Growing up in church as a young single woman, I heard a phrase about men I might date, “Make sure he loves Jesus more than you.”
I thought, “Well, of course,” and glossed over the cliché without really thinking about it. Adam, walking in the garden with God, would have been perplexed by that advice. For him, there would have been no competition for his heart and mind, because God gave Eve to him in a perfect and sinless world.
Before Eve, Adam had unbroken fellowship with God: no sin, no shame. This relationship was enough for Adam. God’s perfect love, grace, and joy flowed freely into Adam’s soul. We don’t read about Adam feeling discontent and needy for someone else besides God. And yet God saw — while Adam enjoyed the all-sufficient Godhead — that it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Eve was God’s idea and God’s gift to Adam.
Love for God and Love in Marriage
When God presents Eve to Adam, God doesn’t nervously say, “HeEy, just make sure you love me more than Eve, okay?” He didn’t need to. Eve was not a threat to Adam’s relationship with God. In the garden, the three relationships between God and Eve, between God and Adam, and between Adam and Eve sang in perfect harmony. There was beauty and balance in the intersections of these loves.
But sin disrupted the balance and halted the harmony. Suddenly, God’s good gifts had become gold-plated calves we worship and serve instead of him.
Though marriage will not have a permanent place in heaven, God deemed it important for his kingdom here on earth. The balance and harmony between a husband, a wife, and their God is restored, and continually being restored, through Christ.
But before a man and woman are joined together, they must get to know each other and determine if they’re on a path toward that kind of marriage.
Love the Lord Your God
Jesus gave us the first and greatest commandment in Matthew 22:36–40: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We know God should come first, whether we’re married, single, or dating. But how do we put God first when we are falling in love with someone else — when it’s not “just me and Jesus” anymore?
God had something more for Adam than God himself. He wanted to bring Adam another relationship where he could experience and practice love and deep fellowship, a love always rooted in and flowing out of the love and fellowship of God. First John 4:11–12 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”
No one has seen God yet, but when we engage in biblical love for one another (dating, married, or single), we can see God. We see him by the work of his grace and love, as it perfects us through one another. We are the physical representation of God’s love to each other. We can begin to see that harmony and balance restored from the garden: God loves us, so that we can love others, and our love for others reveals our love for God.
God or Girlfriend?
The cliché phrase is not as simple as it sounds, because a boyfriend doesn’t necessarily have to choose God over us, or us over God. Harmony and balance is being made possible again through Christ, but we still have to deal with fractures in that restored harmony caused by sin. Therefore, the cliché can be helpful. It warns about the possibility of idolatry in our dating, as well as in our marriages.
Let’s be clear: your boyfriend should be really into you, and this does not automatically mean he is idolizing you. We don’t want to over-spiritualize Christian dating. I’ve heard romantic feelings and attraction dismissed as unimportant or unnecessary among Christians. Let’s be careful not to adopt a functionally gnostic or simplistic way of looking at romantic relationships, where the physical is evil and the spiritual is good. They are not opposing forces, but in fact joined together in the person of Christ. We follow the God-man, who is wholly physical and spiritual.
It’s clear in Song of Songs that the man and the woman are enjoying the physical and spiritual dynamics in marriage, and that God delights in them both, as well. God wired us for romantic feelings and attraction, but there must also be biblical love present in the relationship (something very different from romantic feelings). We subject our feelings for one another to God and his word.
So, don’t mistake your godly boyfriend’s natural desire for you as idol worship. But don’t immediately assume his affection for you is balanced, either. He should treat you like a prized princess, and he must also be giving his undivided heart and attention to the King of his life and lover of his soul.
Which Love Comes First?
When I was dating my husband he was (and still is) a godly man, but looking back he sees ways that our relationship slowly replaced his relationship with God. As a single man he spent more of his free time in Bible reading and prayer, but when we started dating that time was much more often devoted to me. He recalls that when we were first married it became challenging to spend personal time with the Lord while I was around.
He sees now how easy it was for him (somebody who values physical touch and presence) to replace his relationship with God with our relationship. The slow process of these small, seemingly innocent choices — long conversations, watching movies, hanging out more and more — turned into spiritual drifting.
Isn’t it easier and more natural for us to choose the seen over the unseen? But when we choose to prioritize and pursue the unseen, we start to experience more of the harmony and balance Adam and Eve once enjoyed together.
God still made Eve for Adam, even though Adam had God. This shows that the male/female relationship is important and beneficial. But since the fall, we have to be mindful of sin’s pitfalls — ways in which we exalt the gift above the Giver, the seen above the Unseen, the relationship above the Relationship. If you want your boyfriend to turn into a husband who loves you like Christ, make sure he is walking with Christ. How else can he love you like him?
The best way for your boyfriend to love you is to love Jesus.