In Matthew 22:35-40, Jesus identified the two great commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself – as the greatest commandments in the Old Testament. Did I just say Old Testament? I did, and I said it because Jesus said it. Jesus listed these as the greatest commandments in “the Law” (understood to be the Old Testament) saying that “the whole Law and the Prophets” (again, the Old Testament) depended on them.
In the New Testament, Jesus introduced a new love emphasis. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love on another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35). Three times in these two verses, Jesus repeats the new and radical command, “Love one another”. And Jesus elevated loving one another as the gold standard by comparing its priority to His love for us.
When we view love’s priorities as competing circles, love God first and love others second, we may defend our lack of loving others in a particular situation with the reasoning that in this case my actions demonstrate that I am loving God more. The message and model of the New Testament is that we are never to deny love to others on the basis of loving God first. Our loves are not competing loves, but complementing loves. Loving God is one big circle and loving our wives, loving our children, loving our fellow believers, and loving our neighbors are part and parcel of the big circle of loving God. The apostle John, for example, equates loving God and loving others at the highest level in his epistle. As to love’s priorities, John writes that we demonstrate our love for God who we cannot see by how we love our brothers and sisters who we can see.
Let me give you one example of how this works in practice. In Ephesians chapter 5, Paul encourages husbands to, “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for it” (Eph 5:25). When we add in, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13), we find that we are to love our wives with the greatest love possible. Our wives do not take second place to loving God.
The challenge, for ministers and laymen alike, is to not put our love of ministry – whatever God has given us to do to serve His body – above our love for our wives and I believe by extension our families as well by some expectation that leaving them behind is putting God first. Ministers gaining their congregation’s admiration while loosing their family’s is a well-worn tale. It shouldn’t be that way.
Before I set up shop to prepare a Sunday School lesson or write a blog post, I often ask Rhonda, “Will you be lonely if I go off and …?” It is my way of saying, “Do you need anything from me right now before I disappear into the study?” It is, in a small way, an expression of my love.
In I Peter chapter 3, the apostle starts the chapter off with an admonition to wives on how to treat their husbands with respect. Turning to the husbands in verse 7, Peter writes, “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (I Pet 3:7). Do you want to be a prayer warrior? You can pray in Jesus’ name, stare down the devil, exercise great faith, or whatever you want, but the effectiveness of your prayers may come down to the simple question, “Are you treating your wife in an understanding way?” Or put another way, “Are you loving your wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it?”
When you are doing your seminary homework and you hear the dishes rattling around in the kitchen, the most spiritual thing you could do at that moment might be to go downstairs and help your wife with the dishes. When you would like to start the day with focused prayer and see a lunch that still needs packed for your grade-schooler, the most spiritual exercise might be to pitch in and finish the job. In the final analysis, loving your wife does not compete with your spirituality, loving your wife completes your spirituality. Putting down your Bible and filling the dishwasher might be the clearest expression of your love for God today!