The Song of Solomon is a breathtakingly beautiful and passionate poem that celebrates the love between a new bride and her husband—the poem is all about romantic love, about falling in love, about being in love. It captures those feelings so perfectly.
On the surface, that’s what the poem is about. But the Church has traditionally understood that it has a deeper meaning: It’s a book that celebrates the love between Christ and his church.
Because the Bible itself, in many places, compares the love between God and his people to the love between a man and woman—the prophets of the Old Testament do it, most prominently in the Book of Hosea. John the Baptist does it when he talks about Christ being the bridegroom and his people being the bride. 1 Jesus does it, when he tells parables about wedding banquets. The apostle John does it in the Book of Revelation when he talks about a future marriage supper between Christ the Lamb and his church. And Paul does it, most astonishingly, in Ephesians 5: from the beginning of time, Paul says, God intended for the institution of marriage itself to bear witness to Christ’s love for his church. 2
Since that’s the case, then reading the Song of Solomon as a picture of Christ’s love for us makes perfect sense. It’s like reading the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and saying, “That father’s love for his sons looks a lot like our heavenly Father’s love for us!” God is like a human father, we say, except, even more so! Because unlike with us human fathers, our Father loves with perfect love.
In the same way, in the Song of Solomon, Christ is like a husband, except even more so. Because unlike any human husband, he loves his bride with perfect love…
But if that’s the case, then guess what? The Song of Solomon isn’t only about Christ’s love for us who are part of his “Bride” the church: it’s also about the love that we Christians have for Christ—or at least it’s supposed to be!
Listen to some of the woman’s words in Song of Solomon about her husband:
On my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not.
I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.
A few verses later, after she finds him again, she says, “I held him and would not let him go.” 3 Still later she describes how absolutely perfect he is, and she praises him because he’s so beautiful and perfect, and she says, “[Promise me 4], O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love.” 5
Can you imagine being “sick with love” for Christ? Lovesick for Christ? If so, then you will want to be with him.
Recall the scene in which Ellie pins the badge onto Carl and invites him to join her secret club. From that point on, Carl and Ellie will become inseparable. Carl will want to be with Ellie all the time.
Similarly, when Jesus calls us to be his disciples, the same is true for us: In fact, in Mark chapter 3, when Jesus calls his twelve disciples, Mark includes a “job description” of sorts. Verse 14 and 15: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.” In other words, the disciple’s job is to let other people know the Good News about Jesus and to heal them. I think we can all agree that this is a fair enough representation of our church’s mission, the Great Commission.
But there’s one more thing: What’s the first responsibility of the disciple? Look at verse 14 again: “And he appointed twelve… so that they might be with him and he might send them out…”
“Being with Jesus,” please notice, precedes the “sending out” by Jesus.
“Being with Jesus” precedes the “sending out” by Jesus.
Do you think when Carl fell in love with Ellie, anyone needed to convince him that he needed to “be with” her? Of course not, he wanted that more than anything else! Why? Because he was in love with her! Because he treasured her!
What about us? Is our life’s top priority—is the thing we want more than anything else—to be withJesus?
Have you heard the shocking news about the divorce rate in our country?
The shocking news is that the divorce rate isn’t nearly as bad as you think—if, like most of people, you think that about 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. According to a Harvard-trained researcher who recently published a book on the subject, it turns out this 50 percent figure was based on a projection made in the 1970s of what researchers thought the divorce rate would be by the ’80s and ’90s. But these projections never came close to being realized. The true divorce rate among couples who are getting married for the first time is more like 20 to 25 percent. Still too high, of course, but significantly better than we thought. Among couples who are actively involved in church, however, the divorce rate is even lower—in the single digits or teens.
Most marriages make it. And not only that: research shows that most married people, over 60 percent, report being “very happy” with their marriages. It also shows that married people who are currently unhappy in their marriage will become happyifonlythey can hang in there for five more years. 6
Of course, if you know the pain and heartbreak of divorce, these words may be of little comfort, and I don’t mean to pour salt in the wound or make you feel guilty—not at all… I’m just trying to encourage those of us who are married or thinking about getting married that things aren’t nearly as bad as our culture makes them seem.
In general, married people are happier, they live longer, they’re healthier, and they’re wealthier than not only single people—but also people who are living together without tying the knot. As one writer says, marriage is a great “‘shock absorber’ that helps you navigate disappointments, illnesses, and other difficulties. You recover your equilibrium faster.” 7
And we see this shock-absorber quality in the marriage of Ellie and Carl Fredricksen. We see them bounce back from the heartache of being unable to have children. We see them bounce back from disappointment when life keeps interrupting their plans to take that dream vacation to Paradise Falls. Of course, by the time they can finally afford to go, and Carl even buys the tickets, Ellie’s health prevents them.
But they’re there for one another to the very end.
This is exactly what God intends for marriage. In Ephesians chapter 5, after arguing that husbands and wives should love one another with self-sacrificial, Christ-like love, the apostle Paul quotes Genesis chapter 2, saying, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” 8 The love that married couples have for one another, in other words, ought to look like the love that Christ has for us, his Church. In fact, that’s what God intended for marriage from the beginning… He intended it to communicate the gospel.
That’s why we Christian couples are supposed to stick together for better or for worse: because that’s what Jesus does for us. Do you think you have to put up with a lot in order to live with your spouse? Well just think of what Jesus has to “put up with” in order to live with you! In fact, he went to Calvary and suffered death and hell so that he could live with you. And he was glad to do it—out of love.
See, Paul says that the gospel itself is a love story: just as a man “leaves father and mother and holds fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,” so our Lord Jesus Christ left his Father in heaven and took on our flesh in order to hold fast to us, his bride, and become one with us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a love story about how much God loves us!
Well… after Ellie dies, Carl sort of gives up on life. He gets stuck. He becomes a grumpy, bitter old man, filled with regret. If, like me, you loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show, you’ll appreciate that the voice of Carl is played by the late actor Ed Asner. Imagine Lou Grant becoming a grumpy old man! It’s easy to do! Anyway, Carl wants to be left alone… but there’s this very persistent kid named Russell, who just won’t give Carl what he wants.
From that point on, no matter how hard he tries, Carl is unable to get rid of this boy, Russell. And that’s a good thing because Russell will eventually give Carl a new lease on life!
In Luke chapter 11, believe it or not, after Jesus gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer as a model prayer to follow, he tells a parable about our need to be persistent in prayer—in fact, he urges us to be a lot like this persistent, slightly annoying, and impolite kid Russell! Keep knocking, keep bothering… when the door slams, put your foot in it. Don’t give up!
Listen to this short parable, from Luke 11:5-8, which I’m reading from the New Living Translation:
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence. 9
The grumpy neighbor in the parable is not supposed to be like our heavenly Father! Jesus’ point is, if even this grumpy neighbor gives in and gives his friend what he’s asking for, how much more will our heavenly Father!
So… when it comes to asking your Father for what you need, be bold… be like Russell! That’s what God wants you to do! [Pause]
Carl’s biggest regret in life is that he was never able to take his wife on that trip to Paradise Falls in South America, which had been a childhood dream for both of them. So he resolves to do the next best thing. If you haven’t seen the movie, this may be hard to understand… But Carl was a man who made his living selling helium balloons. So, to get to Paradise Falls, he attaches thousands of balloons to his house until it literally floats up in the air. The movie is a fantasy, remember. It isn’t intended to be strictly realistic.He flies his house all the way to South America, to Paradise Falls—and of course, his faithful companion Russell tags along.
Because Russell refuses to give up!
When they arrive in South America, Russell befriends a tall, colorful exotic bird whom he names “Kevin,” not realizing that the bird is female. This species of bird, which doesn’t fly, is unknown to the outside world. And before long, Russell and Carl find themselves working to save Kevin the Bird from a mad scientist and explorer named Charles Muntz, who wants to capture Kevin and bring him back to the U.S.
Muntz won’t let anyone—including Carl and Russell—stand in his way. And Muntz has bred an army of super-intelligent dogs to assist him in the task. And these dogs even have electronic mouthpieces that enable them to talk… again the movie is a fantasy!
In this next clip, Carl and Russell think they’ve successfully eluded the villain Muntz, but then this happens.
When faced with a choice, Carl chooses saving his house, over saving Kevin the bird.
As we saw in the scripture that we read earlier, a rich young man comes to Jesus, asking him what “good deed” he must do in order to have eternal life. And Jesus reminds him of the Ten Commandments. “Do these things, and you’ll have eternal life.” And the man said, “Well, I’ve kept all these laws. What am I missing?” And Jesus says, “To be perfect, go and sell all of your possession and give the proceeds to the poor. You’ll have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.” And the man walks away deeply sorry because he was very wealthy, and Jesus was asking for him to make too big of a sacrifice. 10
Jesus is always, always, always calling us to put our love for him and our love for others ahead of our love for ourselves—ahead of our own needs and interests—even if that means giving everything we have away!
In this clip, it was as if God were calling Carl to put love first—to stop thinking about himself for a moment—what he wants and thinks he needs—and to start thinking about Russell.To attach a greater value to people than possessions—including even his house, and with it, all the many mementos and reminders of his beloved wife.
Like the rich young man, when Carl’s loyalties were put to the test, he failed. “I didn’t ask for any of this,” Carl said. And that’s true, he didn’t.
None of us asks for the painful, fearful, difficult stuff that often comes our way in life. None of us asks to sacrifice everything for the sake of love!
We don’t ask for it, but Christ asks it of us!
By the end of that clip, Carl got what he thought he wanted. But it was clear that he wasn’t happy. What a shock! The secret to happiness does not consist of getting what we want. Have we figured that out yet? The secret to happiness is gratefully receiving what God gives us us.
Carl will eventually learn this lesson… starting with this next clip!
There’s a great John Lennon song that he wrote for his son Sean, when Sean was a baby. It’s called “Beautiful Boy,” which is on the last album Lennon recorded before he was killed. It includes this profoundly good lyric: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
Life certainly happened to Carl and Ellie while they were busy making other plans—plans, for instance, to have a baby; plans to go on that great adventure to Paradise Falls. The truth is, just by living his life with her, Carl had given Ellie the best adventure she could have hoped for.
It wasn’t what they wanted or hoped for when they started out. But it was better than what they wanted or hoped for.
Don’t place your faith in whatever your version of Paradise Falls happens to be; place your faith in God: he’s always got something better in store. “We know that all things,” the apostle Paul says—all things—“work together for good for those who love God.” We can trust God to redeem all of our hurts, all of our failures, all of our disappointments, all of our mistakes, indeed, all of our sins—and transform them into something good.
Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. That’s true. But if you’re a Christian, then you understand that God is shaping your life according to his plan for you. God is busy making your life a part of his plan.
What Jeremiah said of God’s plans for his people Israel is at least as true for those of us who are God’s children through faith in his Son Jesus: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.
Will we trust that God’s plan for us really is best?
By the end of that clip, Carl is ready to begin his new adventure—did you see him cross his heart, as if to say, “Ellie, I’m really going to do it. I promise.” And in this final clip we see Carl act heroically to save Russell and Kevin—even if it means losing everything else—including his beloved house, including even his own life.
The most pivotal moment in the movie involves the choice that Carl faces at the beginning of this clip: Will he continue to treasure his house, and his possessions, and even the beloved dreams of his past… more than he treasures the flesh-and-blood people whom God has placed in his life right now. Or, to look at it from a theological perspective: God has given Carl a new mission, a new calling, a new reason for living… and answering God’s call, obeying God, will cost him nearly everything from his past.
But that’s what God calls him to do!
So… Is it worth it? Is obedience to God worth it? Is loving God worth it? Is God himself worth it? Is the treasure that Carl finds in God greater than the treasure that he has in mere worldly things and people?
What do we think we need to be truly happy? Money, possessions, people, romantic relationships, prestige, popularity…
Or is God enough for us?
Remember Paul in prison, having lost everything except his life: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
“I count everything as loss… I count them as rubbish…” “Loss” in this context is an accounting term that means “worthless”—that’s how the NLT translates it.
Paul’s point is not that these gifts that God gave him, which he has now lost, were ever bad. No, they were perfectly good gifts for as long as he enjoyed them! But in comparison to Jesus…?
Worthless… rubbish… So when the Lord causes us to lose our worldly treasure, orcalls us to get rid of it—which he will, by the way, when we die, if not before—we can say, of each thing that we lose, of each thing that is taken away from us, “Worthless… Rubbish”
Picture Carl tossing out each piece of worldly treasure that he owned: “Worthless… Rubbish!” Or even when he watches his beloved house descend into the clouds: “Worthless… Rubbish!” There’s something out there for Carl that’s better than all those worldly treasures. Indeed, if he were real, and I were able, I would tell him, “There’s Someone out there better for you, Carl. In comparison to him—to Jesus—all this worldly treasure you think is so important is worthless and rubbish.”
The late pastor Tim Keller—a hero of mine in the faith—died a couple of months ago, after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. His son Michael said that three or four days before he died, his father said this:
“There is no downside for me leaving, not in the slightest.”
Perhaps my most important task as a pastor is to convince you that that’s really true… There is no downside for us leaving this world.
If you treasure Christ above all, you have incredibly good news even in the face of the “worst thing” that our world says can happen to you: If you treasure Christ above all when you die, good news: You’re going to receive the fullest measure of that thing, that treasure, that Person—you treasure most. If you treasure Christ above all, your deepest and truest dreams will come true.
So of this life, by comparison, you can say, with the apostle, “Worthless… Rubbish!”
As Jesus said, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” John 12:25.
- See John 3:29-30.
- See Ephesians 5:25-32
- Song of Solomon 3:1-2, 8 ESV
- “I adjure you”—no one will know what that means!
- Song of Solomon 5:8 NLT
- This information comes from Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011), 23-26.
- Ibid., 24
- Ephesians 5:31-32 ESV
- Luke 11:5-8 NLT
- See Mark 10:17-22