by Femi Aribisala
The love we are expected to have for God does not permit any other love. As a matter of fact, if we love God, we must hate everyone else. We must love our neighbour but not because we love him. We must love our neighbour because we love God. God’s love tolerates no rivals. He says: “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” (Exodus 20:5).
I learnt this the hard way. My wife, Karen, was the love of my life. She was my very first love. It was love at first sight when I met her in high school in Rome. I proposed to her at the age of 16 and got married to her at 25. Marrying her is one of the very best decisions I have ever made. I honestly cannot imagine myself being married to anyone else. But something totally unexpected happened to me at the age of 41.
I fell in love with Jesus Christ.
For instance, he once said to me: “Femi, I don’t want you to speak to anybody else but me for the next three days.” Of course, I had to alert my wife about this. As can be expected, she was not amused. “How can God say that?” she complained. “Doesn’t he know you are married?”
The fact that I am married is precisely why he said it. “The LORD tests the heart.” (Proverbs 17:3). He wants to know who we love. Jesus asked Peter: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21:15). I was caught between two implacable lovers; with neither prepared to yield. The battles for my affections were not only ferocious, they were relentless.
Prince of sword
Jesus says: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36).
The same dynamic applies to a man and his wife. When a man who loves his wife meets the Lord, the Lord will set his wife against him. Husbands and wives don’t start at the same level of faith, and this is often problematic. The Jesus known to the husband might even be different from the one known to the wife; to the irritation and aggravation of their relationship. But the Lord must be our one and only love.
Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24). If a man loves God and loves his wife, there will be inevitable conflicts of interest. God might require him to do one thing out of his love for him. But his wife might want him to do the opposite.
One day, my wife was going to Sri Lanka for a conference. The Lord said to me: “Femi, you must not miss her.” I knew then that I had to be careful. I did not want the Lord to take my wife away. A few days later, Karen phoned me from Sri Lanka. Her first question was: “Do you miss me?” I said to myself: “this woman wants to get me into trouble.” To her annoyance, I refused to answer.
Love and obedience
Any demand that contradicts the Lord is Satanic. We must reject it out of hand. Accordingly, Jesus rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). Having learnt his lesson, Peter says: “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). To love God is to obey God. Jesus says: “If you love me, obey me.” (John 14:15). We are the servant of whoever we obey.
The love of God must be our one and only motivation. The only acceptable reason for any and every action we take or don’t take must be the love of God. God’s love purifies the heart. We love our neighbour not because he is lovable, but because our love for God says we should. We love our wives because of the enablement of our God who is love. Jesus says: “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Mary provides further counsel: “Do whatever (Jesus) tells you.” (John 2:5).
Our love for God is far superior to any other love. The love of a man for his wife is exclusive; therefore it is selfish. Selfish love is fundamentally sinful; it promotes sin. A man might even kill out of love for his wife. He might steal out of love for his children. However, the man who loves God does not sin. The man who loves God obeys God’s command to love his neighbour. The man who loves God takes good care of his wife. But he does this because of his love for God, and not because of his love for his wife.
In the end, I had no choice but to sit my wife down and give her the bad news: “The Lord is now the love of my life.” That means in all situations and circumstances, my actions and inactions would be guided solely by my love for God, and not by my love for her. This position is actually to my wife’s advantage. Nevertheless, she considered it to be a betrayal of my love for her and has not completely forgiven me for it.
The Lord says: “My son, give me your heart.” (Proverbs 23:26). We cannot oblige if our heart is already given to someone else. If we oblige, we cannot divide our heart and share it between the Lord and someone else. Our eyes must be single and our hearts undivided.
According to Jesus, this is the most important commandment of all: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30).
This leaves no room for loving anyone else but the Lord. It requires that all the love in our heart must be devoted to the Lord and to him alone. Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).
Instead of seeking to understand this difficult commandment, most Christians simply ignore it.
Femi Aribisala is a scholar and international affairs expert. He is currently an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.