just think of the kinds of things expressed in our cultural clichés and our popular music.
1. Our popular culture tells us that love makes the world go round.
2. The Beatles tell us that all we need is love.
3. Burt Bacharach asserts that what the world needs now is love, sweet love.
4. Like Robert Palmer, we might as well face it, we’re addicted to love!
E. And, if we are not careful, we Christians can buy into this philosophy hook line and sinker.
1. Even in the church, singles might get the impression that they are considered somehow incomplete.
2. If you take a look at the book section for single adults in the Christian bookstore you will find titles like these:
a. What to Do Until Love Finds You, How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, Finding the Right One for You.
b. A most interesting title is, If Men Are Like Buses, How Can I Catch One?
3. I’m sure there is helpful advice in all those books, but the underlying message to singles is you are missing something that you must find, and don’t give up until you do.
F. Here’s an important thing that I want us to think about: Believe it or not, life was never meant to be all about romantic love.
1. Much of what we think of as romantic love is actually an invention of Western culture, and is something that didn’t take hold until the Middle Ages.
2. In most ancient cultures, marriages were arranged, that doesn’t mean that the young people and their hearts were totally uninvolved in the process, but it means that other things were factored in and even given greater weight.
3. C. S. Lewis, one of history’s greatest scholars, wrote a piece called The Allegory of Love, and in it he shows how troubadours during medieval times popularized the “hearts-and-flowers” conception of love between a man and a woman.
4. This conception and approach has taken over much of modern romance and courtship.
5. This doesn’t mean that romantic affection itself didn’t exist before that, just read the OT book Song of Solomon, but romantic love as the great quest and obsession, something that we must have or we will be miserable, is a human, cultural invention and is relatively recent.
G. In truth, God has wired most of us for intimate fellowship, which might lead to a special mate, but in modern times we’ve inflated this idea to crazy proportions.
1. Romantic love is a good thing, but when we make it everything, and when we make it essential to life and happiness, then it becomes a false god.
2. When we put all our hopes in romantic love, then we have allowed a gift from God to ultimately replace God the Father.
3. And when a good thing has become a counterfeit god, then it makes demands on us that exceed proper boundaries.
4. Making an idol out of love may mean allowing the lover to exploit or abuse you, and may cause terrible blindness to the pathologies in the relationship.
5. An idolatrous attachment can led us to break any promise, rationalize any indiscretion, or betray any other allegiance, in order to hold on to it.
6. To practice any kind of idolatry, even to the god of romance, is to be a slave.
H. There is a story in the Bible that illustrates how this quest for idolatrous love is a form of slavery.
1. It is the story of Jacob and Leah and Rachel found in Genesis 29.
2. As you know, God promised Abraham that God would redeem the world through the line of Abraham’s descendants.
3. Therefore, in every generation after Abraham, one child would be chosen to bear the line, and pass on the faith to the next generation, until the day when one of Abraham’s descendants would be the Messiah.
4. It is clear that God would be sovereign over this process.
5. So Abraham and Sarah gave birth to Isaac, and when Isaac’s wife gave birth to twins, Esau and Jacob, God chose the younger rather than the older to carry on the Messianic line.
6. The tension and conflict that this caused between Esau and Jacob, eventually led to Jacob having to leave his father and mother, and escape to his mother’s relatives who lived far away.
I. So Jacob escaped to his mother’s brother’s house, and his uncle Laban took him in, and Jacob immediately fell in love with Laban’s daughter named Rachel.
1. Here’s how the Bible tells the story: 15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. 18 Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. (Gen. 29:15-20)
2. Jacob was more than smitten with Rachel.
3. Robert Alter, a Hebrew scholar at Berkley, points out the many signals in the text that show how lovesick Jacob was with Rachel.
a. Jacob offered 7 year’s wages for her, which was, in the currency of the time, an enormous price for a bride, nearly 4 times more than the ordinary price for a bride.
b. But we are told that the 7 years seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
c. The Biblical narrator is showing us a man overwhelmed with emotional and sexual longing for one woman.
4. Why was this the case for Jacob?
a. Consider how Jacob may have been easy prey for the god of romance.
b. Jacob had never known true love from his father, as his father had favored Esau over him.
c. Jacob had had his mother’s love, but had had to leave her behind as he ran for his life.
d. And at this point in his life, Jacob didn’t have a clear sense of God’s love and care.
e. So when he beheld the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, he must have said to himself, “If I had her in my life, then something would finally be right in my life. If I had her, it would fix everything.”
J. Ernest Becker, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, explained the various ways secular people have dealt with the loss of belief in God.
1. Now that most people think we are here by accident and not made for any purpose, they are still looking for a sense of significance in their lives.
2. One of the main places they fill that need is through what Becker calls “apocalyptic romance.”
3. He says that they look to sex and romance to give them the transcendence of meaning that they used to get from faith in God.
4. Becker wrote: “The self-glorification that he needed in his innermost nature he now looked for in the love partner. The love partner becomes the divine ideal within which to fulfill one’s life. All spiritual and moral needs now become focused in one individual…what is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to the position of God? We want redemption – nothing less.”
5. That is exactly what Jacob did, and, as Becker points out, that is what millions of others are doing in our culture.
6. The popular music and art of our society calls us to keep loading all our deepest needs for significance and transcendence into romance and love.
7. An old popular song said, “You’re nobody till somebody loves you,” and our entire culture has taken that literally.
8. We maintain the fantasy that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us and the world will be made right.
9. When our expectations and hopes reach that magnitude, then love has become our god, and no lover, no human being, is qualified for that role.
10. No one can live up to that – and the inevitable result is bitter disillusionment.
K. Now, back to the story of Jacob, after the 7 years was over, Jacob went to Laban and demanded his prize – Rachel, and he didn’t do so in the most spiritual of manner.
1. The Bible says: Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.”
2. To make a long story short, Laban held a wedding feast for Jacob and Rachel, and in the middle of the celebration, Laban brought Jacob’s wife to him, heavily veiled.
3. Already likely inebriated from the festivities, and in the darkness of the tent, Jacob consummated his marriage with the wrong woman.
4. When Jacob woke up the next morning, in the full light of day, and he looked and saw that the woman next to him wasn’t Rachel, it was Leah, the unattractive older sister of Rachel.
5. As you can imagine, Jacob quickly sobered up and trembling with anger went and found his father-in-law and complained about this breach of contract.
6. Laban replied calmly that Jacob should have known that it was customary in their land for the older daughter to be married before the younger, but if Jacob would work for an additional seven years, he could also have Rachel as a wife.
7. Jacob had no choice but to go along with the new deal.
L. We may wonder how Jacob could have been so gullible, but Jacob’s behavior was like that of an addict.
1. There are many ways that romantic love can function as a kind of drug to help us escape the reality of our lives.
2. Our fears and inner barrenness make love a narcotic, a way to medicate ourselves, and addicts always make foolish and destructive choices.
3. This is what had happened to Jacob, Rachel was not just going to be his wife, she was to be his “savior.”
4. Later, Jacob’s idolatry of Rachel created decades of misery in his family, as he adored and favored Rachel and her sons over Leah and her sons.
M. And so, we can see how idolatry ravaged Jacob’s life, but perhaps the greatest casualty of all was Leah.
1. The narrator only gave us one detail about Leah and that was that “Leah’s eyes were weak.”
2. Some have assumed that this meant she had poor eyesight, if that had been the case, the passage might have said, “Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel could see very well.”
3. The weakness may have meant that she was cross-eyed or literally unsightly in some way.
4. But the point was clear: Leah was unattractive and Rachel was a beauty.
5. Consider how Leah felt growing up in the shadow of her sister, who was absolutely stunning.
6. Laban, her father, knew that no man was ever going to marry her, and so he figured out a way to capitalize on Jacob’s vulnerability – his love idolatry for Rachel made him an easy target.
7. So Leah went from being the daughter whom Laban couldn’t get rid of to being the wife of a husband who didn’t want her.
N. And so, Leah had a hollow in her heart every bit as big as the hollow in Jacob’s heart.
1. She then began to respond to it the same way Jacob had responded to his need – she set her heart’s hope on getting Jacob’s love, just as Jacob had set his heart on Rachel.
2. Here are some of the most heartbreaking verses in the Bible: …30 he (Jacob) loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. 31 When the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 And Leah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” And she called his name Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing. (Gen. 29:30-35)
3. What was Leah doing here? She was trying to find happiness and an identity through traditional family values.
4. Having sons, especially in those days, was the best way to do that, but it wasn’t working.
5. She thought if she kept having sons, her husband would love and appreciate her more.
6. But instead, every birth just pushed her further away from her goal.
7. Every day she was forced to see the man she most longed for more satisfied in the arms of her sister, in whose shadow she had lived her whole life.
O. At this point in the story, we might wonder: where are the spiritual heroes in this story? Whose example am I supposed to be following? What is the moral of this story?
1. The moral of this story and of many stories in the Bible is simply to reveal to us the mess that we humans have made of God’s plan, and that the only solution is what God will do and has done through Jesus – Jesus is the only one and the only way for things to be made right.
2. The Bible repeatedly shows us that sinful humanity doesn’t deserve God’s grace, often doesn’t seek it, and often doesn’t appreciate it even after it has been received.
P. The most important thing that all of us need to learn is that God is the only one who can truly complete us - we are made for Him.
1. When we look to someone other than God to complete us and to define our lives, then we have fallen into idolatry.
2. A relationship with a life partner is a wonderful and precious gift, but it was never meant to replace a relationship with God, the giver of all good gifts.
3. If and when we make a relationship with someone else our god, we will eventually be disappointed.
4. When and if we look to someone to be our god, they are going to let us down.
5. Like all idols, the god of romantic love promises big, but pays off in pain.
Q. Anything or anybody that we put our ultimate hope in other than God Himself, will lead to what some call cosmic disappointment.
1. Nobody has ever said it better than C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we have grasped at, in the first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job; but something has evaded us. (Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 10)
2. If any of us, like Jacob or Leah, get married and put the weight of all our deepest hopes and longings on the person we marry, we are going to crush them with our expectations.
3. No person, not even the best one, can give our soul all it needs.
4. C. S. Lewis suggested that we must reorient the entire focus of our lives toward God. He concludes: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world [something supernatural and eternal].
R. Leah is the one person in this sad story who makes some spiritual progress.
1. Notice the way she named her sons and the statements she made at their births.
2. She named her first son Reuben saying: “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” (Gen. 29:32)
3. She named her second son Simeon, saying: “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” (Gen. 29:33)
4. She named her third son Levi, saying: “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (Gen. 29:34)
5. Scholars notice that in all of Leah’s statements she was calling on the LORD, using the name YAHWEH – which is the name of God as revealed to Abraham.
a. The only way Leah could have known about YAHWEH was if Jacob had told her about the promise that YAHWEH had given to his grandfather.
b. So, even though Leah was struggling through those years she was reaching out to the one true God.
6. But then, after years of childbearing, and heartbreak, Leah had a breakthrough.
7. When she gave birth to her last son, she named him Judah, saying: “This time I will praise the Lord.” (Gen. 29:35)
a. There was a defiance in that claim – it was different from the other declarations.
b. In the last declaration there was no mention of husband or child.
c. It appears that she had taken her heart’s deepest hopes off her husband and her children, and had put them on the Lord.
d. In many respects, she had allowed Jacob and Laban to steal her life, but when she finally gave her heart to the Lord, she got her life back.
S. But let’s not just think about what God did in her, consider also what God did for her.
1. With God’s help, Leah realized that her last born had a special role to play.
2. Her last born son was Judah, the one through whom the Messiah would someday come.
3. This is so amazing…God had come to the girl nobody wanted, the unloved one, and made her the ancestral mother of Jesus.
4. Salvation came into the world, not through beautiful Rachel, but through Leah, the unwanted and unloved one with the weak eyes.
5. God loved Leah and wanted her to know that He is the real bridegroom – the husband to the husbandless and the father to the fatherless.
6. That doesn’t mean that it is wrong to marry, marriage it good, and God’s the One who created it; nor does it mean that we should try to love our spouse less, but that we should ultimately know and trust and love God more than any other.
7. When God is in His rightful place in our lives, then our earthly relationships are released from inappropriate and unnecessary expectations.
8. As fantastic as human love can be, it can never be a substitute for God’s love.
9. The void in the human heart is God-shaped, not mate-shaped.
T. Let’s end with Kyle Idleman’s devotional thought “Jesus My Identity.”
The god of romance came in and swept us off our feet. We fell head over heels for such a god. The music was playing. Our hearts were pounding. Our palms were sweating. Life was like a really corny, really wonderful movie that comes on TBS late at night.
We were in love with love, with the idea of a “soul mate,” someone custom-made for us. The two of us would create our own world and lock everyone else out. We would complete each other’s sentences, laugh at each other’s jokes, and stare into one another’s eyes.
But something went wrong. Once the giddiness wore off, we discovered that human beings are no more nor less than human beings. And ultimately human beings fall miserably short of being God.
No human being, we discovered, can meet all our needs. No human being deserves that much pressure. But Jesus can do it – Jesus our identity. It was wonderfully liberating to break free of the shackles of finding who we were in one person who could define for us what it meant to be alive. Jesus once said that no one has greater love than the one who will lay down his life for a friend. And then he proved it.
U. May all of us find the liberation that comes when we love God, first and foremost, with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and then love our neighbor (mate) as ourselves.
1. All relationships, including marriage, dating, family, and friendships, work best when we have God on the throne rather than any other person.
gods at war, Kyle Idleman, Zondervan, 2013
Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller, Dutton, 2009