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.