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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.

4 Signs That God Isn’t Your First Love

I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but one truth I’ve learned is that life doesn’t get easier and I’m still self-centered and proud. At times, even more than I realize. Some days, this truth grips my heart with guilt and remorse. But most times, I simply pat myself on the back and reassure myself that “I’m not that bad”.

I hate to admit it, but I struggle daily to put God first in my life even after knowing how much He loves me (Romans 8:31-39), how faithful He is despite my sin (Hosea 2:14-15), and how He has made me His child (John 1:12-13).

Of course, there have been moments when I’ve tried to make my life “more about God and less about me” after being convicted by a Bible study or teaching. But those moments are usually fleeting; I settle back in the driving seat not long after and relegate the boot (yes, not even the backseat) to God.

So these four signs come from a place of “experience”—one that I’m not proud of. And I invite you to join me in critically evaluating whether you’ve knowingly (or unknowingly) done the same.

 

1. You care about following the Bible . . . but more about following societal norms

Every day, we’re faced with hundreds of decisions—from minor ones like what outfit to wear to work, to life-changing ones like who to tie the knot with. Though we know at the back of our minds that we ought to do all things for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), we allow our lives to be governed by the same considerations society has: Will this major land me a good job? Will marrying this person give me financial security? Will aligning myself with this person improve my job prospects? Because of the questions we ask, we gravitate towards the same self-actualizing decisions the rest of the world makes.

But if we truly understand the gospel, we see a completely different picture of what and whom God deems as important. The world glorifies the rich, the famous, the powerful, the proud, and those who come first. But God blesses the poor, includes the outcast, cares for the weak, exalts the humble, and recognizes those who are last. The gospel turns everything we know on its head.

If we truly believe in Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the way we live must necessarily be different from the rest of the world. Will we make decisions according to what God values? Will we give generously to the poor, reach out to the marginalized, help the needy and sick, shine the spotlight on the humble, and affirm the last—even if it sets us back financially, emotionally, and physically?

 

2. You care about what God thinks . . . but not as much as what others think

 The first few years into my job, I worked hard, and felt good whenever my work was recognized by my boss or colleagues. I didn’t mind the long hours, but got extremely affected if my work was not recognized or if my boss was unhappy with me. Frustration and self-doubt occupied my mind even after working hours and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

Though I knew in my mind that I should be working for the Lord (Colossians 3:22-25), my heart was far more concerned about gaining the approval of my earthly master. For some of us, it may not be our bosses we’re trying to please, but our partners, spouses, or even friends. Whoever our “earthly master” may be, let us remember that ultimately, it is God’s opinion—not theirs—that matters. After all, He is the one who owns every one of us: He made us, loved us, saved us, and finally, will judge us.

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Not Yet Married by writer and managing editor at DesiringGod.org, Marshall Segal, which has challenged me to reframe my perspective about work. In his suggested “Eight Aims for Every Job”, his very first point is that we should “aspire to make God look great”. Instead of seeking the affirmation and approval of our earthly masters, we should be more concerned about God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31, Matthew 5:16).

And that means rethinking what work (or life in general) is all about and what constitutes success. So what if we didn’t get the recognition or response we wanted from our hard labor? If we had the opportunity to lead another person to Christ in the course of our daily activity, we have achieved something of far greater value and eternal worth.

 

3. You care about others . . . but more about your personal time and space

After a long hard day at work, the tendency to be fiercely protective of our “me-time” is a real one. Because I’ve worked so hard today, I deserve to pamper myself. For some of us, this could be binge-watching the latest Netflix show, hitting the gym to keep our bodies trim and fit, or simply sitting on our couch scrolling through our social media feeds.

We know that reading the Bible is the key to helping us know God intimately and that we are called to serve the church and care for the needy (Matthew 25:31-40). But we tell ourselves that those things can come after we’ve tended to our own needs. Our hearts are grieved not because of the social injustice in the world, but because someone has infringed our personal space and inconvenienced us.

I have been guilty of pushing back or rescheduling appointments with friends who are going through difficult patches because I knew it would be time-consuming and emotionally-draining to meet them, and I just didn’t feel like going through it at that moment.

But Jesus clearly demonstrates through His action and words that this life we live is not about us. One of the key evidences of a follower of Christ is that he would be willing to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24-26). We are called to live sacrificially, valuing others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4). After all, God’s love for us empowers us to love others (1 John 4:7). And if we all lived by that truth, I daresay that we will never need to worry about our own needs.

 

4. You care about many sins . . . but not your own sin

Since the start of this year, my Bible study class has been studying the book of Hosea together and learning that our disobedience towards God is equivalent to adultery. But if we’re being honest, we usually don’t think of ourselves as that bad. I mean, how can covetousness be as bad as infidelity? What’s a white lie in comparison to sleeping with someone else’s spouse? One of the biggest dangers we as Christians face, is to think of ourselves as more righteous or more worthy of salvation than some of our non-Christian friends.

There have been countless times that I’ve frowned upon someone’s actions, or felt shock and anger about a crime I’ve read in the papers or even written off someone else as “hopeless”. In those moments, I had put myself on a pedestal and evaluated another person based on my own standards, forgetting that I’m equally sinful and equally in need of grace and mercy. I forget that God is the ultimate judge and every one of us is directly accountable to Him for our own lives—not the lives of others.

And because of that, I appreciate it when well-intentioned and close family and friends take time to point out the inconsistencies and sins in my life. Though painful, they remind me of how much I need a Savior, and how gracious and merciful God is to send His son for someone like me.

 

Penning the above points has helped me realize that the solution to my problem is not to try and get better by my own strength. If not for anything, I’m even more convicted now by the need to pray and ask God to help me grow in comprehending the full magnitude of His beauty, grace, and truth. It is God that gives me sight (John 6:65) and only when I see how glorious He is, that everything else around me will fade in comparison. I pray the same for you too.

Why Should I Still Believe in God?

Written By Priscilla G., Singapore

I don’t see, hear, or feel God anymore. Why love God then? Why go to church then? Why believe then?

Recently, a friend whom I had led to Christ seemed to have such thoughts. And they were the same thoughts that went through my mind about a decade ago.

Back then, it was very tempting to give it all up. Doing so would free up all my Sunday mornings and some weekday nights spent at cell group sessions or meeting mentors. I might lose some church friends, but I still had other friends, I thought to myself. The church friends might get disappointed, but I figured they’d get over it in a matter of time.

But I knew it was immature to give up on something just because I didn’t have “the feeling”. I knew that I should love God even when I didn’t feel like it. This not only applied to my relationship with God; it applied to other human relationships and work too. This world would be in a mess if people fulfilled their responsibilities only when they “felt like it”.

I also knew—even with my limited knowledge of the Bible back then—that “without faith, it is impossible to please God”.

And yet, my love for God and faith in Him got weaker as the drought of feelings dragged on. I wasn’t sure how to get out of this dry state even if I wanted to.

And I wanted to. I wanted to go back to better times in my relationship with God. God’s presence had been real to me before; I had felt touched by Him—both at altar calls and in my own bedroom. I had gone through times when I felt comforted and filled by the Holy Spirit, times when tears just flowed beyond my control, times which I knew were not the result of some contemporary music psyching me up but simply, the result of God’s supernatural work.

I remembered those times. I missed those times. And that’s when I realized: to give it all up and stop believing would be akin to saying that all those times with God were a lie.

So, back then, and for every similar “desert season” since, I ended up doing the following:

 

Remember what God did

Many times, we forget what God did for us. When the Israelites left Egypt, they complained about various inconveniences in the desert and said they would rather die in Egypt where they were slaves (Exo 16:2-3). They focused on the immediate problems and failed to remember the miracles that God had performed (Neh 9:17).

This is probably why Moses, in his first address to the Israelites before they entered the promised land, reviewed the entire history of how God had cared for them (Deut 1-4) and told them repeatedly to remember how God led them out of Egypt (Deut 5:15, 7:18, 8:2, 15:15, 24:18).

Remembering what God did helps us to not take Him for granted, and to remember truths which we may have lost sight of in the midst of busyness or trials.

Whenever I have a conflict with someone, I remember what we’ve been through as friends and I remember the good that he has done. This enables me to trust that his intentions are good even if I’m upset about something he did or said. Similarly, if I’m upset about not feeling God or not having prayers answered, I remember the good that He has done in my life and trust that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living (Psa 27:13).

Some ways to remember His goodness include writing about it in a journal or sharing a testimony with your friends. Count your blessings and name them one by one!

 

Seek God

Recalling God’s goodness in the past helped me to see the importance of my relationship with God and convinced me that this effort to seek God would be worth it.

If I believe a school lecture to be important but feel sleepy, I’ll try to get over this feeling. I’ll eat a sweet or drink coffee and fight to stay awake. Similarly, it helps to make the effort to overcome the emptiness you feel, and fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12).

To be sure, faith is a gift from God. But the Bible also says that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). Salvation is a gift of God, but we’re called to work out—not work for—that salvation.

This fight starts with admitting that we need help. Have you met people who needed help with directions but are reluctant to ask for help? Sometimes, when we are caught up with problems, we try to fix things ourselves instead of seeking help.

When I eventually came out of that desert season in my life, I felt convicted that I had not sought the Lord earlier. There was a lot of self-talk—“I’m not feeling God”, “I don’t feel like I’m receiving from the church service”, “This is not working out”—but not much of actually talking to God about how I felt.

Psalms has records of people lamenting that they felt distant from God. They were honest with God about how they felt (Psa 27:9, 88:14, 102:2), and I tried to do the same.

I sought the Lord as I continued going to church, hearing the preaching of God’s Word, and singing songs of praise with whatever little faith I had left. It was like visiting the doctor’s: I did not know what exactly was going wrong in my relationship with God or why things turned out this way, but I prayed to God; I was honest with Him (the doctor) about how I felt (my symptoms) and I was open to receiving help (medicine). And I gave God and myself time for the situation to improve (even medicine takes time for its effects to be seen).

Seek God and you will find Him (Matt 7:7). Call to Him and He will answer you (Jer 33:3). Finding Him or hearing His answers may not happen instantaneously, but it will happen, in God’s timing. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).

 

Trust God’s Promises and Persevere

I held on to the promise that God would never leave me or forsake me (Heb 13:5). I also held that promise up to God and asked: “You said you won’t leave me or forsake me, but somehow you don’t seem close. Why must you hide when I need you the most?”

Over time, I felt His assurance that He had never left me, and that this desert season was a time to refine my faith in Him, so that our relationship would not be based solely on feelings (important as they were).

I even composed a song (the tune sounds rather amateur to me now and it’s the only one I’ve ever composed to date) but it has served as a personal reminder that His love never fails even when I stray.

While waiting, it’s important that we do not close our hearts to God. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom 8:38-39), but sometimes we ourselves are not opening our hands (and hearts) to receive His gift.

God is a speaking God and still speaks today, but do we have the ears to hear His voice (Matt 11:15; Mark 4:9, 23)?

“So do not throw away your confidence; it holds a great reward. You need to persevere, so that after you have done God’s will, you will receive what He has promised.” (Heb 10:35-36)

Why Did We Break Up?

Written By M. Tiong, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

My boyfriend and I had marriage in mind when we first started dating. Hence, the possibility of us breaking up one day never crossed my mind. Sure, we had our usual tiffs every now and then, but we were always able to talk things out and resolve the problems together.

As part of our preparation for and anticipation of life together as a married couple, we would practise spiritual disciplines such as fellowship, prayer, and quiet time together. However, everything changed when I went abroad to study.

My boyfriend had expressed reservations about my decision, but I thought otherwise. After all, our relationship was stable and modern technology would make it easy for us to stay in touch in spite of us being in two different countries. And since it was just going to be for a year, I thought, everything would be fine.

Just shortly after I left the country, however, our relationship of more than two years started falling apart. The frequent calls and text messages turned into curt conversations and occasional text messages. I began to sense that my boyfriend was becoming weary of maintaining the long-distance relationship. My heart started to feel anxious, and I even began suspecting that he might have another love interest in church. Naturally, my suspicions only served to accelerate the demise of our relationship. Eventually, we decided to break up.

Being alone in a foreign land, I was hit hard by this unexpected blow. I recalled a phrase that he once said—“Love is a choice, not a feeling”—and this triggered many questions in my mind. “Haven’t we already made the choice to love each other? Don’t we just have to depend on God and all problems would be solved? Why do we have to break up?”

It was only after experiencing the pain of breaking up, that I realized that my admiration and love for my boyfriend had surpassed my desire and love for God. During our relationship, there had been times when we had engaged in unholy behavior or failed to fully obey God’s will, but we barely made any attempts to change or correct our behavior. Our fear of losing each other had blinded us to the fact that we had become overly dependent on each other and unwittingly made each other an idol.

I remember being struck by something I read in a book, Dear God, Where Is the Love You Promised Me?, by Pastor Zhu Hui Ci. She wrote, “God created marriage, but humans created dating.” While God clearly stipulates His will and design for marriage, He does not do the same for whom we ought to marry; He gives us the free will and ability to make choices. Dating provides the opportunity for us to learn to love each other and make it our goal to grow in Christ-likeness.

So if there are fundamental problems that cannot be resolved in the relationship, breaking up is an option. But this is not a call to choose this option flippantly. Here’s an example: If the person you are dating is a workaholic, and his extreme devotion to work often gets on your nerves, it would be silly to hope that he might change after getting married.

Though this does not necessarily mean that the person will stay the same for the rest of his life, simply hoping for him to change will not prevent this from becoming a possible problem in the future. You could seek counsel and try to work out the issues together. But if this too doesn’t solve the problem, and you feel that it will endanger your future relationship, then the most loving thing to do might be to break up before marriage, so that each person can focus on working through the problems in his or her life.

The world defines success as gaining something, and losing it as equivalent to failure. But from the Bible’s perspective, the benchmark for success is love. We fail only when we do not love. In her book, Pastor Zhu also wrote: “Whether you decide to stay together or to break up, the Christian basis should always be love.”

In my own relationship, I have experienced what it is like to love someone deeply, and I trust it is the same for him too. But it is precisely because of love that I decided to walk out of the relationship, and to accept that this outcome was the best for the both of us—even if it was not what I had intended.

I pray that God will help the both of us as we journey on our respective future paths, to submit to the Spirit’s leading and to walk in accordance to His will, always loving Him above all.