And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”(Matthew 22:37–40)
Jesus explains that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The three terms of “heart,” “soul,” and “mind” are very similar in meaning. They each refer to the command center of your life. Jesus uses the three terms together for emphasis. The Lord wants you to love him with everything you have. There can be no compartment of your life or area of your heart that is off-limits to him. One of the most important preparations for a Christ-centered marriage is to remember that your affections belong first to Christ. You must love him with all that you have and are.
The second commandment is similar: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is not a call to love yourself—the Bible assumes that you will do that just fine! The concern is whether you will transfer this same concern to others. You know firsthand how easy it is to love yourself and to develop friendships with people who like what you like. But it’s oh, so much harder to do so with people who are not like you. While you have likely concluded that you and your fiancé(e) have much in common, I can promise you that it is amazing how much you will learn about loving each other in the days ahead.
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel identifies our top priorities. In one sense, Jesus says that if you really understand these two commands, you understand the entire Old Testament! (That is one amazing version of CliffsNotes!) In two simple yet profound commands, Jesus explains his priority system. Take the next few moments and let that sink in, especially the first command. Your most important task in life is to love the Lord with everything you have.
Engaged couples are often quick to talk about their love for each other. You have enjoyed many wonderful times together and are eagerly looking to take your relationship to the next level. In fact, during this time of your life, you often find yourself thinking about your future spouse, what you will do on your honeymoon, what your life will be like, and similar thoughts. However, one mistake that engaged couples make is to think that their relationship is the most important one of all. When they believe their most important relationship is their own, they make decisions based on that priority. You might even be tempted to attend a small group, Sunday school class, or Bible study simply to arrange for some premarital counseling. This is a dangerous line of thinking. If you treat your church, your pastors, or your friends as if you are the center of the universe, this will feed your selfishness, a selfishness that will be unleashed on your spouse (and others) in the days and weeks to come.
Please notice that Jesus says in Matthew 22 that the order of the commands is really important. Each of you was designed by God to love him first. When you function according to your purpose, you function at maximum capacity. But when Jesus is not at the center, you become like a pair of pliers trying to embed a nail in a piece of wood. You might be successful with enough time and determination, but a hammer would have been so much better! But when you love the Lord first, you function as you are designed to, and the results are amazing. You will not only experience a joyous relationship with the God of heaven and earth, but you will also be in a perfect position to enjoy all that God has designed marriage to be.
Loving the Lord First Is Central to a Marriage That Accurately Represents Christ and the Church
Reason 1: Marital happiness or marital struggle often can be summarized in the word “worship.”
The counseling center at Faith Church in Lafayette, Indiana (where I serve as a pastor) has existed since 1978. In those years of counseling, there have been lots of marriage cases. All of those couples started out much like you and your fiancé(e). There were two people who believed they loved each other, enjoyed spending time together and fostered dreams together. But at some point, things changed for our counselees. They were no longer living in marital bliss. Instead, there was heartache, pain, and deep struggle. As we met with them, some would blame the state of their marriage on poor communication, some would talk about problem-solving challenges, others would talk about pornography, an emotional affair, a physical affair, or a challenge with a child. The couples were convinced that these issues were the real problem. If only they had a few tools or tips, things would be much better!
While our counselees were correct that there were problems with communication, pornography, or problem solving, there are also much deeper concerns. Jesus taught that what comes out in our words and actions is always based on what is already on the inside, in our hearts.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19)
Behind the struggles with poor communication, problem solving, or understanding the roles of husband and wife, there were struggles because of poor worship. Remember that we were designed to worship God and love him most. If he is not the focus of our worship, then something else will be. Idolatry did not work out so well for the nation of Israel and it will not work out well for us either. You will find that worship is the underlying heart issue, while poor communication, problem solving, porn, or children are natural by-products of a heart worshiping something other than the Lord Jesus.
You were designed to worship the Lord. When you, as a couple or as an individual, worship something other than the Lord, the field of discord is prepared. Jesus must be the center of your life and the center of your relationship.
Reason 2: When you love Jesus, you will be most prepared to love your spouse.
In John 15:11, Jesus reminds his disciples that his love for them would result in their joy being complete. In verse 18 he explains that his love will help the disciples love others even when they are hated. In John 15, Jesus has been explaining the importance of abiding or remaining in him. He was helping his disciples understand that, to carry out their purpose, they had to receive the nourishment found in the vine. When the Christian is nourished by the love of Christ, he or she is capable of loving others, even when the context is unpleasant.
Engaged couples do not tend to think this way. You, like many others, may have experienced a relatively problem-free engagement. The thought of looking at one another with disdain is foreign to you. However, if you are removed from the life-giving nourishment of Christ the Vine, it will not be long before criticism and conflict follow. Loving others, including your spouse, will be much easier when you love the Lord first.
Reason 3: To be a Christian spouse, you must first be a faithful Christian.
This sounds logical, but many miss the significance of this point. I sometimes hear men and women speak about their boyfriends or girlfriends as “he/she is Christian” as if there were no other questions to ask. But there is a big difference between a person who says he is a Christian and a person with a proven track record of putting Christ first in his life. There is an interesting progression in Ephesians 4–6. In chapter 4 there is an emphasis on each Christian growing as a faithful person. In chapter 5 there is an emphasis on learning to be a faithful partner, and at “the beginning of chapter 6 there is a focus on being a faithful parent. I believe that this progression is intentional. Some try to mix up the order and it simply does not work. One says he wants to be a faithful Christian husband, but he has not yet learned what it means to be a faithful Christian—to be committed to Christ and dependent on him for the strength to walk in his ways. As we will see in future chapters, husbands and wives have responsibilities to each other that they do not have to anyone else. Those responsibilities are much more intense and require much more sacrifice. It will be easy to offer excuses as to why you should not fulfill them. But when someone talks this way, he or she is expressing a fundamental problem with his or her heart. Before a person can be a faithful Christian partner, he or she must first be a faithful Christian individual. The Bible is clear: Love God first, then love your neighbor as yourself. Your closest neighbor is your spouse.
Putting Christ at the center of your life is not primarily a focus on your marriage. It is first a commitment to live as a biblical Christian.
Jesus must be the center of your life. You are called to love Jesus with all your heart, soul, and mind. He must have first place in your heart, even above your fiancé(e), if your marriage is to glorify God and exemplify Christ’s relationship with the church. As you prepare for a strong and lasting marriage, the first step is to ensure that your walk with Christ is strong enough to enjoy the blessings of covenant marriage and endure its challenges. Step one is about being a Christian. Only then can you be a Christian husband or Christian wife.
Excerpted from Tying the Knot: A Premarital Guide to a Strong & Lasting Marriage © 2016 by Rob Green. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
TYING THE KNOT: A PREMARITAL GUIDE TO A STRONG AND LASTING MARRIAGE
Tying the Knot by Rob Green offers soon-to-be-married couples a practical vision of Christ-centered marriage that is realistic, hopeful, and actionable. This eight-session study guides couples through issues such as conflict, expectations, communication, finances, and intimacy, showing how each can be successfully resolved with Christ at the center of the marriage.