How Can I Love God More Than My Boyfriend?
Interview with John Piper, Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org
Today’s question is from a listener named Emma, who is in love. “Hello, Tony and Pastor John! I am currently in a serious relationship with a man who loves Christ and encourages me as I follow Christ. But as our affection for one another continues to grow, how can I make sure that I am loving God more than I love him? What exactly would it look like to be putting my boyfriend above God? And is there something like this I can expect to face in marriage too?”
What I really want to do is read to Emma a poem that I wrote for one of my sons when he was getting married — a poem about this very question, called “Love Her More and Love Her Less.” Let me give a brief answer, and then I am going to close with just a part of that poem, because sometimes I think poetry can unfold a mystery of emotion that a straightforward APJ answer might not.
Burning Out the Dross
With regard to that last question — Is there something like this in marriage too? — the answer is yes, and not only in marriage, but it’s possible to love children more than God, health more than God, reputation more than God, friendship more than God, comfort more than God, security more than God. In other words, the question you are asking about your boyfriend is a question all of us must pose about everything. That’s why the tenth commandment is there, right? “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). Covetousness means simply loving something too much, loving it the way you shouldn’t love it — like loving a boyfriend, or your husband, or your health, or your life, in such a way that it starts to undermine your love for God.
How can you make sure you love God more than your most cherished earthly love? One answer to that question is surprising — maybe the most important answer of all: God himself will use whatever means he must to keep that from happening, to keep us from loving him less than something else. First Peter 1:6–7 shows that God regards faith in his children as so precious that he will use fire to refine it, so that dross is burned out of it, and it comes through like refined gold to the praise of glory at the end of our lives.
The same principle applies to love. The issue does not lie finally in our own hands. God will keep his children absolutely secure. He will use whatever means he must to prevent us from idolatry: from loving anything more than we love him — and thus making shipwreck of our faith — if we are indeed his children.
What You Love Most
The next thing to say is Hebrews 4:12. “How can I be sure?” “What means might I use to keep myself from loving my boyfriend more?” Or at least, “How can I find out if I do love him more?” The answer is this:
The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
In other words, stay close in the word of God, saturate your mind and heart with the word of God, and he will cause you, by the word, to know your own heart and what you love most. That’s what the word of God reveals. When you read the word, it gives you some specific criteria to test your heart. For example:
Does your allegiance to your boyfriend or your husband lead you into sin?
Does the pleasure that you have in being with your boyfriend diminish or does it increase the pleasure that you have in being with Jesus?
Does the enjoyment of being with your boyfriend increase or diminish the enjoyment you have in being with Bible-saturated, godly people?
Does getting to know your boyfriend lead you to know Christ better?
Does the thought of losing your boyfriend cause you to think of getting angry with God, or throwing yourself more fully on God’s mercy?
Less Is More
Sometimes a poem can capture a mystery and stir us up to love God even better than a theological argument or an APJ answer. Let me venture on that possibility for the rest of this APJ. Emma will need to make an adjustment, since I wrote this for my son; she’s a woman, not a son. I didn’t write it for my daughter, though I could have. All Emma needs to do is just do a little switch, and think of me speaking to my daughter toward the one she’s about to marry rather than my son toward the one he’s about to marry.
The poem is called “Love Her More and Love Her Less.” Or Emma would need to say, “Love Him More and Love Him Less.” Here’s the excerpt from the poem:
If you now aim your wife to bless,
Then love her more and love her less.
If in the coming years, by some
Strange providence of God, you come
To have the riches of this age,
And, painless, stride across the stage
Beside your wife, be sure in health
To love her, love her more than wealth.
And if your life is woven in
A hundred friendships, and you spin
A festal fabric out of all
Your sweet affections, great and small,
Be sure, no matter how it rends,
To love her, love her more than friends.
And if there comes a point when you
Are tired, and pity whispers, “Do
Yourself a favor. Come, be free;
Embrace the comforts here with me.”
Know this! Your wife surpasses these:
So love her, love her more than ease.
And when your marriage bed is pure,
And there is not the slightest lure
Of lust for any but your wife,
And all is ecstasy in life,
A secret all of this protects:
Go love her, love her more than sex.
And if, to your surprise, not mine,
God calls you by some strange design
To risk your life for some great cause,
Let neither fear nor love give pause,
And when you face the gate of death,
Then love her, love her more than breath.
Yes, love her, love her more than life;
Oh, love the woman called your wife.
Go love her as your earthly best.
Beyond this venture not. But, lest
Your love become a fool’s facade,
Be sure to love her less than God.
It is not wise or kind to call
An idol by sweet names, and fall,
As in humility, before
A likeness of your God. Adore
Above your best beloved on earth
The God alone who gives her worth.
And she will know in second place
That your great love is also grace,
And that your high affections now
Are flowing freely from a vow
Beneath these promises, first made
To you by God. Nor will they fade,
For being rooted by the stream
Of Heaven’s Joy, which you esteem
And cherish more than breath and life,
That you may give it to your wife.
The greatest gift you give your wife
Is loving God above her life.
And thus I bid you now to bless:
Go love her more by loving less.
For Emma, the poem would have to close,
And thus I bid you, Emma, bless:
Go love him more by loving less.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Coronavirus and Christ.