The Song of Songs: Friendship on FireSeptember 10, 2015
by Iain Duguid
In his book, Artist of Life, the master of martial arts Bruce Lee wrote, “Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.” I don’t know if Mr. Lee ever read the Bible, but his description is an apt summary of the relationship that we see depicted in the Song of Songs. At the climax of the Song, the woman also compares love to a flaming fire—not just any fire, but a blaze as intense as the flames of the Lord himself (Song 8:6). Throughout its verses, the Song of Songs describes the desire that men and women have to possess a unique and lastingly-committed soulmate who will not only be their friend but their lover, someone who is madly and passionately devoted to them alone in the whole wide world.
Married love, as God intended it, is more than just friendship.
More Than Just Friendship
This love is the essence of a good marriage. Married love, as God intended it, is more than just friendship. It is a mutual, exclusive, lifelong commitment, friendship on fire, and it is this aspect of fiery longing in marriage that the Song of Songs brings out so powerfully. This is, to say the least, a counter-cultural expectation. In our culture, we still desire burning passion but have largely disconnected marriage from that expectation. In our movies, television shows, and popular music, there is a great deal of burning passion, but that passion invariably involves partners who are not married to each other.
Our society’s expectation for marriage is largely built around the model of Tevye and Golde, from The Fiddler on the Roof. In that movie, reflecting on twenty-five years of marriage, Tevye asks his wife, Golde, if she loves him. In response, she reminds him that she has washed his clothes, cooked his meals, cleaned his house, shared his bed, given him children, and milked his cow. Why, after twenty-five years, should they talk about love now? But when he presses the point, “Do you love me?” she finally concedes, “I suppose I do.” This is most people’s image of married love: a good marriage is not so much a matter of shared passion, as of shared chores.
Nothing less than this kind of love will carry us through the challenges and trials of life.
Yet the Bible joins the two together and calls us to marriages that are friendships on fire. We were made for this kind of relationship: not just “I suppose I love you” but “I love you with a burning love that is as strong as death and as jealous as the grave.” Nothing less than this kind of love will carry us through the challenges and trials that face virtually every married couple—sickness, sin, pain, raising children or facing the inability to have children, aging, and ultimately death itself. To walk that pathway well requires more than a mere fondness for each other. It requires a burning commitment to one another—for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part.
Of course, those of us who are married repeatedly fall very far short of the high standard set by Scripture. It is hard work to love someone like that and so we settle into dull and humdrum relationships without the kind of passion that the Song describes. There are times in every marriage when the fire seems to have grown cold. We are all sinners who repeatedly wound one another, both with our carelessness and through deliberate acts. Yet in our relationship with Christ, we find a true and burning love that we can all experience, whether we are happily married, unhappily married, divorced, widowed, or single.
Jesus as the embodiment of God’s fiery love
It is in Jesus that we truly experience friendship on fire. For Jesus to win his spouse, it was not enough for him merely to come to earth to model what this kind of love looks like. In that case, his perfection in being patient, being kind, keeping no record of wrongs, and so on, would simply have highlighted all the more our sin and failure. Jesus didn’t just live the life of perfect love to give us an example to follow; he lived it for us, in our place. Then, in order to pay the penalty for our sins and restore our broken friendship with God, Jesus went to the cross to atone for all of our sins and failures, including our failure to love God and one another, whether within our marriages and families or more broadly. At the cross, love made the ultimate sacrifice and entered the power of death.
He is not just mildly fond of us; he loves us with an incredible, passionate love.
For three days after Christ entered the tomb, the heavens held their breath, and watched and waited. But then Christ, the very embodiment of God’s fiery love, emerged triumphantly from the grave, conquering death forever. He came up from the wilderness of the tomb, with his chosen bride, the church, leaning radiantly on his arm. This incredible, passionate love story is what every page of the Bible is about. God’s friendship on fire pursues us where we are, with all of our lostness, brokenness, and coldness, with all of our failures to love him and others, and all of our sins both outside and within marriage. The Lord does not merely tolerate our presence; he is not just mildly fond of us; he loves us with an incredible, passionate love. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has done everything necessary to win you as his bride and restore you to deep and lasting friendship with your Father God.
In God’s victory through Christ over sin and death and hell, we may find the faith to step out once again in trying to show friendship on fire to one another after we have failed many times, as well as faith in God’s unbreakable love for us. At the cross we may find hope: the hope of an eternal future together with Christ from which even death cannot separate us. And there at the cross we find something even greater than faith and hope. We find the greatest of these. We find love—God’s amazing, fiery love to us in the gospel.
See Dr. Duguid’s new commentary on Song of Songs in the Tyndale Commentary Series.
Introducing the New Westminster Faculty SiteSeptember 10, 2015
by Peter Lillback