The Greatest Commandment and Marriage

Matthew 22:34-40, But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 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.” (ESV)

This week, in preparing for a wedding, I was reflecting on how these commands inform and challenge husbands and wives in marriage. The first command is an important reminder that while we must love our spouses, we must love them more than we love God. If our loves are not ‘properly ordered’ (CS Lewis), they cease to be truly loving. Only a when we love God first, do we love our spouses (or anyone) well. I remember reading a poem by John Piper, written for his son’s wedding I believe, in which he called upon the newlywed couple to “go and love each other more by loving each other less (than God)”.

Our spouses, or future spouses, are gifts from God. Genesis 2 describes the reasoning behind God giving this gift to mankind – it was not good for man to be alone. It is possible, and all to common, for people to love God’s gifts more than the giftgiver. It happens with spouses, kids, and sadly enough, houses and cars too.

The second command is also a challenge in marriage (and in every other facet of life). I’ve heard people twist this commandment and urge people to learn how to love themselves. That’s not the command – it’s the assumption behind the command. Jesus assumes, rightly (obviously), that we all love ourselves. The command is to love others in the same way we love ourselves. Paul draws upon this same thought in Ephesians 5:28, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (ESV).”

In the Ephesians passage there are two things interesting to note. First, Paul assumes the same thing Jesus does, we love ourselves. Note also, there isn’t a word of condemnation about that. Second, Paul uses this love as a motivation to love your spouse – if you love her you will be loving yourself also. It makes senses given the one flesh dynamic.

The problem in so many marriages isn’t that the husband or the wife are seeking their happiness. I think that’s a given. However, the path to that happiness is to be in seeking the happiness, joy, and well being of your neighbor/spouse. We are to seek our joy in their joy, our pleasure in theirs. In this, we follow Jesus’ example. He died for the church, that he might present them to himself as a spotless bride. How incredible is that. He died for the church. Selfless. But he did it to present to himself a spotless bride. Self love. Yet, he did it knowing that the churches greatest joy would be in being his bride. Doesn’t it make your head spin a little.

Thinking through our relationship with our spouses, we are to love them selflessly. But this love will certainly be personal gain as well – it is the same as loving our own bodies.

One more all important point: as we seek our joy in the joy of another, our spouse, we must bear in mind always that the only true source of joy is Christ our Great Treasure. We will, therefore, always be pointing our hsubands, wives, sons, daughters, neighbors to Christ. After all, as the Psalmist wrote,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25-26, ESV)