I’ve often heard it said that the Bible is a 66-book-long love letter from God. People use this analogy to point out that if you received a letter from your significant other, you would read every word carefully and treasure them. The point is you wouldn’t skip the first 2/3 and only read the final portion (like we too often do with our Bibles).
Well, as i’ve mentioned before, i have a significant other (she’s probably sick of reading about herself, but since she’s in my life story, it is what it is). We message back and forth a lot. As such, i receive probably over a hundred miniature “love letters” every day from her. I treasure every message, even if it is merely a question from her to better know me.
But i have a plethora of unfortunate relationship history that clouds my interpretations of these messages sometimes. (When a former girlfriend never planned outings for you guys and then does—exciting you substantially—but proceeds to dump you during that date, it is no real surprise if you develop some trust issues.)
So sometimes i freak out at messages she sends me. The example of this most recently was when she needed to stop messaging to take care of something. The phrase “I have to go now” is really just a nice way of saying, “Don’t stress out if you don’t hear from me for a while.” But in my needy, trust-issue brain, i read into the message and decided that she no longer wanted to talk to me.
This was foolishness on my part. It had nothing to do with her point. I’ve talked to her so much in the past almost four months that i should have known that she didn’t really want to stop messaging me.
But i read into her text a meaning that wasn’t there. I know the author pretty well (i would argue), so i should have known what she meant.
How often do we do this with the Bible?
Do we read passages and assume their meaning without further thinking? Do we accept common interpretations that cause us undue stress because we are too busy to study and think about how that could possibly be the case? Do we think that idolatry is merely thinking about your significant other as soon as you wake up?
And it is the topic of idolatry that i want to discuss today.
Little children, guard yourselves from idols.1 John 5:21 (HCSB)
Interpretations and applications abound. And an area in which this is more apparent than any other is that of romantic relationships. For example, in a book i began reading the other day, the authors write:
Jesus wants our love for God to be so rich and vibrant that all our earthly loves look like hate in comparison. Simply put, Christian couples must be obsessed with Jesus above anyone else. A believer’s greatest joy is delighting in the Creator, not worshiping the Creator’s creation.Sean Perron, “Do We Have a Bad Relationship?” in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Company, 2017), 77.
Statements like this have caused me, throughout my life, to worry that i would idolize the girl Jesus puts in my life. I’ve often feared this subtle idolatry, and i’ve often feared that as a result i would be forced to break up with her because i’m called to love Jesus more than i love anything or anyone else.
However, there is nothing wrong with the above quote. It’s the tendency in my heart to overthink things. And, i think this tendency might be present in other single believers as well. I can’t possibly be alone in this. So, in this post, i want to investigate how we should biblically think about relationships in light of our worship of Christ.
It’s interesting that the context of 1 John includes extensive talk about the nature of true love and Christian relationships. Also interesting is the fact that Song of Songs is bound within the same cover as 1 John 5:21 under the title: Holy Bible. (And while Song of Songs certainly points to the greater reality of Christ’s eternal love for His bride, the original intent of the book—and how we must primarily understand it—describes the joys of love between a man and a woman.)
In fact, Jesus Himself said the following in Matthew 22:37-40,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.(Emphasis added)
This means that equal to loving God with our whole being is loving people. Genesis 3 records breaking the first greatest commandment; Genesis 4 records breaking the second. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus says that the loving things we do for others we do for Him–if we fail to love others, we fail to love Him–thus equating both commandments. Therefore, if we love our significant others in the way the Bible describes, rather than idolizing them, we will be fulfilling both of the greatest commandments: Loving God by loving another.
Christian rapper, Flame, stated the following in his most recent album:
Everything was about an idolFlame, “Used to Think,” EXTRA NOS
We made an idol out of not making idols
I’ve often thought in line with Jesus’ conversation with the rich, young ruler from Matthew 19:16-26, “What if i’m asked to break up with my girlfriend to prove that i love God? I don’t think i can. Does that mean i have an idol?”
There’s a big difference between the rich, young ruler’s money and my girlfriend. Jesus told him to give his money and possessions away to help the poor, showing love to the poor. He wanted to be selfish with his money and thus turned away sad. I’m called to love my girlfriend. If i’m genuinely loving her, then she can’t possibly be an idol, and i don’t need to even contemplate breaking up (casting aside an idol).
The first idol i need to cast aside is my idol of not creating idols.
Now, what do i mean by truly loving my girlfriend?
True love involves looking out for her best interests in every situation. It means setting physical boundaries and being having the integrity to stick to them. It means seeking Jesus together in our relationship and not only focusing on each other.
If you question whether your relationship is idolatrous, i have a simple question for you: Have you crossed the line into inappropriate intimacy in your relationship? Inappropriate is defined by the Bible. The lovers in Song of Songs don’t praise each other’s naked forms until after the blessing of marriage is proclaimed in 5:1 (cf. 4:12-15; 7:1-10).
True love for another (as explained in the second great commandment) obeys God’s Word when it comes to sexual intimacy. If you insist on messing around before marriage, it is a sign that you neither love God with all of yourself nor love your neighbor as yourself. True love says that until you know your significant other belongs to you because there are wedding bands on your fingers, God could potentially remove him/her from your life and give him/her to another person. For this reason (we are allowed to pray against it becoming a reality), we must treat our significant other as if they might be someone else’s spouse someday. When we live like this, not only are we loving God with all of ourselves by loving our significant other selflessly, but we are also loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, who might end up marrying our significant other someday.
I know it’s cliche, but true love waits. True love for God. True love for your neighbor.
In conclusion, when i wake up in the morning, and the first thoughts that come to my mind are how much i love my girlfriend, how much i hope i can see her that day, and how much i hope we can be married someday, i must love her enough to turn my thoughts to God:
“Lord, thank You for [her]. Thank You for blessing me with her. Thank You for entrusting me with her. Help me to honor her today. Kill the selfishness and impatience in me that would result in something less than true love for her.
“Help me to wake up right now and get moving with my day. To love [her] rightly, i need to grow in my love for You. Please speak to me as i come to Your Word this morning. Grow me into the man who can love [her] well until death do us part. And please, Lord, bless me with [her] as my wife someday, but until she becomes that to me, help me to treat [her] as if she could end up being someone else’s wife.
“I love You, Lord. Help me to love You more and more every day.”
Maybe as you read this, you realize there actually is some idolatry in your heart toward your significant other. Allow me to encourage you with this quote:
If you have focused too much on the other person and have treated them like an idol, ask God to forgive you and to help you change. If you now realize that you have been pressured into things you regret or have been caught up in a relationship to the exclusion of God, now is the time to repent. You can ask God for grace to change and to help you refocus your attention in life.
We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (see Rom. 3:23). You can confess your sin and by grace begin leading in a way that is reflective of divine, selfless love.Sean Perron, “Do We Have a Bad Relationship?” in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating, 79-80.
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.