Can I Love God More Than My Spouse?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

When my wife and I were dating, I made her this promise: “You will never be first in my life. That position belongs to God. If I put you there, I am making you an idol. You can’t be first. But when we are married, you will never be third. Aside from God, you will be the most important person in this world to me. I will love you to the best of my ability with all that I have. And I will do that better because I love you second.”

My wife had never been exposed to that idea before, so it took her a little time to warm up to it. But over the years, she has come to appreciate and understand just how different my love for her is when it is fueled by the love of God.

 

What it means to love God more than

In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the greatest commandment in the law is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Love is not just a biblical principal. It’s the foundation of who God is, and the motivation for so much of what God does. As Christians, the challenge is how to apply love in our lives.

Is it possible to love God more than my spouse? Whether we are talking about a newly married couple in the dreamy season of young love, or a couple who has been together for decades and can’t imagine being closer to anyone than their lifelong companion—the heart of the question is this: Is it possible to love God more than the person I love most in this world?

The answer is not only, yes, it is possible. The answer is, we absolutely must. This is what it means to be a Christian. We love God first. We love God most. The Greatest Commandment in the law tells us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and as Luke adds, all our strength (Matthew 22:37). Being a Christian means that we love God with everything we have and everything we are. We cannot do that if we love something in this world more than we love Him.

 

Does God really ask me to hate my family?

As Jesus explains in Luke 14:25-27, we follow Him at the cost of our worldly selves: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’”

Hate your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters, your spouse, and even your own children? How can the same Jesus, who tells us the second greatest commandment in the law is to love our neighbors as ourselves, say something like this? That doesn’t sound like my Jesus. It doesn’t even make sense in light of the character of God. Aren’t we told in the Bible that God is love (1 John 4:16)?

How do these two statements co-exist? You see, the word “hate” in Luke 14 is translated from the Greek word miseo. While miseo can be used to describe hatred, according to Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, it can also carry a meaning of preference. In other words, it means to renounce one thing in favor of another. In this context, hate doesn’t mean loathe, despise, treat as an enemy or with hatred. Hate, as Jesus uses it here, literally means “to love less than.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to despise our families, our spouses, our children. He wants us to know that following Him means choosing Him over anything and everything else. What He is saying is simple: if you want to be a Christian, to be His disciple, you must love Him more than anyone else and everyone else in your life. In fact, you must love Him more than your own life. Jesus doesn’t play second fiddle.

The biblical expectation of a Christian is this: our love for God should be so great that by comparison, our greatest love in this world should seem like hate. It should not be hate. Again, it’s a measure of comparison. The distance between how you feel towards your greatest love and your greatest enemy should be the same distance that exists between your greatest love and God, with God on the better end. The word for this is devotion.

Our world seems to think that we can believe something while not acting on it. But Jesus doesn’t play that game. We are not Christians simply because that’s what we call ourselves. According to Jesus, we are Christians only if we love Him more than everything else in our lives. We can’t simply declare it. We demonstrate it with every choice we make.

 

Loving God enables us to love our spouse

For the hopeless romantics who find the idea of “hating” our spouses harsh, even by comparison, let me say this: the man who loves God first will love his wife better than the man who loves his wife but doesn’t prioritize God.

Because we aren’t talking about a competition. We are talking about priorities. The most important thing with priorities is to get them in the right order. Loving God first is better for your spouse than if you were to love them first.

The English language has done love a disservice. We have one word which we use to describe everything, from how we feel about chocolate to how we feel about the most important people in our lives. I love tacos. I love my wife. I do not love them the same way. The Greeks had a much better idea. They had several different words for love, which allowed them to distinguish between the love of family, the love of passion, and the love of friendship.

Here’s why I would argue that loving God first is not just possible, not just essential for the Christian, but actually better for your spouse. When you love God first, you belong to Him and are given His Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we have access to the agape love of God—His divine, supernatural, unconditional love.

When we love God first, His agape love empowers us to love our spouse. Without it, the best we can do is love our spouse when we feel like it, when they please us, or when it benefits us to do so. On our own, the best we can offer is a conditional love. It’s a love with limits. But with God, the love we show our spouse is fueled by God’s perfect love.

There have been times where I have let that focus slip. A subtle shift inevitably begins. I get annoyed more easily. Frustrated more quickly. Even a small rotation of priorities—where my focus moves closer to her and farther from God—ends up with me being less patient, less kind, and less understanding in our interactions. Whenever I hear her ask: “What is up with you?” I find the answer is the same. My primary focus was on her, not on God.

For example, my wife and I can both be very stubborn. Whenever we have a disagreement, neither of us want to be the first to admit fault and start resolving the issue. Conflict resolution can really be a challenge because of our pride and selfishness. However, when we stop, take a breath, and re-focus on God, we are much better at putting the other person first and overcoming our own selfishness.

Whenever I lose sight of my priorities in our marriage or focus on my wife more than on God, my love for my wife becomes cheap. It becomes more selfish. I love her because I get something out of it. Or I love her because of something she did. My love is not as full or rich. And my wife no longer feels the same love from me. That’s what happens when I give my wife love sustained by myself, not fueled by God.

But when we put God first, and love our spouse second, only then will we love them more. Only then will we love them better. Only then will we love them longer, because our love for them will not be built on their performance or our weaknesses, but on the depths of God’s unconditional love.

I’m 70 . . . And Still Learning What It Means to Serve

Written By Mart DeHaan

Mart DeHaan is the past president of Our Daily Bread Ministries and has served with the ministry for 45 years. He is heard regularly on the Discover the Word radio program, is an author of many booklets for the Discovery Series, and writes a monthly column on timely issues called “Been Thinking About.” He and his wife, Diane, have two children. Mart enjoys spending time outdoors, especially with a fishing pole in hand.

Dear friend,

I’m struggling to know how to begin. Maybe it’s because I still have so much to learn about what it means to tell others about anything, let alone something really important. Let me start with a story.

Of all the cartoons that have made me laugh, there’s one I remember most clearly. It pictures a man on a dinner date trying to make a good impression. As the meal comes to an end, he reaches for his credit card to pay. Feeling like it has been a wonderful evening, he takes a deep breath and says, “Hey, I’ve been talking a lot about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”

Why do I remember this punch line? Maybe it’s because I’ve passed that smile along to others from time to time. Maybe it’s also because I’m still trying to come to terms with my inclination to be overly concerned about my own interests—at the expense of others.

I’m not writing this as a young person. For more than 70 years, I’ve sat at many tables and looked into a lot of eyes. Late in the journey, I still find it so easy to forget what we’re here for and what makes the life we’ve been given worth living.

Because of this, I’m grateful for the cartoonists, authors, and community leaders who, along with family members, friends, and teachers, have helped me see that a life well-lived isn’t all about ourselves—but one in which we live for one another. I’ve had so many chances to see the wonder of a simple act of kindness, even when it is shown to a struggling plant, a frightened animal, or an unlikely person.

Most importantly, I’ve had access to the story of Jesus, who is remembered for being so patient with those of us who keep tripping over ourselves. In so many ways, He gave us reason to believe that when He asked people like us to follow Him, and even when He asked what they thought of Him—He wasn’t just thinking of Himself.

That’s why I hope you’ll never stop learning from Him and maybe just a little from the mistakes of old guys like me.

 

The Leader Who Serves Us

On the night of Jesus’ betrayal and suffering, His disciples sat around a table arguing among themselves (Luke 22:24). They thought their long-awaited Messiah was getting ready to rule the world and that some of them were more worthy than others to help Him kick Caesar to the curb and share the power.

They weren’t ready to hear Him say:

In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:25-27)

Imagine what it must have been like to have a seat at that table. Earlier that same evening, we would have seen Him get down on His knees, and like a house-servant wash our feet (John 13:1-17). We’d have heard Him say that, as His friends, one thing matters—to love one another as He had loved us (15:12-15).

While I don’t know for sure, I think I get a bit of why these followers and leaders-in-training were so confused. Their family and national history was full of strong leaders. Some were brutal. Some were benevolent. But all of them led from the front, from the top, and from places of enforced control and command. No wonder they were having a hard time with the upside-down-inside-out ways of Jesus.

 

The Leader Who Inspires and Empowers Us

Not only did Jesus make a name for Himself by putting our needs ahead of His own, He went one step further and asked His followers and leadership team to join Him in showing the way—to the God who is for us—in ways and to an extent they never could have imagined.

Only in looking back can we see that all that happened on that Passover, and in the miracles of Pentecost five weeks later, were meant to draw us into the action. By dying to show how much He loves us, He leads the way. By giving us the gift of his Spirit, He enables us to follow Him in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-25). This would be the kinder and gentler revolution Jesus envisioned in His manifesto of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:1-12).

Over the years, I’ve been inspired by the stories of those who have taken the risk to follow in Jesus’ footsteps in the way they lead—not by threat or coercion, but by caring for one another.

Maybe that’s why I recall with such warmth the teacher who simply took the time to ask me what life was like for me growing up; the pastor who listened so patiently during one of the darker moments of my life; and another older Christian leader who, over lunch, took risks to let me know that he, too, has trouble with interpretations of the Bible that don’t seem to reflect the heart of a loving Father.

These self-sacrificing acts of care have given me a taste of what it must have been like for people in Jesus’ day to see themselves in His eyes. And I’ve got a hunch that there are people in your world who will benefit from seeing you as a fellow-follower and servant-leader who has come under the influence of His patience and kindness.

 

Walking in Jesus’ Spirit

Yes, I’m convinced this is the smile you have to offer. But please don’t think I’m saying if you “get it”, just “do it.” I’ve learned the hard way that the personal resolve to set aside my own self-interest for the sake of others doesn’t go very far.

I’m still learning that the kind of servant-leadership Jesus talked about doesn’t begin with a decision to follow Him into courageous actions of self-sacrifice. It isn’t just a matter of learning to make the right choices. Learning to lead by following Him begins so much deeper. As Jesus believed He was loved and led by His Father, so we need to believe His assurance that we are loved, and that we too can be led by His Spirit to care for others.

Our natural default will always be self-interest. Our normal inclination will always be to think we can do whatever we put our mind to. But what Jesus taught His disciples and what He is teaching us, is that we can’t follow Him or become His kind of influence in the world until we realize what we cannot do or change by ourselves.

Maybe that’s why Jesus let Peter and the rest of the disciples abandon Him at His arrest. Maybe that’s why, after His resurrection, He asked those same leaders-in-training to wait for His Spirit before trying to lead others to Him (Acts 1:1-9).

I still find myself being amazed at what happens when I remember to take Jesus up on His assurance that His Father (and ours) will not withhold His Holy Spirit from those who ask. I’ve never gotten over the joy of seeing or sensing what He alone can do to get me over the next hurdle of realizing that this amazing life isn’t all about me.

We began with a cartoon that pokes fun at the kind of person none of us wants to be. Maybe we can end at the other end of the smile. What would it take for us to experience the joy of giving up our own “rights” to be the kind of follower, friend, and Jesus-like influence we long to be? Let’s take the next step of following and leading—together!

– Mart

How Can We Honor Jesus This Christmas?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

Have you noticed that sometimes, Christmas can get controversial?

I’ve seen people yelling in the faces of workers at Walmart or other retail stores, just for saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I appreciate our love for Jesus and our desire to make sure everyone else knows it, but maybe the reason they aren’t listening is because we are yelling it and not showing it.

Remember the pastor who got upset when Starbucks changed their Christmas cups from snowflakes to plain red? What do snowflakes and snowmen have to do with the birth of Jesus? Absolutely nothing. The pastor’s reaction wasn’t honoring Jesus; it was misguided frustration from a change he didn’t like.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas has always been controversial: A teenage mother having a baby out of wedlock, in a culture and time where that was not even remotely acceptable. Shepherds, who are lowly, dirty, and were not generally well thought of in Jewish culture. “Wise men” or magi, who were likely pagan magicians. If that’s not bad enough, Jesus was born surrounded by unclean animals.

No part of this story fits the nice, neat picture we portray. It was scandalous. It was shocking. It was offensive. It was also a declaration of the Gospel—that Jesus didn’t just come for a group of special, set apart people. He came for everyone. For sinners. For the unclean. Even for those who practiced forbidden arts. Yes, Jesus came for them too.

 

Who Is Christmas For?

I went to school with a guy who now pastors a mega-church. He told me about one year where Christmas fell on a Sunday. He and the elders decided that rather than having church, they wanted to encourage their people to be the church that week. To honor Jesus by following His example out in the community.

They offered some practical ideas: take gifts to a needy family, volunteer at a soup kitchen, reconcile with a family member you’d had a falling out with, bring Christmas to someone who’d be alone for the holidays. There are so many ways we can show the heart of Christmas to a world that has lost sight of it.

But some people didn’t like this idea. The pastor received dozens of death threats, from Christians who felt the idea of canceling church on “Jesus’s birthday” was an offense against God.

The church moved forward with the event despite the opposition. Maybe it was a revolutionary act for their church culture. Or maybe it was just an opportunity for them to check their hearts and remember what the heart of Christmas was all about.

At some point we all have to ask ourselves, is our passion for Jesus displaying itself in a way that honors Him? Do we value the traditions of Christmas more than we value the heart of Christmas?

When we boycott companies because they go against our traditions, are we showing the world the grace of God? Does our passion, our drive, our leaping before looking contradict the message of the Gospel we claim to believe?

Christmas isn’t about traditions. It’s not just about giving gifts, or snowflakes and trees. Christmas is about Jesus. If we don’t honor Jesus by showing and sharing His love with others because we are too focused on our traditions, we’ve missed the point.

Most of our traditional customs and practices at Christmas time have little or nothing to do with Jesus. They’re all good fun, but they’re not sacred. They are just cultural customs and practices we loosely connect to Him. When we lose sight of what really matters at Christmas, we fight over the wrong things.

So how can we honor Jesus and live out the heart of Christmas this year? I’d like to suggest that we do this by pursuing the mission of Jesus.

It could look like putting an end to conflict in our family, or spending time with lonely people in our community. We could also consider feeding the hungry or bringing our Christmas feasts to the poor and needy. Maybe we could also invite our friends to church with us, or better yet, invest in their lives and share the Gospel with them ourselves. What better way to honor the God who gave us life, than by offering that life to others?

Regardless of how we choose to live out the mission of Jesus this Christmas, the most important thing is this: We have to remember who we are doing it for.

 

Why I’m Hopeful This Christmas

While I have seen so many “Christians” behaving in ways that are antithetical to the Gospel, I find myself not enraged, but hopeful. I remember Peter, who was passionate, even zealous for Jesus. But in his zeal for Jesus, he missed the mark as often as he hit it. Remember in the garden on the night Jesus was arrested? Peter drew his sword and cut a guy’s ear off. It seemed like a bold and heroic gesture from Peter. But Jesus’s response shows us he missed the mark (Luke 22:50-51).

I am hopeful that, like Peter, we will grow. I am hopeful that, like Peter, our love for God will surpass our blind passion. I am hopeful that, like Peter, our joy and conviction in having encountered the resurrected Jesus will drive us to faithfully serve and follow Him. Hopeful that we will leave this world a little more like the Kingdom of God than when we found it.

So this Christmas, I’d like to challenge all of us to find one person who does not yet know Jesus. If we can reach one person during a time where people tend to be more receptive to the Gospel, if we can show one person who Jesus is during this season, then we can begin to see the real meaning of Christmas. The greatest gift that is given is not some expensive treasure in a kingdom of ash and dust; the greatest gift is bringing someone into the kingdom of God.

3 Ways To Respond to A World With Changing Values

Written By Julian Panga, India

Julian grew up in India and then lived in Australia for 12 years. While working in the banking and finance Industry in Melbourne, he also served as a church elder, missions trainer, and Bible teacher. In 2014, he returned to India in response to God’s calling and is currently involved in pastoral ministry and theological training. He is passionate about teaching and training as well as engaging the youth and those in the marketplace with the Gospel.

On 6 September 2018, India’s Supreme Court overturned a 157-year-old law which had previously criminalized consensual gay sex.

This may come as a surprise to many, since India has long been known for its family values and traditional views on marriage. But all over the world, same-sex relationships have become more and more accepted, so this move by India’s Supreme Court was inevitable.

The LGBT community in India—which used to be a hidden minority—are now coming out in the open and reveling in their victory. This landmark decision was a huge relief to the LGBT community, as well as activists and supporters who stood by them. Celebrities and politicians across the country have expressed support and congratulations over social media, reflecting the increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships.

This news has highlighted a growing trend towards changing values that are at odds with the Bible. Going forward, we will more and more frequently encounter people with ideas, mannerisms, and desires different from ours. How then should the Church respond?

Should we respond in protest and anger, or should we continue to spread the message of love, acceptance, and inclusion? Should we seek to hold on to our core beliefs revealed in the Bible, or compromise our message in favor of being progressive and accepting? What is clear is that we need to make these choices with sensitivity, wisdom, and with the help of God’s grace and love.

Here are three ways I believe we can respond to a world of changing values with love and gentleness:

 

1. See each person as made in the image of God

Regardless of what someone’s views on sexual relationships or any other divisive issue may be, it’s important that we remember that we are all broken, sinful, and in need of Christ. All of us need the good news of the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We all need to learn that our identity does not come from our sexual orientation, social status, or even personality—but in the privilege of being called Sons and Daughters of the Living God.

This begins with being committed to seeing each person we meet as made in the image of God and valued by Him. As long as we focus on showing people the love, grace, and mercy of God, the Holy Spirit will bring about transformation in our lives and the lives of those around us. Take time to build relationships and trust with genuine love.

 

2. Demonstrate the love of Christ through practical ways

As Christians, we are called to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40)—and our neighbor is anyone around us who is in need and hurting. This call remains the same regardless of the legal changes or societal views that prevail. There is no list of requirements our neighbors need to meet before we shower them with our love. No one is out of bounds.

Instead of retreating in fear or shame, or inciting anger or hate, we must seek to be the hands and feet of God in practical ways. As Christians, we recognize that only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can offer real hope to this lost, broken, and damaged world. And His love is demonstrated when we serve others in practical ways.

This could take the form of taking the time to listen to the stories of those who struggle with same-sex attraction with sensitivity or empathy, helping those who are hurting find counseling avenues, and keeping our hearts and doors open to anyone seeking refuge.

 

3. Get to know those who are different from you

Many churches have already begun doing this by breaking down age-old stereotypes, educating themselves, and reaching out to those unlike them. This often comes about through church services that are welcoming, intentional acts of compassion and mercy, friendship evangelism, and providing counseling and pastoral care.

There are also focused ministries that are committed to reaching out sensitively to LGBT communities as well as many others, presenting the message of the Gospel. Much fruit can already be seen as a result of the persistent efforts of these ministries.

My church, for example, has organized a seminar for youth and young adults to hear from experts and ask questions relating to our sexuality. These young people are also encouraged to invite friends who are either curious or troubled about these changes and are seeking frank answers to difficult questions.

As a church, we have also taken steps to proactively approach the transgender community in parts of our city, and invited them to a special service at our church. Many attended, and were received with warmth and genuine love. We desire to continue building relationships with the leaders of this community, so that we may have more opportunities to engage with them and share the transforming love of Christ.

 

In a world where ethical and moral values are shifting endlessly, it’s even more pivotal that we understand our role as Christians—to be the salt and light that will draw others to the Light of Christ and His offer of eternal life. Let’s hasten to do this and ask God to lead us in our interactions with the world around us.